Tag Archives: innovation

What “Digital” Accelerates #LeadershipDay14

This post is my contribution to Leadership Day 2014.


The term is thrown around in circles often and it is something that I have focused on in my work with students.  What I concluded around the term was “the opportunity to use technologies to make a significant impact on the lives of others.”  In schools, we have focused on the notion of “digital citizenship” for years, but the term seems to be very neutral.  In reality, if I live in a city, I am a citizen in that area.  Is talking about the mere existence of “being online” enough for our students?  Are we really setting high expectations or as educators, have we set a rather low bar for what our students do online because we are unsure of the space and how to use it ourselves?  And really, is it “digital citizenship” anymore in a world where every single student in our school has grown up in a world with Internet?

Not settling for the “status quo”, many administrators have jumped into the space to experiment, themselves, on how social media can make an impact in the work that they do in schools.  Starting off as “citizens” in the space, many educators have played around with technologies to see how it could impact learning and relationships amongst both peers and students.  The transition for many though, has gone into the leadership space, where they are sharing some of their learning in an open space to focus on making an impact on the lives of not only those students in their school and classroom, but helping teachers help students across the world. Although “Digital Leadership” has been a quote that has been used often in this type of work, the main components of leadership have not changed, but only amplified and accelerated.  From experimenting myself and observing others, I have seen how “digital” has made a significant impact on not only the notion of leadership, but also the work that is underway in schools.

Accelerating Innovation

Innovation can simply be defined as doing things “better and different”, yet it is often used to replace the term (mistakenly) for technology.  Innovation and technology are not necessarily synonymous although some organizations simply replace the word “edtech” with “innovation” in job titles, without really changing job descriptions.  Innovation is a human endeavour and is really more about a way of thinking than it is about the “stuff”.  Yet, the way we use technology now can really accelerate the process of innovation in schools and districts.

Two key components that are necessary to innovation are networks and remix.  Great teachers have done this for years without social media, but with the ability to now connect with people all over the world, innovation can definitely be amplified. Networks are crucial to innovation, because they increase the ability to learn and share ideas with people.  Concentrations of people in a specific area (known as “spikes”) already exist in our world.  In North America, if you want to be a movie star, where do you go? If you want to become a country singer, where do you go? If you answered “Hollywood” and “Nashville” (in that order), you have identified a “spike”.

So where do “spikes” exist in education?  Until now, there has been no real place since schools are all over the world.  But with the thoughtful use of social media by educators all over the world, “spikes” have been created through a ton of teachers connecting through mediums such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.  These types of networks are crucial to this accelerated growth and though often people complain that they can become an “echo chamber”, the changes and iterations to many ideas are really creating some great ideas that are impacting education.  Things such as “Genius Hour”, which gives students the time to explore and create based on their own passions (paraphrased), are going viral, and although there are many that would suggest this type of learning should be the norm for the majority of time in our schools, implementing some of these ideas in small steps, are usually crucial to major changes.

As Chris Kennedy stated in his recent #LeadershipDay14 post, “you cannot microwave change”, that being said, change can happen a lot quicker now than it has before.  This social sharing through these vast networks has been the spark for many great ideas.

That is where remix comes in.

Again, great teachers have always done this, but now, they just have a greater opportunity and community to tap into.  Finding the idea is one thing, but making it applicable and work for your community, situation, and more importantly, your students’ needs, is where this is crucial.  Seeing Josh Stumpenhorst share the idea of “Innovation Day” in Illinois, I watched as Jesse McLean made it into “Innovation Week” within Parkland School Division in Alberta.  Remixes and iterations of this day/week, have been shared, remixed, and made applicable to kids of all ages all over the world.

The network is where the information has been found, but the ability to remix it for your own context is where innovation happens.  This becomes a massive game of “telephone” where the idea starts off one way, but by the time it ends up in a specific spot, it could look totally different.

A Flattened Organization

This used to be done in our schools through an administrator seeing a great practice in a classroom, having the teacher share it in a staff meeting, and then others implement it in a way that they have seen makes sense for their students.  It worked, but it was a much slower process and often relied on teachers being empowered to shared by their administrators.  What “digital” provides is often an instant look into the classroom without waiting for those “once-in-awhile” meetings.

I remember in my first year of leadership, one of my mentor principals had shared how she believed that she was a better teacher now as a principal, because she saw teachers “teach” all of the time through visiting their classroom.  I made this something that I implemented often in my work as an administrator, but my instructional leadership alone could only go so far.  I wanted other teachers to see what I saw.

Having teachers watch other teachers in action is probably the best professional development any educator could get, but the reality is that because of time, space, and funds, this opportunity is often limited.  What I wanted to see was the teachers creating this visibility into their classrooms through the use of social spaces.  Instead of waiting for the meeting, a teacher can simply blog, create a video, or even tweet ideas of things that are happening in their classrooms.

This “visible learning” shared by the teacher, shows that learning and leadership can come from anywhere within your school.  Many leaders have challenged this idea with the reasoning that teachers should “just talk to each other” and that digital shouldn’t replace that.  From what I have seen, it has actually been the opposite.  Conversations are often initiated from these “quick shares” that go on in the staff room, or after school.  I have seen greater face-to-face connections because of this sharing, not only at the school level, but at the district level as well.  It also shows that anyone can learn from anyone, the kindergarten teacher can make an impact on the principal, and vice-versa.

When we truly flatten our organizations this way, it makes us all better, because we not only better appreciate one another, but we tap into the “wisdom of the room”.  We can do a lot more together than we ever could do apart.

Empowering Voice

There are many things wrong in the world of education today.  Initiatives are often changed and it seems politicians are more concerned with “making a name” than “making a difference”.  Traditional media has also hurt education in many ways by focusing on the bad stories that come out of school, rather than the good.  It is not the idea that as educators we need to speak up now more than ever; education has always been in need of good public relations.  It is just now the opportunities to share our voice are numerous, and we need to take advantage.

Through the constant sharing of not only what happens in school, but the way things are changing, we have the ability to not only connect on a global scale, but also locally.  When I grew up, the sole concern of my parents was safety, but with a mass sharing of knowledge, comes a higher expectation from the public.  The more we are informed, the more we expect.  It is human nature for not only education, but for all organizations.  This, in my opinion, is so positive to what we are trying to do with schools.

School websites have often shared things such as sporting events or concerts at schools, but they have not focused on conversations with our community.  As many schools are trying to move forward in a much different time than many of us grew up in, it is essential that we not only share what is happening in our schools, but engage in true, two-way conversations with our communities.  The more parents are brought into the learning that is happening in the classroom, the more likely their children will be successful.  We have an opportunity to not only share our voice as educators, but we have many more avenues to hear the voices of our community, and more importantly, our students.

For example, Leyden High Schools, located in a suburb of Chicago, has recently turned over their Twitter account to an individual student in their school, one week at a time (found at twitter.com/LeydenPride).  You are able to hear the experience of students in the school from their viewpoint, not the view of a school that is trying to “brand” it’s message.  What this school has displayed (on several occasions) is that a school is defined by the experience the students have, and that they should not only engage them in conversation, but empower their kids to share their voice openly.  They are not focusing on developing the “leaders for tomorrow”, but by empowering student voice right now, they are developing the leaders of today.  Any great leader knows that their legacy is not defined by creating followers, but by developing leaders.

Empowering our teachers to share their voice and open the doors to what they do in the classroom, also gives our community a new perspective on what it is to be an educator, and how we are willing to go above and beyond for our kids.  There are bad teachers in schools.  You will find this to be true in any profession.  Yet those teachers are in the minority, while the stories that were shared about them, through the media, were in the majority.  What has changed is that many of our great educators are changing the narrative by sharing the incredible work that they are doing with students.

Unfortunately, there is still the mindset in many organizations that administrators need to “control” the story that is sent out about their schools.  The feeling is that with every blog post, tweet, website, etc., approval must be obtained before it is shared.  This is not leadership.  Our job is to not control talent, but to unleash it.  If you hired the teacher to work with children in a classroom, shouldn’t we be able to trust them to send out a tweet?

A teacher sharing their voice publicly, is often deemed risky.  Although there are pitfalls and negatives that can happen, the positive far outweigh the negatives.  As leaders, we can not simply ask our teachers to take a risk and share their voice with others, but model it ourselves.  Often we promote that our staff “take risks”, but unless they are willing to see their leader “put themselves out there”, they feel it is not a chance that they are willing to take.  Through these stories from our schools, we make a connection with people that “data and numbers” simply cannot convey.  Stories from the classroom, are the ones that touch the hearts of our communities and other educators, and often lead to meaningful change.

Our voice as an education community is more important now than ever.  How are you as a leader empowering others to share their voice?

Concluding Thoughts

The main components of leadership have not changed in the past few years because of the “digital revolution”, nor will they change in the future.  Perhaps we just have a better understanding of the definition of “leadership” and how it differs from “management” (although both are crucial components to successfully leading an organization).  The difference digital makes is that we can accelerate, amplify, and empower in a way that we couldn’t before.  Great leaders take advantage of every opportunity in front of them, so that they can empower those that they serve.  Cale Birk, a principal in Kamloops, BC, recently said that “better is not easier”; as leaders, we shouldn’t be looking for an easy way out.  This work is tough, but the most important element is not necessarily where we are, but that we are moving forward.

It is pretty easy to say “do this”, but it is much better and more valuable to say “let’s do this together”.  If we can show that as leaders we are willing to embrace change, and jump in to many of these new opportunities for learning with our communities, the impact we can make not only with our staff, but more importantly, our students, could be monumental.

A Different Perspective?

Summer is a great time for reflection and throwing ideas around, so here is something that has been floating around in my brain.

The other night on the ESPY Awards, when Stuart Scott was awarded the “Jimmy V Perseverance” award (an amazing speech that you really should watch) for his fight against cancer, his friend Robin Roberts came up to the stage and talked about a new initiative in the hopes to cure cancer.  Although she mentioned it very briefly, my interest was piqued considerably when she talked about the idea of bringing in people outside of the profession to give new ideas to think about curing cancer.  My interest was piqued considerably at the idea that people outside of a profession look at solving a problem.  In education, many of us have spent many years looking at the same problems that the system we are in created; a different perspective on things could be helpful.

I will admit that one of my biggest pet peeves is hearing people say that people outside of education shouldn’t speak at education conferences because they do not know what it is like to be in the classroom.  The same “growth mindset” that many of us preach seems pretty closed when we hear sentiments like this.  I myself have been guilty of saying, “what would they know, they’ve never had to teach”, yet still love when hearing a student’s perspective about school, when they also have never taught.  We can learn from anyone about anything, and what is important is that we learn to make connections to what we do in the education system.  If you go to many conferences, many of the same ideas shared by educators are ones that are often reiterated from others but with a different perspective or “twist” to the story.  Many people are wanting some vastly different ideas.

Now there is a difference between having a non-educator talk about how to solve problems in the classroom, as opposed to hearing someone’s story from outside of the education realm.  A doctor doesn’t know what it is like to have 30 kids in a classroom, no more than I know what it is like to remove someone’s appendix.  It is important to understand that in any profession we respect that experience often trumps research.  I am not looking for Bill Gates to give me ideas on how to run a school.  I would however be interested to know what Bill Gates has done in his own work to create change and make what he does better.  I would also like to know about the changes that have happened in the music industry, and how people in that field have created an environment where they thrive.  How did Uber come about and what are traditional taxi services doing to change the way they do business? The Edmonton Humane Society has totally changed my perspective on how an animal shelter should look like (it is an amazingly beautiful place and looks a lot different from the small cage that I got my first dog Kobe from), and their outreach to the community through their Twitter account has been engaging and powerful.  How did they get to that point and why did they change?

The thing that education has in common with many other fields is that change has been thrust upon them because of the ease of access to information and the easy ability to connect with one another.  Schools aren’t the only organization that is having to look at drastic change.  Many industries are facing similar challenges. What can we learn from them about what they have done and how can we make it applicable to the challenges we are facing?  Creating those connections to both ideas and people could be extremely valuable to the field of education.

So the idea that has been floating around in my head has been hosting an “innovator summit”. This would have people from different fields that are looking at creating, and have created change in their respective fields.  How did they do it?  What worked? What didn’t?  What could we learn from each other?  This would also include people from the field of education who have been successful in creating valuable changes in their own organizations.  There is a lot that different industries could learn from us and apply to their own work.  Truthfully, if anyone should look at hosting a conference where we can learn from one another, shouldn’t it be the field of education?

I have been tossing this idea around in my head.  Perhaps having an “Ignite” style day with short talks, but with the opportunity for conversations with other people.  Maybe even an “Edcamp” type conference.  The idea is definitely in its infancy.  The one thing that I know I would NOT want is people from different fields coming in to tell educators how schools should be.  I have seen that before and it has been a lot of “how to” on getting students to do better at tests, and behaving, etc.  Are we focusing on “doing things better”, or “doing better things”?  Those are two uniquely different ideas and my hope is that we are moving to the latter.

Maybe this has been done before.  Maybe it hasn’t.  It is pretty hard to have an original idea in today’s world but I would sure love some feedback and thoughts on what this could look like or if this is even something that would be beneficial in our work to help our students.


5 Characteristics of an Innovative Organization

As the year has wrapped up for most North American schools, I look back at my year and realize how blessed I am to not only be able to travel the world and share my experience with others, but also the opportunity to still work with Parkland School Division on a part-time basis.  I think that this allows me to still “do the work” in schools while also having the ability to share it with others as well.  The balance that this has created to both see other organizations and share my work, and vice-versa, has been immeasurable for my learning.

From what I have learned about Parkland School Division, I believe it is a world-class organization, that is not just talking about newer opportunities for learning for our students, but is creating powerful learning environments for our entire community.  We still teach the curriculum and we still have to “follow the rules”, but we try to be innovative within the parameters that are provided.  The content that we have to teach is often decided for us, but the way that we teach, and more importantly our students learn, is where the magic truly happens.

So how did this happen?  Well to be honest, we still have a lot of work to do, but that will always be the case.  We are a “learning organization” which, by the nature of the term alone, means that we are focused on continuous growth as a district.  It is not only that we have leaders that model themselves as learners, but it is done as at the organizational level as a whole.  This growth as a group has led to the development of individuals.

Looking back, here are five things that have really stuck out to me this year and have helped us to grow.

1.  Promotion and modelling of risk-taking.

The term “risk-taking” is one of those “buzzwords” that drives many people crazy.  An “innovative environment” will always promote this, but it does not mean that it is happening.  It is only when the leaders of organization model the risk-taking that they talk about, does it happen en masse in schools.  I have watched our superintendent Tim Monds, try many different things in his own learning that have been displayed openly to others in Parkland School Division.  It started with things such as using Twitter, more focus on cloud tools such as Evernote and Google Apps for Education, and more recently, sharing his monthly message through YouTube videos.   His understanding and willingness to try different ways of learn and sharing has trickled down to others.  You can see that more educators are trying different things, and then implementing their learning with their students.

It is not only that our leaders have jumped in and shared their learning, but they have flattened the organization and learned from others as well.  I will see many of our superintendents attend events such as “Innovation Week” to see what is happening in our schools, so that they can either share their learning with others, or act as connectors.  It would be easy to “lead from above”, but it is more important to get involved and “lead by example”.  This is something I have seen often from our administrators at every level.

2.  Competitive-Collaboration.

Collaboration is talked a lot about in schools as an “essential trait”, but there are many people that thrive off the notion of competition.  To me, it is not one or the other, but a combination of both that really push our organization forward.  “Competitive-Collaboration” is something that I believe will really push us to the next level.

For example, if we are looking at other school divisions around the world and we see some really amazing things going on, we want those same opportunities for our students.  To build a “world-class organization”, you have to look at what is happening outside your organization, not just locally.  Because of this drive, we have implemented a lot of what we have learned from others, and remixed it to make it applicable to our own students.  The other element of this notion is that we are more than willing to share what we have learned with others as if our works helps kids, no matter where they live, that is to everyone’s benefit.  The more we share, the more others become opening to sharing with us. The balance of being able to both push and help each other will get us to become a better organization a lot quicker.

3.  Proud of where we are, but know we have a way to go.

Parkland School Division has been a place that has spent a lot of time recognizing what both are students and educators have done while giving them an opportunity to showcase this to others around the world (ie. 184 Days of Learning).  With that being said, our schools continuously push to get to the next level.  When you get to a point where you think you have arrived, that is usually when you become irrelevant, and become the school equivalent of “Blockbuster Video”.

Many organizations simply take the word “innovation” and used it to replace the word “technology” but innovation and technology are not necessarily synonymous.  A telephone would be a technology yet would not be considered “innovative” as this point in time, yet at one point it was a great example.  Innovation, in short, means “different and better”; it is not innovative if it does not have these two elements.  The notion of “innovative thinking” is one that we have focused on, and I have seen that our teachers are continuously questioning their own practice and trying to do things both different and better.

We can always appreciate our growth as both individuals and an organization, but we cannot simply pat ourselves on the back and quit doing the work.  When you serve kids, our focus needs to be to get better every day.

4. The focus on sharing.

One of my favourite videos is Dean Shareski’s “Moral Imperative”, where he talks about the need for teachers to share.  This is a video that many of our staff have watched, and have learned a great deal from, and the willingness to share has helped ideas to go “viral”.  Whether it is a focus on inclusion, health and wellness, technology, Identity Day, or almost anything, you will find it shared through blogs and twitter, so that these ideas are not kep in isolation within a classroom or a school, or even as a district.

Scott Johnston, a great friend, thinker, leader, and new Associate Superintendent, talked about the importance that we move to a place see themselves as not only part of a school, but that we are all a part of Parkland School Division.  When we see every kid in every school as one of our own, “sharing” becomes vital to our success.

5. Relationships, relationships, relationships.

No matter what we have learned about, what new initiative or technology there is, a focus on relationships has been the cornerstone and foundation of what has happened in Parkland School Division.  Without a strong focus on relationships first, nothing else happens.  Our “bosses” have focused on this from day one, and it is rare that any conversation that we have not start off checking in on individuals “personally”.   I have always been asked about my family, and I have always felt comfortable sharing because Parkland, in many aspects, has become like a family to me.

When I first came to the school division, this focus on relationships was something that was new to me and I didn’t really understand.  Now I could not understand how we could get anything done without it.  I am more apt to go the extra mile for someone when I know that my leaders care about me personally, then if they didn’t.  When the top levels model this, it (again) trickles down to every level.  The mind and body can not do much when the heart is not there.  This focus on relationships has helped me to focus on always serving the “whole person” as opposed to just focusing on my “job”.

As people get some time to rest up and head into another school year, I look back and realize how proud I am to be part of an organization that is more than just about “school” but about growth and development of people.  It is written in our “vision”:

Parkland School Division is a place where exploration, creativity and imagination make learning exciting and where all learners aspire to reach their dreams.

If you notice the term “learners” is in place of where many organizations use the term “students”.  To me, this vision and focus on the notion of “learners” says that we are all in this together, and we get better as a whole when we do whatever we can help ourselves and each other grow as individuals.

May I…?

My good friend A.J. Juliani has a new book coming out soon and I was honoured to have been asked to write the foreword.  Here is my “unedited” version of that piece in honour of his book coming out this week.

Est-que je peux aller aux toilettes?

Out of everything that I learned in taking French classes for eight out of my twelve years in my K-12 schooling, this is the one phrase that I will always remember.

Translated it says, “May I go to the bathroom?”

When I think about that question, that was easily the question that I asked most in my time as a student in school, whether it was English or French.  If you think about it, if school is to spark the curiosity that we hope for ourselves and our future generation, shouldn’t our questions start with “why” or “how”, not “may I”?  That last question is not about thinking deeply or exploring passions, but it is about compliance.  How many times do you now ask someone else permission to go to the bathroom?  What a weird thing to think about.

Yet we wonder why we see articles like the one in Newsweek in 2010 about a “Creativity Crisis”.  According to the Newsweek article, 1500 CEO’s were asked what the most important “leadership competency” was that they would look for and “creativity” came in as a clear number one.  In the same article though, schools were listed as one of the reasons that children were not creative and stated that within schools, “there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children.”

A question that has always driven my own thinking is do people become creative because of school, but in spite of it?

As most students, I walked out of school having no idea what I wanted to do.  What we were told over and over again was that university and college was a way to a better life, and without having any dream of other than being an NBA basketball player (which was not happening), I started on the costly endeavour of going to university without having any idea of what I loved.  It is a very costly way to “find yourself” and is more so now when careers are harder to obtain more than ever.  Unfortunately after six years of university, I still had no idea of what I loved, only what I was about to do.  My post-secondary education was more of a checklist to the next stage of my life, than a way to explore my passions.  Luckily years into my career, I found my niche and I couldn’t imagine doing anything different now, but how different is my story from others?  Years and years of time, thousands and thousands of dollars, and I luckily felt that I found my passion in my third decade on this earth.

I am grateful that I found my passion and every day I leave my house, it is with a spring in my step, but I was a lucky one.  As someone who has a career in education, one of my beliefs is to do everything that I can in our schools that students can find their passion during their time in classrooms.  How could I have known what I love if I did not have an opportunity to explore different passions without the help of my teachers?  School should be a place not where answers go to die, but questions come to life.

So how do we make this happen within the confines of a system that was built to enhance and mirror industrialism?  First off, educators need to start seeing themselves as innovators.  We can talk about the constraints of testing, curriculum, poor leadership, and a million other things, but that is pointing the finger away from what we can do ourselves.  We ask our students to solve problems all of the time, and we need to model this ourselves.  If you think the system doesn’t work for your students, then let’s start to think different.  A.J. does a nice job debunking the myths of a non-traditional classroom but it is up to you to implement them.

Next, we have to start looking what the world looks like outside of schools and bring that into our classrooms.  As much as I hate to say it, Google has a bigger “research and development” budget than any school I know, and when they are openly sharing some of the ways that they not only engage their employees, but also create environments where innovation flourishes. We should pay attention.  What great organizations do is develop their people as thinkers, leaders, and “intrapreneurs” who constantly push innovation from within.  Can you imagine what your classroom could look like if we adopted that same mindset as educators?

As I read this book and the ideas that A.J. has shared, I felt my head nodding emphatically thinking, “I wish I went to school now.”  Not only is it more engaging, but it has the potential to be so much better.  In a world that the only constant will be change, how do we get students to think of themselves as innovators not only in the future, but today.  As any good book on the notion of innovation will often lead to more questions, and A.J. has written something that will push your learning long after, while also giving great ideas and a framework to really push your own learning ahead.

Nothing different will happen with your students until something different happens for your first. Hopefully the “why” and “how” will become the common question starter for our students, as opposed to “may I”, no matter the language.

Choosing Not to Know

I had two administrators approach me yesterday and start a conversation.

One told me about how their IT department had closed all social media in their school and about how their fear that if they were to open it.  The fear shared was that their would be so many more issues of cyberbullying, inappropriate content shared, amongst other things.

The other told me about how their school district has all social media sites open to their students and have very few issues.  In fact, he had shared that since the network was opened, the issues lessened because of their focus on teaching digital citizenship.


The question that came to my mind was, are these districts talking to one another?  My other thought was, do the districts that have things opened even try to talk to the ones that are open?  Seriously, people have open networks and have very few issues yet so many others with closed networks talk about the fear of what could be if schools decided to open their network.

Does looking only within our own organizations and focusing on the “fear factor” really help our students?  I am guessing you can figure out what I think.

If you are interested, here is a simple rubrics to start a conversation on this topic: Is Your School’s DIgital Citizenship Practice a Pass or Fail?

What do we value?

I recently read the Forbes “30 Under 30″ for Education, and felt myself feeling very uneasy that there was not one practicing educator in the group. I wasn’t the only one:

Hey, Forbes. Saying that you know as much about education as a brick is an insult to bricks. Out of your 30 “Brightest Stars in Education under 30″ I counted 0 practicing teachers. The fact that you believe that a bunch of CEOs of education companies, founders of political action groups, and COOs of edtech companies are the rising stars in education just goes to show how misplaced our education priorities are in this country.

The more you (and we) make education about making money and not about learning, they more we give our kids the shaft.

I’ll wager you this, Forbes. Ask any successful kid, parent, adult, CEO, whatever who the biggest star in their education was. Every time they answer with a CEO, COO, or Founder of a political organization, I’ll give you a buck. Every time they answer with a teacher’s name I get a buck.

Who do you think’ll be making out in that deal? – Michael Soskil from his Facebook page

Now I know that Forbes is an organization that focuses on business and is known for highlighting billionaires more than anything, but I think the title was misleading.  I read articles from Forbes all of the time because I think that if you want to be better in education, you should be looking at all places, not simply in education.

If it was focused on “Education Startups” it would have been a different story, and honestly I have no problem with people making money.  We are promoting  innovation and entrepreneurial spirit in schools so I have no issue with people that embody those things, no matter the field.  I also believe that many, if not all of the people, on that list are doing something that they deem as important.

But I also believe that some of those “startups” are taking what they knew from their time in school, and creating technologies that support practices that many are trying to move away from, yet they are seen as leading education because they are making, or have the potential to make, lots of money?

What do you think?

4 (Digital) Habits That Will Make You More Creative

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Eric E Castro

Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on the notion that “schools kill creativity”, is the most viewed Ted Talk ever. The views and clicks do not only come from educators, but from people all over the world as we all have a vested interest in our students. More organizations are looking for students that have “creative” skills, and although schools will always churn out students that have great grades through the mastery of the system, it does not necessarily mean that students are learning the skills to become any more creative. Although there is a lot of food for thought in the Robinson talk, from my memory, yet there are few ideas on how to actually become more creative.

Reading many quotes on creativity and innovation, the one that has always stuck out with me is from Rosabeth Moss Kanter:

“Mindless habitual behavior is the enemy of innovation.”

Doing the same thing that we have always done is not going to make any us any more creative or innovative, but according to the “Creativity Research Journal” (as referenced in Red Thread Thinking), there are some things that we could do daily that will actually make us more creative. The four “habits” listed are the following:

1. Capturing New Ideas
2. Engaging in Challenging Tasks
3. Broadening Knowledge
4. Interacting with Stimulating People

I am proud to say that those “habits” are something that I actually do almost daily and I have seen a shift in the way that I think and do things in my own work. Digital technologies make it easy for these habits to take place with ourselves and our students. Here are some of the things that I do to makes these habits a daily reality.

  1. Capturing New Ideas – With a computer in my pocket at all times, capturing ideas has become much simpler. Some of my best thinking happens while running, and when an idea used to pop into my head, I would have nowhere to put it. Now it is simple. But with all of the ideas that may pop into your head, it can sometimes be hard to organize.One of the tools that I use that helps me find my own information is Evernote. It is simple and I can access anything that I share on my phone, on any device that is connected to the Internet.

    Using hashtags on Twitter are also a way to capture my own ideas. I have used Twitter to write some of my ideas down so that I can look at my own tweets later to build on ideas. Sometimes my own tweet is meant to help spark an idea later. Interestingly enough, when it is shared openly, others jump in and share their thoughts and help me to build upon those ideas. Sharing these new ideas and getting different perspectives helps me to learn a lot more as opposed to simply sharing it a closed journal.

  2. Engaging in Challenging TasksBlogging has become one of the most challenging endeavours that I have done in the last few years, and I feel that it has led to a lot of growth personally and professionally. Tweeting at first was a bit of challenge because I was always worried about what I should say, or what to share. Once I became more comfortable in that practice, blogging seemed like a logical step. Although I do not blog every day, I do think about ideas to share in my blog daily as I want to think deeper about the things that I am learning. Even in this blog post, taking four strategies to become more creative, has helped me to openly reflect on my learning and try to go deeper into ideas.I actually heard one educator say, “I don’t have the time to reflect.” Although this was a joke, many actually do not make the time to do this. If it improves our learning to engage in something, even (especially) if it is challenging, how will we ever grow?
  3. Broadening Knowledge – Although I have mentioned Twitter before, and it is one of the best ways to learn from others, there are other things that I do daily to ensure that I am learning in the areas that I am passionate about. With the death of Google Reader, I had to find an RSS reader replacement. InoReader became my main place to house blogs that I have read, and ensure that information could easily find me, instead of constantly looking to see if people have updated information. I try to balance between the RSS reader that InoReader provides and the blogs that I have read for years, to finding new information. Zite is a great app that I have on my phone that brings some of the most popular and viewed learning right to my phone. On any day, you will find articles that push your thinking and bring new ideas. Between these two programs, I learn a ton from different people, whether I know them or not, every single day.
  4. Interacting With Stimulating People – For me, this is an easy one. Although I am blessed to work with some of the smartest people I know, there is brilliance in every single school in the world. I want to connect with that. Through social media, I have been able to connect with other administrators on sites like Connected Principals and the School Admin Virtual Mentor Program (full disclosure…these are both sites that I created), and to be able to go to a place where people can come together to share ideas has been invaluable to my practice.My suggestion to anyone wanting to learn from smart people in their field is to start with a hashtag instead of following specific people. I learn a lot more from following the #cpchat hashtag then I simply would trying to filter through the tweets of administrators that may be either personal or professional. If you are a kindergarten teacher, check out #kinderchat. If you are a math teacher, check out #mathchat. Where is your tribe? Although those tweets are centred around a topic, they are delivered by people that are usually passionate about what they are sharing. When you surround yourself with passionate people, you become more passionate yourself. That is much easier to do.

These are just some of the ways that I have tried to become more creative in my everyday thinking and I have seen a huge impact on not only what I know, but how I learn. I would love for you to share some of your suggestions on the things that you do to make creativity a daily practice.

Want to be successful? Be a sponge.

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

I have worked with some brilliant leaders and educators and I have noticed the same things about all of them.

They listen.

No matter their position, they are successful because they see every opportunity as an opportunity to learn.  Even when they are in a higher position than myself, they see an interaction with myself and others as an opportunity for them to always stay on top of their game.  The other things that I notice is that although they know they do not have all of the answer, they sure have a lot of questions.  

Leaders continue to ask questions.

When I think of thought leaders in my school district, I think of people like Jesse McLean and Travis McNaughton, and the amazing ability they have as well as their insights regarding education.  They are leaders that make a huge difference in their communities and the one word that I think of when I think of either one of them is “sponge”.  They soak in everything they can, but eventually they release they learn and share it with others.  They also do not learn only from people that are “above” them in the organizational hierarchy, but they learn from every person they interact with.  They focus not only on the knowledge of that person, but they soak in the characteristics of that person and learn about them as people, which is imperative in the change process.

“Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process…human interaction is the key force in overcoming resistance and speeding change.” Atul Gawande

Even when they disagree, they don’t jump in and start defending their beliefs, they continue to listen. They think. They absorb. They think of what they are learning, how they can adapt it, and how they can share.

This does not mean that they agree with everything that they hear.  Not at all.  In fact, many people simply regurgitate what they hear from someone else and agree openly although deep down, they don’t agree with what is being said.  Leadership takes a back-bone to stand up for what you believe in, but it also is imperative to focus on what you can do better.  Leaders know that it is not about being right but about doing right.

The next time that you have an interaction with someone, ask them questions, see what you can learn, see what you can take, and see what you can share with others.  That is what a “sponge” does and it is a characteristic that is crucial to effective leadership.

Ideas Everywhere

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Thomas van de Weerd

I watch YouTube…at work…a lot.

In fact, when my boss walks into my office, I don’t try to hide anything. I continue on doing what I am doing.  It is (to me) a part of my job.  As Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning, I consider it my role to find, develop, and create ideas to help create new ways for students to learn and create within the classroom.

For example, take a look at this “Kid Snippets” video that I shared at opening day:

Although the video is entertaining and on the surface has nothing to do with education, I shared with educators on how this would be a great activity for younger students to write and narrate a story, and have older students act it out and create the media.  There are so many skills that could be developed from that type of project, while also building community, and giving students’ an authentic audience.  There are so many little ideas out there that we can remix and recreate for engaging learning activities for our students and staff.

Does every video spark an idea like this?  Absolutely not.  The process is important though and I have often hear educators say something similar to, “kids and parents have access to all of the same information that we do in education.”  This is also true for educators when looking at other organizations.

For example, as someone who looks at “innovation in school”, I am constantly looking at the notion of “innovation” in other organizations.  I am guessing that the “Research and Development” budget for Google is a little higher then any school district (or all of them put together), so it would only make sense to look at the work that they do to try and create an innovative environment.  In an older article from Google on “The Eight Pillars of Innovation“, one of the ideas was “look for ideas everywhere”, which is something that we need to constantly do.

Even on Twitter today, stuck for ideas to write, I simply asked, “Blog topic please?”  Minutes later I had several ideas thrown my way from others, which inspired this post.  In the Chris Andersen Ted Talk on “How YouTube Drives Innovation”, he discusses this very idea and I love this quote:

Crowd Accelerated Innovation – a self-fueling cycle of learning that could be as significant as the invention of print. But to tap into its power, organization will need to embrace radical openness.

The idea that I have always embraced from this thought is that as an organization, we have to be open, but it is also the ability to embrace the openness of others and take advantage of all the free information out there both inside and outside of education to continuously create better learning experiences for all learners in our organization.

As always, thanks to everybody for the continued inspiration.

10 Ideas To Move Innovation Forward

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by -= Bruce Berrien =-

Through a lot of conversations on social networks, face-to-face opportunities, and reflection, I have been thinking about some of the things that I have seen to create new and better (innovative) opportunities for learning.  This is not only in the context of student learning, but as well as opportunities for staff and their own professional development.  Below, I would like to share some of my thoughts as well as some corresponding quotes from people both in and out of education.  (I have written about this topic before, but I really wanted to focus on people specifically.)

1. Have a clear vision.

Although the term “innovation” talks about continuously developing new ideas, I really believe that it is imperative that the notion of risk-taking and continuously developing better learning opportunities for students.  The other idea is that leaders should have some clear notion on what learning could look like in today’s classroom, not simply having a vision that is not clear.  Once those ideas become clear to others, trust that those you serve will take off and make amazing things happen.  Give them the autonomy to make the vision come to life.

“If you do a good job of teaching your values and mission to the people at the bottom of your organization, then once you give them control, they will do the right things with it.” Charlene Li

2. Model what you want to see.

It is really easy to go say, “do this”, but it is more important to say, “let’s do this together”.  If you think about the way many run staff meetings, they often talk about “21st Century Learning” but do not model it when educators are present.  People rarely change because they hear something, but are more likely to grow if they experience something.  How are you making those learning opportunities something people experience?

“Meaningful change ain’t gonna happen for our kids if we’re not willing to invest in it for ourselves first. At the heart, it’s not about schools…it’s about us.” Will Richardson

3. Break it down into smaller steps.

When we have a giant vision of what “better” looks like, it often becomes overwhelming to people who are nowhere near an “endpoint”.  To help people move forward, skill and confidence have to be built along the way.  Every step closer to a vision, is great progress.

For example, if you want people to become more connected, show them ways that they can benefit immediately as opposed to focusing on all of the amazing ways they can bring experts into the classroom, help them find one single resource.  Once they see the value of that, they are more likely to make the next step which could eventually lead to the giant leap.

“The path to success is paved with small wins. Even the grandest and most glorious victories rest on a string of modest but constructive steps forward.” Robert I. Sutton

4. Help people move from their “Point A” to their “Point B”.

Everyone is at different points in their learning journey.  This is not just students, but educators as well.  Too often we offer workshops and expect people to be all at the same point by the end, but is this really honouring where people are at?  I really believe that once a teacher quits learning, they will become ineffective.  It may not happen tomorrow, but it will happen. That being said, I can easily work with anyone that is wanting to learn and get better; they don’t have to be at the pinnacle.  Start where people are at, as opposed to focusing on where you want them to be.

“Multipliers invoke each person’s unique intelligence and create an atmosphere of genius—innovation, productive effort, and collective intelligence.” Liz Wiseman

5.  Work with people 1-on-1.

One of the best things that I have done this year (in my opinion), was offer “office hours” that gave teachers the opportunity to ask me about whatever they wanted to learn.  Large group sessions give ample amounts of information, but can also be ineffective for many.  Much of the time, teachers would come to me with questions of things that they were interested in learning about, and I led them to initiatives in our division that would help them.  The big “light bulb moment” for me was this; it was not about what I wanted to teach them, but about what they wanted to learn.  It is much easier to work from that point when helping others move forward.

“To sell well is to convince someone else to part with resources—not to deprive that person, but to leave him better off in the end.” Daniel Pink

6.  Promote champions.

In education, no matter the level, it is never about “us”, but it is always about others.  It would be really easy to maintain a space where you are always seen as the “expert”, but it is more important to build systems and capacity if we want long term growth.  Sometimes, even when you know the answer, it is better to be a “connector” and show that you value the people who are already doing great stuff.  A system should never be dependent  upon one but should tap into many.

“…the world changes by dint of small groups of dedicated people.” Margaret J. Wheatley

7. Share, share, share!

“And then one day, you look up and realize that all those individual trajectories have turned into a wave.” Stephen Johnson

One of the neatest things about many of the initiatives that we have within our district is that we really focused on a few things to get to that transformative level in our work.  When sharing became the default with many educators, we were learning from so many others and really pushing the limits of our work.

A simple analogy.  Most people know that we do not use something simple like Microsoft Word past ten percent of it’s capacity (not the innovative type of software I am promoting, but the example is used for familiarity). What happens when everyone’s ten percent is different, but we all share?  Our learning grows so much when we all share what we know with one another.

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

8. Model and promote risk taking.

We often talk about “promoting risk taking”, but do leaders model it?  People will not feel comfortable unless we openly share the things that we are trying to do to get better.  Every time I write a blog post, I am taking the risk of looking stupid or saying something that someone would take offensive, yet I focus on clarifying my thoughts openly since I want our community to do the same.  How can I ask it if I do not model it?

Once people see that you are doing this, they are more likely to try their own ideas and push what is happening in their own situations.  Giving people license to take risks, will more likely lead to some amazing things.

“if you want innovation, it’s critical that people are able to work on ideas that are unapproved and generally thought to be stupid. The real value of “20%” is not the time, but rather the “license” it gives to work on things that “aren’t important.” Jonathan Fields

9. Find the balance of “pressure and support”.

I have talked about this to a great extent in my blog, but I think it is important to create a sense of urgency in our work while also ensuring that people are supported.  If it is important, you will find money, and make time for people.  This sense of urgency and support will help people to move when combined, much more than if there is an abundance of one and lack with the other.

“I believe that managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly, you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.” Tommy Lasorda

10.  Always remember that we are in the “people” business”.

No matter how urgent things are, it never helps when we make people feel incompetent. We can have great ideas, but it is important to understand that we often do not know situations that people are dealing with in their personal lives, and what is happening outside of their work.  Ensure that you show you value what they already do, before you start pushing where they should be.  Once a person knows they are valued, they will go to much greater heights than if they never felt cared for in the first place.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

Concluding Thoughts

As we continue to work on growth and change management, working where people are and caring about them, makes them not only more open to change, but eventually want to embrace it. It is a process that needs patience, but with each small victory, many get closer to the big goal.

“Rather than viewing change as a threat and something to be feared, we will find ourselves embracing change, recognizing its potential to drive us to even higher levels of performance…”John Seely Brown