Tag Archives: innovative leadership

Connecting Your Own Dots for Leadership

As I looked into moving into “leadership positions” within my own district, I believed that I did not have the experience to get into a role that I had wanted.  The tricky thing is that if you don’t have the experience, how do you get the job?

“Leadership” is not about title, but often influence and the ability to help others.  There are many administrators who aren’t necessarily leaders, and there are many teachers who exemplify the definition.  Yet for many, the idea of moving into “leadership” without the experience, seems insurmountable.  The reality is, the experience is already there within your current role, you sometimes have to just connect the dots for others, and more importantly, yourself.

So how do you do this?  As I applied for administrative positions within my school district one of the best pieces of advice that I received was to look at Alberta’s “Principal Quality Standard”, which is the evaluation tool for administrators within the province.  Most provinces or states will have something very similar.  After looking at the seven standards, I was given the task to look at what I was currently doing in my role as a teacher, and how I was already meeting the standards.

For example, the first “quality” for leadership was regarding “Fostering Effective Relationships”.  This standard is not exclusive to school administrators, and the best teachers do this in an abundance.  To be able to make this connection on a resume and a portfolio is a great reflection for yourself, while also being able to showcase this to others.

Another “quality” is on “providing instructional leadership”.  I have watched many teachers share ideas from their own classroom, and make an impact on not only other teachers, but students in the school (sometimes outside the school as well) that they do not teach. Again, this is not a quality that is exclusive to an administrator.  In fact, a great administrator will not only be an instructional leader, they will develop others with these qualities as well.

There is a saying to “dress to the job you want, not the job you have”, but if you look closely enough, you might realize that you have already been playing the part. You sometimes just need to connect the dots.

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?

Taking Ownership

During the Super Bowl, this tweet from JC Penney went viral:


Which opened up some really hilarious responses, like this one from Kia Motors:


So what did JC Penney do? They didn’t quickly delete the tweet as there was nothing inappropriate about it, but instead offered a reason why the message had so many errors.


The ironic thing is why would JC Penney even delete the initial tweet? With over 23,000 Retweets and 10,000 Favourites, it probably was one of their most viral tweets they had ever shared from their account. It definitely brought attention to the company and made a “business” seem human (since a person runs an account) in the way that they admitted their mistake and poked fun at themselves.

The thing that I quickly related to in this post is the number of educators that ask the question, “What if I make a mistake and then it goes viral?”

Well what happens when you make a mistake in your school?  Do you do everything to hide it or do you take ownership and move forward?  There is a difference between making a mistake and being inappropriate and if it is a mistake, similar to the one that was made by JC Penney, taking ownership sometimes gives an educator more credibility than not making a mistake in the first place.  Showing the humility that we can all screw up and learn from it, says a lot.  Trying to cover up a mistake says something as well.

Technology does not equal engagement

A picture is worth a thousand words and I had a good laugh at the picture below:

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 12.44.03 PMIf we do not design learning experiences for our students that help them get into that “flow” state, don’t expect technology to keep them engaged or from being distracted.

It is all about how we think, engage, and interact with our students, not about “stuff”.  The “stuff” gives us opportunities to do things that we couldn’t do before, but if we teach the same way we always have, not much will change.


3 Things We Should Stop Doing in Professional Development

Spending the last week in Oslo, Norway, with the visionary Ann Michaelsen and other school leaders here, I have really thought about the way that we deliver professional development, and to be honest, some of the practices that either don’t make sense anymore, or we have to rethink.  Although this is focused mainly on what we do as adults in our time together, many of these lessons have applications to the classroom.

1.  Creating a detailed agenda – As much as I understand that people want to have an idea of where a day is going, too often we focus too much on when we are having lunch, as opposed to getting to know participants and understanding where they are at in their learning.  If we are truly to honour the learners in front of us, how can I know where they are going to be at 1pm if I haven’t even met them yet?  Listing objectives for the day is one thing, but saying when they will be achieved throughout the day is another.  If we are going to differentiate our workshops, let’s quit focusing on a time, and focus more on a person.

2.  Scheduling back-to-back-to-back-to-back learning – How many times have you been really interested in two sessions at a conference and found yourself running across a large convention hall to make it from one session to another?  With so many people connecting through social media now, the hallway is becoming as valuable a learning space as any large room; some would say more so.  The opportunity to connect and talk face-to-face is invaluable, and I believe that this has to be embedded into our days.  I was shocked a few years ago when I delivered a workshop to a group of Australians and they wanted a full 30 minutes for a break, as we were used to usually having a quick coffee and jumping right back into the learning.  They had it right, and if anything, that time could be a little longer.  A conversation with a colleague about the information presented helps to bring any knowledge shared into context within an organization.  Let’s make sure we build time in for that.

3. Thinking that “collaboration” with others is the only way we learn – It is great when we are in a room with so many colleagues that bring a lot of learning to the table.  Often the drill seems to go, someone shares information, talk with others, rinse, and repeat.  Why do we not create a time for people to sit and reflect.  Not necessarily create something, but actually write a reflection.  I have been doing this in workshops for awhile, and to be honest, a lot of educators seem to feel uncomfortable with that process, yet feel fine writing notes of everything a presenter says.  How much do we learn when we “copy and paste” our learning like that.  My belief is that until we get a chance to process and make connections, we don’t really learn that much. In one ear and out the other.  If we start building reflection time into our professional development, don’t you think that we would start doing this in our classrooms.  We have to move away from the “mass dump” process in our learning.

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”
― John Dewey

We constantly talk about changing practices in the classroom, but until we rethink and redo the way that we learn, nothing will change in the classrooms.

What would you do different?

P.S. If you want to talk to someone who is, in my estimation, an expert on the topic of professional learning, connect with Cale Birk.  He knows this area inside-out.

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.


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?


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.

Airplane Mode

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Sophie

My good friend Dwight Carter recently shared a simple analogy that many of us can relate to.

He talked about one of the most boring times we experience as adults, when we are on a plane and have to “shut down” from the rest of the world by turning off our phones.  The loss of connection is tough, not only for kids, but for many adults, as you often see them (and myself) pushing the rule as far as you can to get that little extra connection to the world.  Whether it is text messages from friends, reading a blog, or checking tweets, it is nice to connect with those around us, and the longer the flight, the more we miss the connection.  What Dwight said next was something that really made me think.  This same discomfort that we feel with the occasional flight and disconnecting, is something that many schools ask of their students every single day.  We have trouble “once in awhile”, while this is the norm for many of our students every day in school (I rarely see teachers shutting their phones off during this same time).

That being said, it is okay to “shut down” once in awhile and disconnect.  I spend a lot of time on a plane, and I have learned to appreciate those moments that I can have to myself and my thoughts.  This blog post was actually written on the plane.  The thought of shutting down daily for 6-7 hours is a lot to deal with.  Not only with the information that we do not have access to, but more importantly the connections that we lose.

The thing with kids is that they have been taught over and over to obey in schools.  They learn compliance quickly and are okay with this.  Some struggle, sneak their devices in, and connect in a subversive manner.  I guess I want to always try to put myself in the place of those students.  If I was asked by someone in a workshop (daily) to put away my device, it would say a couple of things to me.  First of all, they don’t value the learning that can happen with the connection.  Secondly, and most importantly, that you don’t trust me.  Yes, sometimes we check out as kids and adults, check our email, read a link, etc., but is it not better to check out temporarily and come back, then to leave the space entirely?

I know as adults that we have a different level of maturity than our students, but a culture of distrust that starts at an early age, breeds that same culture an older one.  We have to think about the culture that we are creating in our future.

3 Conversation Starters for the School Year

Last year, as I documented some of the crucial things that we needed to discuss to further innovative practices in our school, I feel more prepared to have some crucial conversations in my role this year.  I wrote a few blog posts to help guide my own learning but I wanted to put them on one post as a focus for next year.

Below are some posts that I am hoping others can use as conversation starters with staff as they prepare for the 2013-2014 school year.

1.  Is your digital citizenship practice a pass or fail?

Several schools are looking at improving the opportunities for “digital citizenship” in schools, yet are sometimes missing crucial elements.  Blocked sites that can be beneficial to students take away from the “real world” that students live in outside of our schools.  Ignoring discussing “digital citizenship” in schools is also a disservice.

Hopefully, this rubrics is beneficial to see where your school is at, while also sparking some necessary conversations.

2.  4 Guiding questions for your IT department

I love the following quote from Harriet Rubin:

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

As we focus on technology in our schools, the question that we all must consider is “What is best for kids?”  That should guid all conversations.  The other 3 questions that I continue to consider are the following:

How does this improve learning? 

If we were to do _________, what is the balance of risk vs. reward? 

Is this serving the few or the majority? 

The conversations we have with our IT departments, in both directions, should always be focused on serving kids first.

3. Building the Culture of an Empowered Mindset Towards Technology Innovation 

The role of principal is extremely important as it can “make or break” a school culture.  I really believe in the notion that principals should be the “lead learner”, and that it often leads to schools becoming a culture of learning that continuously grow and evolve.  A static school is a school that can be full of dead practices.

In this graphic, I try to show the correlation between administrator and school mindset, and how open minds often open doors for innovative learning opportunities.

Hopefully the three examples above are posts that will help people with some considerations for their upcoming school year.

Ignoring the Status Quo

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Steve Worsethandetroit

“Innovation has an inherent distaste for best practices because it is about new solutions, not copying existing solutions.” Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant

Two years ago, I wrote a post as I attended the 2011 Canadian Association of School Administrators entitled, “This is not optional anymore”.  In the post, I was quite concerned about what I was seeing many “leaders” model at the conference in the use of technology to improve learning through the effective use of technology and how they were pushing this notion forward:

Our educational administrators however really need to get going on this.  Leaders right?  If teachers in your school or division see that you are not moving forward with some conviction in this area, why would they believe that there is any sense of urgency?  Why would teachers think this is important if our administrators aren’t modelling effective use? The teachers that are moving forward need you to understand this area and support them.  They don’t need you to be at the same level, but they at least need to know you trust them and will put the systems in place for them and more importantly, their students, to be successful.  Take some risks and model both in success and failure that you are a learner; this is what we expect from our students.

Now attending the same conference two years later, I was dismayed at the opening speaker really focusing on how we shouldn’t jump in and almost making technology seem like a fad.  Maybe I have taken this the wrong way, but I felt he was saying that helping teachers use technology effectively is a lot of work and maybe we shouldn’t really put that much effort into the endeavour.

Not an inspiring way to start a conference where the focus is technology on improving learning.

In the talk, there was discussion of really sticking with “best practices” but when do we focus on “next practices”?  We are asking our teachers to help our students to be creative and innovative but doing this in a way that promoted neither for their own practice.  How can we teach something to our kids that we are not allowed to experience ourselves?  I am not saying that we ignore “best practices”, but we also have to look at how we move our organizations forward before we become the “Blockbuster” of public institutions.

As I walked out of the keynote, I thought I was going to hear conversations such as “you can be an effective teacher without technology” from participants.  I didn’t.  I actually heard a lot of the same frustration that I had, while also seeing a huge commitment to moving schools forward to not only align with our world, but to really try to start leading it.

I laughed a bit when the hashtag shared for the conference was the longest conference hashtag I have ever seen  Then I realized, they are using a hashtag for the conference this time and are trying and wanting to move forward.  Administrators are really starting to get that this shift in our world needs to be mirrored in our schools.  I am seeing that more “technology” conferences such as ISTE are not just filled with “techies”, but with classroom teachers and administrators.  More conferences that focus on leadership and learning have technology embedded into the workshops and keynotes.  Educators know this is important and are forging ahead.

While many continue to focus solely on the past to create the future, many educators are looking to create the future with their students.  They are not accepting “what was” but are looking to create “what can be”.

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” William Pollard

Many are saying no to the “status quo” and I feel a lot better about where we are today from where we were two years ago.


If you are wanting to read some great books on what schools could look like, I highly recommend “Why School” from Will Richardson (the best 2 dollars you will ever spend)  and “World Class Learners” from Yong Zhao.

It’s Possible

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Steve Betts

I heard this story on a motivational mix that I was listening to recently and thought I would share it (paraphrased).

Two young boys were skating on ice when all of a sudden, one of them fell through and got trapped under.  His friend started to punch the ice in hopes of breaking it but could not get through.  In desperation, the friend climbed a tree and broke off a huge branch,  came back down the tree and started smashing the ice, eventually breaking it and miraculously saving his friend.

As emergency services came after the boy was safe, they sat in amazement and wondered how the little boy was able to break off the branch, smash the ice and save his friend.  As they were sharing their amazement, an old man walked up and said, “the boy was able to do it because there was no one here that told him he couldn’t.”

Pretty powerful story for what we do in both administration and teaching.  How many times has a great idea or thought been extinguished by simply telling someone that it wasn’t possible?