Tag Archives: innovative leadership

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Principal

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Huh.

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.

Language

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

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

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

Forward

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

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

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.