Tag Archives: innovative leadership

Similar but different?

As I was walking through several schools today, I noticed objectives and goals that could have been the same when I went to school. How we get there today and what they mean, may be different, especially as we learn more about pedagogy, but also connect learning and opportunities to the changes that have happened/are happening in our world.

Here are some questions that I have that are pushing my thinking.

If we promote students learning in a “safe” environment, do we mean only in school or in learning?  Does ignoring technology in a world where we learn so much from “strangers” keep our kids truly safe?

If we want students to be literate, what does that look like today in schools?  How does it go beyond basic “reading and writing”?

If a school has a focus on “citizenship”, how does a world where we are all connected to one another change what that looks like?

If parent participation is beneficial to the learning of a child, how do we use technologies that are easily accessible to both schools and parents to tap into our community?

If you look at the key components of each question, they are the following:

1. Keeping Kids Safe.
2. Promoting Literacy
3. Citizenship and Social Responsibility
4.  Parents as Partners in Education

If I would have shown you those as objectives in a school in 1980, they might not look any different in the wording, but in practice, they look significantly different.  I was taught over and over again how to cross the street so that I could access what was on the other side, but do we teach kids how to keep their information safe while they are connecting to others across the world?  The idea of “safe” has changed.

There is a lot of areas where schools have changed, but some of the objectives are the same.  How do we make sure that we are keeping up with what our students need for today and tomorrow?

What do you think?

 

The Mindset of an Innovator

The notion of the “Innovator’s Mindset”, and what it actually looks like, is something that I have been thinking about a lot lately.  The more I dig into the topic, the more I believe that this should be the norm in education.  Innovation is not something new to education, but it is something that we can do better.  The access to people and information changes a lot of the opportunities that are available both for students and educators, which calls for all of those being involved in education to see ourselves as learners.

As I thought about this, I wanted to write some statements on what this means, and what it looks like in our world today, ultimately leading to one statement for myself.  This is what I came up with:

I am an educator.

I am an innovator.

I am an innovative educator and I will continue to ask “what is best for learners”.  With this empathetic approach, I will create and design learning experiences with that question as a starting point.

I believe that my abilities, intelligence, and talents can be developed, leading to the creation of new and better ideas.

I recognize that there are obstacles in education, but as an innovator, I will focus on what is possible today and where I can push to lead towards tomorrow.

I will utilize the tools that are available to me today and I will continue to search for new and better ways to continuously grow, develop and share my thinking, while creating and connecting my learning.

I focus not only on where I can improve, but where I am already strong, and I look to develop those strengths in myself and in others.

I build upon what I already know, but I do not limit myself to myself. I’m open to and willing to embrace new learning, while continuously asking questions to move forward.

I question thinking, challenge ideas, and do not accept “this is the way we have always done it” as an acceptable answer for our students or myself.

I model the learning and leadership I seek in others. I take risks and try new things to develop and explore new opportunities. I ask others to take risks in their learning, and I openly model that I’m willing to do the same.

I believe that isolation is the enemy of innovation, and I will learn from others to create better learning opportunities for others and myself.

I connect with others both locally and globally to tap into ideas from all people and spaces. I will use those idea along with my professional judgement, to adapt the ideas to meet the needs of the learners in my community.

I believe in my voice and experiences, as well as the voice and experiences of others, as they are important for moving education forward.

I share because the learning I create and the experiences I have help others. I share to push my own thinking, and to make an impact on learners, both young and old, all over the world.

I listen and learn from different perspectives, because I know we are much better together than we could ever be alone. I can learn from anyone and any situation.

I actively reflect on my learning, as I know looking back is crucial to moving forward.

I am an educator.

I am an innovator.

I am an innovative educator and I will continue to ask “what is best for learners”.  With this empathetic approach, I will create and design learning experiences with that question as a starting point.

This is meant to be more of a process of my own thinking, as opposed to a finished product.  But going through this process made me realize that similar to how we are dropping the word “digital” off of many terms (digital leadership, digital citizenships, etc.) because it is becoming invisible and just implied, will we get to the point where what we see as being “innovative” simply become the norm in what we do in education?  Is there anything above that is out of the realm for any educator?  I hope not.

3 Things That Have Slowed the Change Process Down in Education (And What We Can Do About It)

There has been a lot of talk on the idea that education as a whole takes a long time to change.  As an educator, this is a challenging notion, since we are seeing many people doing some amazing things that did not exist when I was a student.  Change is happening but sometimes it is hard to see when you are in the middle of the process.

Some things are out of the hands of schools. Budgets and government decisions can make creating new and better learning environments for students tough, but not impossible.  Educators are not powerless, and in some cases, more powerful that ever.  The story of education can not only be told from the perspective of educators, but also from the students that are currently in the system.  Although there is still a lot of work to do (as there always will be in organizations that focus on continuous learning and have an emphasis on becoming “innovative”), there are also opportunities in education, now more than ever, that we will need to take advantage of and create a different path.

Here are some of the challenges we have had in the past and how we can tackle them

1. Isolation is the enemy of innovation. 

Education has traditionally been an isolating profession where we get some time together, but not nearly enough.  Even if we wanted to change this significantly, in most cases, the current physical structures do not allow us to work with other educators.  Some administrators have been very innovative in their planning of teacher prep time and have embedded collaboration time into the regular school day, but it is not necessarily enough to make a significant impact.

How so many educators have shifted this “norm” is by using social media spaces to connect and learn from educators all over the world, and making a significant difference in their own classrooms, and creating much more engaging and empowering learning spaces.  Isolation is now a choice educators make. Where the shift really has to happen is using things like Twitter is for educators to connect and share learning that is happening with educators in their own school.  I challenged people to do the following (as shared in this visual from Meredith Johnson);

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 11.50.26 AM

We need to make this happen and create transparency in our own classrooms.

How does a song like “Gangnam Style” go so viral that most people around the world not only know the words but the dance moves?  Social media.  If a song can spread so quickly, so can great learning.

Make it go viral.

2. A continuous focus on what is wrong, as opposed to what is right.

Think about the traditional practice of what school has done with many of our students.  If they struggle with the subject of math, we often send the more math homework to do at home.  Does this really make sense?  If they are struggling at school, making them struggle at home with the same content is often counterintuitive.  It is not that we shouldn’t struggle, but it is important that we are very thoughtful of how we spend our energy.

The shift that has happened with not only our students, but also our schools, is focusing upon building upon strengths as opposed to focusing solely on weaknesses.  This is imperative as building upon strengths often helps us to not only build competence, but also confidence which leads us to the mindset that we are more open to tackle our other challenges along the way.

I love this quote from Forbes on putting people in the right positions to be successful:

Leadership is a privilege, not a right, and we need to treat it as such. Leadership means encouraging people to live up to their fullest potential and find the path they love. That, and only that, will create a strong culture and sustainable levels of innovation.

Many organizations outside of education are hiring not on need, but finding the best people and empowering them based upon their strengths.  Schools should try to do their best to follow suit and put people to be in the best situations to not only do well, but to lead.

3.  Experience is a very powerful teacher.

I remember sitting and listening to Bruce Dixon at a conference and something he said has always stuck out to me:

In no other profession in the world do you sit and watch someone else do your job for 16 years before you go and do it yourself.

Wow.  That is a powerful message and shows why so many new teachers aren’t coming into school with all of these “innovative ideas” and changing our school system like so many people predicted.  Many educators simply replicate their experience as a student. If you think about it, at least one-third of many teachers educational experience is as a student, not a teacher.  That is a tough thing to overcome, but not impossible.

Innovation has no age barrier, and if we can tweak the experience for educators in their professional learning, they are more likely to change the experience for their students.  Writing ideas about “21st century classrooms” on gigantic pieces of paper with a felt marker is not going to create cultural shifts; changing experiences will.

People are starting to look differently at professional learning, and create experiences that are much different from what I first experienced as a teacher.  I think a major reason for this shift (going back to point 1) is that educators are seeing the shift in practices in so many other organizations, and are trying to create a different practice where more educators are not really focused on teaching as much as they are about learning.  This empathy is crucial since to become a master teacher, you must become a master learner.  

Changing experiences to shift the focus on the learner from the teacher helps to disrupt routine.  If you would want to create an environment where students would want to be a part of your classroom, we have to experience what learning could look like for ourselves and start from a point of empathy.

One shift that was not mentioned was the mindset of looking at obstacles as opportunities. As mentioned earlier, not everything is in our control, but as educators know, they can make an impact every single day.  It is not always easy, and teaching can be a very daunting and tiring job, but I believe that every day we can make a difference if we choose.  Having that mindset is the only way that we will ever truly be able to make a powerful change for ourselves and our students.

8 Things to Look for in Today’s Professional Learning (Part 2)

(This is the second of two parts on professional learning.  You can read the first part here.  It is based on the visual below that was created by Sylvia Duckworth and adapted from “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom“.)

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 4.39.24 PM

Connected Learning

Rationale: The opportunities for learning in our world today are immense and we need to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to us.  We not only have access to all of the information in our world today, but we have access to one another.  This has a major impact in our learning today. What I have started to notice is that you can see some major benefits of being connected in the classroom for the learning environment of our students. Access to one another can accelerate and amplify powerful learning opportunities.

Alec Couros, shared the following image on the idea of “The Networked Teacher”;

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 6.58.59 PM

Although the technologies in the visual can change and how we use them can always be altered, the most important part of this visual, in my opinion, are the arrows that go back and forth.  More and more, educators are becoming both consumers and creators of information, which is accelerating the opportunities for our students.

Idea: The idea for this is simple.  If we see connected learning as something that is having an impact on the learning of our students, we must embed time into our work day and professional learning opportunities to help educators develop professional learning networks (PLN’s) and leading them to resources such as the “Edublogs Teacher Challenges” might help them get started, but face-to-face support is also crucial.  To be honest, the technology to connect is simple once you get the hang of it, but it is developing the habits to think about connecting in the first place that truly make the difference.  Differing between the time when you “google” something versus asking the same question on Twitter can not only help you get better results, but in the long run, save time (which no one has enough of).  To be successful in helping people develop professional learning networks is to narrow the focus on the tools that are being shared with staff.  It is not to limit staff on what they can use, but spending professional learning go deep into the process.  We need to do less, better. Taking the time to connect can make a major difference in the learning of your staff, and ultimately, your students.

Other elements that could be incorporated: Reflection, Voice, Choice, Opportunities for Innovation

Opportunities for Innovation

Rationale: If we want innovative students, we need to focus on becoming innovative educators.  It is not that “innovation” is new in education, but the opportunities that exist in our world today make innovation more possible. To help develop the “innovator’s mindset”, schools and organizations have to embody certain characteristics that create an environment where innovation will flourish. Again, as in all elements shared for professional learning, it is essential that time is provided to help develop this mindset.

Innovator's Mindset

Idea: My good friend Jesse McLean has promoted the idea of “Innovation Week” for his students, but knew to really have this to be successful, educators would have to partake in this type of process. He developed the idea of “Educator Innovation Day”, to give educators the time to tinker and develop innovative ideas both inside and outside of education.  This goes to the idea of developing “intrapreneurs”, and as Jake Swearingen has stated, these intrapreneurs are essential to driving change within an organization.

Chris Wejr also shared his ideas on how to actually embed time through “Fed-Ex Prep” for teachers to encourage time is taken to create innovative ideas within education.  There is also the opportunity to adapt Google’s famous “20% Time” into learning at our schools, for both students and staff.  None of these ideas have to be taken “as is”, but can be adapted to tie into the communities we serve.  What is (again) essential to the success of developing educators as innovators is both the priority and time being put into the process.  In a world where developing innovators and entrepreneurs is essential to the forward movement of our schools, we need to create professional learning opportunities that see “innovation” as a necessity, not a luxury.

If something is missing, we need to create it. In this case, if there are no entrepreneurs, we need to make some. And to make some is to instill the entrepreneurship spirit into our children from the outside through education.” Yong Zhao

Other elements that could be incorporated: Critical Thinking, Choice, Connected Learning, Problem Finders/Solvers

Self-Assessment

Rationale: School has been set up in a way that we have become dependent upon someone else telling us how we are doing in our learning.  It is not only in our report card system, but also our evaluation process of educators.  Students will encounter bad teachers, teachers will encounter bad principals, and principals will encounter weak superintendents.  If we create a system that becomes dependent upon someone above else to tell us “how we are doing”, this quickly falls apart when that someone is not strong.  Having your own understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, is hugely beneficial not only in education, but in all elements of life, whether it is personal or professional.

Idea: Blogs as Digital Portfolios are an opportunity to not only showcase learning, but an opportunity to take time to reflect and grow from the process.  Having my own digital portfolio for the last five years (this blog), has helped me grow more than most professional learning opportunities that have been given to me.  I have collected and developed resources on both “how” to create a digital portfolio, and the power of learning through this type of self-assessment.  I feel that there is more growth in this type of process because I own my learning; it is not graded by someone else, but also documents my learning process over time so that I can easily see my own growth.

Although there may be “guidelines” that must be done for teacher evaluation (three visits into the classroom, etc.), having educators their own ongoing portfolio is a great opportunity to shift the conversation from the “evaluator” to the “learner”.  For example, the traditional conversation that has happened in evaluations is that observations are shared from the viewpoint of the administrator, to a teacher.  Conversations can be started from these types of evaluations, but from my experience, the focus is far too great on the evaluator than it is on the teacher.  By using a digital portfolio process as part of the (self) evaluation, the conversation can simply be started by asking the questions, “Where are you strong and where do you need to grow?”  The shift in this process is to the learner, and as Dean Shareski has stated, blogging is a great way to develop better educators. Putting an emphasis on this type of self-assessment is not only beneficial to the individual learner, but when shared openly, can help drive change.  The more we are able to see and understand the learning of other educators both inside and outside our organizations, the more we can tap into one another to drive positive change.

Other elements that could be incorporated: Reflection, Voice, Critical Thinking, Connected Learning

Critical Thinking

Rationale: In this video on “Critical Thinking”, this visual is shared to help us better understand elements of the process:

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 10.28.04 AM

In a world where information is in abundance, it is important for our students to be able to take information, understand their own thoughts and biases, as well as develop criteria to evaluate information, while developing questions to challenge conventional wisdom.  The image below shares what developing “critical thinkers” moves us towards;

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 1.03.26 PM

Although this is something that we are looking for in our students, do we promote this in meaningful ways with our own professional learning?  Not just by learning about “critical thinking”, but pushing our own organizations by encouraging this within our organizations.  If we are ever to move forward as schools, we need to have leadership open to people asking questions and developing what we already see.  A flattened organization is the only place that this type of thinking will thrive.

Idea: There has been a lot of information shared throughout this document, and I think that this gives us an opportunity to challenge our conventional wisdom of professional learning.  As I stated earlier, these are not “prescriptive ideas”, but my own thoughts on how we can revamp professional learning.  This is not “black and white” but grey.  Is it possible with staff to develop criteria on what successful professional learning looks like, and then develop new ideas on how it could be implemented.

What I would love to see in our schools is this process being implemented on an individual basis where staff share what they believe to be successful personal learning, and provide a plan on how this could be implemented at a personal level.  Is it possible to develop individual learning plans for ourselves to really take ownership of our learning?  Can we take what we know, and apply it to better professional learning for ourselves?

Other elements that could be incorporated: Opportunities for innovation, Voice, Choice, Problem-Solvers Finders

Concluding Thoughts

Professional learning in many places, needs an overhaul.  I see educators go to places like EdCamp and share how excited they are about the opportunities for learning that happens at those types of events, yet it is rare that I see people sharing how excited they are to attend their own PD days.  We need to change that mindset by tapping into the different types of learning opportunities that are present today.

It is not about doing everything that I have suggested, or to be honest, any of it.  Really, it’s  about contemplating why we do what we do, and then thinking about how we do it.  If we do not change the way we do our professional learning, nothing will change in the classroom.


(If you want to read both part 1 and 2 as one piece, here it is on a Google Document.)

 

Quick Guide

Element Activity Links/Resources
Voice #EDUin30 type activityTweeting one thing a day of the learning that is happening in your school What is #EDUin30?
Choice #EDCAMP professional learning day What is EdCamp?
Reflection Embedding blogging time into learning or even something as simple as giving people time to reflect on what they have learned throughout the day Create a survey using Google Forms
Problem Solvers-Finders Inquiry Based Learning Professional Development Inquiry Based Professional Learning
Connected Learning Using Social Media to develop their own learning networks (The networked learner Edublogs Teacher Challenges
Self-Assessment Blogs as Digital Portfolios Resources for Digital Portfolios
Critical Thinkers Developing Criteria for what powerful professional learning looks like and helping to create the day. What is critical thinking?
Opportunities for Innovation Innovation Day or Genius Hour embedded into professional learning time Educators Innovation Day
Fed-Ex Prep Time

 

 

8 Things to Look for in Today’s Professional Learning (Part 1)

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 4.39.24 PM
Over two years ago, I wrote “8 Things To Look for in Today’s Classroom”, and more recently, Sylvia Duckworth created the above visual that has been shared numerous times.  As I am in the process of going deeper into the topic, someone asked me if this is something that we could do in professional development.  As someone who is a big believer in creating experiences for educators where they partake in the types of learning that should happen in the classroom, I thought this suggestion made total sense.

To be honest with you, professional learning in many cases needs an overhaul.  If the best thing that professional learning has to offer is lunch, we need to think different.  But how many educators are really excited about the types of professional learning opportunities that are offered in their school?  Like, “wake-up-in-the-morning-and-can’t-wait-to-get-to-work” excited? What is promising though, is that many schools are moving away from the traditional types of professional learning that weren’t working for staff, and trying some new ideas.

Below, I am going to offer some of my own thoughts, not solutions, to different ways that professional learning can happen in schools and districts.  This is more “thinking openly” for myself than anything, but I wanted to try to go deeper into this process.

So where I thought I would start is taking each one of the elements shared in the “8 Things”, and try to share an idea that focuses on one of the elements specifically, but obviously, each idea can have multiple elements.

Here is each element with the corresponding letters to identify them in each activity.

Voice (V), Choice (C) , Connected Learning (CL), Problem-Finders/Solvers (PFS), Reflection (R) , Self-Assessment (SA), Critical Thinking (CT), Opportunities for Innovation (INNO)

Below is each element, with the rationale on why it is important, and then one or two ideas, either large or small, and not necessarily delivered on a typical professional development day

Voice

Rationale: Sharing ideas with others openly, can lead to what Chris Andersen would refer to as “crowd-accelerated innovation”.  Empowering only a few voices often leads to ideas only from a few people, which does not tap into the ability that we have to flatten our organizations in our world today.  Sharing “voice” openly also helps educators to be more cognizant of their digital footprint.

Idea: Similar to the #EDUin30 initiative, staff could share through video reflections something that they have learned at a professional learning day, or on a monthly basis that could easily be compiled into a Storify document to be shared with the community.  Some people are not comfortable sharing on video, so they could easily share to a hashtag a picture, a blog post, or any other type of media. This really taps into the “wisdom of the room”, and could have a major impact on the culture and community, when we see everyone as a teacher and a learner.

What if every teacher tweeted one thing a day that they did in their classroom to a school hashtag, and they took five minutes out of their day to read each other’s tweets?  What impact would that have on learning and school culture?

Other elements that could be incorporated: Reflection, Connected Learning, Self-Assessment, Critical Thinking


Choice

Rationale: “Owning the learning” helps to ensure that the learning actually happens, yet a lot of professional learning is top down and decided for individuals. A.J. Juliani, in his post “The Struggle to Do Work that Matters”, shared this quote from Simon Sinek.

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Tapping into one’s passions for learning, is more likely going to lead to people not only going deep, but embracing what they have learned, and giving them the opportunity to lead, hopefully developing “intrapreneurs” and innovators within the organization.

Idea: EdCamp has been sweeping the entire world, and is a great way for educators to have ownership of their learning.  Sessions are developed, created, and led, by educators that partake in the event, which lead to rich and deep conversations, because the people in the room are passionate about the topic.  The EdCamp format is something that should happen a lot more in professional learning days with schools.  Many would say that this is not something they have time to do with a limited amount of time for professional learning, but if “learning” is the priority of the school, creating time and opportunities for deep learning should be the norm, not the exception.

Other elements that could be incorporated: Voice, Reflection, Critical Thinking, Opportunities for Innovation, Problem Finders-Solvers

Reflection

Rationale: Reflection is not only powerful for learning, but powerful for personal growth, and should be embedded into all of our professional learning days.  Although collaboration is an important process to growth of an organization, people need time to process ideas and thoughts, and without actually having that time to think, we lose out on many voices.  Also, learning is deeply personal, and without reflection time and having the opportunity to connect your own ideas and personal learning to what is being shared, it is harder to go deep into ideas.

I reflect, therefore I learn.  

This is something that is necessary in our learning environments today.

Idea: One of the practices that I have done at my workshops, is that I will share ideas and some of my thinking, but then give an extended break with reflection time embedded into that time.  I will use something as simple as a “Google Form” to give people an opportunity to process their thoughts, while also tapping into the power of open reflection.  Knowing that your thoughts are going to be open to not only each other, but the entire world, sometimes help people process and think deeper about the ideas that they are about to share.  As Clive Thompson suggests;

“Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.” Why Even the Worst Bloggers are Making Us Smarter

The one element of this that is really important is asking people to not only share their thoughts, but to ask questions moving forward.  Asking questions is often more important to learning than knowing answers because they drive us forward.  As I have said before, school should not be a place where answers go to die, but questions come to life.  Asking questions is imperative in the reflection process.

Other elements that could be incorporated: Voice, Self-Assessment, Critical Thinking, Connected Learning

Problem-Finders/Solvers

Rationale:  Ewan McIntosh has a brilliant Ted Talk discusses the notion of “problem-based learning” and how it is not beneficial to give students problems that aren’t real.  Instead, he focuses on the idea that students need to be “problem finders”; being able to find some tough challenges and then being able to solve those problems. If we are to ask students to find and solve problems in the classroom, it is essential that we put ourselves in situations where we are doing the same in our work.  How often are we put in situations as a staff where we are asked to identify and solve problems as a staff on our pursuit to creating better opportunities for our students? Short answer; not enough.

This visual by Krissy Venosdale should not only be reserved for our students, but everyone involved in education as we are all learners:

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These are all crucial characteristics of the problem finder/solver, and something that we should work to develop at both the individual and organizational level.

Idea: Recently, I wrote a post on the idea of “Inquiry Based Professional Learning”, and tweaked the introduction from Alberta Education on Inquiry Based Learning to reflect the importance of the process for staff;

“Effective inquiry is more than just asking questions. Inquiry-based learning is a complex process where students learners formulate questions, investigate to find answers, build new understandings, meanings and knowledge, and then communicate their learnings to others to create real solutions to improve learning and the environment of the classroom(s) and school.  In classrooms a school where teachers administrators emphasize inquiry-based learning, students staff are actively involved in solving authentic (real-life) problems within the context of the curriculum and/or community.  These powerful learning experiences engage and empower students staff deeply.”

If you read the comments from the post shared by others, you will not only see ideas from schools around the world that are already doing variations of the process, but finding it powerful in their professional learning. By looking at not only challenging the way schools are, but empowering our community to act upon their solutions, this could be a very valuable process in helping our organizations move forward, while modelling the type of learning we want to happen in our classrooms.

Other obvious elements that could be incorporated: Critical Thinking, Voice, Choice, Opportunities for Innovation

Moving Forward

The deeper I go into this topic, the more I realize how important it is to really think about professional learning and how our experiences, shape opportunities for our students. Please feel free to comment and share your ideas/thoughts/questions below.  I will look at the other four elements in the next blog post.

Getting Where We Need to Go

Leadership can be tricky.

You have to juggle respecting tradition and research that has been done in the past, while focusing on the people in the building right now (students and staff), and also keeping an eye on the future.  What is often necessary is having an awareness of all three; ignoring the past sometimes loses people in the present, and focusing too much on the future sometimes does the exact same thing.

With what we know now (or at least have the access to knowing now), tells us a lot about the shaping of the schools and the opportunity to constantly look at a shifting pedagogy.  Dean Shareski once said, “the longer we keep up the facade that school is the primary place of learning, the sooner we will become irrelevant”, and there has been no more important time in our world to develop our students as true “lifelong learners”.  Some schools aren’t even close to the “present” right now.  YouTube, probably one of the biggest libraries of information in the world is closed in many schools, or access is only given to teachers.  Where does that leave our students?  Do we develop learners that do not see YouTube as a rich learning resource because of our own concerns and fears?  Of course YouTube has great entertainment value, but it can also be used for powerful learning, but people are not seeing this.  This is not even a focus on the future; this is what our world looks like today.

But what about the future?

There are still schools that are getting to the point of providing WiFi to their students and staff, leaving places like Starbucks as a more accessible learning environment, not only because of Internet access, but because of the different seating arrangements that serve a wide range of learners.  Yet the goal for some schools is to build an infrastructure that supports one device per child, but I am seeing adults in my workshops using two and sometimes three, depending on what they need at that time.  I know money is a part of this, but it is also shifting our thinking.  Do we want to put in a lot of money into providing the bare minimum amount of access (“sorry…YouTube needs to be blocked because of bandwidth issues”), or do we want to be thoughtful and create rich learning experiences that include not only viewing, but creating different forms of media.  If a student best shares their learning through creating a video and posting it on YouTube, shouldn’t schools provide the access to do it?

As I was sitting with principal Brad Gustafson on a panel recently, and he was sharing some of the amazing things that are happening at his school, someone asked him “where do you get the money to do this?”  I was nervous that he was going to share a grant process that may have been only available to people in his state of Minnesota, but he simply said that he shifted money over to a budget line that he created called “innovation”.  He did not add money but simply rethought what the school was doing and adjusted the budget accordingly.  If your textbook budget is eating up a major chunk of your money, what does that tell you?  Could you do something different that provides better learning opportunities for your students?

I recently heard that a principal who is in school that is trying to go paperless decided that when their photocopier went down, it didn’t make sense to get a new one.  If you are trying to go paperless, why is a photocopier an essential need?  I heard this story from a third party and do not know all of the details, but I do know it would take guts because this pushes people in a different direction. Could they still use paper?  Probably, but do they need to spend thousands of dollars on a machine that has traditionally been used for worksheets?

In my own context, we developed a digital portfolio process that can be used for a student’s time in our school, but can also be exported to their own space when they either graduate, leave our schools, or at any time of their choosing.  This gives peace of mind to educators moving forward, yet it also ensure that years of learning shared in one space is not hidden within the school walls.  Can you imagine doing 12 years of work in anything, and when you leave, it is not accessible to others, or even yourself? Our universities and colleges pushinig for digital portfolios? Maybe they aren’t right now, but they will be, and even if by chance they never want to see this, the learning is hopefully invaluable to the student.  This is both focused on the present and the future.

Recently, it was shared that Nova Scotia was going Google Apps across the province for schools, yet some organizations say that this is impossible to do this.  So why on one hand do we have an entire province moving this direction, yet organizations saying that it is not possible? I know that communities and situations are different, but I also know that some places have chosen one direction not because of where they need to go, but are focused on the platforms they (usually IT departments) have been trained in.  If it a good decision for kids (which is what ultimately matters), it shouldn’t matter what you have been trained in, but where you need to go.  Yes, things might be easier for a little while, but where is the accountability to what our students need and are more likely to use?

I understand why teachers use things like “Edmodo” for students (it is a great service from what I have seen), but I have not seen adults en masse create Edmodo groups to connect with one another outside of education.  Are you using this service to provide the training wheels to something else, or is this a “school solution” that is not really focused on what our learners are more likely to use on their own?  I am not saying that it is wrong to use it, but it is important that in education when we create solutions that we do not just think about what is good for today, but what is necessary for tomorrow.

If you go back and answer the question, what is best for kids, what do your answers lead  you to, and what are you doing to get to that place? True learning organizations constantly move and grow, and for this to happen with our students, it has to happen at all levels of leadership.  If we expect our students to learn and grow as individuals, we need to model this at the organizational level.

Wayne Gretzky once said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”  As educators, it is essential that we do not try to think about only today, but ultimately what our work is leading to in the future of our schools and our students.  We need to try and understand where the puck is going to be and get there.

 

Are you focused on the “stuff” or the person?

Here are two approaches to the same thing…

Let’s say you want educators in your school to start reflective and professional blogs.  One way that you could get them to do it, is by really pushing the value of blogging, show them the “why”, talk about the need for it, and put some real pressure on others to move ahead.  You could probably mandate it (which I have seen done with many initiatives that have failed) and have people do it for awhile, but as soon as they can get out of it, many will.  There are many initiatives out there that would be beneficial to our students, and focusing on how we are so behind, rarely ever puts us ahead.

Now a different approach, and one that I am still working on in my growth.  Let’s say you wanted educators to blog, but you didn’t start at that point.  Maybe you go into classrooms, observe things that are happening, and talk about their positive impact on student learning.  Sit down with the teacher, talk about their strengths, and then share the impact that they could have on the rest of the building on other educators, and perhaps sitting down and writing a blog together could be a way that we could share those strengths with others, and make great teaching and learning go viral.

In each scenario, you could have an educator write a blog, but in the first, we are starting from a deficit model (here are the things we can’t do), and the second, is starting from a place of abundance.

As an administrator, it is important that you know the strengths of each member of your team, before you know their weaknesses.  If you can’t find them, maybe you aren’t looking.  If you dig down deeper into each scenario, the first starts with a focus on the outcome (blogging), but the second starts with a focus on the person.  That is leadership.  Stephen Covey made the simple distinction between management and leadership; we manage “things”, we lead people.

Taking time to find the strengths of individuals is not an expenditure, but an investment, that can come in copious amounts of growth.  In most cases, when people know that they are valued, the distance they are willing to go is much further than when we constantly point out weaknesses.

A Higher Chance of Becoming Great? The “Twitter” Factor

I walked into the room and I could tell right away.

This was a teacher I had never met and knew very little about, but the atmosphere in his classroom was great.  As I walked with my colleague, I asked her the question, “Do you think he is on Twitter?”  I wanted her to make an educated guess, and her thoughts were the same as mine; definitely.

How did we know this?

As I walked in, I saw unique seating spaces, posters all over the wall that focused on “taking risks” and encouraging students to think different.  The walls were also covered in information about “Genius Hour” and their recent “Maker Faire”.  At the time, the students were also learning how to play chess with a master player, who also happened to be a grandparent. Notice that there was no technology mentioned above, but just about a different learning environment.  There were multiple, amazing opportunities for learning in this classroom to reach students where they were at, and tap into their strengths and passions.

So when we asked the teacher if they were on Twitter, he mentioned that he was but he didn’t necessarily share that much online.  But it was his access to information that made things look differently in his classroom.  When I asked if he had seen an impact in his classroom from the use of Twitter, he wasn’t sure, but it was a type of “boiling frog” scenario.  The change could have happened so gradually that he did not notice the small steps that could have been made to where he was now.  Just being a “lurker” in that space though, had made a difference.

Now I am not saying that if you are NOT on Twitter, you are ineffective.  There might be several classrooms that look like the one I have briefly described that were designed by a teacher who may not be on Twitter, that receive their information elsewhere.  What I do know is that looked NOTHING like my classroom when I first started teaching, because honestly, I did not have the access to the same information that teachers do now.  Our opportunities have changed and people have taken advantage to benefit themselves, and more importantly, their students.

Isolation is now a choice educators make.  We have access to not only information, but each other. We need to tap into that.

Being on Twitter doesn’t make you a great teacher any more than not being on Twitter makes you ineffective.  There are a lot of great teachers who do some pretty amazing things that do not connect online.

However, I do believe that having that access 24/7 to great ideas through the medium and the connection to other teachers increases your chances on being great.  If you really think about it,  how could it not?

Innovation has no age barrier.

Recently, I was blown away by this TedX Talk from Kate Simonds, talking about the importance of tapping into student voice.  Her talk was so simple yet so powerful, and as a speaker, I was so impressed by her talk.

Kate discussed not only celebrating the students that blow you away with incredible projects or inventions, but tapping into all students.  She goes beyond “hearing” their voice, but actually tapping into the wisdom of our students.  She implores the audience to tap into youth who may have a different way of looking into a problem.  She also challenges the audience to really think of what we want from students, and what our system promotes:

“As students we have no say in what we learn, or how we learn it, yet we are expected to absorb it all, take it all in, and be expected to run the world some day.  We are expected to raise our hands to use the restroom, then three months later, be ready to go to college, or have a full time job, support ourselves, and live on our own. It’s not logical.”

Powerful stuff.  Are we listening?  Even if we are, are we doing anything about it?

She also referenced a quote from her teacher that was quite sarcastic, but seemingly true:

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The problems that we currently have in education, were made by the same people now trying to solve them.  She has a very valid point.

Kate’s approach and belief of tapping into students is powerful, and I have seen areas tap into this.  Ontario currently has a “student trustee” on every board in the province, that has a voice in the organization, yet this is one province that I know of, with a minimal percentage of the board represented by a student.  This needs to be expanded.

Way too often, “leadership” taps into a very small amount of people to generate ideas.  The smaller group, the more limited we are in hearing different ideas. Once you decide the group that you listen to, you limit yourself to the ideas from those voices.  This is why it is so important to open up communication and garner those ideas from anywhere.  Innovation best flourishes in a flattened organization.

One of the things that happens in Parkland School Division is that we have a student committee that looks at what is happening in our schools, and encourages them to discuss and share ideas.  Recently, the students were encouraged to take a visual created based on my work to start a conversation with the teachers at their school (shared below).

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If this is their education, it is important that they have the opportunity to discuss it, but also help guide the direction and help come up with new ideas.  I would love to see more schools encourage students to sit on leadership teams, professional learning opportunities, and whatever other opportunities we have so that we can learn from each other.  We often forget to tap into the best resource we have in our schools; our students.

The conference I attended this past week (MACUL in Detroit, Michigan), had a student showcase right outside the main hall.  Students were not only discussing their learning, but were empowered to teach adults as well.  This should be the standard, not the exception.

I am proud to say that in my TedX Talk a couple of years ago, I wanted to tap into “our voice”, which was not limited to educators, but was really about also empowering the voice of our students.  Kate reminds me deeply why this is important.

Whether you are 5, 50, or 100, you can have a great ideas, and we need to recognize that we are lucky enough to have curious and creative minds in education at all ages.

Innovation has no age barrier.

(Please take time to watch the TedX Talk below from Kate Simonds. Share it, discuss it with your staff and watch it with your students.  I would love to hear the thoughts of others on this brilliant talk.)

Confidence and Competence

“Schools kill creativity.”

“Innovation is crucial in education.”

“We are preparing students for jobs that don’t currently exist.”

“Education needs disruption.”

These are all statements that you might have heard on a Ted Talk, at a conference keynote, or on any professional learning day.  They push thinking, make people feel uncomfortable, and are tailored towards systems thinking.  A powerful vision for education is needed in our world today.

Yet what comes after these statements?  Many school districts around the world are rushing to revamp outdated mission and vision statements to reflect these changes in society, yet if nothing changes in student learning, these statements becomes  only new words followed by previous actions.

“A vision without execution is an hallucination.” Jeffrey E. Garten

To be an effective leader, it is necessary to be able to take these statements and give concrete examples of possibilities.  “Systems thinking” is useless if it is not turned into action.  Robert Sutton, author of “Good Boss, Bad Boss”,  talked about the importance of helping move people along a continuum to a larger vision.  Small steps are necessary to help people build success along the way, which leads to building confidence and competence.  I wrote and revisit a post that I shared a couple of years ago on “8 Things To Look for in Today’s Classroom“, because I wanted to go deeper into a vision for the classroom today.  How could I be an effective leader at the organizational level if I didn’t understand the opportunities for students today?

One of the benefits of mobile technologies is that no leader is tethered to any room at any time. Spending time in classrooms, seeing great practice in action, and being both a part of the teaching and learning, is not something that is only recommended, but is necessary to move organizations forward.  Model in what you seek.

Systems thinking is important. but if you aren’t able to go deeper into a vision and articulate what it could look like for the learners we serve, all of those statements become only tweetable moments as opposed to actionable items.