Tag Archives: innovative leadership

3 Questions Crucial to Creating the Conditions for Change

Change

Frustration is an easy emotion when you either see opportunities for change in our work, but don’t see others moving to the point that you have envisioned.  In one day, I remember talking to a group of administrators, teachers, and parents, and I noticed something amazing.  When working with the teachers, there was a comment that they wanted change, but were blocked by their administrators and parents within the community, some of the administrators said they were slowed by the teachers and parents, and then the parents said (I bet you can see where this is going) said they wanted something different but the schools (educators and administrators)  were not making it happen.

The mindset was that was change was something in the control of others, when reality states that we are often our own barriers to the change process. If we want to create conditions where others see the importance of and are willing to embrace change, is does not start with giving answers, but asking questions, listening, and understanding.  Change is not something you do to others, but something we experience ourselves.

With that being said, if we get to the point in leadership that we are frustrated that others won’t change, we are missing the point of why we are in leadership in the first place.  Simply telling someone to change will not work, but helping to create experiences where people make emotional connections where they see their own change is imperative is crucial.  Showing someone that something is “better”, does not mean they will embrace it.  People are often more comfortable with a known “average”, than an unknown “good”.  Helping others get to a place where they are willing to risk trying something new is crucial, and modelling that we are willing to take risks ourselves is crucial.

Here are a few questions that I think are imperative to creating the conditions for change to not only happen, but to flourish:

1. How do I continuously model that I am willing to grow to those that I serve?

Asking people to take risks does not happen without leaders that openly model taking risks.  Leaders continuously learn and grow, but if it is hidden in a space where those we serve cannot see, then their reluctance to change is warranted by the lack of change happening from the “top” of the hierarchy.  Many feel, “Why would I change, when those above me are not willing to do the same?”

2. Do people have an emotional connection to why change is imperative, not just what change looks like?

Leadership is about heart and mind; both elements need to be focused upon.  If we are not able to connect on a deeper level or feel why change is imperative, others will not be compelled to try something new, especially without the guarantee of immediate success.

3. As leaders, have we removed barriers that help us to unleash talent, not control others?

People always want better, but they often not only deal with their own reluctance, but sometimes page after page of policies and procedures, or structures (both physical and organizational) that are barriers to change.

As mentioned earlier, we can only control the path and direction that we decide to go in, not that of others.  What is important is creating the conditions where people are not only willing, but even feel compelled to move forward in a safe environment where risks are not only tolerated, but encouraged.

Adjusting to the Room

(I was asked about the thinking behind how I design my workshops so I thought I would just write it down for others to see a process.)

As someone who does a lot of professional workshops, I am often asked for an agenda ahead of time.  Although I do have some objectives in my mind of where the group could go, I usually send a rough itinerary to the organizer on a google document.  The reason I share it specifically on a google document is because I know that I won’t be sticking with it, whether it is the time or the activities.  How could I organize the learning for the day for a group without actually meeting the group?

Here is how I usually set up my day for a “new” group, no matter what the objectives are for the day.  The first thing that I do is give some kind of content that I am going to share.  It is important to start with some content, even if it is something that some people “know in the room”.  To make sure I tap into those that “know”, I always use a hashtag so that they can share their ideas with groups, or even challenge some of the things that I am saying.  This helps because it lends to collaboration through a backchannel, as opposed to only learning from the person in the front.

After content is given, what I do is try to give a “reflection break”, where I actually give time to share their ideas on a simple google form, and also connect with people in the room.  I have been in sessions where content is given, and then people are asked to immediately share their ideas with people near them, and for many, this isn’t working, because they need time to process.  Giving them a space not only gives them an opportunity to put their thoughts together, but it also allows other to see their thoughts.  Although I do this in a shared google form that everyone can see, it is not mandatory as some are not comfortable sharing their thoughts openly immediately, and honestly this is fine.

Why I call it a “reflection break” is that I usually give people 25-30 minutes to take time to reflect but to also connect with others in the room informally.  A few years ago when I was in Australia, I noticed that in workshops, there were no breaks that were shorter than 30 minutes in the day, which at first I thought was strange, but then saw the types of conversations that were had during the break that were crucial to the learning.  For years, I have been used to a North American version of professional learning where you grab a snack, go to the bathroom, and are ready to go.  Connecting with people in the room ensures that even if the presentation isn’t meeting the needs of some, the people in the room can fill those voids.

One of the key components during the reflection process is that I either ask participants to share what they would want to learn during the day, or ask them, “What is one big question you have moving forward regarding today?”  The opportunity for participants to share a question, helps me to shape the rest of the day based on the people of the room and their thoughts.  We often learn more from a person’s questions than we do their answers. After I read these results, the rest of the day is shaped based on this feedback.  So basically, the first 1-2 hours have a plan, and after that, we are going with the needs of the people in the room.

Here are some keys to this for a presenter that are almost in contradiction.  First of all, to be able to “go with the room”, you have to know your content area in a very deep manner and be able to push learning on the fly, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, you also have to be comfortable with not knowing everything and learning from the room.  As a teacher, if you want to truly create a “learning community”, you have to create opportunities for others to learn from others, not only the teacher.

As we continue on with the day, I leave spaces that I will add resources I know of, or the participants suggest.  This way, there is time for people to explore after the fact, and to be honest, use the work that we do with others.  Although I have started the day off and again, had some ideas of where we could go, it is great to be able to co-create the day with participants, and I am hoping that they used what they have learned with others, both the content and the process.  Obviously, all of this is happening through a google document so I always make sure to share a shortened link at the beginning of the session (bit.do has become my favourite URL shortener because of the immediate need to customize the link).

Here are a couple of things I think about this process and how it ties to the work we do in the classroom:

Are we comfortable with this same format in a room of learners where learning goes with the ebb and flow of the room, not the teacher?

There is an importance in being knowledgeable and flexible as a teacher.  I don’t understand how people create a year plan for a group of learners that they haven’t even met that is strict dates attached.  The learning in the room should adjust to the groups and individuals.

This would be extremely hard to do with a group of students that didn’t have access to devices of their own.  It does not mean that they will use the device the entire time, but a google document is much more flexible than a piece of paper.

I have usually between 3-6 hours with a group so that we can go deep into the learning and have lots of opportunities for questions and exploration.  Although it would be tougher in a class of 60 minutes, there are definitely variations that could be done.  But, if our schedules are in 60-80 minute chunks, we need to really rethink those time frames and how it lends to deep learning.

I know of one school in Norway that has “all-day” classes and I was told that simply adjusting that schedule created transformational opportunities.  Innovative thinking is needed to create environments (which doesn’t just mean space, but also time) where we can go much deeper with our learning.

This isn’t meant to be life changing learning process, but just a different view of the type of learning that can happen in a day when we have access to tools that allow us to adjust so quickly to the room.  The more I have done this, the more I have realized the importance of focusing on the people in the room, and adjusting to them, as opposed to them adjusting to me.  It is something I constantly tweak and think about, but it looks a lot different from the type of learning that used to happen in my classrooms.

There Should Be More than One “Lead Learner”

(Note…based on the first few comments I wanted to update the post to reflect my VERY strong belief that principals/superintendents should model their learning.  It has been updated below and I appreciate the pushback that helped me to communicate my thoughts!)

The term “Lead Learner” has been one that has been thrown around a lot by superintendents, principals, and other people at the top of the traditional hierarchy, mostly in reference to themselves.  As a principal, I actually used the term referring to myself in a blog post I wrote in January 2011, and am not sure where I heard it, or just used it on a whim.  What I do know now though is that I am reluctant to using the term when talking about a principal or superintendent, and I rarely (if ever) have heard someone else call their principal or superintendent the “lead learner”.  Does that say something about the term?

I do however, understand why it is being used so often though.  Principals, superintendents, and other traditional “bosses” see their roles changing, and see this as part of flattening the organization, or at least that is how I saw it when I first used it.  I wanted to model that I was a learner just like everyone else in my school, and, as Chris Kennedy would say,  I wanted to be “elbows deep in learning” with them.  The reality though is that the term still refers to one person being in an authority position, and for me now, evokes the ideas that the principal is seen as the “holder of all knowledge”.  This was not how my school worked at all.  There were not only people who knew a lot more than me in many areas, but they were also more passionate about going deeper in the topic.  I was definitely not the “lead learner” in many areas, nor did I want to be.  If you think about it, in any school a “lead learner” could be in any area, and can be any person, and is often our own students.  In a culture where “everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner”, the term “lead learner” could and should be applied to many.

The role of principal is evolving, but I also know that some people need the principal to be the principal.  There is a point where people need to know that in tough situations, they can count on someone to back them up and be there for them.  I had many principals step in for me when I didn’t know what to do, or supported me in tough situations.  I didn’t need them to be the “lead learner”, I needed them to be the principal.  Great leaders don’t get consensus on all decisions, but sometimes have to make the tough ones on their own.  This comes as part of the role and sometimes it is important to know who to go to when there is a struggle.

The title does not necessarily make the role, only how you do it.  

Yet words mean something and if we are truly to create a culture where all people can step up and explore their passions and we believe that everyone has the potential to lead and bring out their best, the term “lead learner” should never be reserved for one person.

Should the principal/superintendent still openly share their learning?  Absolutely.  With technology now, that is easier than ever, but note I used the term “model” their learning.  Administrators have been learning forever but it was hard to communicate and share their learning on an ongoing basis.  That being said, there is a difference between a “leader that learns” and a “lead learner”, as one creates the notion that there is a “top learner”, where we should create an environment that in organizations, both inside and outside, learning by all is essential to success.

Questions to Drive Growth #3QuestionsEDU

I am blessed to work in a school district that has done some really great work, but is constantly asking questions of where we can go.  Over the last few days, having conversations with principal Karen Stride-Goudie and my superintendent, Tim Monds, I have been really thinking about the questions that are driving my work and focus right now.  As I thought about these questions, I was reminded of Ewan McIntosh’s idea of “Problem Finders”, as opposed to simply “Problem Solvers” and how this connected to our own growth plans.  In the past, my own professional growth plans have focused more on what I am trying to learn, as opposed to what questions I am going to focus on.  This has really encouraged me to think about the questions and “why” they are important to me.

There are so many questions that I have, but if I want to be successful in my work, it is imperative that I narrow my focus to a few that will ultimately drive my work and learning.  I encourage others to think about your own roles and think of three questions that may drive your work now or into the upcoming school year.  The process I am choosing to use is to pose these three questions to drive my work and discuss why they are important.  No matter what your position in education, this process can really help you focus on what you learn, and the more questions that are shared in an open network, the better we can all become.  I encourage anyone to share a reflection through either a video or blog post (or whatever you are comfortable with) to the hashtag #3QuestionsEDU.

Mine questions to drive growth are the following:

 

  1. How do we a create a culture where the “innovator’s mindset” is the norm instead of the exception? (Or, how do we move from “pockets of innovation” to a “culture of innovation”?)

Why is this a focus?

What I have noticed in a lot of the work that I have done is that either the communications from the school or district level, really focuses on sharing the stories of a few educators and their classrooms, as opposed to being the norm in schools.  Even doing visits in schools around the world, I am often asked to go visit specific teacher classrooms who are deemed “innovative”, as opposed to being able to randomly walk around and see that is the norm.  I do not see this as an educator problem, but a leadership problem.  What conditions must we create to really create an “innovative culture”?

  1. Within the current confines of school infrastructure, how do we create environments that promote innovative teaching and learning?

Why is this a focus?

The physical structure of schools, especially older buildings, does not necessarily create an environment that is conducive to innovative learning.  When I think of the best “learning spaces” in the world, schools rarely pop into my mind.  With that being said, it is impossible to think that we are going to tear down our buildings in the near future and be able to start from scratch.  Instead of always asking people to think “outside of the box”, I am trying to think, how do we be innovative inside of it.  There are many educators around the world have created innovative learning environments within the “traditional” spaces of the classroom.   Environment is often as important as mindset, so how do we create spaces for kids that really promote innovative learning.

  1. How do we create professional learning opportunities that our staff are excited to be a part of on a consistent basis?

Why is this a focus?

When educators experience something different, they often create something different.  Unfortunately, I do not see educators flocking to their own professional learning opportunities, unless there is an awesome lunch being served that day,  This is a problem.  We have to rethink what learning looks like for professionals so that they experience the learning that can happen with our students and that they see themselves as lifelong-innovative learners.  To be a master teacher, you need to become a master learner, and this again falls upon the shoulders of leadership (leadership is from any position) in creating different experiences for staff, and ultimately helping them to create those learning experiences for themselves.

So there is a quick synopsis of the questions that are going to drive my thinking and keep me up at night.  What are yours?  I think this is a good practice whether you are a superintendent, teacher, secretary, or any other position, and hopefully this is something that could trickle down to students.

 

Please share your three questions to the hashtag #3QuestionsEDU in any form. I would love to see what is driving the learning of others.

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:

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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;

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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)

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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.