Tag Archives: innovative teaching and learning

Why are you doing that again?

There was about 100 educators in front of me, and we were talking about challenging things that we are used to in schools.

I asked them, “How many of you like doing icebreaker activities during staff meetings?”

Three hands went up.

Out of 100.

What??!?!

Knowing ahead of time when I asked the question, that there were not be a jockeying for position because so many hands would be raised sharing their undying love for this practice that happens in so many schools, I then asked them, “so why do so many schools still do them?”

I remember Bruce Dixon once saying, “There is no profession in the world that you watch someone do your job for sixteen years before you do it.”  We have become so ingrained with certain thoughts and dispositions after years of experiencing something as a participant that we often just accept “what is”, as opposed to questioning it.  When teachers become principals, they often make time for that “ice breaker” activity because that was what they saw their former principals do.  If you didn’t like them as a teacher, why would you do this others when you become a principal?

Here’s the thing…You do not need to teach the way you were taught, and you certainly do not need to lead the way you were led.

Ask questions.

Think different.

Do not accept what has always been done is what you will always do.

The biggest barrier to change is often our own thinking. As individuals, we need to change that.

Yes, icebreakers might be good for people and teams because it pushes them out of their comfort zones, but for some people (myself included), it pushes them out of the room (or makes them start contemplating escape routes).

Is this the best way to build team and camaraderie in our buildings?

Are there other ways?

Have we even asked the question?

As mentioned in earlier posts, this is all about having the “innovator’s mindset”.  We need to start asking questions and looking at things with fresh eyes.  It is not only about thinking outside of the box, but thinking differently inside of it.

Should every educator be an “innovator”?

Having a conversation with an administrator, and talking about the notion of the “innovator’s mindset“, they asked me if I thought every educator should be an innovator.  I answered with one word.

Yes.

When we went deeper into the conversation, and the comment was made that not every educator is good with technology.   Innovation doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with technology as the two words are not necessarily synonymous, although technology allows us to accelerate and amplify the process if used in purposeful ways.  It is about having a mindset towards continuously developing new and better ideas as outlined below.

Innovator's Mindset

This was obviously built on Carol Dweck‘s work regarding the “fixed and growth mindset”, but it goes further in the notion and is essential in our work with students every day.

For example, you are working with a student and you have learned several strategies that you use to help for reading, yet none of them work for the student.  Do you give up, or do you take what you know (or find out things that you don’t know)  and try to figure out a new way to help this student?  If we simply go with what we know right now, a lot of students will be left behind since there is no one solution that helps every kid.  If there was, we would all know it.

Or what about the administrator that may have budget constraints and work within a system that expects us to do more with less?  If we do not think of new ways that we can do things, then how will we ever move forward?  Innovation is not about “stuff” but more about a way of thinking.  We live in a complex world that needs us to not do just what we have done, but to look for new and better ways to solve problems to help those we serve.  These are the characteristics of the innovator’s mindset.  This way of thinking is by far the biggest game changer in education; it will never be a technology.

This is not about embracing failure, but doing whatever we can to help our students today become successful.  The other idea is that “innovation” is not something reserved for the select few in education, but is something that all levels of our organization, from students to superintendents, need to embrace.

When we look at ourselves in terms of having the “innovator’s mindset” and say “that’s not me”, not only do we sell ourselves short, but our kids.  We need to constantly ask the question, “what is best for this learner?” This is a question we all need to continuously ask in education.

What do you want leaders to do with technology? (Updated Visual)

I worked with Bill Ferriter, who created the visual  “What do you want kids to do with technology?” on this updated version of “What do you want leaders to do with technology?”, adapted from my previous post on this topic.

This morning, Bill sent me the updated graphic that he had created. Bill has a ton of great slides that he also shares with the world, so I was honoured that he would create this for myself and others. You can see his creation in the tweet below:

(You can all see Bill’s original post on Flickr.)

First of all, this is not about “administrators” but about leadership, which can come from any position.  Secondly, all of the items listed on the “better” side can be done without technology and are core elements of great leadership.  Technology though can both amplify and accelerate.

If we are thoughtful on why we use technology and the impact it can have on leadership, all of these things can happen a lot faster with technology than they could without.

Crowd Accelerated Innovation

Sitting with a group of administrators yesterday, discussing having a school hashtag, I asked the following;

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?

As I thought about it, this seems simple yet could have a major impact.  Not only would we get a daily window into each other’s classrooms and accelerate learning, but this could accelerate relationships amongst staff, students, and community.  We would not only share our stories, but we would partake in short reflection every single day.

It reminded me of a quote from Chris Anderson:

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

The tools are all there to make it happen, we just need the thinking and the action.  Could this simple thing make a big difference in culture and community?

Individualized and Personalized Learning

Listening to Dr. Yong Zhao recently at a conference, he talked about the idea of “”individualized” and “personalized” learning. This is how I understood the differences between the two:

“individualized” learning is having students go through different paths to get to the same end point.  How you get there is different, but the destination is the same.

“Personalized” learning is having students go through their own paths to whatever endpoint they desire.  How you take the path and where you end up is totally dependent upon the strengths and interests of the learner.

So which path should schools focus on?  Honestly, there should be both elements in the process of school as we know it.

Individualized learning only works if the learner has ownership on the way they get to a certain point.  Currently, we are tied to a curriculum, but the way we achieve objectives is open-ended.  For example, if a student needs to show their understanding of a science objective, aren’t there several ways that this can happen?  Podcasts, videos, written assignments, whatever, can all be suggestions that are made to the student, but as a teacher, I would always leave the option of “other ways that you see suitable to share your learning on this objective”.  This allowed for students to go above and beyond what I could think of on my own, and gave them autonomy on the process.

Personalized learning really taps into the passions of students.  Initiatives like “Genius Hour“, “Edcamps for Students“, “Innovation Week”, or “Identity Day” provide opportunities for students to really shine and share what they are interested in.  Although these activities should not be simply an “event”, it is important that we do implement them at some level with our students as a starting point in schools to show how powerful these opportunities are in the first place.

Both of these elements of “individualized” and “personalized” learning should be evident in the environments in our school, and our crucial to student success both during and after their time in school.

When a student leaves school, they should not only have a comprehension of what they have learned, but more importantly, how they learn.  Isn’t that what we are striving for?

 

5 Ideas for Conversations on Change

“Teachers don’t want to change.”

I hate this statement.

It does more to end a conversation than it does to start it.

It is a comment I have heard far too often, and honestly, believe less and less and seems to be a way of blaming others for lack of growth in an organization.  We only have a finite amount of time in our day, and because of this, simply saying something is better doesn’t mean others agree.  A lack of change in any organization is often more a reflection on leadership than any group of people, or an individual.  The ability to “sell” change and create systems and a culture where trying something different is not only encouraged, but applauded, needs to be something that people in traditional leadership positions needs to constantly focus on.  Learning is something that never stops or stays stagnate, and because of that, organizations must reflect that we are not only in the business of “people”, but also of being open to and leading change.  It is the only constant.

For example, I have heard many conversations from educators wanting to try something new is met with so much bureaucracy and hurdle-jumping, that it is not worth the effort at the end of the day to try something different.  It is almost as if many schools are blocking their own teachers from being great.  The role of people in leadership and support positions is not to control talent, but to unleash it.

So what about those that may still be resistant to change?  How do we work with them.  As I look back to my best leaders, these are some things that I have noticed in their work in helping people move forward as individuals.

1.  Start every conversation focused on “what is best for kids”.

This is Stephen Covey’s focus on “starting with the end in mind”, but it is imperative that the “end” is explicit to people in any conversation.  The majority of educators are there for children, and if a conversation starts with talking about helping children, it helps to keep our focus on the important work that we do.  If as a leader, we are not able to share why something is best for kids, why would or should anyone embrace it anyway?  Conversations in education always need to start from this point.

2.  Listen.

So many people are constantly trying to sell something to someone else, and our conversations can go off track very soon.  If you really want someone else to move forward, it should not start with what you think it is important, but trying to be empathetic of another person’s situation and ideas.  Once you really understand where they are coming from, you have a totally different starting point from when you started in the first place.  It is also imperative that you are able to implement their point of view in your conversations, not simply separate ideas into “what you think” versus “what I think”.  There are common grounds but we need to listen to one another to find them.

3. Focus on where they are, not where you want to be.

Years ago, I started to really think about helping move people from “their point A to their point B”.  If you are able to break something into measurable chunks instead of having a grand vision of where everyone needs to be, it shows that there is a focus more on process, than product, which has become more of an emphasis in our classrooms.  These smaller wins along the way lead to someone building confidence and competence along the way, which helps leads to success.  As much as there is talk about the importance of “embracing failure”, people want to be successful.  We just have to realize that success looks different for different people, and that if we start where someone is instead of focusing on where we think they should be, people are more likely to be successful.

4. Walk away with a plan moving forward.

There are lots of great conversations that end with no action planned.  This is often a huge loss and can be a waste of time in the long run.  At the end of conversations we should look at what we are going to do because of the time we spent together, and also talk about following up in the future.  Writing something down also makes it more likely to happen, because we become more accountable to what we have shared.  Walking away without a mutual plan can often lead to nothing changing long term as there are so many other things that can get in the way.  It is also crucial for “check-ins” throughout the process.  I have seen a lot of schools have “Professional Growth Plans” that are written at the beginning of the year and then discussed at the end of it.  If you only focused on looking at something twice a year, how successful do you think it will be?

5. Support.

Leaders do not only help others find a path to move forward, but they are in the trenches with them throughout the process.  Checking in and seeing how things are going is one aspect, but actually finding powerful resources for someone else, asking them follow-up questions, suggesting professional learning opportunities for them (and even going with them), or a myriad of other opportunities, are crucial in development.  Saying “do this” is not as powerful as saying “let’s do this together”. People are way more likely to be successful in the change process if they know someone has their back throughout it.

Change can be scary and honestly, stress inducing.  The more people know that we are in this work together and that it is all about supporting our students, the more likely individuals, and ultimately organizations, will be successful.

Questioning the Data

Proven methods of working with students are something that are important when working in schools, but there are a few things that I question when I hear schools talk about solely “data driven”.

First of all, nothing works for everyone. Nothing.  So when we look at “proven methods”, we are often looking at something that is more focused on the “system” than an individual, kids still get left behind.  We might get a better “grade” at the end as a system, but we are still failing kids.  If something worked for 100% of kids, we would all know it, and we would all do it.

Secondly, there are often so many things that are going on in school, how can we really compartmentalize the “one thing” that works?  For example, let’s say your school is focusing on the thoughtful use of technology in classroom, health and wellness, and improved assessment, and you see an increase in grades through the school.  Which initiative led to the increase or how much did anyone single initiative lead to whatever score you are looking for?  Unless you isolate something it is hard to tell what is successful.

This leads to another issue…what is the measure of success?  You may see an increase in test scores but kids might hate coming to school every day, because it is easy to teach to a test, while also killing a love of learning in our students.  You can also see that you can improve a score in anything if you put a massive focus on it. If you have a school or district focusing solely on “literacy scores”, leading to more hours focusing on traditional literacy (reading and writing) in the classroom, other things get lost in the shuffle.  Many organizations are looking for people who are creative, yet you see many programs in arts education that promote this creativity getting cut in search of “better test scores”.  So then what? When we focus on becoming great at one thing, something else usually gives.  So what is important and what isn’t?

But maybe I am way off with these thoughts.  I am not saying that data is not necessary, but more importantly, that we question how we got the data in the first place. I recently read a blog post titled, “The Lack of Evidence Based Practice; The Case of Classroom Technology“, where the author talks about how the use of technology has not increased “academic achievement”, and I would not argue this at all.  Adding technology to your schools often only makes your it “school plus computer”.  If you are not looking to change teaching and learning practice because of these technologies, obviously nothing will change.  But there is to more what is happening than any number can tell us, and that is why questioning the data in the first place is extremely important.  I also think there is a great irony that many school district statements “vision and mission statements” say very little about test scores, but when they measure if they are successful, that becomes the biggest driver.

So it is essential to find a balance.  We have to still look at “what works” from other places, and ask questions to dive deeper.  But we also have to still develop the “innovator’s mindset” in educators to encourage them  to develop new ideas that may help the kids in front of them right now.  If we wait for everything to be researched before we use it, we are going to lose a lot of kids.  Before something was researched, somebody tried it first with no data to support if it would be successful or not.  That is why relationships are so important in education.  Understanding who the learner is in front of you will often lead to creating new solutions for that child.  They don’t have the time for you to wait.

Data is important, but so is the ability to be adaptive and flexible.  We have to look at what works, what has worked, ask questions why it worked, but also look to create new and better opportunities for the students in front of us.  If we don’t look to people within the education system to be innovative, why would we expect kids leaving the system to do the same?

They Will Follow Your Lead

When I first started to teach, coaching basketball was everything to me. I played basketball since I was in grade 4, and to be able to still be a part of the game was an amazing opportunity. Watching years and years of the NBA, the rivalries between legends like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and some new guy named Michael Jordan, I would try to mimic their plays on their court, into my own style. I wasn’t even in close, but like every kid that played basketball at that time, I wanted to “be like Mike”.

Transitioning into coaching, I followed the same script. Imitate NBA players when you play; imitate NBA coaches when you coach. It seemed pretty easy. I would watch countless games in the pros, and try to draw up similar plays that I would see in games and we would call them “Bulls” or “Lakers”, so everyone knew what we were running. It wasn’t only the “x’s and o’s” of the game, but it was also the interactions these coaches had with referees. They yelled, I yelled. If you wanted to get the attention of the ref, best thing to do is start screaming across the court at them. That’s what I saw. That’s what I did.

One game, while in my first year of teaching and coaching, I remember constantly yelling at a ref who I felt had made a bad call, and my players totally agreed, so they joined in. I called a timeout, and the ref came over to talk to me, and what he said changed me forever.

“No matter if you are kind or a jerk, these kids will look up to you and follow your lead. What direction do you want to lead them in?”

That was the last time I ever yelled at a ref. Would I talk to them or challenge their calls? Absolutely. But it was always in a manner that was respectful.

This does not only translate to the coaching ranks, but the way we teach as well. If we model that we struggle with any type of change, or hate being flexible, what do we think our students will become? If we don’t try to push ourselves and think of innovative ways about our teaching and learning, why would students be any different?

I could not thank that referee enough for that moment. He could of yelled at me, thrown me out of the game, or ignored me, but he saw someone just starting off in their career, and made it into a teachable moment. Those words stick with me to this day.

Twitter Equals Growth Mindset?

There is a lot of talk in education about Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset”, in which she discusses the idea that beliefs that “abilities, intelligence, and talents can be developed.” It is an idea that educators have latched on to (for good reason) since this is not something we want to only be able to develop in students, but in ourselves as well, in a world that is constantly changing.  I have even tried to even further this conversation talking about the notion of the “innovator’s mindset” in which this growth leads to the creation of new and better ideas.  With new knowledge, it is important to not only be open to it, but to take it and move forward with it.

This could be something to applied the idea of educators using Twitter.  The “growth mindset” is the openness to learning about the medium, but the idea of the “innovator’s mindset” leads to people creating hashtags to share things that are happening in their classroom, or using it to connect with educators that teach the same discipline as they do.  With the Twitter now implementing video in the service, it will be something that people will not only be open to learn, but I am sure will do interesting and new things with.  With new technologies, people not only learn how to use them, but they repurpose them to create new and better ideas.  It is probably one of the reasons why Twitter moved from the idea of “what are you doing”, to “what’s happening” in the update box.  People were not solely focused on sharing their own personal updates, but started sharing news from their viewpoints, and created movements moving forward.  Twitter became what it is today because of people’s willingness to not only use it, but to further it with ideas that I am assuming the developers could have never imagined.  Our openness to learn and to develop new ideas because of this development was crucial in this process, as with so many other technologies.

Recently though, I read a post by Tom Whitby and was intrigued about the following quote:

Without a mindset for continually learning, or a limited view on what one is willing to learn, it will be difficult to change the status quo in education. Connecting with others may be a great idea that we all agree will make a difference in education, but what good does that do us, if a majority of educators are only comfortable doing what it is they have always done. Of course, it should go without saying that if staying within those comfort zones worked, we would not be having a global discussion on needed reforms for education.

In order to create these much-needed Personalized Learning Networks educators will need to learn about social media and its culture. The ins and outs of Twitter would be the most efficient and effective way to share what is needed for educators. This however takes some time to learn, and it also takes a commitment of at least 20 minutes a day interacting with connected colleagues for anyone to benefit from this. The benefits far outweigh the time and work involved, but the fact of the matter is that not every educator has a growth mindset. Not every educator shows a willingness to leave those zones of comfort. For those reasons Twitter will never connect all educators. The shame of it is that Twitter is probably the best way to share and learn available to us now.

What threw me off when reading this is the idea that it somewhat equated the idea that if you are on Twitter you have a “growth mindset”, and if you aren’t, you don’t, and you are not willing to grow.  This could be lumped into the same area of making statements such as “you are a bad teacher if you use worksheets”; it may spark thought but it could also alienate some really great teachers.

Here is a couple of things on the idea that you have a “growth mindset” if you use Twitter.  First of all, I don’t really believe that the idea people have a “growth mindset” in all areas at all times.  If you took my own viewpoints, with many things in education, I am very open to learning about them and applying them to my own work, but if you took the idea of skiing, my mindset is very fixed.  I have no interest in learning or having the growth mindset towards flying down a hill in snow in freezing Canadian temperatures, all the while so many people tell me how amazing it is. You do not have either a “fixed” or “growth” mindset; you have either a “fixed” or “growth” mindset on certain things, and for most educators.

This is not just outside the idea of education as well, but well within in.  I have challenged people on the ideas of awards for students, and from some of my conversations, some educators have no interest in thinking differently about the process no matter what is presented to them.  It is not about a right and wrong in the process, but more the idea of  “I am good with what we are doing at this present time”.  I used to feel the same way about Edcamp; I did not really understand the appeal of the process and thought it seemingly was a waste of time, even though so many people said the exact opposite.  Having gone to it at one point, I saw how powerful it could be and my mindset towards it moved from a very “fixed” one to an “open”.  On Google Plus I have a pretty “fixed” mindset at this point.  Do I know it can be powerful? Absolutely.  Do I care about learning more about it at this point? Nope. I spend enough time using the social networks that I am currently on that I do not have time to add something that is probably great, but in many ways similar to what I am using.

It is not an “either/or” process, but something that can develop over time.  Some educators were totally “fixed” on the idea of using Twitter at one point, but at some point they had a “growth” mindset that was sparked to try the service.  To get people to that point, it rarely is achieved with a hard push, but often more of an understanding of where they are, and putting them in a place where they can make their own connections.  I think that people are sometimes reluctant to change, but I also think that we can be equally terrible of helping move people to change.

The other notion from the article is the idea that if you are an educators that is on Twitter you have a growth mindset.  There are many educators that actively use Twitter, went through the process of learning it, yet aren’t necessarily open to new ideas, or ideas out of their usual circle that they may connect with.

Not being on Twitter doesn’t mean that you have a fixed mindset, any more than being active on Twitter means that you have a growth mindset.

Learning is a very personal thing, and sometimes we aren’t open to things not because we aren’t open to them, but because we just aren’t ready to take that leap at this certain point.  I would say the majority of educators that are actively using Twitter to share ideas on education, were at one point against the idea of using it.  Learning can be very circumstantial, and sometimes we just aren’t ready for new ideas, no matter how good they might seem.  If we are never open to new ideas, that is a problem, but some of the best educators that I know display a “growth mindset” in so many areas, yet do not use or care to use Twitter.  They still make a major difference for kids and we have to recognize it.

There are many great reasons why we should try new things, but if we (educators) are not open to one thing, it is not about simply lumping people into one category or another, but understanding there is always more to the picture than we might be able to see.  If we really want people to be open to change, I think it is essential that we focus on what they are great at first, as opposed to where they are deficient.  Showing someone that they are valued for what they already do, is important in the process of learning as it builds both confidence and competence, and if we are going to really embrace a “growth mindset” where we are willing to take risks, that feeling of safety with our peers is essential.

School Culture and Mental Health #BellLetsTalk

The #BellLetsTalk hashtag has been a great initiative to not only raise money for mental health initiatives in Canada, but to promote conversations about the topic amongst individuals.  Our understanding of mental health has come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

Today, I am working with a group on how we can help improve mental health of our world through our schools.  My caution to the group is that we have to be really weary of creating another initiative that eventually causes more work and anxiety for teachers, but to think about how to do things differently.  It is not about doing more, but doing things different and better.

Simply though. school culture is huge in mental wellness and there are a lot of things school can do that are not “programs” but just become a part of our every day world in schools.

Here are some ideas that I think are crucial to not only improving mental health, but to also promoting creativity and innovation in schools.  The more comfortable I feel in my environment, the better I will do.

  • If you are a principal, start every morning welcoming kids at the front of the school.  If you are a teacher, welcome kids when they come to their class.
  • Never pass a student or an adult in a hallway without acknowledging them in some way.  Every person in that school is important and should be treated accordingly.
  • See supervision as not “more work”, but an opportunity to get to know students that aren’t in your classroom.  We need “school teachers” not “classroom teachers”.
  • Invest time in conversations with kids that have nothing to do with school.  10 minutes showing you care about another human being will often lead to them moving mountains.
  • Focus on strengths, not weaknesses.  People will always get better when they know they are valued first.
  • If a student is having an issue, sending them to another adult tells them that a) you don’t value them enough to spend the time with them or b) you are not able to deal with it.  Severing this relationship has a long term impact.
  • Laugh and have fun.  It is contagious.

Think about this practice…if your boss walks into your classroom, do you get out of your desk to greet them? If you do, is it because you consider them important?  We should treat kids with the same response.  Every person that walks into a school should feel that they are highly valued.

If we are wanting to improve mental health in schools, we can make a huge impact by treating school as a place of, as Dean Shareski would say, a place of joy.  If people want to be there and are happy, comfortable, and feel safe, schools will move a lot further than if these things were absent.

As Rita Pierson stated, “every kid needs a champion.” So does every adult.