Tag Archives: innovative teaching and learning

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:

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 1.28.23 PM

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).

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 4.39.24 PM

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.)

The Privilege of Kids #EDUin30

This week for the #EDUin30 question, I asked about how you build relationships in your role with students.  The best teachers in the world connect on some personal level with their students.  They do not only know their students, but their students know them.

I talked about this in my post to the response to the question:

Honestly, I remember hating doing supervision.  Teaching was really overwhelming for me and every minute that I had to myself, I really appreciated.  Having to “deal” with kids outside was a pain.  Then one of my administrators talked about the “privilege” we had in connecting with kids during that time and that we should see it as an opportunity as opposed to a burden.  That totally changed my mindset on it early on my career, and after that, I loved supervision.

After that, I would really connect with kids, talk to them about things happening, play basketball with them outside, and would actually walk back into my class rejuvenated.  This was not just kids in my class, but kids all around the school that I did not have the same opportunities to connect with during the day.  It became a privilege and an opportunity in my eyes and made my day so much better.

Nothing changed other than my attitude, and sometimes that’s the most important thing.

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.

8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (Updated)

(This is an updated version of a previous post simply sharing the graphic created by Sylvia Duckworth.)

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth

Recently I explored the notion of the “Innovator’s Mindset”, and have thought a lot about this idea.  As I look to write on the topic of “Leading Innovative Change” within schools, we are looking to develop educators as innovators.  To be innovative, you have to look at yourself as an innovator first, and to create schools that embody this mindset as a “culture”, we must develop this in individuals first.

Building upon Carol Dweck’s work, I have been looking at the traits of the “Innovator’s Mindset”, which would be summarized as follows:

Belief that abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed leading to the creation of new and better ideas.

To develop students as “innovators” in their pursuits, we must embody this as educators.  As I continue to research and look at different processes where innovation excel, such as design thinking, there are several characteristics that seem common amongst these themes.  Here they are below and why they are important for educators:

  1. Empathetic - To create new and better ways of doing things, we need to first understand who we are creating them for.  As educators, innovation starts with the question, “what is best for this child.”  For us to create something better for our students, we have to understand their experiences and this is why it is imperative that we not only talk about new ways of learning, but immerse ourselves in these opportunities.  This way we can understand what works and what does not work from the perspective of a learner, not a teacher.  If anything, teachers have to a deep understanding of learning before they can become effective in teaching.  We need to put ourselves in our student’s shoes before we can create better opportunities for them in our classrooms.
  2. Problem Finders - As Ewan McIntosh talks about, it is important that we teach our kids how to ask good questions instead of simply asking for answers. All innovation starts from a question not an answer.  The invention of the home computer started with the focus of, “How do we bring the experience of a powerful computer into the homes of families?” Many capstone projects developed by students in their classrooms start with first finding, and then solving problems both locally and globally.  How often do we as educators immerse ourselves in a similar process?  If want to be innovative, we need to look at questions first.
  3. Risk-Takers – Many would argue that “best-practice” is the enemy of innovation.  To be truly innovative, you sometimes have to go off the beaten path.  The reality of this is, that for some kids, the “tried-and-true” methods will still work, but others, you will need to try something different.  In a time where many kids are totally checking out of school, is “best practice” truly “best”, or just “most well known”?
  4. Networked – Steven Johnson has a powerful quote on the importance of networks where he states, “chance favours the connected mind.”  Innovation does not happen in isolation, as it is often ideas that are being shared amongst many that lead to new and better ideas being developed.  The best educators have always created networks to learn from others and create new and powerful ideas.  Now though, many have taken the opportunity to take networks to a whole different level through the use of social media to share and develop new ideas.  Isolation is the enemy of innovation.  Networks are crucial if we are going to develop the “Innovator’s Mindset”.
  5. Observant – A practice normal amongst those that would be considered “innovative” is that they constantly look around their world and create connections.  It is normal to have a notebook or use their mobile device to record ideas or thoughts around them and link them to their own ideas.  In education, we often look to solutions to come from “education”, but when organizations around the world share their practices and ideas, we have to tap into their diverse expertise and learn from them as well.  Wisdom is all around us, we just have to look for it.
  6. Creators – So many people have great ideas, yet they never come to fruition.  Innovation is a combination of ideas and hard work.  Conversation is crucial to the process of innovation, but without action, ideas simply fade away and/or die.  What you create with what you have learned is imperative in this process.
  7. Resilient – Things do not always work on the first try, so what are the tweaks or revamping that is needed?  To simply try something and give up as soon as it fails never leads to innovation only a definitive end.  This is something great teachers model daily in their teaching, as they turn good ideas into great ones.
  8. Reflective – What worked? What didn’t?  What could we do next time?  If we started again, what would we do differently?  What can we build upon?  It is important that in education and innovation, we sit down and reflect on our process.  This last point is definitely lacking in many aspects of education as we are always “trying to get through the curriculum”, yet reflection is probably the most important part of education as the connections we make on our own is where deep learning happens.

For educators to embody this, it is imperative that leaders create a culture where this types of characteristics are not only accepted, but encouraged.  It is also imperative that at both the leadership and whole organization level, these characteristics are embodied.  To many, being “innovative” is no more than a buzzword, but if we truly have innovative students, we need to embody the “Innovator’s Mindset” at all levels.

Learning Savvy

I’ve been referred to someone who is “tech savvy” quite often, and to be honest, it irritates me.  It is not that I don’t love technology or think that it is important in our world, but it has never been my focus.  My goal in education was to become an early years teacher, and technology was not something that drove my passions.

What I am hoping to become is “learning savvy”; someone who understands different ways and opportunities to empower learners at all levels.  

Should technology be a part of becoming “learning savvy”? Absolutely. There are so many opportunities that technology provides for deep learning both in and out of schools, and to ignore these possibilities, is to take away opportunities from our students.  Technology now provides the world at our fingertips; we would be remiss to not tap into that potential.

But what I am hoping to do is continuously understand “learning, both with and without technology.  “Tech savvy” has never been my aim.

If you are scared of change, ask yourself this question.

People are terrified of change.  Not just of change, but the process of change and what it entails you.  You cannot change your practice without work, time commitment, and sometimes shifting priorities.  In leadership positions, this is the same with helping people move forward and having them invest their time in a new project or initiative.  You will want to guard them from all of the work that they will have to do when time is precious.  So when you go through the process, ask yourself this question:

Is this best for kids?

If you can answer unequivocally that the answer is “yes”, then the change process is necessary.  It might not be easy, it might take time, it might be messy, but it needs to happen.

If you are unsure if the answer is “yes” or “no”, use that same question to guide your search.

If it helps our students, it is worth doing.

That simple.

New Project: #EDUin30

Image created by Tracy Mulligan  (@iMacMulligan)

Image created by Tracy Mulligan (@iMacMulligan)

Running seems to give me inspiration, clear my mind, and inspire new ideas.  Knowing that Twitter has recently created an option to share videos up to 30 seconds, I thought about creating a new project to get people to share ideas and things that they are doing, going beyond the 140 characters.

What I thought of is the idea of #EDUin30; an opportunity to not only share practices in a different format, but to also connect more to the educational community.  Here is the introductory video:

To be honest, it felt a little uncomfortable to share myself in a video. That was actually kind of the point. To stretch myself in this format as well. So I asked the question for week one, “what is a practice that you would like to share with others?” To model what I seek, I shared the question and an answer of my own.

Tweaking the project, I thought it would be great to use the initial hashtag of #EDUin30 in all of these tweets, but to also add a hashtag specific to the week’s question. So for week one, it is #EDUin30w1 (next week it will be #EDUin30w2, and so on). Since you are not sharing many characters, two hashtags should work fine. Here I am explaining that process.

So why do this? First of all, I think it is imperative that we make reflection a part of our work as educators. Thinking and processing thoughts on what we can do will only make us better, and everyone has 30 seconds in their life to share a quick reflection. The next reason is that we need to model growth.  I see a lot of people complain that other’s don’t move fast enough, yet are we ourselves continuing to push our growth and learning? This new addition to the medium means there are more opportunities of how we can learn from one another.  My hope is that educators partake in this for their own learning, and then think of ways that they can do this type of reflection with their kids.  If you want to become a master teacher, you have to become a master learner.  This means going out of your comfort zone. The final reason is the most important one to me.  It is easy to forget there is a person behind the avatar, and using video gets you to hear voices, see faces, and get to know people on a different level.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a video?  This can connect us in different ways. It was nice to see other people starting to share right away.  I was able to hear great ideas, but get to see them as well.  Here is one from Kevin Zahner:

And another from Jeff Dahl:

It was great to hear not only their ideas, but their voices. It is a nice way to better know our educator community.

So for the next few weeks, I am going to share a question to the #EDUin30 hashtag on the weekends. This question will be for the week, and you can share when you have the opportunity. You can also see others as well by following the hashtag. I would love for people to partake, hear actions and perspectives, but also would love to get your ideas for questions that talk about actions.

It would be great if you could share this idea with others so we can learn from each other.

Update

Tweets like this are why I wanted to do the project.

Please take time to check out the first week of responses and add your own at #EDUin30w1.