Tag Archives: innovative teaching and learning

Sometimes it’s you…

Change is hard.

There is a lot going on not only in education, but the world, that can wear down on people. Doing the things we want to do and the things we actually do can be far apart.  Sometimes people can wear on us because they don’t agree with the direction we are going and can be easy to blame others.

But sometimes we need to step back and realize that a lot of times, it’s not them, it’s us. More specifically, it is me.  Life can be tough and it is easy to get worn down, and I have noticed that sometimes it is easy to sit back and focus on what others are doing that isn’t quite making the grade, but many of us tend to look at how we have been “wronged” as opposed to what we can do better ourselves.

This quote cannot be shared enough:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

When it is shared though, we often think about it in the context of others, not ourselves.  If we to look deeper into the quote, we often our fighting our own battles and have to not be so hard on ourselves, but also realize that we all have room to grow.

As this time of year can be so busy and overwhelming, so it is important to not be so tough on everyone else, but to also take care ourselves.

In a world that is extremely digital, we need humanity more than ever.

This is just going to be all over the place so I apologize in advance but this is writing to learn more than writing to share my learning.

Our world is awesome.

Technology allows us to do things that we could never do before.  We can video chat with people around the world simply, for a much cheaper rate than we could have called them years ago.  I have memories of my dad that I can relive over and over again, even after his passing. Every time we press “tweet” or “publish” it gets around the world instantly.  There is a power in our hands and in our pockets that we could not have imagined.  But with every step forward, we sometimes lose things along the way.

I can now call pretty much any services I have and I can get to anything I want through an automated machine that is often much quicker than any person I could talk to, yet when I get on the line, every single time, I press “0” immediately.  For all that technology gives us, I still want to talk to a person.

I love that I can do online banking, but I also love the interactions that I can still have in the bank.  That choice matters to me.  One time though, I distinctly remember going into the bank to make a deposit and being asked if I was interested in a tax-free savings account, followed by RRSP’s, and so on.  I saw the teller was not looking at mean and reading off their computer a list of questions that were suggested based on my financial situation. In my conversation with a person, I had been reduced to an algorithm.  When I actually called them out on this, they were embarrassed not only because of me saying something, but because their company put them in the situation in the first place. This example is crucial to the work that we do in education.

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, relationships will be the most important thing we do in schools.

I am guessing that some parents feel this same way when they call schools to report of the absence of their child.  Yes, the technology makes it convenient, but sometimes a person needs to talk, and sometimes they need to be heard.  The “tech” sometimes leaves them lacking the piece of mind that they needed from that phone call.  It is not simply about what is convenient, but sometimes what is needed.

Although I think technology is so crucial to our roles today, I think the more digital we are the more “human” our schools and leadership needs to become.  Sharing our stories and connecting through social media brings a lot in creating a human connection, but I still love the teacher that welcomes kids to their classroom every morning and has a conversation with them, or the principal who stands in the middle of the hallway to have conversations with kids about almost everything except for school.  Although things like supervision might seem like an “add-on” to our day, I started to look at it as an investment into people.  Talk to someone for ten minutes and take a sincere interest in their lives, and that ten minutes will come back to you exponentially.

There is something that we lose sometimes in our interactions on social media.  Many people (and rightfully so) do not share many aspects of their lives through what they share online.  For me, I share with people that the safest “guideline” to follow on social media is that you would not say anything online that you would not say to a group of kids.  Yet that doesn’t mean that people share their lives openly online, but what they are comfortable with other people that they may consider “strangers”.  You might not see the whole picture and there is so much more to a person than what they share online.

With a world that is increasingly digital, our “humanness” is more crucial than ever.  I am reminded of Charlie Chaplin’s speech in the “Great Dictator” in 1940, and how some elements of that speech from that movie made years ago are as relevant as ever.

We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind.

We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery ,we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.

So with all the talk of technology, we just need to remember that there is so much more to schools and some of the best things in “20th Century Education” are just as relevant today.  If you are a school that does not focus on building relationships, you are on a faster road to irrelevance than one that doesn’t use technology.  In a world where information is easy to access and I can always find better content online than I can in school, the refocus on relationships is more crucial now than ever.

Embrace technology; it will provide people opportunities that we could have dreamed of when we were kids.  But just remember that people will always be the most important part of the education system.  As soon as we reduce everyone to a number or an avatar, we will have lost more than we could have ever gained.

Something’s Gotta Go…

I really had some great conversations at TIES in Minneapolis over the last couple of days, but one of them kind of stuck out to me.  We were talking about the “Hour of Code” and how popular (and important) it has become to many schools.  I think the power in this program is that it is not meant to only last an hour, but spark something more not only in kids, but schools.   It is definitely going to have many teachers thinking about ways they can implement coding as part of the work that they do in schools everyday, and I’m excited to see schools move forward with this.

But here is the problem…

There are only so many hours in the day.  The time frame of school from when I went in the 80’s, is the same time allotment that is given today.  So with every new thing that comes along, something has to go.

The first thing that many people debate about is “cursive”.  Some schools are getting rid of it, and some schools are trying to bring it back.  The debate should not be about cursive, but about what do our kids need now, and what will they need in the future.  Even when I went to school, there are many things that I learned that I do not use at all either on a consistent or semi-regular basis.  Yet I have many skills that make me a successful learner today; did my “schooling” play a role in that?  In some ways yes, and in some ways no.  That is the tough part of the conversation.

There are a lot of thoughts and questions that go into making these decisions, but one that should not be included is a feeling of nostalgia.  Schools should not teach something solely for the reason that we learned it as kids.  The world has changed, and with access to all of the information in the world, as well as people, schools have needed to change as well.  I don’t think should only be about what kids want to learn, but should have a balance of things that we know will be important, but also about providing them skills they will need in the future.  Schools should also provide opportunities to explore things that students might not necessarily want to explore on their own.

There are a lot of tough decisions that we have to make moving ahead in schools, but really, if we try to teach everything, do we develop a group of kids who become experts at nothing?

Here are two questions for you…

What do we teach now that we shouldn’t?

What don’t we teach now, that we should?

Change Is Happening

I was recently sitting with the awesome Nancy Kawaja Kalil (make sure you follow her on Twitter because she is awesome) at a conference in Ontario, and she shared the following picture with me:

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 5.52.56 PM

What I loved about this picture, is that it is the opposite of the narrative we have heard from many schools that believe shutting down is crucial to learning, where this picture says the opposite.  My assumption is that this school doesn’t use technology all of the time, nor does it have zero problems with technology use in school.  I am sure that, like in any school, things are not perfect.  But this picture shows to me a shift in mindset of an organization more than anything, which ultimately leads to growth and the creation of new ideas.

I sat and listened to Lisa Jones this year, talk about taking three years off for a maternity leave, and come back to school and see significant changes.  Wanting to push her own growth as not only a teacher, and a learner, she really shifted her focus on student learning, as opposed to her teaching.  It was a great story because it reminded me that every teacher wants to be better for kids, but there is always a lot on their plate.  Support is necessary to growth.

But the one thing that really stuck out to me from what she shared was her perspective on how much has changed in three years from someone who was out of the system, who has now returned.  If you really think about even the last three years in education, have you not seen a major shift with many organizations?  It is really hard to be around the same people or in the same building every day, and not realize how much education has grown, but if we were to take a step back, would we realize that a major shift is happening?

Although I think it is imperative that we continue to push, I also think it is important that we see that many educators and schools are not only wanting a better way for their students, but are creating it.  This is especially important to remember and recognize at a time when many teachers are either going into break or finishing school (depending on where you live) and they, like the students, are exhausted.

All great learning organizations see the need for growth, and realize that, like learning, it is a messy and non-linear process.  But they also recognize and acknowledge steps made by individuals and the group as a whole, that they have made towards something better.  This builds confidence and competence along the way.

No organization in our world is exempt from dealing with the constant of change, but if we all take a step back, there are many areas where we are getting better.  I think it is important to stop and acknowledge that along the way.

“Their Needs” vs. “Our Wants”

Moderating a student panel, I asked the audience to tweet some questions for the students, and one of them had some interesting responses. The audience asked, “Do you see pencil and paper being in schools 10 or 20 years from now?” When I asked the question, the adults in the room and had no idea where the students were going to go with the question.

One of the responses from the students was basically, “how could you predict what devices, pencils or otherwise, that will be in schools 10 years from now when it is hard to tell what will be using in a couple of years?” I thought this was a great perspective and a great counter argument to the boards that spend significant amounts of time discussing what school will look like in 2030. Tools and access to information changes a lot because it is so interconnected to learning. It reminded me that we often spend so much time planning for a future that we cannot predict, that we often forget the kids in our school presently. I don’t think too many grade ten students are worried about school in 2030; they are thinking about what school looks like now.

Another response to the question from a student was basically that as long as kids need them and have different learning styles, they should be in the classroom. I thought it was such a great point and it was a student focused answer, which ours should be as well. On one hand, you have a lot of people saying that we should not have technology in school for a myriad of reasons, but on the other hand, there is a lot of people that would rather see every kid have a device. The student reminded me that both approaches are wrong. Our approach should be focused on what (individual) students need, not what we want them to have.

There is so much we can learn about the direction of our schools now if we are not only willing to listen to our students, but act on what they tell us.

Patience for Learning

Many new to social media, marvel how easy it is for people to share with an audience, get answers back, and make connections.  The problem is they see the power in that, and want to be able to create that right away.  I often get questions like, “how do you know all of those hashtags?”, or “how do you know that person is interested in problem based learning?”  Honestly, the more you are willing to learn, the more you often know.

The “behind the scenes” of those connections and understanding took a lot of time and nurturing.  In the world of education, where we want our students to do deep learning we often want quick fixes ourselves.  If we go to a conference and get something for “Monday”, are we going to just use this for now, or long term.  Doing something well takes time.

Just like reading and writing, which too many educators comes natural, at some point in our lives, we were not able to do these things.  But someone showed us why these things are essential, and we wanted to know more.  Teaching grade 1, teachers are not expecting kids to read “The Great Gatsby” by the end of the year; they know it takes incremental steps to not only become more literate, but also more fluent.  In our world today, many adults are going back to the point where they are struggling with literacy again, which I think is a good thing.  It puts us back into the mindset of what a learner goes through, which we should understand deeply if we are to be successful teachers.  Otherwise the smartest people would always be the best teachers.  Simply holding knowledge does not make you a great teacher, and I have always looked at struggling while learning to be a benefit to teachers, not a disadvantage.

So for the educator new to Twitter or any other social media, don’t worry that you don’t “get everything” right now.  No one knows everything, and we are all on different paths in our learning.  Don’t compare yourself to someone else, just make sure you are moving forward.

But to the educators that are pretty savvy with this stuff and think everyone should be “connected”, just remember that at some point, you (including myself) were not able to do many of those things that you are currently advocating for so strongly.  We can get on people and dismiss them for sharing those blog posts about how “Twitter changed everything” for them in the last month and say how tired we are of the same conversation, or we can celebrate that others are trying to get better.  I choose the latter.

Patience is a virtue in any type of learning, and if you are someone moving forward along that continuum, you are doing something good.  If you are struggling, that is good.  Your kids go through it every day.  We just need to remember to both be patient with ourselves and have patience for others while people are learning, because in all cases, we are trying to do something better.  We do it for kids so we need to do it for each other.

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Learning in the 21st century: What does it mean to you? #peel21st

I was informed by my good friend and education colleague Jason Richea, that Peel School Board in Ontario was doing a “blog hop” on the question, “Learning in the 21st century: What does it mean to you?”, so I decided to jump in and share my thoughts.  If you want to see more of these posts, please check out Jim Cash’s blog with thoughts from others.  To not bias my thoughts, I wanted to write before I read them, although Jason said it has to be limited to 100 words(ish).  Here goes…

Education, even when I first started, seemed to be a lot more about the teacher, and a lot less about the learner.  With developments in technology, especially the Internet, this practice has to change more now than ever.  In our time, we have to realize that there is so much access to information, that we need to really empower the learner to not only take in information, but become flexible and adaptable to they create something new from it.  From the sharing of ideas, comes new and better learning and creations. We have moved from a time where it is not simply about engagement, but about empowerment.

The real power now though in learning is not simply in websites, books, videos, or whatever else you can consume, but it is more about the access to each other.  As educators, if schools are to be truly a place of learning, than the focus can’t simply be the stuff, but more importantly, the opportunities to learn anytime, anywhere, anyplace, and most importantly (and we often leave this out), from almost anyone.  That’s the true power in learning today.

Credibility in the Conversation

Educators tend to listen to other educators.  It is not that we are not open to listening to people outside of the education realm, but being a part of a school and understanding the intricacies of what teachers deal with is important for perspective.

I have heard before, during, and after talks educators not to excited about a message from a “non-educator” because of those important details that they tend to miss.  Learning is one aspect of our job, but if you are working with so many students that each are so unique in their own way. a lot of ideas shared are not as simple as they may seem to someone who has never taught a classroom full of children.  Although we should always be open to different perspectives, I think it is fair that we tend to connect more with someone who has done the work.

So when so many people are giving young people suggestions on how they use technology, the “do’s and don’ts” (they are more often don’ts from what I have seen), and ideas on social media without ever using it, I wonder if kids see us with the same lens of “credibility” that we tend to use with others outside the field.

I remember this older post by Will Richardson on “Balance” and how we often tell kids that they are out of balance because they use too much technology when they might see adults as out of balance because they do not use it enough.

I just wonder if the same credibility from experience that so many people value (in all professions, not just education) is something that young people consider as well?

If you have no idea what SnapChat is or how to use it, do you think a kid really cares when we say that they shouldn’t use it?

New Perspective, New Opportunities

 

Lately, I have been working with a lot of parent groups on the use of social media, and encouraging them to “jump in” and learn with their child, as opposed to fight it along the way. From my own experience. if social media is used right, it can not only improve learning, but strengthen relationships.  There are negatives with everything, but if we want to use it in a positive way, the first step is changing our perspective towards it.  If you think “Twitter is stupid”, it is going to be useless to you.  But if you look at the potential, it can create something much different.

I was ecstatic to see the following tweet from Andrea Markusich, a parent I connected with at a recent session who decided to give social media another try:

I love her perspective shift from this is something that kids are doing, to something we can learn together.  Although kids need and should have some space, I think there is power when we, as adults, take interest in the same things that they are interested in exploring.  I asked Andrea to send me an email telling me more about her experience and I loved some of the things that she shared:

I honestly thought the world was done for with twitter, because I was! I went to a session years ago and couldn’t figure out the purpose of it and then just quit.  But George planted a seed and got me thinking.  Maybe they ARENT disconnecting?? Maybe I am??  Hmmm….

Ironically we watched the movie “CHEF” the following weekend.  The movie totally demonstrated the power of youth and knowledge of social media and the huge power it has to send a message to a very broad audience.  It was very well timed as I got to see a resistant parent in action; and I saw myself.

Go back 3 years and I had my first son starting high school and I was very afraid of the impacts of social media.  I was SO scared of BAD people and all the possible dangers that we have heard in the news.  Some of these stories came way to close to home for me.  So I wanted to lock my kids up until the social media fad passed.  That may take a while….. and it’s a little bit unrealistic.

A different perspective totally transformed my view and opened me up to a new way of thinking.  It has also become a great bonding experience for me and my kids—who knew?

So now I’m on twitter….and instagram.  And I’m hooked! …Last night I posted a picture of our dog and as I was typing they were saying “Mom, you need to shorten your words,” and “c’mon that’s so nerdy why are you writing like that” they were laughing and teaching me the way to do it.  And I have lots to learn, but we are having a lot of fun.  And my kids teaching me something, I can tell it lights them up, that they are the experts.  And they are SMART!  Our world’s future is in good hands.  It’s funny, I used to look forward to getting them to bed so I could relax, now I have to keep reminding myself to make sure they go to bed as they need their sleep.  Time is flying we are having so much fun.

A new perspective leads to new opportunities.

The thing that I loved about Andrea’s note was not only was it that we need to be open to learning about what so many kids are doing, but there is so much opportunity in coming closer together when we are willing to learn from them as well.  I have really embraced the idea that everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner, so it is important in our world that we swap roles back and forth with our kids.  And really, as Andrea articulated, time flies by too fast to not embrace this.

At the end of the day, the big reminder for me from reading what Andrea had shared was the importance of our attitudes towards learning.  If we see learning about something new as an opportunity as opposed to a burden, we are more likely to create something positive from the experience.  I have always said that change is an opportunity to do something great, and I am happy to see a parent embrace the same belief.

Relationships plus technology equals…?

Here comes a ramble with no direction…just writing as a way to figure things out.  I would love your thoughts.

I saw a conversation online that I have either heard or been a part of several times.  The question that started the conversation was (and it is a relevant one), “Can you be a great teacher in our world today and not use technology?”

The reality of this question is that there is no simple “yes” or “no”.  There are teachers that are not great with technology that are amazing teachers, and there are teachers that are great with technology who are not the best teachers.  One of the important elements in this question that is missing is, “what is the purpose of school?”  If it is to prepare kids for the future, do we miss a lot when we are not even using the tools of the present?

Or on the other hand, if you are spending inordinate amounts of time with your students using Twitter, when we know eventually this will go to the “MySpace graveyard”, are we helping kids with their future by focusing so much time on tools that may not be used in the future?  Is this “just in case learning” (in case we need this in the future” or is it “just in time learning” (important to what we do today)?

After relationships, technology would not be my first trait, but more likely that a person is always willing to learn, and do something with that learning.  That is what I would call the “sponge factor”; willing to absorb new learning and then share it out with others.

What if a teacher that is not strong with technology sparks a child to constantly want to learn more that the child goes on and explores on their own?  To me, a teacher that teaches a student to learn is more important than one that focuses on content only.  A teacher should also be measured on what their student does after their time with them, not only on their time in a classroom.

There are so many nuances and important questions in this conversation but I think it is one that we need to ask our staff. This goes deeper than just using technology, but more to what we want to achieve now and in the future.

That being said, I had a great conversation with a teacher the other day and we talked about hiring new teachers and I told her that I am looking for ones that use technology and incorporate into meaningful ways into learning.  Hiring practices should change along with our focus in our schools and we can not ask the same interview questions we did ten years ago. (Take a look at some of the questions people would ask now compared to ten years ago that they shared on this tweet).  Her argument (which is a valid one) was that years ago, she did not have the same skills that she does today and what would I have lost out on if I had not hired her and worked on developing her as a teacher.  (From everything I have seen of her work, she is an amazing teacher.)  What I told her was that if I had to choose between someone who is great with relationships and terrible with technology, over someone who is terrible with relationships but great with technology, I would take the former over the latter every time.  But we are seeing now is we don’t have to pick one or the other, because so many educators have both.

There is much more to teaching than being good with technology and being good with relationships.  So much more.  But in a world where you can learn so much just by having the ability to not only comprehend how to use technology, but understand how to actually leverage it, do we lose out on teaching kids about the opportunities for learning beyond the walls of our schools which is so important in both the  present and future?  Teaching kids to learn, be flexible while also resilient, is so important in our world where technology surrounds us.   In a world that is increasingly more complicated, we need to help our students be able to navigate what is coming their way and embrace change and see it as an opportunity.  Teachers need to model this.

Help me unmuddy this in my head.  Thoughts?