Tag Archives: innovative teaching and learning

Myths of Technology Series: “Technology Makes Us Narcissistic”

For ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, I will be presenting on the “Myths of Technology and Learning”. As I am really thinking about what I will be sharing at the conference, I wanted to write a series of blog posts that will help myself and others “rethink” some of these statements or arguments that you hear in relation to technology in school.  I will be writing a series of blog posts on different myths, and will be posting them on this page.  I hope to generate discussion on these topics to further my own learning in this area and appreciate any comments you have on each idea shared.

As a teenager, I remember seeing my friends after they came home from a vacation and going through a ton of pictures that they had just taken after their trip. Sometimes I would be mesmerized, and sometimes I would be thoroughly bored. Some pictures were amazing, and some had a thumb covering the shot. The roll of film didn’t allow you to delete, so you had to take the good with the bad.

I experienced this as most had in my generation, but was this an act of narcissism or simply was it an act of wanting someone to care? I would say the majority of people that I know share things and want to know others care, whether it is sharing pictures of their family, trips, or their own ideas. Many people love to share, while also enjoying being acknowledged. When my sister-in-law shares images of my nephews and nieces growing up, or even of her own life, I do not see it as a narcissistic act. In fact, those images allow me to connect with my family that I was not able to experience even 15 years ago. What may be seen as narcissistic to some, is gold to others We just have the option whether we want to look or not.

When I saw this video of a young boy asking for a single “like” on his first YouTube video, I thought, “is this a narcissistic kid or someone who just wants to know somebody cares?” I have no idea of this kid’s situation, but I remember being an awkward, chubby kid, and having that feeling that I would wish someone would pay attention to me. I was teased mercilessly and wanted to be recognized for doing something well, not for being overweight and I wonder how this audience can actually shape someone’s own self-perception in a positive way.

So what happened when the boy got a single like? Well he was so excited that he made another video asking for 3-5 likes, and ended up getting millions.

We tell kids to embrace themselves, yet when we see them share “selfless”. we label them as inward focused. Is this their narcissism, or is this our insecurity.  I actually saw one educator talk about how one student out of a panel of ten should be commended for giving up his smartphone and stated, “Wouldn’t every parent want a child like him?”  What does that say about the other kids?

And what about selfies?  A “Dove” commercial challenged the notion of selfies about being narcissistic and actually a way to celebrate ourselves, no matter what shape or form, as being beautiful.  The film tries to paint a different narrative on what a selfie can actually say to a young woman:

The film, directed by Academy Award-winner Cynthia Wade, dives right into the heart of Dove’s brand mission: Convincing young women that the things they hate most about themselves are the features that make them most beautiful. The twist is that the high school girls are assigned not just to rethink their own selfies, but to give their equally self-loathing moms a selfie lesson too.

So instead of painting kids as “narcissistic”, why not help them see themselves in a more positive light?

Personally, I love this picture taken by my brother of his three year old daughter Bea taking a selfie.  If you know Bea, she is a very confident young girl, while also having a warm and loving heart.  Is any of that bad?  Is this not what we would want for our kids as they grow up?

There are definitely people who are out there that are narcissistic, but technology didn’t do that to them, it just gave them an audience.  Instead of painting everyone with the same brush, I think it is important to take an inward look at ourselves and see why people sharing themselves would bother us so much.

Would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?

There has been a lot of talk about this video that was anonymously shared by a teacher from Chicago Public Schools:

The outrage shared by many educators is that this is a terrible way of professional learning and it really undermines teachers.

It is almost like we are treating them like children…right?

I just wonder how many hits that video (over 130,000 at the time I am sharing it on this blog) would have received if it was a classroom full of students doing the same thing? Would people have cared as much? They should. I also wonder if someone in that session will use the same techniques with their own students? Often we teach the way we were taught and if we do not change the experiences teachers have in their own professional development, we can’t really expect them to change anything in their own classroom.

The question I have been asking a lot lately is, “would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?

If this wouldn’t work for me (which it wouldn’t), then it is not going to work for my students.

3 Things That Should Never Change in Schools

Although I often speak about the things that we need to do to develop and further the way we teach and learn in schools, I would still consider myself a little “old school”.  Brought up by very traditional parents and being a part of a community that I loved, there are things that I believe should never change in the school environment and will be vital to educational institutions in the future, although they are rooted in the past.

1. The Focus on Relationships 

My best teachers during my time in school, are people that I still hold dear to my heart to this very day.  Was it because they inspired me by a test that I had to write in the classroom? Never.  What I appreciated was how they made me feel valued as a person, and not simply a student.

I had a science teacher when I was young, and since I struggled with the subject, I was quite a handful in the class.  The next year when we had a different teacher lead the course, the connection that I had with the teacher was different and I put much more effort into the course and my work.  I still never did truly well in the subject, but I cared a lot more, because I was cared for as a person.

As the old adage goes, students will never care to know, until they know you care.

In 100, 200, 300 years, relationships will always be the foundation of a good school.  Without that focus, schools would surely become irrelevant.

2. Opportunities Outside of the Classroom 

As schools continue to cut budgets, often programming outside of the classrooms tend to be one of the first things to go (unfortunately, mostly in the fine arts).  This is not a good thing for our students.

In my own experience, the opportunity to play sports in school led me to develop leadership skills, as well as understanding the importance of being on a team and working together.  The opportunity to take part in the drama program, gave me the confidence to speak in front of others.  Both of these programs have had more impact in what I do today than anything else than I have ever done in school.

It is great to see districts like Chris Kennedy’s in West Vancouver not only promote these opportunities, but give kids different opportunities that are new to school.  If schools are to develop well rounded individuals, there is a huge importance in offering different programs to our students outside of the classroom.

(By the way…many teachers around the world provide these opportunities on a volunteer basis!)

3. Learning in a Respectful Environment 

I have to admit that I have walked into schools and have cringed at some of the words that I have read on clothing.  Surprisingly, it was not only by students but sometimes even staff.  It is important that as an educator or student you feel comfortable, not only physically but mentally as well.  I believe in the importance of relationships (as outlined in this post), but also of being able to work in an environment where people’s differences are respected and free from derogatory remarks.

Schools should be a “safe” place, and safety also deals with the notion of being comfortable to share ideas and be respected by one another, no matter who you are.

The idea that we need to continuously prepare kids for their future is something that always sits in the back of my mind.  Pedagogy often needs to change as we continue to see different ways of learning and understand how the brain works.  That being said, there are some fundamentals they should never go away and will make schools a place that students want to be.

Some ideas will never get old.

A Focus on Consumption

I’ve hit a slump.

Blogging has been slow and an arduous task as of late, and I seemingly have struggled to find inspiration to write.  I have committed myself to continuously write in this blog because it helps me to focus not only my growth as an educator, but as a person.  Thinking and sharing out loud has truly made me grow in my thinking and has helped to clarify my thoughts.  The process of blogging has been extremely helpful.

So why the slump when once it was so easy to write?

Probably one of the reasons is that I am trying to spend more quality time with those that I care about, and putting down the phone, hiding the computer, and just valuing someone else’s presence.  Finding balance is key so I have been comfortable with writing less.

I don’t think thats’ it though.

To me, one of the biggest reasons that I have had trouble with writing is that I have focused on creating and sharing more, and consumption less.  I attribute this to not only having less time to read the work of other educators, but also I have been spending a lot of my time on the road, preparing and delivering presentations, not having the time to simply sit and get.

Yup, I need more sit and get.

The importance of creation in schools is something that I truly believe in and should be a huge focus, but I also believe that there is still a huge value in the delivery of content and information.  Learning from hearing others, reading, viewing, watching, and simply consuming information, often gives us the inspiration to create.  Several years ago, John Medina, writer of “Brain Rules”, talked about the idea that creation without consumption would be similar to playing “air guitar”; you would have an idea of the motions, but you wouldn’t necessarily be able to create any meaningful.  That makes sense to me.

So I am going to make more of a concerted effort to try and get to other sessions at conferences, spend more times in classrooms when I am home, read more educator blogs, and happily consume some information.  WIthout that focus on consumption, the ability to connect, create, and develop my own thoughts will continue to be a struggle.

I Learn, I Dream

Below is the “vision” for Parkland School Division:

Our Vision

Parkland School Division is a place where exploration, creativity, and imagination make learning exciting and where all learners aspire to reach their dreams.

What I love about this vision is the use of the word, “learner” as opposed to “students”.  WIthin my interpretation of this shared vision is that every person within this organization is empowered and expected to continuously grow.  If that is the case, it also encourages all “learners” to “aspire to reach their dreams”.  I remember seeing a district having an advertisement that it was a “great place to work”.  So would you want to simply “work” or “aspire” to reach your dreams?  I know what I would choose.

I saw a tweet sharing Krissy Venosdale’s picture below:

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 3.42.44 PM

 

Interestingly enough, the tweet stated:

This should be every student’s commitment to education.

What I would challenge is that it shouldn’t only be a student’s commitment, but the commitment of all those involved in education to do those things.

If we are all learners, these actions would be the norm, not the exception.

“The world only cares about what you can do with what you know.”

I read a fascinating article from Thomas Friedman on the weekend (read the whole thing) on what Google looks for in hiring employees.  Here is the last paragraph:

Google attracts so much talent it can afford to look beyond traditional metrics, like G.P.A. For most young people, though, going to college and doing well is still the best way to master the tools needed for many careers. But Bock is saying something important to them, too: Beware. Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it). And in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.

A couple of thoughts…

First of all, as a principal, I rarely if ever looked at a person’s marks from university when hiring them.  It was not a determining factor especially since I saw that some of the worst teachers from my time in school had the best marks in university.  This is not always true, but when someone has mastered the way school has been done, the notion of school looking different for students is pretty tough to swallow.  The skills that Friedman referenced that Google looks for are similar to what I looked for in hiring a new teacher, and I am guessing, it would be similar to most employers today.

Secondly, if these skills (leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn)  are so important for a company like Google, will this skill-set not become the norm for others? And if they are, how will a system that is so focused on grades and marks deal with developing skills that can’t be easily measured?

The Small Ripple

Working with my good friend Shaye Patras, Principal at Blueberry School, I have had the opportunity to do one-on-one visits with his school in the last 12 months.  A few years ago, one of my suggestions I made to many administrators, Shaye included, in the area of using Google Apps, was to move all of your work you do as a principal to using Google Apps with staff. Although this is a little change, it can make a big impact.  Doing simple things such as sending agendas out to your staff on a Google Document, or asking for feedback through a Google Form, can make a big impact.  It doesn’t make much sense to encourage the use of Google Apps for Education by sending your staff a Word Document.

This goes back to the notion that if you want to innovate, you must disrupt your routine.  It also lends to the idea that if you want to change things in the classroom, you have to change the way we do things organizationally.  People are more likely to embrace change when they experience it.

So with these opportunities of visiting every three months or so, I have seen HUGE changes not only in skill level, but openness by staff and students to try different things.  I give a ton of credit to the teachers in the school for being open and wanting to grow, but with Shaye willing to try something new and model that he was willing to take risks, he opened the door for his staff to do the same.  You can never expect people to take risks unless leaders model it; saying it is not enough.

With little changes in the way that we do the things we have always done, you can start a ripple that can lead to a big wave.

Being mindful or…?

There is no doubt that I believe in the importance of technology and it’s impact on relationships and learning in education.  If you asked people twenty years ago how they found information, their answers would be all over the place.  Ask them five years ago, and many would have said, “Google”.  Ask them today, and answers might range from not only search engines like Google and YouTube, but they might also look towards social networks such as Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter.  We are not only connecting to information but more importantly, people.  If this does not make a difference in how we teach and learn, we are denying our kids something that adults use all of the time and sometimes, don’t even really notice.

Yet I often hear about people warning ideas that we need to be “mindful” of the impact of technology, to which I agree.  I believe that if you are going to find meaningful ways for your students to engage using technology, teachers should focus on learning with technology first.  I would consider hiring someone to teach math that had never taught the subject before, but I would have a hard time hiring someone who never learnt math before.  This is the position many schools are in with technology and its impact on our world and the way we learn.

Some would see this lack of knowledge as a hindrance, yet I see it as an opportunity as there has been a huge refocus on the “teacher as learner”.  If you want students to become expert “learners” then we nee to be expert “learners” as well.  Conveying that to a student is what makes someone a great teacher, but if we don’t understand the new opportunities for learning for our students, how can we effectively teach them to thrive in our world today and in the future?

My concern is the “mindful” argument with many is a means to end a conversation as opposed to starting one.  I have heard many make the argument about our lack of “mindfulness” on the use of technology, that do not give suggestions on meaningful ways to use it with our students or even educators.  This is not all, but often pushing to be more “mindful” with no other suggestions of meaningful use really is “anti-technology” just disguised by another name.

Here would be my first question when I hear that argument…What are some meaningful ways that you would suggest students use technology in their learning?  I often get a question on the other side of the spectrum dealing with some of the “pitfalls of technology” and I answer it often from a place of experience as opposed to avoiding the question altogether.

If we can’t offer the negative impacts of technology without sharing the positive, are we truly being mindful or are we simply hiding a negative bias with a more acceptable term?

 

The Global Teacher

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 11.20.08 AMI have talked about the notion of “classroom teacher” vs. “school teacher” in posts before, and have begun to rethink this notion.

Simply put, a “classroom teacher” is someone that focuses on their classroom and students only.  Although there can be a huge benefit to their own students, this often leads to weaker relationships with other students.  They often see other kids as someone else’s issue and will avoid dealing with them.  They also keep their practices to themselves and have their classroom door closed, sometimes literally, but most often figuratively.

Then you have the “school teacher“.  This to me was the ideal as this teacher connected with every student in their classroom, as well as students and educators around the school.  They see supervision as an opportunity to connect with others and build relationships with kids.  They share their practices openly with others because their focus is always on “what is best for kids“.  If they can share something, and you can take it, remix it, and use it for your students, they make everyone better.  They think of the school as a village and their expertise and experience is shared exponentially not to only help their kids, but all kids in their school.

So now I have started to think about the “global teacher“.  The global teacher has the best elements of the classroom and school teacher, but their focus is on “what is best for kids”, no matter if is their own kids, kids in the school across the street, or across the ocean.  They got into teaching because they love students and want to help every single one of them, no matter their situation or location.  They care for the kids in their classroom, they share openly with others in their school and connect with kids, but want to make things better past their own situation.  They inspire change whether it is with one classroom in another school, or thousands.  They also tap into others and bring the best to their students. The more we look at what others are doing, the better we can become for the students closest to us.

Global teachers (should) care about education as a whole, as well as their school and their classroom.  I just want to iterate that if the person only looks at sharing and learning globally, but cannot connect with those in their classroom or school, I would not consider them a “global teacher”.  They just know that we are better when we work together, not just taking, but contributing.  They know what they share makes a difference for others, as well as knowing what they learn from others makes a difference for their school and students.

So where are you on the spectrum, and what type of teacher would you want in your school?

Forced Learning?

I shared an article that I wrote about things that we should do in professional development, and many educators either loved or hated the idea of having reflection built into the day.  My belief is that if you believe it is important as an administrator, you make time for it.

One comment was one that I found interesting in the discussion:

So if we ask kids to reflect in class, does it not fit into the “restricted time frame” category?  Many would suggest that kids should “reflect” at home, but we make some very strong assumptions about their lives when we leave things for them to do after or before school.

I thought about these questions:

Do we “force” kids to learn like this all of the time? If it isn’t effective for us, why is it effective for them?  

So do all teachers take the time to reflect about their learning? I had one educator outright say in a workshop, “I know that reflection is valuable for learning but who has time for it?”  If we are to model the idea of being “lifelong learners”, should reflection (and I am not simply talking about writing, but any type of open reflection) be a part of the work that we do?  This does not have to be about what we learn in a PD day, but it could also be about any learning that an educator has done.

If the teachers feel “forced” to reflect and learn things that they might now want to do in restricted time frames, I wonder how the kids feel.  Are we hoping they just don’t know any better?  I hope not.