Tag Archives: innovative teaching and learning

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Principal

 

I was recently asked by a superintendent if I had some questions to ask his principals to start off the year.  The questions I gave him were based on the following areas:

  • Fostering Effective Relationships
  • Instructional Leadership
  • Embodying Visionary Leadership
  • Developing Leadership Capacity
  • Creating Sustainable Change

In my opinion, the principal is probably the most important job in an educational organization.  There are many studies that reiterate this, but I think it is that they have the most authority closest to kids.  It is not to say that teachers aren’t important; they are absolutely vital.  But a great principal will help to develop great teachers, and a weak principal will do the opposite. They also tend to push great teachers out of schools, although most of the time unintentionally.  Bad leaders tend to drive away great talent.  A great teacher can become even better with a great principal.  As the very wise Todd Whitaker says “when the principal sneezes, the whole school gets a cold.”

Even though the questions were developed for superintendents to ask principals, I think that they should be questions any educator, parent, and even student should be able to openly ask their principal.

1.  What are some ways that you connect with your school community? (Fostering Effective Relationships) - When asking a principal this question, it is important to look for answers that go beyond the basic answers like staff meetings, emails, etc.  I would look for answers that go above and beyond what is expected.  For example, one of the best principals that I knew spent every morning welcoming staff and students to the school at the main doorway.  He would ask questions about their family, talk to them about their lives, and get to know them in a much deeper way than what was expected.  Although this principal has been retired for a few years, many of his staff refer to him as legendary because of the way that he would go above and beyond connecting with kids and community, before and after school.

2. What are some areas of teaching and learning that you can lead in the school? (Instructional Leadership) Covey talks about two important areas for leaders; character and credibility.  Many principals are great with people, yet really do not understand the art and science of teaching, or have lost touch with what it is like to be in the classroom.  Although a leaders does not need to be the master of all, they should be able to still be able to walk into a classroom and teach kids.  They should also definitely be able to lead the staff in workshops that focus directly on teaching and learning.  If teachers understand that a principal understands teaching and learning, any initiatives are more likely to be seen as credible in their eyes.

3.  What are you hoping teaching and learning looks like in your school and how do you communicate that vision? (Embodying Visionary Leadership) – There are many leaders in schools that often communicate a BIG PICTURE of what schools should look like, but can’t clearly communicate what it looks like for teachers and students. It is important to be able to discuss elements of learning that you are looking for in the classroom.  Not only is important to hold this vision, but to help develop it with staff and be able to communicate it clearly.  Many new educators walk into schools thinking that “quiet and order” are the expectations for classrooms, so even though they are doing some powerful work in their classrooms that looks quite messy, they are worried that it does not fit in with the vision of their boss. Due to this, many will often try to tailor their work to look like what they think the principal wants because they really don’t know what is expected.  Having a vision is important but clearly communicating and developing that with staff is also essential.

4. How do you build leadership in your school? (Developing Leadership Capacity) - Many principals are great at developing followers, but fewer are great at developing more leaders.  There has been this notion for years that you do everything to keep your best talent at all costs, but in reality, it is important to figure out ways to develop people, even if that means they will eventually leave. Great schools have become “leadership” hubs that they are continually losing great people, but they often get a reputation of being places where leadership in all areas is developed, which actually tends to attract some great people.  Wouldn’t you want to work with someone who is going to try to get the best out of you? There is a great quote that I’ve shared before (paraphrased) on this exact topic.

Many leaders are scared about developing people and then having them leave.  They should be more worried about not developing people and having them stay.

Again, great leaders develop more leaders.  What is your plan to make this happen?

5. What will be your “fingerprints” on this building after you leave? (Creating Sustainable Change) This has been a question that was asked of me years ago by my former superintendent, and has been one that has always resonated.  What she had shared with me is that she should be able to walk into my school and see the impact that I have had as the leader of the building.  This is not to say we throw out what the former leader has done, in fact, quite the opposite.  Great leaders will not come into maintain the status quo, but will bring their unique abilities to a school that will help them get to the next level.  They will build upon what has been left, but they will work with a community to ensure that their impact on a school lasts long after their time serving the community.  This where all of the other questions above truly come together, but it takes time and dedication to make it happen.

The old notion is that teachers and students are accountable to a principal is one that is dying (thankfully).  Great principals know that to be truly successful, it is the principal that is accountable and serves the community.  They will help create a powerful vision but will also ensure that they do whatever work is needed to be done to help teachers and students become successful.  I encourage you to talk to your principal, no matter what your role, and ask her/him their thoughts on some of these questions provided.

Jumping In First

 

A common thing I hear in regards to technology and our understanding of it goes along the lines of, “Kids are amazing…we can just learn it from them!”

Although I really believe in the power of learning with our students and that in the area of technology, I wonder sometimes if we use that thinking as an excuse to get out of learning.

Let me explain…

The ability for us to connect and learn from a vast amount of information in a highly networked world is daunting for most, including our students.  Navigating some of these murky waters, can be extremely complicated.  Because of that, I think this is all the more reason that we have to jump in ourselves and learn so we can help guide our students through these networks.  SImply saying, “I am going to learn from our kids”, leaves us often waiting for those moments and we could possibly miss out on many opportunities that we could have created for our students.  Sometimes we “don’t know what we don’t know”, and when we wait for our students to “teach us”, we might miss out on what we can show them as well.

Do I think that we can learn from kids? Absolutely.  I highly encourage it as it empowers our students to act as both teachers and learners.

Is it possible for us to know about all of the technology out there? Not a chance.  Even the most tech savvy educators in the world will not know every facet of technology.  There is just too much stuff.

But for us to simply wait for our kids to teach us, we could miss so many amazing opportunities that we could have helped create in our school if we would have jumped into those waters on our own first.

The “Work Phone” Mentality

 

It was a few years ago while I was in Europe at a conference with several other educators, that I sat at a table while they all connected back home with people and information through their iPhones.  I sat there with my Blackberry, that might as well would have been a brick at the time.  Other than email, I just (at the time) couldn’t seem to do what they did with their phones.  It was not that we weren’t talking to each other, but in fact, some of the conversation we had was much richer because of their ability to go deeper into discussion items, look up things that we were talking about, or bring others into the conversation from anywhere in the world.  I decided that I wanted to be more a part of this “new” conversation and create a different experience for myself.  I purchased an iPhone, started using it differently than I had my Blackberry, and I saw a whole new world of potential for my own learning.  It wasn’t the phone that changed everything, but it was my way of thinking.

This mantra has stuck with me ever since:

“To innovate, disrupt your routine.” Frank Barrett

I was reminded of this moment the other day when I was delivering a workshop and one of the participants said that she was going to put away her device so that she could just pay attention and get away from work.  I asked her what she had called her device, and she referred to it as her “work phone”.  Then I proceeded to ask her if she saw it as a “learning tool”, to which she didn’t really answer.  I had the same conversation with students years ago while working with them, and not one of them saw their mobile device as something that was powerful for learning, but more of a communication device.  If they did see it as a learning tool, it was to use as a high powered calculator, and to “google stuff”.  They understood the ability to consume, but not the power to create.  This was one of the reasons why I felt I needed to immerse myself into these technologies and not look at a computer or a mobile device as “work stuff”, but as powerful ways to learn, both consuming and creating content.

Schools and classrooms will never look different, if our own actions and beliefs, look the same.

The “work phone” mentality is being transferred already to our kids.  With many schools and classrooms using iPads or other devices to either push “apps” or house textbooks, kids don’t really see the power of what they have in their hands.  I asked one set of students in a school that had 1-to-1 iPads what they thought of the devices and they had told me that they hated them.   I asked why, to which they responded, “All we do is read textbooks on them. It’s boring.”

Sounds pretty boring. I would probably hate them too.

The “tool” is one thing, but the way we look at it is much more important.  Are we trying to do what we did before better and faster, or trying to do something different?

When we started our “Learning Leader Project” years ago, each educator was given an iPad two months prior to the start of the program.  Here were the instructions…Open the box, play with the iPad, give it to your own kids, explore, and do whatever you want.  We did not “image” each device to be “work-ready”, but we wanted people to try things that they wouldn’t have usually done and give them the necessary time to play.  This was a calculated disruption for the program.  Did all educators play with them before?  Unfortunately not because we have grown up in a system where compliance is the norm and people often wait to be told what to do.  But compliance and innovation do not go hand-in-hand.  

To be different, we have to think and act different first.

Today, after the announcement of the death of Robin Williams, I am reminded of one of my favourite movies and inspirations for becoming a teacher, “Dead Poets Society”.  In the movie, this quote from his character, resonates:

“Why do I stand up here? Anybody? I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”

Changing how we look at things is the first step in creating powerful and sustainable change.  Maybe it is time to ditch the proverbial “work phone” and look at what we hold in our hands with a new perspective.

Do we let “school” get in the way of learning?

I had some great conversations today in Queensland, Australia about some of the ways we need to change our mindsets about teaching and learning.  A big one that I kept reiterating was how we hold our students to a different standard than we often hold ourselves.  When I brought up that some kids are simply bored with what they are doing in class, it was brought up that some of them should just have to stick with it and that this was teaching them “manners”.  Instead of arguing I asked this question to participants; “how many have you checked your email during the time I was presenting?”  About half the hands had raised.  I don’t think that it was because they were terribly bored with what they had heard, but at times they need to check out and take a break.  I do this with email. I do this with YouTube. But I used to do this with drawing.  I  also remember constantly being told to “stop daydreaming and pay attention”, when there is actually a belief that this is not a good thing to do to people.

As adults we believe that some things are urgent.  Principals sometimes think that they have to be connected to their schools at all times in case of an emergency, but in reality, if you are a great principal, the school will be in a position to survive a day or two without you.  Yes adults have developed a higher level of maturity than our kids, but the argument of “urgency” is often overused.  “Urgency” is often personal and a matter of what YOU deem important.  Things happening at work could be considered urgent by an adult, but as a kid, I remember getting a note from a girl I had a huge crush on in high school.  That seemed pretty urgent to me and you would have been pretty hard pressed to have convinced me otherwise.

The reality is that there is no clear cut answer on anything.  I am not saying, “if adults can do it, so can kids”, but I do think we need to think about what we ask of kids and what we model to them.  Have you ever been in a session where you felt the person acted as if they were better than you? Acting as if you are superior to someone else and that affords you certain privileges that others shouldn’t have bodes just as poorly with kids as it does adults.  I think that these conversations are crucial to have for promoting a more “balanced” look at how we use and promote the use of technology in our schools.

One of the conversations that I found fascinating was surrounding the idea of mobile devices as “distractions” from learning.  The one comment  (paraphrased) I heard today was that it is disheartening when we are trying to go really deep into something and the device takes away from some really powerful learning that can be happening with the student.  I had to think about it and I wondered aloud that sometimes when we ask a student to put away their device, it is something we do because we believe it will promote learning, but sometimes it is the exact opposite.  Sometimes a student might be so deep into something that they are interested in learning about on their device.  We have sometimes stopped them from learning about something they are passionate about, and replaced with something we might be passionate about, or even worse, some content we “just have to get through”.

Again, this is not a black and white scenario, but it contains a lot of grey.  There are times when we do have to get through something, but there are sometimes that we have actually stopped the important process of learning about something that really matters.  Scott McLeod recently shared a post titled, “Reader interest trumps passage readability?”, which he quotes Alfie Kohn stating,

“how interested the students were in the passage was thirty times more important than how ‘readable’ the passage was.”

A student who is interested in what they are learning, is honestly going to become a better learner than someone who doesn’t care about the content that we are trying to get through.  This stuff matters.

Sometimes what we see as a “start” to learning,  is actually an abrupt “stop”.  I am not here to give you solutions on this because every teacher that builds great relationships with students will be able to understand when we need to refocus their students, and sometimes let them continue on with something else.  But when we have a vast ocean of information at our fingertips, some people are going to want to explore

Are there kids who use their devices to play Angry Birds in class? Yup.  That is actually my “get away” when my brain is full as an adult. I need to zone out and slingshot some birds into pigs.

But there are also kids that are exploring things that are really important to them, that they’re passionate about, and sometimes we let “school” get in the way of learning. 

This can lead to the growth of a “hatred for school”, while distinguishing a “love of learning”.  That’s kind of the opposite of what we are trying to do, isn’t it?

What if I give you a good answer?

 

You probably have either seen it, been a part of it, or done it.

The time that someone asks the question with a negative connotation that basically is giving them the out of doing whatever it is that you are saying.

It will usually start off with something like, “I really like all of the stuff that you said there…but”

The “but” in many cases is the exact reason that they are going to cite why they are not going to try it later.

“But what about cyberbullying? But what about creepy people? But what about our kids not exercising enough? But what about time? But what about balance? But what about the tests that we have to teach?”

These are all logical questions for a lot of the stuff that I talk about, and like many people that I work with, I also see these as concerns.  In my mind they are not reasons to NOT do things, but they are reasons that we need to be proactive.  Ignoring a problem will not make it go away.

So when I am about to give my answer to the “ya but” questions that I will inevitably hear, I might have a question back before my answer.

“What if I have a good answer?  What will you do then? WIll you consider changing the way you do things or will you stay on the same path?”

I don’t think you should ask this in a condescending way, but in a way to open up and have someone think about what they are going to do if they are provided new information.

The idea of a “fixed” and “growth” mindset is fantastic, but I believe that you can actually have both.  Many people that you see that are really “open to change”, are the same people that will not go out and try new restaurants, new experiences, or are set in their ways in other parts of their life.  On the notion of schooling, I have a “growth mindset”; on the idea of bungee jumping, I would say that I am pretty set in my ways.  You do not have one or the other, but probably a combination of both.

But maybe sometimes, we should help people identify where they are at when they ask a question.  Do they really want to hear the answer or is their question just a way of digging their feet in without them even knowing it?

Can we promote a “growth mindset” in subtle ways in the people that we work with?  I hope so.

4 Ideas To Have A Successful First Year as Principal

I am so intrigued with the number of people that are jumping into principal positions as I think it is truly one of the best jobs in the world.  It is also one of the toughest.  Isolation within a school (even though that is a choice that we now make ourselves) has been kind of a norm in past years, so to have a shared focus as a school is foreign territory for many (including principals).  Yet with a constant focus on “change”, many principals bring people together, but often for the wrong reasons.  If you move to fast, that can often lead to strained relationships within a school and resentment towards the new “leader”.  As much as principals want to make it “our school”, many admin really try to make it “their school”, or at least, that is the picture that they paint to their staff.  Sometimes you need to move slow to go fast.

Here are some things that I have learned from my time in both success and failures.

1. Build strong relationships first.  If you did a “Wordle” on my blog, I am guessing the term “relationships” would be the word that is in the top five for being most used.  Although this may seem redundant, to emphasize the importance of this over and over again, is something that cannot be understated.  The investment you make in your staff, students, and community will come back tenfold, but it takes time to build trust.  I have watched administrators like Patrick Larkin, Kathy MeltonJason Markey, Amber Teamann, and Jimmy Casas show and share the significance that they put into people.  This is not just your teachers either.

Every single person on your staff is an important part of the team and should be treated in that same manner.  Make sure that you connect with every person on that staff and know something that goes beyond the building.

One of my favourite things to do with the community was to wait for the busses and talk to kids and parents as they arrived to school.  Talking to kids is huge and a great proactive way to avoid issues later, while also being visible to the community.  It also builds credibility with staff.  Relationships, relationships, relationships.  Trust me, it is the most important part of the job and the foundation that all great schools are built upon.

2. Find the value of every staff member.  I tweeted the following yesterday:

Principals often want to make a splash with staff and bring in “gurus” to move them ahead, but I truly believe that most schools have everything they need within the building, we just have to find a way to bring it all together.  It is not that you shouldn’t look for outside help ever, as a differing perspective helps sometimes, but you should also balance that with having your own staff deliver professional development as well.  This builds capacity and relationships (see number one) within your building.

Every person in your organization has something to offer.  What is it? This is fundamental to “strengths based leadership” and people that know they are valued will go above and beyond. There is a difference between “developing” and “unleashing” talent; a great principal does both.

Great leaders develop great leaders.

3.  Show instructional leadership. There used to be a belief that “those who can’t teach, become principals”.  This drives me crazy.  The other idea is that the principal should be the best teacher in the school.  That is also a fallacy.  Some teachers are absolutely amazing and have no interest in becoming principals; there is nothing wrong with that.  You do however, need to show credibility in your role as principal.  This could be in delivering professional development to your staff or teaching a class, or even a combination of both.  Teachers connect well with teachers, and when they see that their principal, no matter the position, is still a teacher, it shines a different light on them.  When you teach, it also reminds you that the “change” that we try to implement is not as easy as it sounds with 25 kids in a classroom.  It is possible, but it takes time and this perspective that you gain by staying current in your own teaching practices is important.

4.  Don’t focus on “change” as much as you focus on “growth”.  Change and growth are often synonymous but the words sometimes the words evoke different emotions.  If you walk into a school and constantly talk about “change” or how you are going to create the “best school yet”, you are disrespecting the work that has been done prior by the same staff that you are now serving.  I agree that there are lots of things that need to “change” about schools, but I also know there are lots of great things that have already happened in many organizations.  Growth is different.  We expect it from kids and we should expect it from ourselves.  You may have seen the light and changed your teaching practice, but my guess is that you didn’t change every aspect of what you used to do.  You probably got better.  And when you ask for “growth”, make sure you model how you are growing as an administrator as well.  Say when you screw up, admit mistakes, apologize, learn openly, and do things that show you want to get better in your role to model what you want from your staff.  Modelling growth moves from saying, “do this”, to “let’s do this together”.  Very different ideas with the latter being much more effective.

Everyone wants to make a big splash when they are starting a new job, and administrators are no different.  Yet sustainable growth takes time and as Covey states, it is important as a leader to show “character and credibility”.  Both of these things take time.  You may have a vision of where you want school to go but the best leaders hold that vision and break it down in smaller steps so that people can gain confidence and competence in the process.  If you want to create something great, it will take time and will only come from the people that are a part of your learning community.  Honour and tap into them and you will move further than you could have ever imagined.

Can we keep making small “tweaks”?

I can’t remember where I saw it, but I recently read an article about the interruption  that bell causes with many schools when it destroys the flow of learning for a teacher.  I have said something similar before and have not been in a school as an administrator where bells signified the end of a class.  The idea was always that if a kid was deep into learning that the bells would stop that deep learning that was happening in the classroom.

Then I started to think my time in high school and how the bell was a reprieve from the boredom that I was experiencing in any given class.  Yes, there were times where I wanted class to go on, but I would honestly say that as a student, those experiences were in the minority.  How many times did you hear things such as, “The bell doesn’t dismiss you; I dismiss you.”  You might have even said it a few times as a teacher. I know I have.

So as I thought about it, that one or two minutes that you might go deeper into a conversation could be great, but if we are set up on the same scheduling that we have been traditionally in high schools, do we ever really get deep enough into learning that students don’t want to leave?  Are they trading “waiting for a bell” for “watching a clock”?  Although I believe that bells are annoying and aren’t really helping anything in school other than create a Pavlovian effect for our students, is this small change creating a major  difference in the way that we teach and learn?

When I went to visit Ann Michaelsen in Norway this past January, she told me how their high school had got rid of several classes in a day for high school students, and went with one class per day.  For example, you might have English on Monday, Mathematics on Tuesday, and so on.  What she had shared was that this created a significant shift in the way educators taught their classes.  As I watched the teachers in action, it looked more like a workshop model in every classroom, with students doing a lot of hands on work, and the teacher becoming almost like an academic advisor, working with individual students throughout the day and seeing where they were in their studies.  The amount of time that each teacher had with the students had really made an impact on changing teacher practice and mindset towards the way kids were learning throughout the day.  It would be tough to lecture for five or six hours in a day; the students would have to become more involved in their learning.

I am not sure how effective this type of day would be for a student or a teacher at the high school level, because I have never experienced it (although this was a standard practice for myself as an elementary teacher), but I will tell you that it looked pretty amazing.  We still have to work within the confines of a system and although there are many people that would like to start from scratch, it is not a reality for many schools.

That being said, are there times when we have to think less about the little “tweaks” we can make to the existing structure of school, and think more about some of the major changes we can make in our school?  For example, many see a SmartBoard as a glorified chalkboard; a great improvement on what we have used before but not necessarily going to make a major difference on the way we teach and learn in the long run.  Many would point to something like going “1 to 1” being a major change in many schools, but that would be only if was followed up with proper professional development.  In a lot of schools the technology is being used to simply write notes and “google stuff”, or even simply collecting dust.

When do we move from “tweaking” the system to making some major shifts in what we do?  There are a lot of innovative things that we can do within the system, but when do we start really pushing the boundaries?

A Different Perspective?

Summer is a great time for reflection and throwing ideas around, so here is something that has been floating around in my brain.

The other night on the ESPY Awards, when Stuart Scott was awarded the “Jimmy V Perseverance” award (an amazing speech that you really should watch) for his fight against cancer, his friend Robin Roberts came up to the stage and talked about a new initiative in the hopes to cure cancer.  Although she mentioned it very briefly, my interest was piqued considerably when she talked about the idea of bringing in people outside of the profession to give new ideas to think about curing cancer.  My interest was piqued considerably at the idea that people outside of a profession look at solving a problem.  In education, many of us have spent many years looking at the same problems that the system we are in created; a different perspective on things could be helpful.

I will admit that one of my biggest pet peeves is hearing people say that people outside of education shouldn’t speak at education conferences because they do not know what it is like to be in the classroom.  The same “growth mindset” that many of us preach seems pretty closed when we hear sentiments like this.  I myself have been guilty of saying, “what would they know, they’ve never had to teach”, yet still love when hearing a student’s perspective about school, when they also have never taught.  We can learn from anyone about anything, and what is important is that we learn to make connections to what we do in the education system.  If you go to many conferences, many of the same ideas shared by educators are ones that are often reiterated from others but with a different perspective or “twist” to the story.  Many people are wanting some vastly different ideas.

Now there is a difference between having a non-educator talk about how to solve problems in the classroom, as opposed to hearing someone’s story from outside of the education realm.  A doctor doesn’t know what it is like to have 30 kids in a classroom, no more than I know what it is like to remove someone’s appendix.  It is important to understand that in any profession we respect that experience often trumps research.  I am not looking for Bill Gates to give me ideas on how to run a school.  I would however be interested to know what Bill Gates has done in his own work to create change and make what he does better.  I would also like to know about the changes that have happened in the music industry, and how people in that field have created an environment where they thrive.  How did Uber come about and what are traditional taxi services doing to change the way they do business? The Edmonton Humane Society has totally changed my perspective on how an animal shelter should look like (it is an amazingly beautiful place and looks a lot different from the small cage that I got my first dog Kobe from), and their outreach to the community through their Twitter account has been engaging and powerful.  How did they get to that point and why did they change?

The thing that education has in common with many other fields is that change has been thrust upon them because of the ease of access to information and the easy ability to connect with one another.  Schools aren’t the only organization that is having to look at drastic change.  Many industries are facing similar challenges. What can we learn from them about what they have done and how can we make it applicable to the challenges we are facing?  Creating those connections to both ideas and people could be extremely valuable to the field of education.

So the idea that has been floating around in my head has been hosting an “innovator summit”. This would have people from different fields that are looking at creating, and have created change in their respective fields.  How did they do it?  What worked? What didn’t?  What could we learn from each other?  This would also include people from the field of education who have been successful in creating valuable changes in their own organizations.  There is a lot that different industries could learn from us and apply to their own work.  Truthfully, if anyone should look at hosting a conference where we can learn from one another, shouldn’t it be the field of education?

I have been tossing this idea around in my head.  Perhaps having an “Ignite” style day with short talks, but with the opportunity for conversations with other people.  Maybe even an “Edcamp” type conference.  The idea is definitely in its infancy.  The one thing that I know I would NOT want is people from different fields coming in to tell educators how schools should be.  I have seen that before and it has been a lot of “how to” on getting students to do better at tests, and behaving, etc.  Are we focusing on “doing things better”, or “doing better things”?  Those are two uniquely different ideas and my hope is that we are moving to the latter.

Maybe this has been done before.  Maybe it hasn’t.  It is pretty hard to have an original idea in today’s world but I would sure love some feedback and thoughts on what this could look like or if this is even something that would be beneficial in our work to help our students.

Thoughts?

Where’s the evidence?

This is one of those posts where I might just ramble on but I am trying to clarify some thoughts in my head…

When talking about new and innovative ways to teach students, a question that I constantly get is “where is the evidence that this works?”  The problem with trying something new, there is rarely evidence to support it because it is new.  That being said, I am seeing many educators be the “guinea pigs” themselves and trying out new strategies for learning on themselves and with staff.  If there engagement and learning is improving from their own experience, it is more likely to make an impact on students.  We have often believed that teachers should be experts on “teaching” when the reality is that they should be experts on “learning” first.  Immersing themselves into learning opportunities will help them get closer to that standard than simply reading about teaching techniques.

As I have started to think about the “where is the evidence” question, I am wondering if it should be asked right back.  Where is the evidence that what we used to do was knocking it out of the park for all of our kids?  When I went to school, many students struggled then in school and it wasn’t the utopia that so many people have made it out to be.  Are grades the measure?  If they are, do we look at factors such as socio-economic status and their impact on test scores?  Do we believe that any one thing is a direct result to improved grades?  If you look at any school division that has improved, do they usually only have one initiative that they can directly correlate to a numerical improvement, or are there multiple factors?  Does critical thinking improve learning? Does helping students make healthy choices improve learning?  Or would a combination of both have an impact?  Or would one make an impact on one student, while the focus on another might be the different for another student?  It is tough to make standardized assessments on individuals; each person is unique and needs different things.

This brings me back to a conversation this morning that I had with one educator who had mentioned that her admin “didn’t think that kids would do well with this type of learning”.  What I told her is that we should never limit a kid to what we, as adults, think that they can or can’t do.  There is a saying that “whether you think you can or you can’t, you are usually right.”  It is one thing to have this mindset for ourselves, but when we decide our kids “can’t” before giving them a chance or showing a belief in them, their opportunities to grow and achieve something great are limited.

So I guess the next time when I am asked, “Where is the evidence that this works?”, my response might be that nothing works for all people. It never has and it never will.  Some kids will do better with pen and paper, and some adults will do better with a laptop; we have to be able to provide options that work for our students, not just ourselves.  I also believe that sometimes our faith in our kids could be as important (if not more) as some of the evidence we collect.  If we believe we can help our students do amazing things, continuously grow, and make the world better, isn’t it more likely to happen?

Is it about what you have learned or that you are learning?

When do you give up on someone?  When do you just realize that they are never going to get what you are trying to help them learn?

Early on when I first started doing workshops with teachers, especially in the area of the technology, there would be a point where I would just give up on some.  I hate to admit it but they were nowhere near where I thought they should be so I would turn my attention to those that seemingly were getting it and basically cut my losses.  I am not proud of it, but that’s what I did.

Then I remember a teacher coming into my room extremely frustrated with her classroom.  She had talked about how big of a challenge they were and that she was seemingly getting nowhere with the majority of them.  Then I asked her the question, “Are you a great teacher?”, where she emphatically replied, “Yes!”  Then I said to her, well it is pretty easy to teach a class of students that all seem to get what you are trying to teach them, but a great teacher works with any student that is put in front of them, recognizes when they are trying to get better, and helps them move forward.  She took my question and advice to heart and she had an amazing year with her students.

As I thought about my own words to someone else, I realized that I wasn’t even following them myself.  As I thought about our conversation, I started to look different on the professional development opportunities that I was delivering myself.  I started to realize that it was not about what people had learned, but that they were learning.  If they were trying to move forward,  they were successful that day, and making sure they knew that would push them that much further.  I often tell my workshop participants early on that if you do not think you have picked up everything that I have shared, that is fine, as long as they are trying to pick up some of the things.  I have even told them that if there brain is full, and that they have picked up enough, to feel free to just explore what they have learned while I share other things.

As much as we talk about the importance of collaboration, learning is an extremely personal experience.  For some people, whether it is our kids or adults, just showing up is a victory and a way of them saying they want to get better.  Don’t ever give up on someone that is learning, even though sometimes it would be really easy to do.  We wouldn’t accept doing that to our students, so we shouldn’t accept doing that to each other.