I rarely just post a video into my blog and provide no commentary, but this is a pretty amazing Ted Talk. It is seven minutes and is extremely valuable to all of those in the teaching profession.
I get a lot of emails asking about creating the conditions for change and recently was asked, “As a new principal, what is the first step to create a better learning environment in our school?”
Here is my answer…do nothing.
Too many times people walk into buildings and have some great ideas and they start trying to tweak this, and change that, etc., yet that often alienates the people that you want to get better.
What I would strongly suggest is that you sit back, watch, learn, and figure out what people are great at already and build from there. You will build relationships and people will trust that when new initiatives begin popping up in your school that you already value their skills and abilities. Also, this will create a team approach as opposed to the “admin vs. teacher” culture that is prevalent in many schools.
“It takes far less energy to move from first-rate performance to excellence than it does to move from incompetence to mediocrity.” Peter Drucker
When I was in grade 9, I always remember hearing about the cool project that you would do in Mr. Still’s grade 10 class that had to do with learning about war and peace around the world. In the project, you would become a fictitious country and each day you were given scenarios of what was happening around the world, then discuss with your group what you would do next. Each decision had a consequence, and could lead to more violence or peace. You also had to guess what the other countries would do in situations, and base your responses on these uncertainties. Our class made it 6 days before we went to an all out World War. I remember how excited I was about this project, how exhilarated I was during the process, and how it lead me to major in European History in university.
The next year, I anticipated Mr. Bellamy’s class project where you would create a product, and do all of the advertising for it to try and sell it to others. People would walk out of the class loving this experience, and I remember distinctly creating a new “shoe”, and the accompanying commercial with the release of the product (which had me dunking off of a trampoline which would probably not go over well in a school now in our litigious society!). This project, again, was one I looked forward to, loved doing, and led me to have a huge interest in media and advertising, even as an educator.
Both projects lived up to their billing and had some impact on what I do now. Although I am not in “sales” or a politician, both of these experiences show up in some capacity within my career and I am thankful for the opportunity to take part in these meaningful learning opportunities.
With that being said, I honestly do not remember much else about my time in high school in classrooms, outside of those projects. Of course I remember fun times with friends, playing sports, acting, etc., but I do not remember much about any other distint projects. Of course I had great teachers that made a huge impact, but these things stick out in my memory.
So when we look at our own classrooms, what do you think gets kids to wake up early in the morning, excited for what they are about to take part in during the day? We don’t often look enough at our classrooms as a place where students should want to be, and we treat them as a place they have to be. Every teacher should be, and hopefully goes into the profession to make a difference, not just “teach”.
So are you one of those teachers that has a classroom with these types of projects, or will it be an experience that kids soon will forget? In my opinion, these types of meaningful learning experiences (that took a lot of work yet were highly engaging) should be present in every classroom. This is where we go from “pockets of innovation”, to a “culture of innovation”.
What is the learning event(s) that kids look forward to in your classroom?
Warning…This post gets a little mushy…mushier than usual.
Trying to get back into the swing of things after my dad passed away, I have been thinking about what to write. Blogging has been something that has been important to my growth as not only an educator, but honestly, as a person. It has made me more reflective and thoughtful in many aspects of my life, and the time it has taken to just sit down and write has helped me catch my breath when I needed to most. Writing about dad was one of those times that I needed to use my blog for therapeutic means. I know it made me really think and appreciate his life, even in his passing.
Coming back after this type of event makes it hard to focus on “education” related topics but it really helped me to continue to think about learning. When I think of the word “learning”, I don’t think of simply the consumption and creation of knowledge, but I also think of the development of ourselves as people.
I started to reflect on the last week, which had many downs, but some very bright ups. I really learned a lot about people and how they react to tragedy, seeing both the good and bad. What I was most proud of in the last week was the strength of my family to come together and make sure everything was dealt with, while also taking care of one another. With my dad looking down on us right now, I know that he would be proud of how he strengthened our love and commitment to one another as a family. I try to focus on that good, while I push out some of the bad.
So as I continued to think about what I could possibly write today, one of the ideas that kept coming to me over and over again, was how my life is a lot better because of social media. Many people still do not see the value of this space, but looking back at the last week, I know that the people I have connected with through Twitter have helped to not only make me become a better educator, but more importantly a better person. I saw “strangers” connect and care for me from both near and far through social networks, many of them that I have never met in real life, or maybe once or twice. People from across the world that would check in on me and continuously ask, “what do you need me to do?” Thinking that this was a crazy question from people so far away, it was nice to know that people were willing to help however they could, wherever they were.
Years ago as a new and (what I thought at the time) young administrator, I felt extremely isolated in my position. Many people that were in a similar position had different interests and families while I was still single, on my own, and away from family. It was hard to connect with my peers in a personal sense although I always loved connecting with them on a professional one.
I honestly felt quite lonely at the time and felt that all I did was work and go home. Just a continuous cycle. I started learning with a lot of people that were a lot smarter than me, but I started to find my “tribe” and connected with many people and built friendships with many that at a time when friendships were lacking in my life.
Was that what I set out to do? Absolutely not.
In fact, if you would have told me I would have made friends with strangers through Twitter, I would have thought you were crazy. But now, some of my best friends in the world are literally from around the world. Many people use Twitter and don’t necessarily “get it”, but I think that it is easy to not see the value if you are not in the mindset to put yourself out there and connect with people. If I was just “reading” other people’s stuff, I don’t think I would keep coming back. The connection to the “tribe” has really been the difference in my personal and professional life.
This is not a “you should join Twitter” post. I don’t want people to think that at all. What this is (for me), is the reminder that many people from around the world have been there for me when I have struggled at different points in my life and it has made all of the difference in the (my) world. In the context of schools, wouldn’t all kids learn better if they always knew they were cared for? There is a correlation to my own growth and the feeling I get from so many caring people.
What this post is meant to be is a “thank you” to so many “strangers” who reached out, wrote, called, DM’d me, texted me, and cared for me and my family when we needed it most. Just like a learner needs food in their stomach to be able to concentrate, love and caring is needed for them to excel.
Thank you to so many for giving me just that.
I asked a group of teachers, “When you need information, what do you do?”
Think about the question yourself…what do you do? Do you ask colleagues? Look at encyclopedia? Throw in your “Encyclopedia Britannica” CD Rom into your computer?
What they ALL said (all of them) was that they “google it”.
The ability to google something is important, but assessing that information is imperative. Many have advocated that students should have the ability to have a device during exams. Wouldn’t that create a better test? Finding the information is important, but what you do with the information is where the rubber really hits the road. If I can google the answer to the test, is the assessment any good?
If you think about it, how many adults go to a textbook to find information? Honestly, why do we even teach with textbooks anymore? Because they are engaging and mirror what we see in the real world or because they are the easiest way to deliver a packaged curriculum? Nowhere outside of schools is “science” that packaged.
Now, when I think about how I look for information, “googling” something is not on the top of my list. Often I ask the question on Twitter and get fewer results which are always better, because they are researched and used by teachers that I have connected with. Can anyone do that at this moment? Probably not, but I have taken the time to develop a network of educators that has actually saved me time in the long run. The time spent following and learning from other educators has been invaluable to my work and is actually a “21st Century Literacy“:
Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought.
I also have learned where to get information on specific things such as hotels. Searching google might lead me to the hotel’s website and let me know what the people who own the place think of it but Trip Advisor tells me what people who have stayed at the establishment think of the place. How many hotel websites say that their establishment is just “ok”. Sites like Trip Advisor keep many organizations “honest” and actually forces them to produce a better product. Having a “name” as a hotel is no longer enough; you have to back it with quality. If you aren’t using sites like this already, what information are you losing out on?
I have thought a lot about this topic when I saw the following quote:
“When we teach a child to deal with a changing world, she will never become obsolete.” Seth Godin
The technology will always change, but the skill to find information, make sense of it, and then do something meaningful with what we have learned, is essential.
Talking with good friends Tom and Leah Whitford, we were discussing moving staff forward and some of the conversations that drive our thinking. As I started to think about how many leaders do “book studies”, and have been moving those conversation back and forth from and online and offline setting, I thought about the notion of having a “blog study”. I know that administrators like Kathy A. Melton have done this before, but I just wanted to write what this could look like.
For example, look at an educator blog (Bill Ferriter, Will Richardson or Dean Shareski could be good options) and have teachers subscribe through email to their posts. As they write, perhaps have a discussion time once a week or month, on things that were stated in the blog, and whether they agree or disagree, and how those ideas apply to your school. You can host a chat online through something like twitter, or keep them offline if that is what works best for your community. Ensure that if you do pick a blog, make sure that it is someone that updates consistently and perhaps connect with the blog author and let them know that you are doing a “blog study” on their work. This is something that you do not have to do with necessarily an educator blog (Seth Godin would be an interesting one), but I think that it would be more applicable to use a blog on education for schools.
Here are some of the reasons this would be beneficial:
- Powerful conversations can start from short time commitments. Books can be very daunting in any profession where time is always at a minimum. Reading an entire chapter from a book can take a large amount of time yet a post can take you 30 seconds and still spark a powerful idea. It can be a video that is shared, a quote, a podcast, or whatever medium that the author decides to use. For some, video is a much more powerful medium to receive a message and resonate in an entirely different way than a written post. The blog format can give educators an opportunity to have some powerful learning in small amounts of time.
- Anywhere, anytime, any place learning. The nice thing about a blog is that I can access it from any device that I have connected to the Internet. I can literally be sitting at the doctor’s office and read while I am waiting, or at halftime of a basketball game. As long as I have my device with me, I can connect to that blog. Although many people enjoy reading paper books, if you are not carrying that book, you don’t have access. The Kindle app is a great opportunity to have that anywhere, any time, any place learning, but the blog guarantees that access.
- You are truly learning as you go with your staff. There is a reason that administrators choose the books that they do. They convey a message that the administrator is in total agreement with and they want to share that message with their staff in some manner. With a blog, you might not necessarily agree with what the author has said on any day, but the discussion that can ensue is where the real learning can occur. Yes, you will have an idea of how the author writes, but you have no idea what they are going to say. The learning that can happen there can be truly authentic and real with your staff which could lead to some interesting conversations.
- Interactions with the actual author. One of the biggest benefits of doing a “blog study” over a traditional book study is that you are more likely to be able to interact with the actual author of the blog. Through the process of commenting, you can ask for clarifications on ideas, push back, challenge, or even thank the author for the idea. After you read a chapter you disagree with, there is no opportunity for clarification from that author. What is written is what you are left with. More authors see the value in connecting through social media with people that read their books, but you are more likely to get a response from someone who is already sharing openly in that space.
- Learning can lead to more learning. Bloggers rarely only share their own ideas, but often the ideas of others. I have connected with many great blogs, twitter accounts, and articles by reading specific blogger material. Learning (again) doesn’t stop at what is written on the page, and you can’t click a physical page in a book. Many authors reference in books some other books that they have read, yet you have to put down the book, grab your computer, do a search, etc. With a blog, you click and go. Who knows that this will lead your staff towards.
- Teachers can see the power of blogging to start conversations. The potential of a teacher of every teacher in a study writing a book is slim to nil. The opportunity of them deciding that they write a blog is considerably higher. Seeing the power of sharing ideas in different mediums might inspire them to do the same. It may also encourage them to explore using this same idea with their students. I was not comfortable starting my own blog until I was able to see what other blogs looked like and how they shared. This might be the inspiration that others need to start sharing some of their own ideas and inspiration.
There are ways that you can do this online as well as offline. Creating your own hashtag or blog space to ask questions can help archive your work, and using sites like Storify can help you share your ideas in a single space in an organized manner. It can also open the study to others outside of your school.
As I go through these points myself, I think there would be a lot of benefits of trying something like this. Any other thoughts? Suggestions for blogs to follow that would be good for this kind of learning? I think that there could be some real power in this type of learning.
Thanks to Kathy A. Melton for the face-to-face conversation that helped me flesh out these ideas.
I had the question yesterday from an IT Director (one that I have been asked several times) about the “issues” that happen when you open up social media in schools. He told me about a principal that said that they continuously deal with issues because of Facebook, Twitter, etc. (remember…the sites are not the issue but the behaviour) and the principal said that it would be easier if they shut it down. He then asked me how I would deal with it.
The first thing that popped into my head was this video of kids that aren’t any good at playing hide and seek:
This video really made me think that many believe if we close our eyes, nothing bad is happening.
In fact, if we shut down social media in schools, we are less likely to teach our kids how to use that sites safely and effectively, and students are more likely to make mistakes. Isn’t education the main way we solve problems in our society or are we adopting “ignoring stuff” as the new solution?
Recently, I did an interview on this very topic and the host said that my logic on this topic was similar to getting kids to drink with parents at home.
When the adults in the room say things like this, it first of all terrifies me, and then makes me realize they have not seen the positive impact that social media can make on their lives and the lives of others. I was so glad to see that Global Television recently wrote an article and shared a video on the work we are doing in PSD70, and more specifically, the classroom of Kelli Holden and her grade 4 students, to inform the public that there are a lot of positives that can come from the effective use of social media.
With anything, there is good and bad. Ignoring teaching our kids about this medium is not going to help them in any way to see the positives and we can’t just say, “not our problem” anymore. If we only teach the curriculum to our kids, we have failed. It is imperative that we work with our students to be people that follow their passions, be positive citizens, and make a difference in their world now, not the world we lived in as kids.
“We have to stop thinking of an education as something that is delivered to us and instead see it as something we create for ourselves.” Stephen Downes
Traveling around and speaking at conferences, I have peeked my head into several sessions and try to figure out which ones have the highest attendance. One of the things that I have noticed is that if a session gives you something that you can use on Monday to do with the kids, they are most likely packed. I remember as a teacher going to conferences, I wanted the exact same thing.
I don’t have time to learn how to fish… just give me the fish!
Unfortunately, I am unable to give those sessions anymore. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I gave a session that focused on “teaching” as much as it did “learning”. Helping educators connect and learn in a way that will help them long term has been my goal, especially since one of the things that I have focused on in leadership has been building capacity. When I think of the term “leadership capacity”, I do not think of building the future principals of the world, but to help others become servant leaders. Helping them find ways to help others. For us to understand what our students go through, should we not try to understand how they learn?
One of the reasons that many people would much prefer going to the session that just gives them stuff “Monday ready” is due to the lack of time. Curriculum can become overwhelming and teachers do a lot more than simply teach their kids from 9-3:30. What I hope to see is that teachers, don’t look at what they have learned from one of my sessions and totally transform their work in one day; meaningful change takes time and your experience matters. If I can help teachers think about how they learn, and what makes them passionate about learning, over time, could that not change the way that their students learn? I am not going to give you “50 Apps for Your iPad” to use with students; those apps will become boring and then what are you left with? To transform our teaching, we will have to rethink how we and our students can learn in this world.
Doing sessions at convention and outright telling people that they will have to continue working on their learning after this session can be a daunting thing. If they do follow up and spend the time connecting with others and sharing their learning, the impact can become transformational, both personally and professionally. I have experienced this first hand as a learner when people took the time to guide me through Twitter and blogging and sat with me patiently, waiting for me to have my own lightbulb moment.
Every once in awhile though, I see tweets like this that know this focus on learning, can have a huge impact:
Thank you @gcouros for the intro to tweeting and blogging…the amount I have learned in the past few days=amazing!
— Shelley LaCroix (@Shelley_LaCroix) March 10, 2013
The quote that has always stuck out to me is this one from Will Richardson, and it will continue to drive the work that I do:
Meaningful change ain’t gonna happen for our kids if we’re not willing to invest in it for ourselves first. At the heart, it’s not about schools…it’s about us.
If we as educators continue to focus on our learning first, won’t we become better teachers?
It started with this tweet:
Alec where are you?
— George Couros (@gcouros) December 25, 2008
That was my first tweet ever, using a medium that I had heard about but never really understood. No Twitter handle, no hashtag, and actually thinking that my brother Alec would be the only “Alec” that I would possibly get an answer from.
Now that many (if not all) people are able to download and learn from their Twitter archive, I took the opportunity to look at some of my progression through Twitter, and to actually go back and revisit some of the things that I shared, and how I shared.
The first month that I looked at, was September 2010, the month that I lost my best friend Kobe. I saw people rallying around me, caring for me, and checking in. What was hardest to look back on was how I had the false hope that it might be just a routine visit to the vet that day:
@courosa he did not want to go in so that is a good sign. Just have to wait for the vet now.
— George Couros (@gcouros) September 8, 2010
With family so far away, I reached out to strangers a lot that month. 1,612 times to be exact. At a time when I wanted both to be close and far from people, Twitter and all of the people that I had connected to were seemingly comfort.
I also look at what I have learned, what never panned out (I got that invite to Google Wave, but I never understood how to use it), and some people I got to help (I actually made sure Jesse McLean changed his handle to something more user friendly).
A few things…
First of all, it is pretty amazing to have these little snapshots of my life saved in this archive. To be able to go through my tweets and look at how I was when I struggled, excelled, or was somewhere in the middle, is pretty remarkable. I actually found myself laughing and crying going through my own tweets, just in aww of how I have grown in the last few years.
Secondly, I am quickly reminded of how we all start somewhere. Over 52,000 tweets later, I am pretty comfortable with the medium and treat tweeting almost like I would texting. I don’t sit and contemplate what I am going to put out there anymore; tweeting has become second nature to me. But it isn’t for everyone and we have to recognize that if we really want people to see value in this medium, you have to get them to care about it in the first place, and then work with them to help them to understand how they can use this it.
Finally, I learned that I not only have a voice, but that I have a voice that can matter. I often talk about how we all live in a world where we all have a voice, but I do believe that we also live in a world where everyone’s voice can make a difference and Twitter is one of those places where our voice can be heard. Maybe by 10 people, and maybe by a 1000, but it can be heard. Through my tweets, I saw my confidence and learning grow, while also learning to connect with some amazing minds. That experience made my voice grow stronger, when I once believed that nothing I said in that space would ever really matter.
As educators, we have to learn and understand that our voice does matter, not only for ourselves, but so that we can properly relay that notion to our students. If we can teach them how their voice matters from our experiences, can you imagine how powerful their voices might be?
Recently reading the Seth Godin book titled, “Stop Stealing Dreams”, one of his stories really stuck out to me. He talked about the low number of people that can actually find Greece on the map and how this would be a growing concern for many. What he talked about was not necessarily a lack of knowledge, but a lack of something else:
“…the problem isn’t that we haven’t spent enough hours memorizing the map. The problem is we don’t want to.”
I think about my own work and I have actually really focused on moving away from teaching anything without focusing on why it is important first. I never just start showing people how to use Twitter, but actually show them why they should care to learn it in the first place. My whole focus has been on why we should do something before I even start to do it.
Do we do this enough schools? Does the curriculum that we have to get through give us enough time? Do we do this enough in our staff meetings? I have seen far too many meetings start with simply doing a learning activity without any discussion on why it is important in the first place.
Think about anything that you have learned in a deep manner; did you care about it? What made you care in the first place? Even thinking about my best teachers, not only did I know they cared for me, but they also made me care for the subject matter in a deeper sense that I wanted to learn about it, not that I felt I had to. Even the stuff that I memorized and aced as a kid (100% on my “Parts of a Microscope” test!), I probably could tell you nothing about now, unless I cared about them.
How do you get your students to care about what you are teaching, and maybe, more importantly, what if they never do? Will they ever really learn if they don’t ever really care? Not care about learning, but care about what we are teaching. The notion of having people care is not only about how we teach, but how we lead.