Tag Archives: Parkland School Division

The Myths of Technology Series: “Technology Dehumanizes”

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 the Internet has become more central in our lives, we have begun to witness a revival of the importance of being human.” Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant

One of my favourite books that I have read in the past few years was called “Humanize”, and it really helped me to think of technology in a much different way than I had in the past.  As an assistant principal years ago, I remember actually arguing against the use of technology because of the way that I had seen it used.  Students would often go to a lab, which became an event, and teachers would often have students interact with websites or programs, instead of people.  I watched kids focused on a screen and losing connections with one another.  If I continuously talked about the importance of relationships in schools, it didn’t make much senses to talk about technology this way.

When I became a principal however, Twitter started becoming all the rage amongst educators, although I never really understood it.  Once I started connecting and sharing with real people, I was hooked.  Not only were these people brilliant educators, but they were great people that I connected with.  I learned not about their philosophies and thoughts on education, but about their families, their likes, their interests, and who they were as people.  I don’t come back to Twitter for the technology but for the connection.  If you build relationships in any area of your life, online or offline, you are going to come back.  Relationships are built with people and the people are what brought me back.  The ability to show one’s self was the draw for me.

Although I was proud of all that my school was achieving, while also sharing my own thoughts on education, I decided to show other aspects of my life as well.  People saw through the sharing of my love of basketball, music, and humour, that I was not just a “principal”, but a person who happened to be a principal.  But it was not only the “good” times that I shared.  When I lost my first dog Kobe, or went through another stressful time in my life, and even lost my dad, I felt that the Internet cried with me and gave me a virtual hug.  People came together to help me through trying times, many that would be considered “strangers”.  My willingness to share myself made me more than an avatar, but a human being.  This past weekend when I got engaged to the girl of my dreams,  I got another giant virtual hug.  Because I have been willing to share my ups and downs, I have been able to connect with so many people that I would consider good friends.

I have experienced this, but I have also seen these stories over and over again online.  John Berlin, made a video asking Facebook for his deceased son’s “Look Back” video, and when it was picked up by a Reddit user, people shared and reshared the video, which quickly caught the attention of Facebook and led to the video being released.

There is more good than bad in the world and the Internet has given us the opportunity to really tap into one another as human beings.

As a school administrator, I think often about the opportunity social media gives us to connect in ways that we couldn’t before.  If you look at large school districts such as Peel District School Board in Ontario and Surrey Schools in British Columbia, they have made their world a lot smaller by their use of social media.  In large geographical areas, they have used social media to create a “small town” feeling within their communities. Although you might see their leaders only once in person within the school, you have the ability to connect with them often online.  It is all in the way that you are willing to use the technology.

If a school leader uses social media as a way to simply share messages, and not engage with their community, it will not be very beneficial and does not create much more than existed without the technology.  Recently, I saw my good friend Jimmy Casas (who I met in person first but have become very good friends with because of technology) share a post about being vulnerable.  In it, Jimmy shared an anonymous tweet that was targeted against his work as a principal:

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Jimmy could have simply ignored it and moved on, but instead showed his vulnerability and addressed it openly.  That is courageous leadership.  The ability to openly share and discuss a criticism in a space that is totally open.  The irony of the post is that technology was used in an anonymous way from someone who was not willing to be brave enough to address Jimmy in person.  If you think about it, people dehumanize one another, not technology.  We have to always remember that on the other end of that Twitter, YouTube, Facebook account is a person, and when we choose to use technology in such a manner, we do more harm than any social media account ever could.

I often hear people talk about losing special things such as handwritten cards because we are often focused on teaching technology to our kids.  There is something sweet and sentimental about a card, but then I think about the video my brother shared of my dad below:

I wouldn’t trade seeing my dad in this video for any handwritten card that he could have ever  written.  His humanness shows here and I am reminded of his loving, goofy, and caring heart even though he is not with us anymore.

If you think about it, this type of technology can makes us even more human than we were before, it’s simply on the way we choose to use it.

“One of the reasons social media has grown so fast is that it taps into what we, as human beings, naturally love and need and want to do—create, share, connect, relate.”
Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant

Attracting the Best Talent

As I was working out at gym, I watched a member go to the front desk and ask if they could cancel their membership.  The person working the front desk, obviously instructed to do this, told the member that they would have to talk to a “sales specialist” before they could actually cancel their membership.  This was obviously a last ditch opportunity to get as much money as they could from this person, and since no sales assistant was available, she had to come back another day to cancel her membership.

I thought about how terrible this process was and what it would mean long term for the company.  Yes, they would probably squeeze another month out of the person and receive 60 dollars, but long term, she would probably complain to her friends about how poorly the company was run and how they were ultimately focused on the bottom line as opposed to people.  Making a little money now might lead to a large loss later.  Word of mouth is crucial to organizations.

Comparatively, I have seen this done with great teachers.  I know of one who was in a situation where they received a new job only a few days after the division negotiated deadline to give notice for the next school year.  Instead of letting the person take another job that they wanted, they really pushed the person to stay another year because they knew they had a skill set that would be hard to replace.

Does this make sense?  Should you make a teacher stay in a position they want to leave and have them resentful for another year?  Luckily for that teacher, they found a job the following year and they had a much better fit professionally and personally, but the damage was done on what they thought of the organization.  Instead of pushing people to get better, it seemed they focused on holding them back.

My philosophy that I learned working with Parkland School Division is that you never hold a person back from their dreams.  In fact, you encourage them to pursue them.  In my first year as a teacher, I was offered a job as an assistant principal late into July, and although I could have technically been told that I was not able to break the contract, my principal encourage me to take the position and assured me that she would find someone great.  This treatment of myself made me only speak highly of the organization and how they treated me and it was something that I focused on as an administrator.  Sometimes you have to let your best people leave to encourage their dreams, but that treatment will only encourage more great people to want to be a part of your organization.  I would much rather have an amazing educator in my school for two years than an average one for fifteen.

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:

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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 Mind of an Innovator


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by photosteve101

I often have the honour of working with teachers on a 1-to-1 basis, doing professional development starting with the learner, as opposed to the teacher.  I love it only because of the immediate effectiveness I feel it has on the teacher you work with. It also gives me a chance to build some powerful relationships with our staff, while also learning a great deal from them.

One of the people that I have the opportunity to work with Simone Bauer.  As a music teacher in Parkland School Division, I have seen her put on amazing concerts with our students, and love it as I have always a strong love for music.  What I love about Simone is that she is continuously looking for new ways to engage her students in ways that are relevant to them in music.  She is always pushing the boundaries.

In a recent 184 post, I was blown away by what she shared.  Using Noteflight (I had never heard of this software until Simone brought it up), she learned how to create musical compositions and post them online.  Here is the sample:

Although it is obvious Simone is great with music, she used her talent and found  software that helps meet kids where they are, while also being able to share with a mass audience.  Her biography in the post is awesome:

Simone Bauer with a Master of Arts in piano performance, B Ed in music teaching, is an innovative music specialist at Blueberry School. She finds great fulfillment in developing aspiring musicians in choral work and instrumentation, as she seeks out new program applications to combine “hands on musicality” with technology. Her former students have gone on to become leaders in the high school musical programs in Parkland, as well as acceptance into professional musical groups in Alberta.

What if all educators saw themselves as “innovators” as Simone does?  That thinking is so powerful in teaching and learning.

Now it is pretty impressive that Simone is figuring these things out herself, but the real power is when she transfers that learning to her students.  As Simone learned it, she now is giving her students the opportunity to create and share their work with a large audience.  This is one of the compositions that one of her students created.

Pretty powerful learning.

I am honoured to work in a division where we have so many teachers who see themselves as innovators, and create learning opportunities for themselves to enhance the learning opportunities for their students. Students will need to continuously change and adapt to keep up in a world that always changes. By having teachers model these skills, we are on a great path.

Forward Learning

I once shared a post showcasing Tony Sinanis and his students doing a newsletter in a new, and more humanizing way.  I am proud to share my own superintendent, Tim Monds, now moving his monthly “message to staff”, to a much more personal video, and really humanizing the Parkland School Division vision.

In his last video message, Tim not only spoke about his belief in our school community, but also gave them an extra nudge to pursue their dreams.  He also referenced how he was proud to share their work on Twitter, Storify, and the way that PSD70 is now connecting with one another.  Working closely with Tim over the past few years in my role, I have seen a tremendous growth in his knowledge of changing learning environments because he has decided to immerse himself in this world.  To be a “forward thinking” leader, you have to be a “forward learning” leader first.  Kudos to Tim for openly jumping in and leading the way in an ever-changing school environment.

(Check out his latest video message below.)

Learner Profile


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by saba khan

Here are some simple questions that I think are important to ask students at the beginning of the year:

How do you learn best?

What is something that you are passionate about?

How can I best support you to be successful this year and beyond?

What are the qualities that you look for in a teacher?

If you started the year with asking questions to your students about how they learn, wouldn’t the year start off so much better for them?  One of my thoughts about these questions is that you might have several students that have no idea how to answer them.  My belief is that it would be a part of what we do as educators to help them understand and answer these questions.  If you would have asked me, “How do you learn best?”, when I was in grade 12, I don’t think that I would have been able to answer.

Kids should know the answers to these questions and it should help guide the way we teach them individually.

What are some of the questions you ask your students to start the year?

Ignoring the Status Quo


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Steve Worsethandetroit

“Innovation has an inherent distaste for best practices because it is about new solutions, not copying existing solutions.” Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant

Two years ago, I wrote a post as I attended the 2011 Canadian Association of School Administrators entitled, “This is not optional anymore”.  In the post, I was quite concerned about what I was seeing many “leaders” model at the conference in the use of technology to improve learning through the effective use of technology and how they were pushing this notion forward:

Our educational administrators however really need to get going on this.  Leaders right?  If teachers in your school or division see that you are not moving forward with some conviction in this area, why would they believe that there is any sense of urgency?  Why would teachers think this is important if our administrators aren’t modelling effective use? The teachers that are moving forward need you to understand this area and support them.  They don’t need you to be at the same level, but they at least need to know you trust them and will put the systems in place for them and more importantly, their students, to be successful.  Take some risks and model both in success and failure that you are a learner; this is what we expect from our students.

Now attending the same conference two years later, I was dismayed at the opening speaker really focusing on how we shouldn’t jump in and almost making technology seem like a fad.  Maybe I have taken this the wrong way, but I felt he was saying that helping teachers use technology effectively is a lot of work and maybe we shouldn’t really put that much effort into the endeavour.

Not an inspiring way to start a conference where the focus is technology on improving learning.

In the talk, there was discussion of really sticking with “best practices” but when do we focus on “next practices”?  We are asking our teachers to help our students to be creative and innovative but doing this in a way that promoted neither for their own practice.  How can we teach something to our kids that we are not allowed to experience ourselves?  I am not saying that we ignore “best practices”, but we also have to look at how we move our organizations forward before we become the “Blockbuster” of public institutions.

As I walked out of the keynote, I thought I was going to hear conversations such as “you can be an effective teacher without technology” from participants.  I didn’t.  I actually heard a lot of the same frustration that I had, while also seeing a huge commitment to moving schools forward to not only align with our world, but to really try to start leading it.

I laughed a bit when the hashtag shared for the conference was the longest conference hashtag I have ever seen  Then I realized, they are using a hashtag for the conference this time and are trying and wanting to move forward.  Administrators are really starting to get that this shift in our world needs to be mirrored in our schools.  I am seeing that more “technology” conferences such as ISTE are not just filled with “techies”, but with classroom teachers and administrators.  More conferences that focus on leadership and learning have technology embedded into the workshops and keynotes.  Educators know this is important and are forging ahead.

While many continue to focus solely on the past to create the future, many educators are looking to create the future with their students.  They are not accepting “what was” but are looking to create “what can be”.

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” William Pollard

Many are saying no to the “status quo” and I feel a lot better about where we are today from where we were two years ago.

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If you are wanting to read some great books on what schools could look like, I highly recommend “Why School” from Will Richardson (the best 2 dollars you will ever spend)  and “World Class Learners” from Yong Zhao.

Moulding to Strengths


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Bhope34

As I was moving offices within my building and had to pack up a few boxes (it is less every time I move with 99% of the things that I do being online and in the cloud), I found an old DVD that I created with a grade 6 class my first year with the division.  In the project, the students were studying China so we decided to take each objective that we were supposed to learn, and a group of students made a 3-5 minute video using video and images to discuss and share what they learned on the project.  As a classroom, we took each segment and made an hour long documentary on “China”, even using Chinese commercials for the breaks in between to make it look like an actual TV show.  It was an awesome project but there were a lot of things that were put into place before something like that could happen.

All of that happened in my first year at Greystone Centennial Middle School as a Technology Integration Coordinator. When I was hired for the position, my very forward thinking principal was hiring for a “Middle Years Teacher”, not the position that it eventually became.  As her admin team did interviews, they held conversations with each candidate to learn about them.  As they learned about my skills and strengths, they saw something in me that could help fill some gaps within the school.  They decided to hire me and created a position based on my strengths, not on simply a void that needed to be filled.

Instead of putting me into a place that I would feel comfortable, they did everything to ensure that I would be successful.  That included taking my feedback on the schedule that was created for me to work with each classroom one block a week.  I asked them if I could work with one class every two weeks and do project-based learning (I did not use the term at the time but that is what we did), giving students opportunity to create real meaningful learning and it really pushed my learning as well.  I had a great year and because of that, I was hired by another school in the division as an Assistant Principal.  In that role, my Principal asked me what I was strong at and we split the workload between my strengths and his strengths.  I was really strong in working with students that had issues in the classroom, where I was weak with the documenting needed for developing individual program plans.  It was not that I didn’t do things that I struggled with, but most of the job was tailored (again) to work to my strengths.

Currently, still with Parkland School Division as Division Principal, the job was tailored to my strengths and abilities.  They looked at my resume and strengths and instead of trying to tailor me to the job, they tailored the job to me.

A couple of things that I have learned from this…It is always important to try to build upon the strengths of people and as Peter Drucker says, “It takes far less energy to move from  first-rate performance to excellence than it does to move from incompetence to mediocrity.”  The other thing that I have learned is that instead of always trying to focus on finding the right person for the job, it is much more important to try and find the “right person”.  Being recognized for my strengths and having my bosses always trying to build upon them has taught me that I always have to try and do the same.

Movie Trailer Learning

Checking out my Google Reader feed, I saw this really powerful video of someone sharing the process of moving to Germany and learning the language:

This is what it looks like to learn a language in one year. from Mickey Mangan on Vimeo.

As I watched this and thought about our “Digital Portfolio Project” with Parkland School Division, I wondered how often do we actually have students film themselves and create videos over time of their learning. If you watched the video, the camera used was probably lesss than $200, but, with the power of editing, was able to create something powerful.

I have been a big advocate of actually showcasing the learning process, and through videos like Google’s “Dear Sophie“, you can see the power of documenting growth over time.  As provided in the “Lernen To Talk Show”, the process of learning should be shared a lot more than it is currently. For example, you hear about things like “Genius Hour” and “Innovation Week” but rarely do you see students actually documenting through video, or other multimedia, the process of learning.  It is not only valuable in what we can learn, but what we can inspire (while also teaching students the valuable skill of telling stories through multimedia).

If anyone was planning on taking this on, I would actually suggest giving power to the students and put the camera into their hands, have them document over time, and maybe even do some type of  “movie trailer” of their learning.  It might not tell the whole story, but could tell some of it.  Instead of them simply putting all of the video together and having a long version that hardly anyone will watch all of the way through, make something short, powerful, that showcases the learning.  The video shared above should give someone a good start.

If you have anything like this that you have done in your schools, I would really appreciate you sharing it in the comments below.  I would love to see more examples of this coming from students in the work that they do in school.

Building the Culture of an Empowered Mindset Towards Technology Innovation

I have been having an incredible year of learning in my half-time role with Parkland School Division, along with speaking and consulting for other schools/districts.  I have learned a lot from both positions and I feel that it is very valuable to be able to look at school cultures within your organization, while also looking at what other schools do from an outsider’s perspective.

In this work, I have realized how truly important the role of principal is in building, not only in creating a positive culture, but an innovative one.  These schools continuously strive to understand the changes happening in our world to not only catch up, but to lead the way in providing amazing learning opportunities for our students.  Often times, as the principal goes, so does the culture of the school.  This is not to say that individual teachers can not be leading the way within the school themselves, but this goes back to the notion of “pockets of innovation” as opposed to a “culture of innovation”.  It is unlikely for an entire school to be “pushing the edge” if the principal or administrative team is not helping to pave the way for their community as they learn alongside of them.

Due to the observations of the past few years, I have decided to create a visual that discusses the correlation of the school mindset on technology innovation in learning, and the alignment it has with administrator support, professional development, and the corresponding hardware/infrastructure within the school/classroom.  Although what I have created is not an exact science, you will often see the overall belief of the school community align with many of these practices.

I have colour-coded the graphic so it is not confused with a rubric”, but more to show alignment between beliefs and practices.  The graphic is below (first draft).

Click for the full size image

If you are interested, you can get the full graphic on Flickr, as well as access to the Google Document where it was created (thanks to Jesse McLean for helping to edit this!).  Please feel free to share and use this within your own work or share any of your thoughts.