Tag Archives: reflection

5 Ideas to Help You Blog

I sent out the following tweet regarding some “simplified” steps for blog that are crucial to the process:

Although blogging comes easy, putting your thoughts out there and writing isn’t so easy for others. I often get writer’s block and have trouble sharing my thoughts but I push through as a personal challenge to myself.  I try to average one post every three to four days.  For others, it is tough to start:

The nice thing about someone asking about tips on how to get started blogging is that it gave me a topic to blog about.  In reality, Twitter has been great for pushing me to blog more because sometimes (most times) 140 characters is not enough to go deep into anything, but it can definitely be a spark for going deeper into our learning.

So based on Andrew’s tweet (thanks!), here are some suggestions that have worked for me to help me to blog.

1. Read other blogs.  Seems like a common sense idea but it took me to really start reading other blogs before I felt comfortable to share my own voice.   It helped me to some examples of what was being shared and either build upon or challenge ideas.  A lot of people use things like Feedly to help aggregate blogs, but my two favourite “apps” for reading the work of others is Zite on my iPhone or iPad, any InoReader on my computer.  I have also really enjoyed reading books on my Kindle app, not only because of the ability to carry a ton of books on one device, but more importantly, the opportunity to highlight and write notes and have them shared in one place.  Those passages that I have highlighted often give me ideas to write about and build upon.  When organizing reading became easier for me, so did the writing.

2.  Always have some place to write down your thoughts.  A lot of great writers suggest that you always have a notepad and so I tried to learn from them to do the same.  The problem is that I never have a pen or notebook, but my phone has notes on it from years ago.  Observation is also important and although I will write ideas down from professional development to write about, I often get my inspiration from situations that are outside of the realm of education. I also love running with my iPhone because my best ideas often come from a clear head, yet by the time I got home, I would lose those ideas.  Those little ideas that you write down, can often turn into something bigger, but you have to write those initial thoughts down somewhere.

3.  Write for you and for what you need.  When I first started blogging, I tried to write the university essay style.  Then I was reminded that I hated writing that in university, so why would I do it on my free time?  Sometimes I write numbered lists, sometimes I write down reflections, and sometimes I share videos and have two sentence reflections.  My biggest thing is that if you met me and I talked to you, I would sound a lot like my blog.  I write how I talk (I end a lot of sentences in prepositional phrases in real life as well).  People often suggest that you should “think about your audience”, but I really think that if we are trying to do this to learn, we have to think about what we need to write at that time.  The idea that anyone can read this post makes me think a lot more about what I share, but it also doesn’t determine my writing styles at any time.  This blog is mostly to clarify my own thinking which makes me want to write, as opposed to some external motivation.  When writing becomes an internal need, you are more likely to do it more often.

4. Start with questions instead of answers.  When I start to blog, many times I do not have an endpoint.  It is sometimes to work my way through ideas.  I love this quote:

I write to understand as much as to be understood.” – Elie Wiesel 

Going back to how Twitter facilitates blogging, I often will tweet a statement or question that I am thinking about, and read the responses.  That does a great deal for my thinking, but I don’t really learn until I make the connections for myself.  It is great to have ideas and answers for others, but it is also great to work your way through something you don’t know.  It shows a definite vulnerable side, but it is also a humbling experience.  Both good things.  If we are going to ask our students to “start with questions”, blogging is a great way to model and go through that same process.

5.  Decide how many times you are going to write in a period of time, and stick with it.  Forcing yourself to write is tough but it also helps facilitate the process.  I try for twice a week as a minimum, although I used to try once a day, which was pretty impossible.  I do know that the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to come back.  It could be once a week, once a month, or something else.  Whatever it is, try to stick with it (if you miss here and there though, I promise you will be fine).  I have found that having this “schedule” in my head, helps me to look around the world more, and I try to find inspiration for blogging.  Like anything you want to get better at, practice is important.  You want to become a better writer? Write more :)

As teachers, we often have DEAR time (Drop Everything And Read), but do we promote the same amount of time for kids to just write about what they want?   That is what I love about blogging.  I can write about sports, family, my dogs, or anything that I find relevant.  I love trying to make the connection between the “real world” and education when I write, and I think that is a great practice to promote with our students as well.  Perfection is not the goal; learning is.  Paraphrasing Dean Shareski, “if we want to become better teachers, we need to blog”.  I took that advice to heart, and ultimately, if it makes us better learners, we will definitely become better teachers.

Forced Learning?

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

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

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

I thought about these questions:

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

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

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

On Being an Ambivert

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 11.02.42 AM   Just some thinking out loud… Spending a lot of times at conferences, I have been thinking a lot about my own learning style.  When people ask me to work in groups, get up and move around, I automatically feel uncomfortable.  Always have.  Yet I am extremely comfortable speaking to a large group.  I feel one is forced and the other is just something I would do. As I have started to look at my own learning style, I have started to think about the idea of being an “ambivert” and how I am more comfortable with this.  Right now, I am writing this post with my headphones on while a lot of people walk around.  I appreciate the audio and visual stimulation of the environment, but feel I focus best when I am in my own head.  The need to reflect is imperative. I need my alone time.  Yet, the opportunity to share and connect with others is also crucial.  I know we need both skills, but sometimes when I seem the most “checked out” I am actually the most “dialed in”. I love these thoughts from a recent Forbes article on the benefit of being an ambivert in business:

…extroverts pour it on a bit too thick for their own good, and this tendency negates any charismatic advantages they might otherwise enjoy. For example, their overflowing enthusiasm for the sale can cause them to not listen closely enough to the needs of the customer, and this in turn hurts their chances of closing the sale. Because ambiverts embody traits from both sides of the personality spectrum–in a sense, they have a built in ‘governor’ that regulates their exuberance–they don’t trip over the obstacles that handicap their more extroverted counterparts. “The ambivert advantage stems from the tendency to be assertive and enthusiastic enough to persuade and close, but at the same time, listening carefully to customers and avoiding the appearance of being overly confident or excited,” Grant said.

I am not saying that we should try to develop student skills as both extroverts or introverts.  What I do believe is that it is sometimes important to recognize where you are at on that spectrum.

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Doug Kerr

Another Reason to Blog; Proactive Through Reflection

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by radical_vamsi

Before I started blogging, I now look back and realize how all over the place I was with some of the initiatives that I was hoping to implement within our schools early on in my school administration career.  I felt that with all of the great things that I read through on Twitter or other social sites, that I wanted to implement all of these in my own school.  I have learned and understood that this is something that is (and can be) extremely frustrating to a staff.  Although I am sure my staff knew I meant well, if we were to jump on every “great” initiative, I know we would never become a “great” school.  Too much energy is expended on implementing too many things, as opposed to narrowing our focus and getting to that transformative stage in our learning.

Then I started blogging and it actually helped me to slow down and FOCUS.  I started to be more thoughtful, critical, and reflective of what I was learning and was not so quick to jump on things like flipped classrooms and BYOD.  As I continue to read the book “Humanize“, one of the quotes that stuck out to me regards what great leaders do:

“There are, actually, plenty of books that can inspire self-reflection, buy nothing beats taking the time to write in a journal. The best leaders we’ve ever met all keep journals, so we think it is a good habit to develop.” Notter and Grant (2011)

So I look back at my own “journal”(my blog)  and see some continuous themes that seem to come up in my writing (“What is best for kids? Narrow our focus. Start with your why. Transformative learning) and how they have led me to actually be more proactive in the work that we do, as opposed to being more reactive to everything we see.  Before I started blogging, I would tend to be much more reactive than proactive.  By looking back, it was much easier to look forward.

But here is the thing when your “blog” is your journal.  I can google what I have learned.  This may not seem like a big deal (and didn’t) when I first started but over 500 posts into blogging, it makes a huge difference.  I have no idea how I would have done this if I would have wrote all of my learning in a book.  Often when moving forward, I literally google search my own work and by effectively using “tags” and “categories”, it has been much easier to find what I have learned before.  (It would also be easy to talk about how I have also developed my digital footprint as a learner but that is for another blog post.)

As I continue to work with groups, I focus on the importance of reflection and how it is crucial to moving forward.  The challenge I have received (as with many initiatives) is that there is no time.  My response has been that reflection is part of your work. It is important that you make it part of your day, as it should be a part of your student’s day.  We cannot just continue to dump information into our (and our student’s) brains without giving or making time to reflect.  It is essential that there is creation and connection along with consumption.

If we do not take time to look back, how will we ever be able to move forward?

(Visible)Thinkers and (Reflective)Doers

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Klearchos Kapoutsis

Reflecting on the ISTE Leadership Forum opener on Monday morning with Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn, they ended their workshop on system transformation with a curious slide and quote (paraphrased beft from memory):

“There are two types of people in the world; thinkers and doers.  Which one are you?”

Now I get what they were saying, that we should be taking action to make a difference in our system, but this little tag line threw me off.  If we are really moving ahead with system reform, we need to be both “think” and “do”; there is and should be no separation.  Think too much with no action is as useless as doing without contemplating before and after.

I don’t want to break it down into the simplicity of thinking and doing but to actually push the thoughts that we need to be “visible thinkers” and “reflective doers”.  Many leaders are extremely thoughtful, yet they tend to keep these ideas in their head.  Yet in the context of any organization, with schools specifically in my mind, it is beneficial to open up learning to others to improve practice in our schools and classrooms:

“When we make the thinking that happens in classrooms visible, it becomes more concrete and real. It becomes something we can talk about and explore, push around, challenge, and learn from.”  Ron Ritchart, Make Thinking Visible

As a leader, if my thought process is left to my own mind, how does that push our learning ahead as an organization?  With the technology that is predominant in our society, the opportunities to open your learning to others is easier now than ever.

Once we start moving on our thinking and become active “doers”, we need to step back and look at the work that we have done and grow from the experience.  In this powerful article by Col. Eric Kail, he states, “…experience is only as valuable as what we do with it.”  To move forward, we definitely need to learn from looking back.  Kail goes onto push how reflection is imperative for leadership:

Gaining wisdom from an experience requires reflection. In thinking back on the significant events of my life, experiences good and bad, it was the act of assigning meaning that has made all the difference for me. Reflection requires a type of introspection that goes beyond merely thinking, talking or complaining about our experiences. It is an effort to understand how the events of our life shape the way in which we see the world, ourselves and others. And it is essential for any leader.

Reflection is what links our performance to our potential.

The fantastic thing now is that making our thinking visible and actively reflective are elements of our practice that are easily meshed with one another and can often be done in the same space.

Dean Shareski talks about how the art of reflection through blogging will improve the quality of education, as well as the growth of each individual teacher:

I’ve yet to hear anyone who has stuck with blogging suggest it’s been anything less than essential to their growth and improvement…There’s a natural transparency that emerges. The teachers who blog as professionals in this reflective manner in my district invite anyone to look into their classrooms and you can get a picture of what happens on a daily basis. This goes a long way in addressing accountability concerns.

School administrators that ask this of their teachers need to model it first.

Stating that there are “two types” of people often is going to receive some pushback, so I think about what I am trying to embody to others I work with.  But if there is a “type” of person that I want to learn with, it will be that “visible thinker” and “reflective doer”.  Imagine if we embodied that as educators and it trickled down to our students?   Our future would definitely be in good hands.

Why I started blogging

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Maria Reyes-McDavis

Recently, I wrote a short post on “Why I Blog“, which was followed up with the question, “Why did you start to blog?”.  The interesting thing is, I never really had the intention of maintaining a blog in the first place, but in the process, I have found it to be an extremely valuable tool to my own professional and personal development.

In April of last year, I did a short presentation at the University of Regina.  While spending some time with these students, I started to look at their own blog/portfolios, and thought that this would be a great project for our own students at Forest Green School.  I thought that if we were to implement this type of digital portfolio practice in our own school, I would have to immerse myself in it to fully understand any technical issues that would arise.

I was also inspired through the opportunity that Vicky Loras gave me to guest post on her blog.  I was surprised that anyone would even care what a principal in Stony Plain, Alberta wrote about.

Through these two events, I decided to start blogging and was amazed by my enthusiasm for it.

What I did not expect though, was how much my own learning would grow.  Writing a blog for me is now something that I feel is necessary for an educator, as it gives me the opportunity to not only reflect on my practice, but also collaborate with others in a more in depth way then sites like Twitter can provide.  I also have had a major shift in my own thinking as I am less focused on the technical aspects of a blog, but the learning implications this type of writing can have on educators and students.

Sometimes when we are willing to take risks, the unintended consequences are more beneficial than we could have ever imagined.  I love having the opportunity to write and reflect on my practice.  It not only lets those that I serve get to know me better, but I also learn more about myself.  The opportunity for transparency with my school community has not only helped to build relationships, but it has also opened up many conversations with staff and stakeholders (isn’t that the point?).  It is exciting that we are now providing the same platform for our students.  I can’t wait to see where they go with it!

Reflection; My Favourite Posts

As I have been blogging since April, it has been a wonderful experience for me.  I have had the opportunity to really reflect on my learning, while having conversations with people around the world.  As my school year just ended yesterday, I want to share some of my favourite posts that will help to build on next year.  With a full head of steam next year working with my PLN, I am excited to see where the year will take me!

What Makes a Master Teacher – My thoughts on the new qualities of a master teacher.  Connecting with kids is mine, and should be everyone’s number one.

The Perfect Moment – It is important to connect the real world with the classroom.  This is something I tried to do with this story about a Detroit Tigers pitcher, an umpire, and how their actions in a bad moment should be modeled in our classrooms.  I loved writing this!

The Power of Twitter – This was a little experiment I did with my staff that turned out way better than I would have imagined.  If you have an administrator that has not bought into using this valuable tool, this story may help!

Their First 15 Minutes; Identity Day – An amazing day that was started by my Assistant Principal.  This inspired some great stories and hopefully will take off all over in schools!

Courage – A story about an amazing girl with Tourette Syndrome who inspired my school, and eventually people all over the world.

The Why – A post discussing the importance of defining why we do things in our school.  It is not enough to just make change, but we really need to think WHY are we doing it in the first place.

A Technology Plan Based on Differentiated Learning – We work to meet the needs of each individual student so why are a lot of our plans for professional development not do the same?  This plan is based on meeting the needs of each teacher in my school.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading these stories as much as I have enjoyed writing them.  Thanks for all of your support in my sharing of these stories.

Keys to Strong Professional Growth

Sitting in on a session today regarding professional development and growth plans, I am glad to see that many of the practices that we have taken part in this year as a school, are on the right track.  Growth plans need to have staff engagement while also leading directly to improved student learning.  As I reflect as the school year comes to a close, I wanted to focus on some keys to supporting individuals in their own professional growth. Here are some ideas that I have summarized from my own learning:

1.  Educator professional growth plans should lead directly to improved student learning. –  As an educator, this is an obvious point.  It is important that the goals you are working on are to help improve the learning needs of students as that is the main reason we are there.  Some key questions are:

  • How will your goals support the learning needs of students in your classroom?
  • When do I expect to see improvement in student learning?
  • How will my goals give students the opportunity to grow in their own learning?
  • What does improved student learning look like and how will it be measured?

2.  A collaborative school culture helps to promote the best professional growth. –  It is essential that as a school, we give staff the opportunity to learn from each other and build upon the expertise that is within our own building.  It is essential that as administrators we encourage our staff and open the door for them to work on growth plans together.  We always learn more in a collaborative setting yet we tend to go away from this in growth plans.  Take the opportunity to work with other educators and learn in the process together  Some key questions that may help:

  • Who are the supports in the building that can help me achieve my growth plan goals?
  • Who would also benefit from these shared learning goals?
  • What opportunities are available for shared learning time with our colleagues?
  • Are there opportunities to collaborate with educators outside of our own school?

3.  Growth plans are educator specific and meets the needs of the individual. – Learning needs are not only unique for kids but also adults.  Although you may find some great opportunities within your school that will support student growth, they may not help you in your subject area.  For example, if you happen to be the only “specialist” teacher in your school, it may be helpful for you to connect with other specialists outside of your school.  A physical education teacher that I worked with benefited greatly connecting with others in his area and would have “checked out” of the sessions that we provided at our school.  It is important that educators are engaged in their learning.  Guiding questions may include:

  • Will the opportunities provided within school give me the opportunity to grow as an individual?
  • How much time will be needed to successfully implement this plan?
  • How do I learn best and how can this be fostered in my own professional growth?
  • How can I benefit from the professional development that is currently offered in my own school?

4.  Professional development opportunities will thrive if they are given school support. – As administrators, it is important that we are always honest and forthright with our staff.  With budget constraints always looming, money can only be placed in so many areas within a school so it is important that when we are unsure of the direction of the goals of a growth plan, we ask why these goals will be beneficial to the school and individual.  If as an administrator you do not believe these goals will be beneficial to student success, discuss this with the individual.  Holding that information back will stunt the growth of the educator. It is also important that when we do know that the goal is beneficial, we do our best to give staff all the opportunities we are able to, so we can support this.  Time (especially) and money will be helpful to any educator in their development so do your best as an administrator to find ways to support your staff.  Key questions may include:

  • What time can be afforded to support this growth plan?
  • Are there other educators I can connect to that have the same goals?
  • What are my opportunities to connect with other educators outside of school?
  • What money allocation is available to me to support my growth?

My thoughts on professional growth and PD opportunities have changed greatly since I have seen the great resources that are offered on Twitter and other social media.  I know that my engagement level has increased as I have had opportunities to connect with educators all over the world that are passionate about education.  Engagement in learning is something that we KNOW is essential to growth for our students so it is important that we do our best as administrators to support the engagement of our staff.  Opportunities for staff ownership on individual growth plans will increase staff learning and will directly benefit our students.  Is this not always the goal?

As always, I am VERY open to feedback and the sharing of ideas.  Do you have any key factors to strong professional growth that you would like to share?  I would love to hear them so that I can support my own learning.