Tag Archives: Sir Ken Robinson

The Danger of Extremes

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Joe Bower is a good friend of mine and someone that I really look up to in the field of education. Although we don’t always agree with each other, I know that we both respect each other’s point of views.  I am an avid reader of his blog (you should be too) and was particularly interested in his latest post titled, “Who should control teachers’ professional learning?

Although there is somewhat of a political nature that is involved in his post, two statements that Joe made really stick out to me:

  • I summarize my worse learning experiences as top-down, externally mandated, out-of-context, irrelevant to me and little to no purpose events that I am expected to play a passive role. I own my learning. Who owns yours?
  • Who owns a teacher’s professional development? And under what circumstances would the answer to the above question ever be someone other than the teacher? To avoid cultures of compliance, teachers need autonomy.

So do I disagree with Joe on what he has said and questioned here?  Yes AND no.

As a teacher, I would agree with the statement made about some of his worst learning experiences being top down.  As an administrator, I also see the need of having a vision and purpose that a team works together.  My job is to work with my staff to develop some school objectives, not simply dictate them to staff.  I also believe that teachers should be able to further their own learning in many different areas.

Although we are often isolated in our classrooms as educators, teachers should not work in isolation.  They should be a part of a team that works together to build the best environments for students, and looks at kids as part of a school, not simply part of a classroom.  Many people refer to Dan Pink’s work in “Drive” regarding motivation, on the notion of autonomyyet they often leave out the element he writes about purpose.  

Sorry for using a sports analogy, but Michael Jordan was the best player in the NBA yet won no championships until Phil Jackson took over the team (6 championships with the Bulls, and 5 with the Lakers; the guy is pretty good).  As the coach, he had the team work towards a common goal, while each defining their role in serving the larger purpose.  Autonomy and purpose.  That is how individuals work together to serve a higher purpose.  Does his quote below have any relation to the work that we do in schools?

“Basketball is a sport that involves the subtle interweaving of players at full speed to the point where they are thinking and moving as one.” Phil Jackson

We talk about change a lot, and it starts with one person, yet there needs to be a team working together to make it sustainable.  Often a great teacher in a weak school either becomes a weak teacher or leaves.  The opposite is often true.  What are we aiming for?  A few great individual teachers in schools, or great schools with a culture of great teaching?

Now I am not saying that teachers do not need autonomy over their learning; they absolutely do (kids too right?).  I am just saying that it is not an “either/or” proposition.  We tend to watch the pendulum swing from one side to the other, often missing the ideal middle with a lot of our initiatives.

Group work serves some, where others excel working in isolation.  

Lecture isn’t bad; lecture all of the time is bad. Reflection time is essential.

Skills do not develop if you do not have the knowledge to build upon.

I won’t take away your pencil, if you don’t take away my computer.  Both work for the person that has chosen to use them. 

I guess my point is that shifting from extremes on either end is rarely beneficial.  I believe, as Sir Ken Robinson says, that education needs  transformation more than reformation, but does that mean we throw out everything that we have done?  If education is to be truly personalized, we need to find out what works for different people while also working together to find what our current strengths are and build upon them as well.

If we always stand on opposite sides, will we ever truly move forward?


Learning should be like…

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I look at all of the open links and tabs in my browser right now and just thought about how much I have learned in the last couple of years through this process.  Sometimes all of connections in learning are baffling.

Take a twenty minute period in my life as evidenced below.

I read a blog post found in my Reader feed, which leads me to a link on YouTube, that leads me to a quote, which leads me to the person who stated the quote, to find a link on their Twitter profile, only to find another article on something that I would have never found myself.

I could go on from there, and I eventually will, but it is just amazing how one item, leads to another, and another, and so on.

That is how learning should be; continuous, connected, and meaningful.  If I wasn’t interested in what was under the first link, I would have found another.

Yet we see so many textbooks in class and, although I find a real joy in reading, there is simply a start and an end.  Yes, your mind can go places and your imagination grows, but I don’t think that is limited to simply a book.  Sometimes the beginning to end process is great, when you are reading a book, but does it represent the model of learning we want in schools?

You start grade 3. You go through grade 3.  You end grade 3.

End of book and on to the next one.

Shouldn’t learning in schools look more like the Internet than it does a book?

Just some random thoughts on a Wednesday afternoon.

Kind of reminds me of the video below…

The Most Powerful Word

One of the most nerve wracking things that I had to do this year was the opening day talk to a truly progressive and amazing school division; my own.  I have been so inspired by so many people that I have connected with in Parkland School Division over the past six years that I have worked there and I know that the leadership that I have been contact with, present, past, and even future, have had such an influence on my learning and the work that I have done.  If not for moving to Parkland several years ago, I doubt that I would have still be in education.  Leadership is so important and crucial to the success of teachers and I learned that by actually connecting with people that encouraged and fostered my growth.

Yet here I was addressing those people that have inspired me during this time.  Not just the “leaders”, but so many teachers that I watch who do amazing things, secretaries that go way beyond their job description, custodians that not only keep the schools clean, but work side-by-side with kids and give them a place they love to be.  There were so many people there that I look up to and so many more people a lot smarter than I am that would have done an amazing job, yet here I was standing on the stage.

In the past, we have had speakers come from the outside to talk to us and give us some inspiration, yet this year there was a decision to keep everything for our first day “in house”.  As my Deputy Superintendent told me (paraphrased), it was important that the people that were talking about leading change on opening day, were actually there to support that growth.  It was something that many districts would not even think of doing.  The whole “prophet in your own land” idea (in no way am I saying that I or anyone in our district would consider ourselves “prophets”; just using the saying) often leads us to the misconception that the only way to push thinking is to bring someone in from the outside.  Yet they often do not know the context of the work that you are trying to do or stay long enough to see some of their words through. This year, it was important that with the focus on a new mission and vision, our district had people (not just me, but others as well) speak to these priorities.

So there I was talking to my district.  Nervous and sweaty (literally).  Feeling like I was going to vomit (maybe more figuratively).  I have talked to many educators over the last few years but there is a fear when it is people you can see everyday; there is no running away.

Before I started though, I remember something that my oldest brother (the brother who is not in education but is an amazing speaker) told me.  He had said the following:

“The most powerful word in the english language is your name.”

I thought about that over and over again and how I could personalize this presentation to not only share where we believed our mission to go, but to actually talk about many people in the audience who inspired my own learning.  People that have taught me things over the years and are the people that are going to be responsible for the continued and furthered success of our school division.  I felt that the ability to talk about where we are going and personalize it to the audience made the talk a success.  If you ever watch Sir Ken Robinson speak, you can see that he speaks for a certain amount of time to just build rapport with his audience.  A great thing to do but does he truly know anyone in that audience, and even if he does, will he see him the next day?

We also have this false notion that the people we work closely with don’t want to hear from their colleagues. As if they would have nothing valuable to say. Yet, these are the people that can show how much they truly value the work of others that they connect with. I saw this appreciation through the tweets coming through that day and from many of the comments I heard after.


Now this is not to say that there is no value of bringing in speakers from outside of our schools because I think having these different perspectives can have great value to our learning.  I have been speaking to schools often and I hope that they see value.  What I do want to note is that this is not the only way  to do this.  There are so many great people in your own organization that you can learn from.  We have to truly not only recognize these minds, but give them the opportunity to share their expertise with many others.  It would be foolish not to.   When I started as Principal at Forest Green School, our entire focus for staff professional development was to build upon the leadership and expertise that existed within that school.  No outside speakers.  No outside professional development.  Just our staff sharing their learning with each other.  It helped move our school forward and ensured that our learning was always relevant to our needs and the needs of our students.

Let’s start thinking of how we can tap into those within our own schools and give them an audience they already know.  Great leaders will help to foster a culture where they continuously develop other great leaders.  If we focus on giving our own people a voice, that will definitely move your culture one step further.

A chance to get to speak to my own school division. I am so thankful for that opportunity.

Defining the Technology

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Still reflecting on the Sir Ken Robinson keynote last night, one of the points that I thought was very interesting in how we sometimes hold our students back is when he said the following (paraphrased):

We oftentimes use the new technologies to do the old things.  It is transformational when we use the new technology to do new things.

I couldn’t help but think of the development of Twitter as a networking tool and watching how educators have really leveraged this technology to build connections and enhance their own professional development.  My best guess was that Twitter was built upon the popular “status update” idea from Facebook which was often used to share simple “life updates”.

“George is eating pizza.”

“George is having nachos for supper.”

“George feels guilty and is going for a run.”

It is when people took this technology and started using it in a different way, is when it had become transformational.  The change in use of Twitter as defined by users, prompted a shift in the question “What are you doing?” to “What’s Happening?”.  This change was highlighted in this old (almost two years!) Mashable article:

On the surface it’s a minor change, and yet it’s significant in reflecting the shifting focus and user behavior of the service over time. As most users know, the official question is largely ignored by those who have found myriad ways to share pretty much anything they wanted, be it information, relationships, entertainment, citizen journalism, and beyond.

The change acknowledges that Twitter has grown far beyond the more personal status updates it was originally envisioned to convey, and has morphed into a sort of always-on, source-agnostic information network that is wholly unique. Twitter says they don’t expect the change to at all influence how people actually use Twitter, but might “make it easier to explain to your dad.”

We often talk about technology and how sometimes, it defines us (see the printing press, electricity, car, planes, etc.).  Often though, through our innovative ways of using new things in new ways, we define the technology.

Turn on the lights

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by R/DV/RS

I had a great opportunity to watch Sir Ken Robinson for a second time tonight, and although I love his lectures, I am always fascinated by how he so instantaneously builds rapport with the audience, and how quickly yet thoroughly answers questions.

When he was addressed about technology, he used a fantastic example that I wanted to share.  He stated that he once heard someone say, “Technology is not technology if it already existed when you were born.”  Not understanding this initial statement, he gave the example of electricity during his lifetime.  When he was born, electricity was just there and he never thought about it.  It just existed. (He was much more charming in how he said it then I could even try to capture in writing.)

Fast forward to today and it reminded me of this quote from this article:

 And for those who have never lived in a world without the internet, there’s no distinction between online and offline.

I wonder if not using computers, mobile devices, social media in schools, etc., on a consistent, yet balanced basis, would be the equivalent of Sir Ken working in the dark as a student?

Parallel Pace?

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by bobby-james

We often talk about technology (and other initiatives) and quickly acknowledge that not all teachers are at the same place.  I am okay with that as long as people are learning.  We all know that people learn at different paces and the time to explore, play, and gain a full understanding of initiatives is paramount to learning.

On the other hand, we have students doing standardized testing in Alberta and other provinces.  There is little time for play, exploration, or deep understanding.  My American friends would tell you that this is a driving force in what happens in education; not necessarily what they believe is right, but still making a huge impact on the way schools are run.

So I am wondering why as adults we recognize that we all learn at different paces, but our students seemingly have to be at the same point at the same time?

Seems like we should try to give our kids the same flexibility that the adults have.


“You don’t get harmony when everyone sings the same note”

“The world has changed, and it will never move backward. In order for the next generation to be successful, they will need to think differently, and that begins by knowing what their strengths are. The concept of strengths development is the unifying element that flows through all efforts at school reform. It makes sense in every arena that is focused on raising healthy, productive, and happy children.” Your Child’s Strengths by Jenifer Fox M.Ed.

I was a star student for most of my elementary school.  I breezed through my classes and loved most subjects, with the exception of science.  I loved school and it was imperative that I was liked by my teachers.

strengthAs I went into grade 7 and 8, things started to change.  Although I knew I was “smart”, my friends became much more important than any teacher.  Grades started to slip, and my attitude towards school dipped with it.  I know that I was one of the worst behaved students from grade 8-10, and if I could go back, I would apologize to all the teachers for my utter awfulness.  It wasn’t that I was bad for all teachers; the ones that I connected with I was a saint.  But if I did not feel that connection, I was a totally different person.

Then something happened in grade 10; I had a new chemistry teacher (where I struggled most) who had a different outtake on learning.  Now in most universities, you need science up until grade 12, and I knew I would struggle to get this.  Although I never was good at science (nor am I now), this teacher saw things in me that many did not.  He knew that I was very social, and he understood that this was something that could be hugely beneficial.  We had great conversations about what I was going to do with my future, and he stuck with me even though I struggled in his own class.

“Children need to know that adults believe in them even if their actions are not always strong.” Jennifer Fox

I never received higher than a 60% in any high school science course (although I did get 100% on my “name the parts of a microscope” test!), but seeing my teacher in Chemistry was always my favourite course.  He believed me and he conveyed that every day.  Was I much better after meeting him in high school? Yes.  Was I an angel? No.  I did however significantly improve my attitude in school.  Playing basketball, connecting with people, were things that I loved, and someone was encouraging me to build upon these strengths.

There are so many individual teacher stories that we hear like this; about the one teacher that really changed everything for someone.  What we need to do as educational leaders (note I did not say administrators as we all need to do this), is create a system where this is the norm for our kids.  Where our teachers have the opportunity to work and create an environment where students are able to pursue their passions (read the work of Angela Maiers if you need some fantastic ideas and inspiration).  Using this strength based leadership is something that is definitely helpful in our work environment.

“We must really start believing in the inherent worth of each child if we are to have any hope for their healthy future. If we could do this, school could become a journey, an exploration, rather than an evaluation that lasts eighteen years. Think about it—sixteen years of someone telling you what is right and what is wrong about you. And throughout, you’ve never had an ounce of input into the discussion. Imagine if this were happening to you in your workplace; imagine if you never set any of the goals or expectations, and you never had the opportunity to disagree. We could never fathom success in such a repressive environment for ourselves, so why do we think it is healthy for our children?”

We need to create more opportunities for our students where we not only find their passion, but they have the chance to really display.  Things like Identity Day and giving students the opportunity to explore their own learning are going to be hugely beneficial to our school environments.  Do you notice that we spend less time on classroom management when students are highly engaged in what they are learning?

This is not to say that we get rid of things like literacy and numeracy in school, but we need to also ensure we DON’T get rid of things like art and sports.  We just need to ensure that time is created or given for students to pursue their passions and build upon their strengths.  Our schools, and our future will be much better off.

Every day more people realize that focusing on strengths is the answer to creating a life that is truly worth living. We all stake our futures, our health, our livelihoods on the promise of the accomplishments and decisions of the next generation. They will need to develop their strengths to care for us as much as they will need them to care for themselves. Children cannot do this alone. They need adults—parents and teachers, especially—to guide, teach, and serve as their role models. Strengths are for everyone, and the sooner people realize we must overturn the deficit model, the better off we’ll be. Jennifer Fox


Here are some great resources on this topic:

Your Child’s Strengths – Jennifer FoxMy Kindle Notes

Sir Ken Robinson – Bring on the Learning Revolution

Angela Maiers – Passion Driven

Title quote by Doug Floyd

The Ideal Classroom?

Sir Ken Robinson was in Red Deer last night, and I am glad that I took the time to catch his lecture.  It was a fantastic opportunity to hear him in person and go beyond the “20 minute clips” that I usually hear on the Internet.  Although those short messages are very powerful, the expansion of his ideas was extremely powerful.

Sir Ken talked about the importance of personalized education, the power of creativity, and the impact of passion in the classroom.  As he spoke of these ideas, I thought a lot about our new 1-1 computer initiative that we have in our grade 5 and 6 classrooms.  As we rolled out the computers, and let the students know that these were their computers, I watched with excitement as they personalized their browsers, screens, and made the computers their own.  I know this having this access to technology and ownership of a device is only one facet of what we can do in the classroom, but it is something that is becoming a part of our lives.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by gcouros

One of the questions that was asked of Sir Ken last night was essentially the antithesis of what I believe.  The participant basically asked that with all of this technology and how students are so “wired”, how could we have kids be passionate about education.  I was perplexed by this question until Sir Ken referred to Mark Prensky and his terms, “digital natives” and “digital immigrants”.  It was discussed how immigrants in history have held onto the “old” ways while the younger generation (the “digital natives”) have embraced and define the new culture.  Whether you agree with the term “digital natives” or “digital immigrants”, it is evident how our younger generation is embracing and using this technology to connect.

So as we see this opportunity for our students to connect and personalize social media, it is also apparent that this is not the answer for all students.  It may be part of the answer for some, but the personalized, creative, and passionate ideas in schools need more.

One of the tweets that came from last night’s lecture, I found very interesting yet abundantly true:

Essentially, what does this look like in a school?

Yes, I believe that we need to find ways to unleash the talent in our students and give them ownership in the classroom, but my big question is, what does this look like in a classroom setting?  We all talk about our classrooms encouraging creativity, building upon student passion, and being personalized, but not enough people are talking about what that looks like.

If you were to envision a “classroom” in school that embraced these ideas, what would it look like?



There are a ton of blog posts talking about resolutions for the New Year, and I can’t say that I am really big into them (see Every Day a New Year’s Resolution).

I do however believe that we need to continue to help build schools that will serve our students for their future, and we need to do that now.  Put aside the “what should our school look like in five years?” question, and create a vision that you can work towards right now.  It is not that I do not believe in having a vision, but we need to do what we can to provide the best learning opportunities for students now.   They need the opportunity to pursue their passions in their future.

I have seen a dramatic change in schools from when I started and I know we are on the right track.  We can still improve our learning environments for our students and our teachers. Personally, I want to keep connecting educators and help empower them to create the best learning environments for their kids. The video below may help to further our schools in this direction.

Kids Just Aren’t What They Used To Be

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Kekka

How many times have you heard that our students are nothing like we used to be?  Well, I am here to echo that sentiment.  They aren’t.  Do students need the same caring and love that we had as children?  Absolutely.  But what our kids are exposed to now is something that we never had and frankly, it is pretty exciting.

cc licensed flickr photo by Nesster: http://flickr.com/photos/nesster/3714783252/

Back in approximately 1980, my parents purchased a VCR and were torn to either purchase, Beta or VHS.  Wisely, they chose VHS which became the predominant medium with recorded video.  A machine that cost in the thousands at the time, weighed about 40 pounds and had two giant pieces; one for playing videos, and the other for recording TV shows.  The opportunity was there to record any show (that was playing on the stations you had access to), as long as you were there to set up the recording and remembered.  Now, I can access my PVR from anywhere in the world through my iPhone, and God forbid I forget, I can download the show from a number of paid or free (illegal) sites.  Anything that we want to see is available to us.

Recently, I saw a fantastic episode of the Office that featured a fantastic storyline involving a snowball fight that I talked about with my friends.  Amazingly within days, someone took all of the scenes regarding the “snowball fight” and made a mini episode.  If you can think it, it might already exist.

Our students have access to information that we never did.  Stephen Johnson talks about this increased access to technology:

“…the media and technology that our minds grapple with every day has grown at an exponential rate over that period, in both the complexity of the individual object and diversity of the overall ecosystem.”

Students are coming to school not only exposed to this media, but are also gaming a huge rate.  Video game creators seemingly are creating games that are not too simple, yet challenging enough to keep the player entertained.  This understanding of “Flow” theory ensures that the participant is engaged in learning the game environment.  This same theory should be implemented into our classrooms:

“Make the learning environment too easy, or too hard, and students get bored or frustrated and lose interest.  But if the environment tracks along in sync with the students’ growing abilities, they’ll stay focused and engaged.” Stephen Johnson, Everything Bad is Good For You

Our students are coming to school with this changing world all around them, but are schools changing with it?  Are we incorporating Flow theory into our classrooms?  Are we using media in our classrooms effectively?  If you watch Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on the Changing Education Paradigms, he discusses how our students are so stimulated from the world around them, yet we are wondering why they are so hyperactive at school?  He also goes as far to suggest that society is over-medicating drugs to deal with this.  Should we not be changing the environment our students work in as opposed to trying to change our students?

Kids have changed because the environment that they have grown up in has changed.  Schools need to not only change for these students, but they need to take advantage of all these opportunities.  This is why I am excited.  As an educator, we have access to opportunities and information that we never had as students.  We need to be connectors for our kids, and help them learn to safely navigate and use this information so they can follow their passions.

Kids just aren’t what they use to be and am I have never been so excited :)

If you have never seen the Sir Ken Robinson video, it is a must for educators: