Tag Archives: social media

Personalize, Not Standardize

I received the following question in one of my sessions today:

How do you engage the teachers and students who think it is “easier” to just do it (learning) on paper?

My response? Let them do it on paper.

The thing that is powerful about technology is the opportunity to personalize, not standardize. There are some really amazing things that you can do with a computer or mobile device, but the power is often more about the “choice” than the medium.  We have the opportunity to reach more students now than ever, not because of “technology”, but because of the options that we are now provided.

Below is one of the tweets from a session at the conference I was just recently at:

I talked to Jenny after, and she was obviously very comfortable using technology, but she chose to personalize a lot of her learning through paper and pen. That is what worked for her and that is what is important.  What is also necessary is that in her classroom, she creates the same opportunities for choice as well.

People like Sylvia Duckworth amaze me with their ability to draw and connect their learning in a way that is so appealing to many.  Her collection of SketchNotes that she creates and shares openly are absolutely amazing and not only appeal to her, but to so many others. She actually helped my learning by sharing a Sketchnote she created on the “8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset”.

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth

The idea that all learners need to use “tech” is not necessarily a step in the right direction. The opportunity to create learning experiences for yourself that are personally driven, as opposed to created for you by someone else, is one of the benefits that we need to really recognize in schools today.

I promise you that I will not take away your pen and paper to learn, if you let me use my computer to do the same. Deal?

Your Social Media Guidelines in One Sentence

Social media is becoming the norm as opposed to the exception in many schools.

With that happening, many administrators are rushing to make a list of policies and guidelines to ensure that teachers are using the medium wisely.  Yet the more policies and guidelines we have, the more we deter people from using social media.  I even recently saw a profile that explicitly stated that all students will be blocked from seeing their accounts as per district guidelines.  When we do that, we limit the opportunity to model what “appropriate use” could look like.

To me, your social media guidelines can be summed up in one sentence.

“Anything you can say to students in class, you can say online.”

That’s it.

Saying it online is similar to saying it to a student. No personal versus professional, just understanding that the context of social media and that anything online would be considered a public space.

Too many rules and guidelines can deter innovation or even using the space in the first place.

The simpler we make social media, the more likely it is that it will be used.

The People You See Every Single Day

It is easy to connect with people on Twitter.  Many of them people that I have made connections with share a lot of the stuff that I love, and really push my thinking.  There is a real power in that.

And then you go back to your school and sometimes you might feel like no one gets you or wants the same things that you want in education or think differently about the notion of “what’s best for kids.”

But are we sometimes the cause for the disconnect?

It is easy to connect with people on Twitter that you don’t talk to and see everyday.  The relationships in your school though take a lot more work, as does any relationship that you see people every single day. We have to keep asking questions and engaging in conversations.  The worst thing we can do is just say the people we work with don’t get it and give up.  If we are not willing to do it, “they” are not the problem.

I saw something once that said the word “love” is not a noun, but a verb.  It is an action and it takes work to make happen in our world.  It is not just something that exists because we say or hope it does.

You Don’t Have to Do it All

Voxer is something that is being brought up over and over again as a great way to collaborate with people all over the world and have deeper conversations.  I love reading posts like this one on “How School Leaders are Collaborating Over Voxer“, which I tweeted out last week.  What I noticed immediately was both people jumping in on how they use it, while also talking about wanting to explore it more.

What was my reaction? I shut it down.

When one of the people shared how they used it to listen to conversations on their way to work in the car, and I immediately felt overwhelmed with that thought.  My morning drive is filled with listening to music, or podcasts about ANYTHING other than education.  I have realized how I need that more than anything lately.

Here are two pictures that push my thinking.

The following is an image of a bunch of people at a concert that I took several years ago who are creating and sharing content to others all around the world.

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People look at this picture and many will say how kids are not “living in the moment”, or they are so connected to their devices that they are missing out on life.

Then I show this picture:

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Two points that I make here…the people in the second picture are actually not talking to anybody, where in the first picture, they are connecting with people, but it just looks different from what we have been accustomed to as adults.  The second point, which to me is more crucial, is how is that I am not really in a place to judge.  I look back at my time listening to music, reading a book, or going to the gym, and I actually love the solitude.  In fact, sitting in a coffee shop, listening to music and writing this post, is not only something that gives me the opportunity to reflect, but it also has some therapeutic aspects in the way it allows me to release my thoughts.  What is important is that I find what works for me and sometimes a personal learning network pushes people towards “group think”, where I need to find what works for me to become successful, at different points of the day.  That self-assessment and reflection is critical to people in our world today.

Do you have to do the same thing and ignore something like Voxer? Not at all.  The point of the “personal” in “personal learning network”, is that you make it what you want.  There are definite advantages of being on Voxer (this article talks about the power of podcasts for your brain, which many people have started using Voxer for), but as I see it, there are advantages of not being on it for myself as well.  Ignoring it at this point is what works for me.  Do I see educational uses of Vine? Absolutely.  But I also see it as a way to check out and watch ridiculous videos that are there for me to not think.  I need that and although I am extremely interested in the medium, I am trying to stop trying to “edufy” every social media site I see.  The appeal for social media in many cases was to have fun and sometimes I think that it is easy for myself to lose that initial idea and appeal that drew me to things like Facebook in the first place.

What I believe is that it is important to be in spaces that you can connect with other educators and grow as a teacher and a learner, but those spaces and the use of them, is up to the person. If you hang around in those different spaces, the best stuff will find you.  I have no doubt about that. But one of the NCTE 21st Century Literacies is to, “Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information”, and I wonder if sometimes “managing” them is by choosing not to be on them in the first place?

There is a lot of great information out there in the world, but in a world where we need to focus more and more on developing the “whole child”, if our entire life revolves around education all of the time, I am not sure we are modelling “appropriate use” ourselves.  Not using something is also part of the appropriate use as we move forward.  There will always be something “awesome”, but to try to use everything is not possible or helpful in the long term.

The Opportunity To Further Bring Parents Into the Learning

My friend, Mark Renaud, took this short video of me speaking about the opportunity that social media has given to us to change the conversation at home between child and parent.

If social media is used in a thoughtful way to make learning visible, the hope is to change the conversation from “What did you learn today””, followed by the usual “nothing”, to something much more powerful.

Thanks to Mark for sharing this!

“More than better students…better people.”

One of my favourite videos on the power of education, especially in our world today, is the “Speaking Exchange”, which has students from Brazil learning how to speak english from seniors at a retirement home in Chicago. It is a powerful reminder of how we should not only invite “experts” into our schools, but that sharing our expertise with the world also has a tremendous impact on others as well.  I am not only talking about teachers, but students. Their words and actions can make an impact on others if we give them the opportunity.

The words at the end of the video are perfect and encapsulate so much of what I believe about our goals for school.  The video ends with, “More than better students…better people.” Schools need to go beyond and be a part of developing good people alongside our communities to make a difference in our world.  This is paramount.

I was reminded of these words again when I saw this video of the power of team sports and caring for other human beings.  Please take a few minutes to watch, but have some kleenex ready:

This video goes beyond sports and the quote, “We all need someone who knows our mistakes, and loves us anyway” resonated with me deeply.  None of us are perfect but we all deserve to be loved.

I hope you enjoy watching that story as much as I did.

(Thanks to Sarah Garr, here is a version that works in Canada.)

Innovation has no age barrier.

Recently, I was blown away by this TedX Talk from Kate Simonds, talking about the importance of tapping into student voice.  Her talk was so simple yet so powerful, and as a speaker, I was so impressed by her talk.

Kate discussed not only celebrating the students that blow you away with incredible projects or inventions, but tapping into all students.  She goes beyond “hearing” their voice, but actually tapping into the wisdom of our students.  She implores the audience to tap into youth who may have a different way of looking into a problem.  She also challenges the audience to really think of what we want from students, and what our system promotes:

“As students we have no say in what we learn, or how we learn it, yet we are expected to absorb it all, take it all in, and be expected to run the world some day.  We are expected to raise our hands to use the restroom, then three months later, be ready to go to college, or have a full time job, support ourselves, and live on our own. It’s not logical.”

Powerful stuff.  Are we listening?  Even if we are, are we doing anything about it?

She also referenced a quote from her teacher that was quite sarcastic, but seemingly true:

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The problems that we currently have in education, were made by the same people now trying to solve them.  She has a very valid point.

Kate’s approach and belief of tapping into students is powerful, and I have seen areas tap into this.  Ontario currently has a “student trustee” on every board in the province, that has a voice in the organization, yet this is one province that I know of, with a minimal percentage of the board represented by a student.  This needs to be expanded.

Way too often, “leadership” taps into a very small amount of people to generate ideas.  The smaller group, the more limited we are in hearing different ideas. Once you decide the group that you listen to, you limit yourself to the ideas from those voices.  This is why it is so important to open up communication and garner those ideas from anywhere.  Innovation best flourishes in a flattened organization.

One of the things that happens in Parkland School Division is that we have a student committee that looks at what is happening in our schools, and encourages them to discuss and share ideas.  Recently, the students were encouraged to take a visual created based on my work to start a conversation with the teachers at their school (shared below).

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If this is their education, it is important that they have the opportunity to discuss it, but also help guide the direction and help come up with new ideas.  I would love to see more schools encourage students to sit on leadership teams, professional learning opportunities, and whatever other opportunities we have so that we can learn from each other.  We often forget to tap into the best resource we have in our schools; our students.

The conference I attended this past week (MACUL in Detroit, Michigan), had a student showcase right outside the main hall.  Students were not only discussing their learning, but were empowered to teach adults as well.  This should be the standard, not the exception.

I am proud to say that in my TedX Talk a couple of years ago, I wanted to tap into “our voice”, which was not limited to educators, but was really about also empowering the voice of our students.  Kate reminds me deeply why this is important.

Whether you are 5, 50, or 100, you can have a great ideas, and we need to recognize that we are lucky enough to have curious and creative minds in education at all ages.

Innovation has no age barrier.

(Please take time to watch the TedX Talk below from Kate Simonds. Share it, discuss it with your staff and watch it with your students.  I would love to hear the thoughts of others on this brilliant talk.)

3 Things Students Should Have Before They Leave High School

There is a great commercial on TV right now, where a candidate for a position goes in for an interview to become an engineer, and as the interviewer is asking him “what makes you qualified for this position?”, which then follows him sitting down and breaking the chair.   The person applying then comments about the design of the chair and how it is not made to hold someone with “all that weight”.  Obviously, the interview is over immediately after that, with the point of the commercial being that it is not enough to just “have the skills” to do the job, but there are so many other skills for any position.  You can understand all of the elements of being a “great teacher”, but knowledge is not only important, but also the skills to do the job, and the ability to even obtain a position in the first place.

So how are schools helping students create opportunities for themselves both during their time in school, and after as well?  In my time in school, I remember going over how to make a resume, and looking at how to create a paper portfolio.  Both were relevant to me at the time, but not necessarily helpful to our students today.  Mashable has an interesting article on “The 10 Reasons Why I Ignored Your Resume”, and a lot of the tips deal directly with a person’s digital footprint and networking:

Job hunting is hard, so don’t make it harder that it has to be. Do yourself a favor and don’t give a company a reason not to hire you before you even get to the interview. Marketing has changed, adapt your job search strategy accordingly!

Although this article is geared towards marketing, there are many elements that would be applicable to a wide range of careers.

I recently saw educator Joti Jando share an article about her business students taking part in a “Dragon’s Den” activity, which went way beyond “creating something” and becoming engaged in the classroom, but giving them real world skills and understanding of the opportunities that exist:

Students presented their business ideas – including a breakdown on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, competition, management and operations, related government regulations and financial analysis – for assessment by the panelists.

This type of real-world exercise raises the level of student engagement, Jando has found.

Textbook and theoretical lessons don’t generate the same kind of enthusiasm or practical experience, she (Jando) suggested. Furthermore, an opportunity to meet and network with successful business people and entrepreneurs may hold as much value as this project-based learning.

So although the examples I have shared seem to be specific to “business”, there are a lot of takeaways for all of our students in helping them to not only learns content and skills in school, but actually helping them to create opportunities for themselves in our world.

Here are three things that I would like to see all students have by the time they graduate from our schools to help create opportunities for themselves.

1.  Students should be connected through a social network with other people in their field of choice.

Teachers love Twitter, and although there is great learning that happens there, many educators have created opportunities for themselves simply being connected and networking with other people.  I know several teachers that have obtained positions in new schools because they had someone interested in their work that they shared through Twitter.  There are a lot of possibilities for anyone.  For our students though, Twitter may or may not be the place.  YouTube, Instagram, Vine, LinkedIn, Google Plus, or probably ones that I don’t even know about, have a plethora of communities in any given profession.  Students should not only be able to learn from people in the field, but also network and create connections with others.  I am sure we have all heard the saying, “it is not what you know, but who you know.”  The adage hasn’t changed, but the opportunities and ease of access to one another has.  We need to help students connect.

2.  Students should have a digital portfolio. 

There have been a lot of articles shared that the “resume is dead“,  and that our social networks are more crucial than ever.  Although a resume has a place in many institutions, a digital portfolio definitely can be seen as giving someone an advantage as it gives a deeper look into someone’s skill sets, and is accessible 24/7.  Recently having my own wedding, if you were a photographer that did not have a digital portfolio of your work, we were not even going to consider hiring them.  They didn’t even exist in our considerations.  Being able to find someone online is one thing, but having the opportunity to look deeper into their actual work is crucial.  Whatever the format, or the medium (written, images, video, podcasts, and so on), it is necessary for an employer to go beyond the resume. A resume can be a part of this, but it only tells a small part of the story.

3.  Students should have an “about.me” page.

About.me is a great way to share a “digital business card”, and I have likened it to your Internet cover letter.  It is not overwhelming with information, but it has links to much more.  (Here is an example of a student’s page that was actually featured on the about.me homepage!) Having your about.me link as your email signature is a great way to not overwhelm future employees with some LONG quote at the end of each email, but also gives them the opportunity to connect with more information if they are interested.  The other reason I really like the thought of students creating their own about.me pages is that it actually links to their other social networks, which if they are thoughtful about it, probably be a lot more appropriate if they know potential employers or post-secondary institutions are looking at what they are sharing. In a recent article from US Today, Marymount University coach Brandon Chambers was quoted as saying, “Never let a 140 character tweet cost you a $140,000 scholarship.” Having an about.me page is sending a different message.  It is saying, “here are my social networks and I encourage you to look at them.”  What impact would this have on student’s not only on their future, but their digital footprint today?  I think having the ability to bring everything together could be very powerful for our students.

Of course, there are no absolutes in what a student should walk away with, but if schools focused on these three areas as part of what a student would leave a school with, would it not also help tremendously with many of the “digital footprint” issues that we are seemingly having in schools?  By placing an emphasis on using these tools that are at our students’ fingertips, we hopefully can not only help them share their abilities, but help them make the connections to utilize those same abilities to their fullest.

Something’s Gotta Go…

I really had some great conversations at TIES in Minneapolis over the last couple of days, but one of them kind of stuck out to me.  We were talking about the “Hour of Code” and how popular (and important) it has become to many schools.  I think the power in this program is that it is not meant to only last an hour, but spark something more not only in kids, but schools.   It is definitely going to have many teachers thinking about ways they can implement coding as part of the work that they do in schools everyday, and I’m excited to see schools move forward with this.

But here is the problem…

There are only so many hours in the day.  The time frame of school from when I went in the 80’s, is the same time allotment that is given today.  So with every new thing that comes along, something has to go.

The first thing that many people debate about is “cursive”.  Some schools are getting rid of it, and some schools are trying to bring it back.  The debate should not be about cursive, but about what do our kids need now, and what will they need in the future.  Even when I went to school, there are many things that I learned that I do not use at all either on a consistent or semi-regular basis.  Yet I have many skills that make me a successful learner today; did my “schooling” play a role in that?  In some ways yes, and in some ways no.  That is the tough part of the conversation.

There are a lot of thoughts and questions that go into making these decisions, but one that should not be included is a feeling of nostalgia.  Schools should not teach something solely for the reason that we learned it as kids.  The world has changed, and with access to all of the information in the world, as well as people, schools have needed to change as well.  I don’t think should only be about what kids want to learn, but should have a balance of things that we know will be important, but also about providing them skills they will need in the future.  Schools should also provide opportunities to explore things that students might not necessarily want to explore on their own.

There are a lot of tough decisions that we have to make moving ahead in schools, but really, if we try to teach everything, do we develop a group of kids who become experts at nothing?

Here are two questions for you…

What do we teach now that we shouldn’t?

What don’t we teach now, that we should?

3 Ways Social Media Can Improve School Culture

I was having a great conversation the other day with a good friend, and she was sharing how many boards aren’t really worried about “social media” because they are needing to actually focus on improving their culture first.  I thought a lot about what she said, and to be honest, if you cannot have conversations with people in your own organization, Twitter is going to be the last thing in your mind.  That being said, I have seen a lot of school organizations use social media to actually improve their culture significantly.  It is not the only way, but if used in powerful ways, it definitely can have an overall impact on your school or district.

Here are three ways that I have seen an impact (although I encourage you to look at some of the responses on this tweet when I asked the question).

1.  Increased Visibility

In large boards (especially), it is tough for directors, superintendents, principals, etc., to actually physically be in all places at all times.  Visibility is an important part of leadership, and I love when I see leaders in schools or in classrooms, but social media actually allows you to not only see leaders in a different light, but also see their thought process.  Through tweets, blog posts, and more(Superintendent Chris Smeaton is a great example of this, although I could have chosen from a large lists of administrators), you get to see visible thinking of leaders, but also other aspects of their lives that make them more “human”.  If you are a superintendent, and you walked into one of your schools, and many of your teachers had no idea who you are, isn’t that kind of a problem?  Social media, used effectively, can help increase this visibility.

2.  Increased Accessibility

Now being more connected can have both a positive and negative impact on a person.  If you are connected to your device 24/7, that might be great for your school, but bad for your personal life (and health).  We have to be able to shut off.  That being said, when teachers can tap into one another and learn from each other,it not only improves learning, but it also builds relationships.  I have watched in my own school division, the difference in the past few years with the increased use of social media, a greater connection between staff from different schools when seeing each other in person, because the accessibility to one another online doesn’t replace face-to-face interactions, but can enhance them.  Teachers that connected online, have ended up meeting face-to-face to plan EdCamps, Innovation Week, and talk about a whole host of other things to help improve learning.  The accessibility to not only ideas, but one another, improves learning and relationships.  They are not mutually exclusive.

3. A Flattened Organization

I really believe in the idea in schools that everyone’s a teacher and everyone’s a learner, and that these roles are interchangeable throughout any and all days.  Watching great schools, I have seen superintendents learn from teachers, teachers learn from parents, principals learn from students, and any other combination you can think of within a school community.  As Chris Anderson would call this “crowd-accelerated innovation”, and it is so important to embrace this notion of learning from anyone and everyone, if we are going to improve the culture of our school’s.  When you work for an organization and you know that no matter what role you play, that your voice is valued, don’t you think that would have a significant impact on culture?

Concluding Thoughts

If you are looking at improve school culture, open learning is essential to our environments.  I don’t want to only know what the decisions are that are made, but about the people who are making them, and their thoughts behind these decisions.  That openness is crucial.  Only in an organization where voices are not only heard, but also valued, will you ever see significant improvements in school culture, and with the tools that we are provided in our world today, that pace of culture change can be significantly faster than it was without this same technology.