Tag Archives: Stephen Johnson

Leading Innovative Change Series: Embrace an Open Culture

I wanted to try my hand at writing a series of blog posts on “Leading Innovative Change.” As I am looking at writing a book on the same topic, I thought I would put some ideas out there and hopefully learn from others on these topics. I also want to give these ideas away for free. These posts are for anyone in education, but are mostly focused on school administrators. In all of these, the idea that administrators openly model their learning will only accelerate a culture of innovation and risk-taking.  This is the final post in this series, but you can read the first four posts in the series:

1. Learning First, Technology Second
2. A New Staff Experience
3. Excellence Lies Within
4. Narrow Your Focus

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Alec Couros

Within the previous posts in this series, Embracing an open culture is vital to the success of them all.  Think of this process–one we often do in different areas of school: we have a coordinator or leader in some specific area that works one-on-one with individual teachers and they see things that others don’t.  

If your job is to create a culture that embraces any type of learning, how much impact does it have when we only see one person at a time and share it with no one?  Sitting down and taking the time to write a blog, tweet some ideas, or use any other online community is not only beneficial in the reflection process, but also brings ideas to a larger community.

Sharing is also vital in creating connections.  If you see something amazing with one teacher, and see potential for growth in another teacher, instead of being the sole bearer of knowledge and skill, why not look at ways of connecting the two?

Creating a “Spike”

If you wanted to work in the film industry, where would you most likely go?  If you wanted to be a country singer, what places are the most likely to give you opportunity?  If your answers were “Hollywood” and “Nashville,” respectively, you just identified what Richard Florida calls “spikes.”

A “spike” is a place where there is a large amount of people with one main area of interest that come together to create some of the best work in their field.  It is not the only place, but these specific areas are usually known for excellence.  So if I asked you where the “spike” is for educators, where would that be?  Well, because most places on Earth have a school, if we think of a “spike” being in a physical place, it would be hard to identify where that one place would be.  This is where social media comes in.  Passionate educators are using things like Twitter and hashtags, such as #edchat to come together, ask questions, share ideas and create innovative ideas.

“It isn’t how much you know that matters. What matters is how much access you have to what other people know. It isn’t just how intelligent your team members are; it is how much of that intelligence you can draw out and put to use.” Wiseman, McKeown from Multipliers

Many schools are creating “mini-spikes” of innovation where geography is not a factor, and sharing and learning can happen 24/7.  Parkland School Division, a school district that is spread over a large geographic area spanning over 100 miles, uses the hashtag #psd70 to connect educators, students, parents, community, as well as to invite in educators from around the world to share their learning.  This is a huge opportunity for a school district that has a school with less than 50 students, as well as places that are far from a major city.

Surrey School District in British Columbia has also done something similar by using the hashtag #sd36learn.  As one of the largest districts in the province, it is dispelling the myth that large usually equals a lack of innovation.  By creating a place, as Stephen Johnson says, where “hunches” can come together, they are more likely to bring new and better ideas to the forefront.

“When the world is flat, you can innovate without having to emigrate.” Thomas Friedman

A Flat Organization

When these spikes are created, leaders have to be comfortable that great ideas can come from anyone, anywhere and at any time.  The focus for leadership should not be on their ideas, but the best ideas.  This process also often creates strong influencers, that may not have any formal leadership position, yet have tremendous pull with others through their sharing of ideas.  Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant identify these people and their impact in the business world:

“Social media has created influencers among people traditionally outside an organization’s database of members or donors or customers. These are people whose activities and opinions can have tangible, measurable financial effects (good or bad); people on the periphery but who have social capital (i.e., trust) among their own networks.” Notter and Grant

In education, the focus has to move from distinct roles, to the idea that everyone can be both a teacher and a learner.  Organizations, as a whole, should model what they expect from students on a micro level; that they are willing to learn and grow.  With a focus on sharing on a mass scale, ideas often come to the forefront, and not necessarily people (although people that either have or share the best ideas will stick out).  As we tell our students the day they walk into kindergarten, “You need to share,”  this should also be the focus for organizations that are looking to move forward and create innovation.

Sharing should then not be the exception, but the default.

The Outsider View

Many large organizations have the belief that leadership should always be developed within–which it should be to an extent–but there has to be a balance of bringing in an outside view.  When you have people that have been trained within a system, by the system, you are more likely to repeat the same patterns that have always existed.  As Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant share, “Innovation has an inherent distaste for best practices because it is about new solutions, not copying existing solutions.”  

By opening what you do to outsiders, what people within an organization know as “best practic,” often can show opportunities for growth in the way we do our work. This is often why so many leaders are afraid of this very thing.  In that case, the ego of leadership seems to be more important than doing what is best for kids.  If your practices are amazing, sharing them with other educators gives them the opportunity to help more kids. If practices are weak, it often brings in new ideas to help your kids.  There is no loss in this situation for students, yet ego sometimes (often) gets in the way.

Opportunities like the “School Admin Virtual Mentor Program” which brings mentorship to current and future administrators, gives the much needed outsider view to what we do in our organization (for free).  If we want thinking outside of the box, we have to look outside of it by tapping into what social media can deliver.  We often bring out the innovators within our organization, while also bringing innovators into our work.  To create innovative practice within schools, we must go past an inward-only focus.

Many great ideas are out there.  We just need to find them, and more importantly, get  people connected to them.

“We can think more creatively if we open our minds to the many connected environments that make creativity possible.” Stephen Johnson


These solutions may be fairly new to education, but other organizations have tapped into this opportunity.  The entertainment industry, for example, which was staunchly against the notion of open and free sharing, sees the opportunity of tapping into passionate people to create something better.  

Instead of paying a ton of money to one person to create a new theme for Hockey Night in Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corportation (CBC) decided they would “crowdsource” the opportunity, and give people that are passionate about music the ability to participate in creating something powerful.  The focus is on creating the “best,” and with the myriad of options that this process (crowdsourcing) would create, you are more likely to find that.

Social media, and the open culture it has created, has made our culture and mindset “participatory.”

“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.” Notter and Grant

If our culture is shifting to this, wouldn’t this become the expected norm that many new educators (and current students) would expect to live within our schools?  While we live in a world where people are used to creating, sharing and connecting, schools can no longer ignore this cultural shift. They must embrace the idea that we are lucky to live in a time of such technological advance and openness that will make the opportunity to be innovative that much easier.

Two Roads to Innovation

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Paro_for_Peace

I have been really trying to study the notion of “innovation” and how we create an innovative culture.  From what I am seeing, two make an innovative “mindset” a culture, there are many factors, but there are two ways that those factors need to be delivered that are on opposite sides of the spectrum.  One is through mass collaboration, and the other through individual connection.  With one of those areas lacking, that culture will either never happen or it will take a significant amount of time.  Through the “School Admin Virtual Mentor Program” (#SAVMP), I am trying to create something that shows both sides of that spectrum.  The ideas for the program though have been inspired by many different things (Stephen Covey’s ideas, open networks, MOOCs, etc.), yet have come together in one space:

“The history of cultural progress is, almost without exception, a story of one door leading to another door, exploring the palace one room at a time.” Steven Johnson

How do (and how should) these big ideas come together?

Mass Collaboration

Sitting with George Siemens yesterday (who basically blew my mind for three hours in a car ride), I listened as he shared two major ideas.

The first one talked about the notion of mass groups.  He shared the idea if that you put 100 people in a room, that you learning could increase exponentially.  With different expertise in the room, each person will bring different strengths and knowledge that they can share with the larger group.  Although each of us knows a sliver of information compared to the knowledge of the room, by sharing, our knowledge goes up exponentially.

Think of this analogy to help further the idea.

Most people know that a program such as Microsoft Word, although seemingly simple, is under-utilized.  If we use it to only 10% of it’s capacity on our own, that 10% is unlikely to grow.  What happens if you share YOUR 10% with others, and it is different from the 10% that they know?  Although we will not all know totally different things, there will be elements that we each bring to each other that will raise our learning exponentially.

The use of social networks works much this way.  Groups that I have been in such as Connected Principals, have brought each person’s 10% to the forefront and it has opened up ideas, for myself, that I would have not had on my own.  Now I do because I was willing to create and be a part of the network.  Although with Weinberger’s idea that the “smartest person in the room, is the room”, there are two important elements that we overlook.  First, we have to be able to “create the room” for those “hunches” to come together, and secondly, we have to be in the room.  If you do neither, you are more likely to be stuck with your 10%.

In my own school district, there are 22 principals and although that is a network in itself, it is not certain that you will connect with all 21 others in that position, nor is there necessarily a space that we can connect on a consistent basis.  Through things such as hashtags, blogs, google plus communities, we give an opportunity to learn from that group of 22, but also the opportunity to open it up to the world.  While closed groups tend to shrink, and sometimes die, open groups usually expand and grow as do many of the individuals within them.  How we tap into those “individuals” is just as important on the road to an innovative culture.

Individual Connection

The second idea that George shared with me was the notion of “Reed’s Law” which talks about the idea of smaller networks being developed that push a larger group.

As we continuously look at the power of networks to improve our learning and the system within our schools, we also have to look at how we tap into the strengths of individual.  With mass networks or groups, many of our quiet educators may get lost in the mix because they are not as “out there” as others, yet have much to share.  This is where the idea of starting from each individual’s “point a” and moving to their “point b” is crucial.  As we look at the #SAVMP program, the mass network is able to share ideas to a large group, but the small mentor-mentee connection is able to build relationships in a much more personal environment.  Through the small connections within the network, there is the potential to learning from both sides of the mentor-mentee relationship.

The ability to share and discuss in a smaller place brings the opportunity to learn from individuals and feel a deeper connection to a smaller network, while also creating a stronger accountability to growth.  If I am one out of 400, it is much easier for no one to notice if I am not writing a blog post or sharing my thoughts in a larger network, but if I am one out of four, I am more accountable and my lack of participation is much more identifiable.  The human connection in a smaller setting creates a higher level of accountability to growth than a large network where you can easily be missed.  It is easy to get lost in a crowd, so make the crowd smaller.

Creating These Spaces

So within a school, you often see one of these spaces utilized.  Whether it is through PLC’s for that “individual connection” or the use of a hashtag for  “mass collaboration”, it is imperative to bring these two ideas together in one space.  For example, using something such as blended PLC’s gives educators to share the same learning that they do with a small group, but also with a much larger audience that is often willing to jump in and share ideas.  Sharing the work of each PLC group to one hashtag, google plus community, blog, etc., gives the opportunity to learn from both the large group and the individual.  What is imperative though is the openness of the larger group.  Open often leads to growth, closed (or fixed) leads to stagnation.  Carol Dweck’s idea of “mindset” is not limited to an individual, but applies to networks as well.

Concluding Thoughts

So as I move forward continuously learning and experimenting in the “online” space, I look at the implications of that work and how it applies to what we do in schools every day.  The learning that is happening in groups such as the #SAVMP program tell me (and hopefully others) a lot about how we can not only lead and learn, but help people to embrace change.  The mass ideas that are shared through many large networks brings many of those ideas to the forefront, but the actual embracing of those ideas often happens on a one-to-one basis.  It is essential to ensure that we are looking at how we take both roads in our work.

3 Things That Show Strength, Not Weakness

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by phalinn

As a student, I had a specific notion of what a principal should be and in my head they were similar to the “Wizard of Oz”; a person that hid behind the curtain but had all of the knowledge in the world.  I would say that when I became a teacher, that notion carried over.  They would always have the answer and be the place where the “buck stops”.  Working closely with my last couple of principals though, I saw something much different that threw me off.  When I became a principal, I understood why.  Being in the middle area of both age and experience on my staff, yet being the “boss”, I knew that there were a lot of people that knew a lot better that I did  in specific areas and I would be foolish to not tap into their knowledge.

Many new to leadership might see that this mindset actually shows weakness but I believe the opposite.  Being “smart” now doesn’t necessarily mean “knowing the answer” as much as it means knowing where to get the answer.  This is not just a “Google” thing, but more of a trait that leaders need to have.  The best leaders tap into the people around them and depend upon their collective intelligence as opposed to the intelligence of one.  Stephen Johnson so eloquently discusses this:

“This is not the wisdom of the crowd, but the wisdom of someone in the crowd. It’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that the individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network.” 

Johnson’s statement applies to both online and offline interactions.

So with that being said, here are a few things that I believe leaders should be able to say in the work that they do every day:

1.  Great leaders can say “I don’t know”. 

This element of leadership is as important in leading a school as it is for teaching students.  There are so many questions out there that it would be impossible to have all of the answers.  Leaders should be connectors and I know that I am comfortable with the answer, “I don’t know…but I can tell you a great person that could probably help you.”  To me, it is more important that the person gets the best information, not only the information that I know (which can be limited!).  I also see being able to say “I don’t know”, as an opportunity to bridge connections between different staff members.  I want our staff to value the expertise and learning of each other more than anything, and if I am glad to help facilitate these relationships, even if it is at the cost of looking like I do not know something.

It is more important to build relationships for me than it is to know all of the answers.  More need to see the opportunity presented when you are able to say, “I don’t know.”

2.  Great leaders ask for help.  

I have always been known to ask questions. Lots of questions.  My superintendents have always told me that they are always a phone call away and that if I need help, to just call. So I did (and still do).  The way I see it, I would rather do it right the first time and have asked as opposed to having to go back and fix a mess.

The thing is, I do not just ask for help from people that I report to, but to really anybody.  I have people that I go to often for guidance and assistance when I am not sure of something, or I know that they simply have more expertise than I do.  In return, they have also asked help from me.  My suggestion is that you should both be a mentor and have a mentor, but always understand that in either situation you can ask for help.  Risk taking is important, but I also believe in learning from others that have already done the work.

3.  Great leaders say “yes” when they are unsure.

I remember asking to have a blog in my classroom many years ago and I was told “no” because of the uncertainty of what this could bring.  Although I was the tech lead in the school, I was not trusted to try new “tech” things.  It didn’t seem to make much sense.

Dean Shareski shared this post a few months ago and it has clarified this process to me.  In the video, the story is shared that when someone asks to try something that their advisor is unsure of, the first reaction is basically no.  When he asks the next person their thoughts, his response is, “If you are asking me if it’s a good idea, I don’t have very much information, all I know is that one of my star faculty members is in my office and he is really excited, so tell me more.”  This is much different than simply saying “no” and is much more empowering.

What this takes me back to is the notion of the “speed of trust”.  If you are uncomfortable with something, you still have to allow the people that are willing to do the work to go out and try it.  I have seen this lack of trust kill innovation in schools, but I have also seen the opposite reaction promote it with great success.  It is not only saying “yes” when you are unsure, but also asking, “how can I help and support you?”  Saying “no” might come off firm, but it takes more strength to trust someone than it does to have none it all.  I try to embody this so that my educators will have the same mindset when working with their students.

It is strange to me that I sometimes hear that people believe that these three elements show that the leader lacks confidence, when I believe it shows something much different.  If a leader can say “I don’t know”, they are showing that they are comfortable with that, opposed to pretending they know something where they have clue, which has “insecurity” written all over it.  Not only do these factors show “strength” but they promote trust, and that is the foundation of any strong school culture.

Create, Innovate, and Voice

Within Parkland School Division, our mission is stated as the following:

Our purpose is to prepare, engage and inspire our students to be their best in a quickly changing global community.

As there was a lot of work to create this mission with our stakeholders and community , I looked deeply at the work that I do as the Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning and how we could help make this mission come to life.  As there are often overarching vision, mission, and value statements, it is essential that we look at these areas and break them down into more achievable “chunks”.  It is important we define “why” we do the work, but it is also important to bring these statements to life as well.

“The path to success is paved with small wins. Even the grandest and most glorious victories rest on a string of modest but constructive steps forward.” Robert I. Sutton

Having the opportunity to present to our entire school division at the beginning of our school, we have looked at this mission and have broken it down into three areas: Create, Innovate, and Voice.  

So why are these elements so important in the work that we do?  If we are preparing our kids not only for their future, but in reality, for their present as well, we want to empower students in their learning, not simply be passive in process.  To do this, we are in the process of implementing Google Apps for Education and using Edublogs to create student portfolios throughout the entire division.  We believe that this creates a strong beginning to build capacity amongst all staff, while still encouraging the “innovators” to be innovate.  By also narrowing the tools we use, we feel that we will be able to get to the “transformative” level of learning and give students and staff the opportunity to do things that there were unable to do previously.

Here is a quick synopsis why I believe these three areas are essential to our (and any) learning organization:

1.  CreateThe Center for Accelerated Learning states that, “Learning is Creation, Not Consumption. Knowledge is not something a learner absorbs, but something a learner creates.”  Understanding that fully, our goal this year has to really shift the focus on student’s being able to “create” and to be active in their learning.  We are seeing student created media, blogs, as well as the “traditional” forms of literacy which are actively being shared through social networks.

It is imperative that students have ownership and are active in their learning.  How much did any student ever learn from writing notes off the board?  Through this creation process, we want students to make meaningful connections to their learning, while also giving them the opportunity to share this work with others.  This leads directly into the next objective.

2.  Innovate – We have focused in Parkland School Division, the opportunity to share our learning openly with each and the world.  Tapping into the wisdom of others has accelerated our own learning, and hopefully helped the learning of others.  Liz Wiseman states that, “Organizations that can access the most brains will win. Its not what you know but how quickly you can access knowledge of others”, and by understanding that as educators, we are more likely to help students develop their own Personal Learning Networks to pursue and further their knowledge in the areas that they are passionate about.

Social media has created, as what John Seely Brown would refer to as “spikes”,  and how people go to the places where they are most likely to be successful in their career paths (go to Hollywood if you want to be an actor, Nashville if you want to be a country singer, etc.).  If we can help our students not only find these “spikes”, but perhaps even develop them, they are more likely to grow in their own learning.  Notter and Grant (2011) discuss how innovation “…values a future focus, creativity, and the discipline of experimentation, where answers come through learning, rather than pure imitation.

To be innovative, we have to not only be able to tap into the learning of others, but encourage and model the need to take risks in our learning.  When we openly share this process, we learn from each other, and invite anyone to take part in this process with our school community.

There is no limit to innovation when we share.

3. Voice– Howard Rheingold succinctly states:

“People create new ways to communicate, then use their new media to do complicated things together.”

So now that we live in a world where everyone can have a voice that reaches far and wide, it is imperative that we teach our students what to do with this opportunity.

Examples such as Martha Payne, a nine-year old blogger who inspired many with her “Never Seconds” blog, show us that students will not only have a voice in the future, but can take action on things that they feel are important to them immediately.  As we have worked with many students in our school division, we have focused on the notion of “Digital Leadership“, which discusses the opportunities that they have to not only exist online, but to actual use that presence to reach far and wide, and make a difference.  Again, as educators, we need to model how we can effectively use our voice in a positive way to create change, and we are seeing more teachers in our district now actively blogging and tweeting, to share their insights on education and how they are actively trying to improve the “system of school”.

By sharing our voice with others, we hope to achieve Rheingold’s notion, and create a better environment for our community as well as our world.

As we continue to develop in many areas of our school division, the areas of “create, innovate, and voice“, seem to come up over and over again within all of the work that we do.  Whether it is a project regarding healthy schools, or assessment, if we continue to share and develop our learning, we are hoping that the good work we do will become “viral” and impact change past school.  What I am most proud of in our work, is that our leadership has focused on the notion that we are all learners, and this is not something we simply do to students, but do with them.  If we continue on this path, I truly believe that it will not only schools that improve, but our society as a whole.

6 Leadership Lessons From Australia

Spending the last two weeks in Australia, I have seen a lot of different schools, teachers, students, and cultures, and it was when Stephen Gwilliam actually asked me over lunch about my learning, did I really think about what i picked up from my experience presenting and facilitating workshops.

Below are some thoughts that I have from my experience that I believe are important considerations for myself as I further my own leadership.

1. People matter, but “stuff” sometimes matters to those people.  Make sure that stuff works.

Being in Australia for the third time in the last 12 months, I feel the pain of many teachers that have to go through “proxy” settings to get some type of filtered Internet.  It rarely, if ever works for teachers, and there is often frustration and a subversive culture often being created.  It is also often a killer of innovation.

Coming from a very open environment, one of the teachers that was extremely forward thinking was actually surprised by what we are able to do in our own school division.  The comment she had made was, “we had no idea of the thing that were even possible until you showed us things that we are not able to have access to.  We never try a lot of the things that you show because we are so used to an environment where things don’t work.”

I am hoping that the South Australia department is listening to this message. If they are, I am sure that many other systems would be more than willing to open their schools and classrooms to show you the possibilities of an “open” Internet.  Yes we still have filters (pornography and gambling) but you need to start looking at what kids access on their phone and preparing them for the world they live in.

(I highly suggest this Dan Haesler article on driving and social media. Are we doing our job?)

2. Get the right people on the “bus”, but make sure that you know where the bus is going.

The “bus” analogy is one that is often used in leadership circles and I have loved the analogy, but where is it going?  I know that many organizations put a lot of time into creating mission and vision statements, but how often do we ask questions such as, “What is the purpose of school?” or, “What does that mission statement look like in the context of schools?”, and get some answers.

If leaders cannot define those things, then a mission statement is just fancy words on a piece of paper.  People want to do good but they are often unclear of what “good” could look like or, worse, they are not included in the conversation at all.  It is time to take those mission statements and think of what they look like for kids and teachers.

I believe that there are not only one answer for these questions, but I also see many teachers thinking that having kids sit quietly in rows by themselves is good teaching because they have not been told anything else.  As a teacher myself, I would teach way better when I wasn’t being evaluated because it was more focused on “learning”, yet when my principal would come in, I would focus more on “teaching”.  It was not until I had heard what my principal (specifically) was looking for, did I feel that I was able to really push the former.

Do we have a vision, and if we do, is it clear to others?

3.  Kids and adults should be learning in the same room more.  Way more.

One of my presentations, meant for high school students actually had more adults in the room.  I had decided to change what I was doing on the fly and make it something applicable to both and the conversation that had come out of the afternoon was amazing.  I was abe to facilitate conversations where students said things such as, “We should be allowed to bring in devices to the classroom”, where I agreed but the asked them, “How will  you use it for learning if this happens?”  Simply allowing kids to bring devices into classroom will not get your school to the transformative level, but both students and teachers should think of ways they can use this technology in meaningful ways.

What came out of this day was seemingly more accountability on both parts.  Having someone talk about the possibilities for moving classrooms ahead, and the roles that we all play, put ownership on all parties to move forward, including the students. It also allowed students to share what they want to do in their classrooms and how it can change with someone facilitating the conversation and also helping staff know how to get there.

Let’s face it, if a teacher is not comfortable with mobile devices in the classroom and one day allows students to use them without taking a hard look at their own pedagogy, do you think kids would just immediately stop texting?  I know I wouldn’t.  These conversations should happen together WAY more often.

This was my first time doing this type of conversation and it seemed to be very successful with a lot of possible upsides.

4. Use your voice.

I have stated this before to many people that I have connected with.

“Don’t complain about something you don’t have if you have never asked for it.”

Teachers need to come together and keep asking questions and focus conversations on, “What is best for kids.”  Many that I encountered felt that there voice was not valued yet also did not often speak to the right people.  Your voice is important but if you are in a culture where you find out it isn’t, maybe it is time to move on.  As the Edcamp motto goes, “People will talk with their feet.”

Ask questions and share what you want to do what is best for kids.  Focus all conversations on that point, but, start the conversation.

5.  “Connecting” is a HUGE part of leadership and we need to recognize this.

When I was a kid growing up, the principal seemed to be the person with all the answers.  Now (and probably back then), this is impossible because there are far too many questions.  A school administrator should be a facilitator of leadership and that means sometimes deferring to others and helping to not only build leadership capacity, but also relationships in the building.  It does not make sense to be the “last stop” for information, but also a conduit to others.  A leader creates other leaders not more followers.  Connecting people to those leaders is an essential.

Malcolm Gladwell refers to “connectors” in his book The Tipping Point and  that they have a unique knack, “to span many different worlds is a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy.”  If we are at a “tipping point” in education, will those who are “connectors” become vital to the success of schools?

To become a connector, it is important to know that this takes a decrease in  “ego” but an increase in confidence.  To be able to say “someone is better at this than I am” is essential for a leader.  Strong leaders get this and are comfortable with it.

6. Resilience

To my many Australian friends who are moving towards innovative schools and classrooms and dealing with things that they see as roadblocks, don’t give up.  Nothing worth doing is easy and I know that many great schools did not happen overnight.  There is a lot of work to be done, but technology issues, resources, and changed mindsets can happen over time with patience and hard work.  That being said, I believe that “change” does not need to take as long to happen and stick in a school anymore.  With the effective use of technology to share amazing things happening in the classroom through social media, great practice that happens in isolated classrooms does not take as long to be visible to others.  Instead of waiting to share something once a month at a professional development day does not have to happen anymore.  You can share it as it happens or at least soon after through the effective use of social media.  It is essential to do that.

You want to think how quickly things can move in our world right now?  Do you know any Korean singers?  Exactly.  Things can happen faster now in our world and Stephen Johnson refers to this connection being essential to innovation:

“Figure out a way to create systems that allow those hunches to come together.”

Thank you to all the new acquaintances and old friends from Australia that made for a great learning experience!  I hope to see you all again soon :)


Drawing Outside the Lines

cc licensed flickr photo shared by quinn.anya

I have a confession.  I have no idea what Edmodo is.  I know that it has “Ed” in it so I am assuming that it is for education, but other than that, I have no idea what it is or how it works.

With that being said, I have had a few teachers in my school starting to use themselves and with students and have had nothing but awesome things to say about it.

I also remember clearly drawing an guideline of the tools we would use in our school and this was not in the list! (Drop.io was and now it is gone.  Lucky we can use GE.TT for essentially the same thing.)  We were going to use Google Apps, WordPress, and Twitter.  That’s it! What happened? (I bet Twitter had something to do with this.)

So it seems that our teachers are going out and learning from other educators around the world about some of the cool tools that we can use to connect and learn and (gasp) they are using them at school!  This sounds like some crazy Stephen Johnson stuff:

We can think more creatively if we open our minds to the many connected environments that make creativity possible. (Stephen Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From)

Admittedly, I am kind of ecstatic. Teachers are trying new things on their own and showing me that they are also learners. Even more importantly, they are open to learning from others outside of the building.  I am blessed on my staff that our teachers work together collaboratively and do some amazing things as a team, but it is kind of cool that they are not limited to our school, our division, or even our country.  I have never really understood why administrators have limited their teachers to only certain tools, especially when they are free.  When you are running the school budget, free=awesome.

Our teachers are drawing outside of the lines and I love it.

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:

We Are All Connected

cc licensed flickr photo shared by ::: Radar Communication :::

Relationships are the key foundation to the success of students in our schools.  The more we connect with them, the more likely they are to succeed.  This is not only true with our students, but also essential with our staff.  If we know those we serve, the more likely we are to all be successful.

This is why it is frustrating when there is talk that the use of technology and social media sites actually disconnects our students, when in my own experience, I have found the opposite.  The more I have connected through our staff and student blogs, the more I have learned about them and what is happening in the classroom.  After reading Stephen Johnson’s, Everything Bad is Good For You, I was comforted that I was not alone in the belief.

Johnson discusses that most of the technology that has impacted our current time, has been social in nature:

“In fact, nearly all of the most hyped developments on the Web in the past few years have been tools for augmenting social connection…”

As technology progresses, the need for connection remains.  Mashable recently wrote an  article on the “5 Predictions for the Music Industry in 2011“, and predicted that the Ping network on iTunes would not be successful since it seems to be focused “more on commerce than social”, although it has tried to integrate this element through the use of Twitter.  The same article also predicted that artists would become more social as this has been beneficial to their growth in a changing environment.  If anything, technology is giving us new opportunities to connect and interact with one another.

As educators, we need to continue to find safe and effective ways for our students to have the opportunity to participate in this human network.  Johnson contends that if anything, technology has forced us to grow:

“The rise of the Internet has challenged our minds in three fundamental and related ways: by virtue of being participatory, by forcing users to learn new interfaces, and by creating new channels for social interaction.”

If relationships are the foundation of our schools, and technology helps to create and enhance these, it is hard to contest that social media should not be more apparent in our learning environments.