Tag Archives: teaching and learning

Would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?

There has been a lot of talk about this video that was anonymously shared by a teacher from Chicago Public Schools:

The outrage shared by many educators is that this is a terrible way of professional learning and it really undermines teachers.

It is almost like we are treating them like children…right?

I just wonder how many hits that video (over 130,000 at the time I am sharing it on this blog) would have received if it was a classroom full of students doing the same thing? Would people have cared as much? They should. I also wonder if someone in that session will use the same techniques with their own students? Often we teach the way we were taught and if we do not change the experiences teachers have in their own professional development, we can’t really expect them to change anything in their own classroom.

The question I have been asking a lot lately is, “would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?

If this wouldn’t work for me (which it wouldn’t), then it is not going to work for my students.

Something Every Teacher Needs

Listening to Erin Gruwell (of “Freedom Writers” fame) this morning at #NCTCA2014, it was inspirational to hear her share stories of her students, and how some of them came from some very horrific situations and went on to be successful.

Was it a specific teaching method that she used to help change their lives? Nope.

Was it some sort of new technology that inspired them to do some great? Nope.

What I saw and felt in her talk this morning was one word.


I have always believed the importance of relationships and how they are foundation of a great school, classroom, or organization, but having “belief” in every student you interact with, no matter how hard it is and where they have come from, can make all of the difference.

If we don’t believe kids can change the world or even just make it a better place to live, they are already starting in deficit.

Embodying that one little word, can make a huge difference for a kid who needs you more than you will ever know.

More Than A “Blog”

Sometimes I write to just process my thoughts but have no idea where I am going…this is one of those posts…

“And not for nothing, but if teachers using blogs to connect  their kids to global others is ‘best practice’ in 2013, then what was it some 12 years ago when we were doing that in my lit and journalism classrooms? Mercy.” Will Richardson

I read those words from Will Richardson, an educator and thinker that has really pushed my own thinking, and they stuck with me last night.  To be honest, one of the biggest initiatives that I am behind in my district is a “Digital Portfolio Project” that is pushing blogging as a platform that we want to use in our district for students to share their ideas and learning throughout their entire time in our schools and beyond.  If you break it down to the core though, if it is simply a blog and blogging, in my opinion, is a technical skill that can be taught to some level, within minutes.

So is blogging the epitome of what we are trying to do?  I don’t think so, but on some level it could look like a very trivial task.

On a much bigger level, there can be so much more to a blog than writing, but the literacy component is an important and fundamental start.  As I heard Yong Zhao say once, “reading and writing should be the floor, not the ceiling”, and I am a big believer that if you can get kids to not only read, but to write, learning opportunities will open up in all areas.

That being said, my belief is that a blog will give kids opportunities to share in so many ways other than writing, while developing a strong digital footprint.  Videos, sound, images, and basically anything that you can see and hear can be put into a blog, which gives students options in the ways that they can share their voice and their passions.  The way the world used to be is that you needed permission to share your voice.  Not anymore and we need to work with kids to share theirs in differing and meaningful ways.

Once they start doing this, in my opinion, is where “entrepreneurial spirit” comes into play.  As much as people hate someone like Justin Bieber, the reality of his world is that he would probably not exist and have the opportunities he has had in his world if YouTube didn’t exist (yup…I brought Bieber into this).  Although he has gone a little nuts lately, if you break down what he has done, he shared what he loved doing through social media, and now makes a living out of his passion.  Wouldn’t you want that for your students/kids?  We need to teach kids to empower their voice, but also give them opportunities to have different ways to share it.

For example, there are so many educators that believe in the importance of teaching the “arts” (myself included), yet it has been something that people have traditionally gone away from because they don’t necessarily see opportunities for their future in the area.  The difference now is that student who has made some amazing pieces of work, that no one might have seen before, can easily post them onto their own space, and if they are great, the opportunities will come their way.  My ideal is that we don’t teach kids to work for other people, but that they can learn to leverage their own voice and create opportunities for themselves.  If you could go back to a K-12 system as a student yourself, knowing what you do now, wouldn’t you want that same guidance?

If you look past what a blog is, I see something much more than writing on the web.  I see great learning, but I also see opportunity and possibility, and yes, sharing that with the world. Does a kid need a blog to share and create opportunities?  Not really since things like Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo, etc., still create a great opportunity to share many different things, but blogging can incorporate all of these things.    We have to give students the freedom to write about their passions and not use that space as a place to simply post “school work” but look at how they can use this space after their time in school.

One of the hurdles to overcome is that if you are going to really any leverage any of these things and make this type of initiative powerful, they take time and longer than a year in any one person’s class.  It takes a shared vision at the school and district level to get to a point where a “blog” is much more than a blog.   It also takes commitment, dedication, and patience to stick with something that takes perseverance to do well.  Many educators talk about kids having short attention spans, yet we too often move on to the “next” thing before we knocked out of the park in any of our prior initiatives.

Should we in education brag that our students can write a blog?  Absolutely not. Maybe though, we need to start to look at the opportunity to share in open spaces as more of a beginning than an end.

Past, Present, and Future

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Ibrahim Iujaz

I was thinking about how we work with students every day, and how we often we caught up in teaching a grade or subject, instead of a child.  There is an inherent difference in that language.  As a simple concept, I was thinking about when we focus on our students, how does it help to have questions and focus based on the concept of a child’s “past, present, and future”.  Quickly jotting down some thoughts, here are some ideas that have helped me to refocus on things that I can do to help students.


Some of the questions that we have to answer is not only “what does this student know?”, but we should also know where a student comes from, some of the things that they love and how we can build upon that, and some of the things that the have had trouble with, not only in school, but personally as well.  This helps an educator to set up a great “learner profile” and focus on a child’s strengths.


We spend a lot of time talking about “what’s next” in education, but we need to spend time just catching up to now.  For example, things like Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, are all things that are part of a child’s life right now, but we spend little time talking about how kids are using these services, and what impact they might have later, or even right now.  Also, working with students to develop healthy habits now is going to help them live much more productive lives.  There is a lot of conversation on preparing kids for the “real world”, but they are already living in it.  How do we help kids make sense of many things that are very relevant to them right now and empower them to be leaders today, not just tomorrow?


What will this child need to be able to do in the future?  A curriculum is often a bet on what a child will need for the future, but unfortunately, sometimes it is wrong (how often do you use a haiku?). Educators should focus on how we can help kids to become adaptable to different situations, develop a love of learning, and help them to see change as an opportunity to do something great.  That will help them to not only survive, but thrive in many situations.

If we started with this focus on the child as an individual, would teaching a curriculum actually become easier?

4 (Digital) Habits That Will Make You More Creative

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Eric E Castro

Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on the notion that “schools kill creativity”, is the most viewed Ted Talk ever. The views and clicks do not only come from educators, but from people all over the world as we all have a vested interest in our students. More organizations are looking for students that have “creative” skills, and although schools will always churn out students that have great grades through the mastery of the system, it does not necessarily mean that students are learning the skills to become any more creative. Although there is a lot of food for thought in the Robinson talk, from my memory, yet there are few ideas on how to actually become more creative.

Reading many quotes on creativity and innovation, the one that has always stuck out with me is from Rosabeth Moss Kanter:

“Mindless habitual behavior is the enemy of innovation.”

Doing the same thing that we have always done is not going to make any us any more creative or innovative, but according to the “Creativity Research Journal” (as referenced in Red Thread Thinking), there are some things that we could do daily that will actually make us more creative. The four “habits” listed are the following:

1. Capturing New Ideas
2. Engaging in Challenging Tasks
3. Broadening Knowledge
4. Interacting with Stimulating People

I am proud to say that those “habits” are something that I actually do almost daily and I have seen a shift in the way that I think and do things in my own work. Digital technologies make it easy for these habits to take place with ourselves and our students. Here are some of the things that I do to makes these habits a daily reality.

  1. Capturing New Ideas – With a computer in my pocket at all times, capturing ideas has become much simpler. Some of my best thinking happens while running, and when an idea used to pop into my head, I would have nowhere to put it. Now it is simple. But with all of the ideas that may pop into your head, it can sometimes be hard to organize.One of the tools that I use that helps me find my own information is Evernote. It is simple and I can access anything that I share on my phone, on any device that is connected to the Internet.

    Using hashtags on Twitter are also a way to capture my own ideas. I have used Twitter to write some of my ideas down so that I can look at my own tweets later to build on ideas. Sometimes my own tweet is meant to help spark an idea later. Interestingly enough, when it is shared openly, others jump in and share their thoughts and help me to build upon those ideas. Sharing these new ideas and getting different perspectives helps me to learn a lot more as opposed to simply sharing it a closed journal.

  2. Engaging in Challenging TasksBlogging has become one of the most challenging endeavours that I have done in the last few years, and I feel that it has led to a lot of growth personally and professionally. Tweeting at first was a bit of challenge because I was always worried about what I should say, or what to share. Once I became more comfortable in that practice, blogging seemed like a logical step. Although I do not blog every day, I do think about ideas to share in my blog daily as I want to think deeper about the things that I am learning. Even in this blog post, taking four strategies to become more creative, has helped me to openly reflect on my learning and try to go deeper into ideas.I actually heard one educator say, “I don’t have the time to reflect.” Although this was a joke, many actually do not make the time to do this. If it improves our learning to engage in something, even (especially) if it is challenging, how will we ever grow?
  3. Broadening Knowledge – Although I have mentioned Twitter before, and it is one of the best ways to learn from others, there are other things that I do daily to ensure that I am learning in the areas that I am passionate about. With the death of Google Reader, I had to find an RSS reader replacement. InoReader became my main place to house blogs that I have read, and ensure that information could easily find me, instead of constantly looking to see if people have updated information. I try to balance between the RSS reader that InoReader provides and the blogs that I have read for years, to finding new information. Zite is a great app that I have on my phone that brings some of the most popular and viewed learning right to my phone. On any day, you will find articles that push your thinking and bring new ideas. Between these two programs, I learn a ton from different people, whether I know them or not, every single day.
  4. Interacting With Stimulating People – For me, this is an easy one. Although I am blessed to work with some of the smartest people I know, there is brilliance in every single school in the world. I want to connect with that. Through social media, I have been able to connect with other administrators on sites like Connected Principals and the School Admin Virtual Mentor Program (full disclosure…these are both sites that I created), and to be able to go to a place where people can come together to share ideas has been invaluable to my practice.My suggestion to anyone wanting to learn from smart people in their field is to start with a hashtag instead of following specific people. I learn a lot more from following the #cpchat hashtag then I simply would trying to filter through the tweets of administrators that may be either personal or professional. If you are a kindergarten teacher, check out #kinderchat. If you are a math teacher, check out #mathchat. Where is your tribe? Although those tweets are centred around a topic, they are delivered by people that are usually passionate about what they are sharing. When you surround yourself with passionate people, you become more passionate yourself. That is much easier to do.

These are just some of the ways that I have tried to become more creative in my everyday thinking and I have seen a huge impact on not only what I know, but how I learn. I would love for you to share some of your suggestions on the things that you do to make creativity a daily practice.

Little Things…

Tomorrow I am speaking at Marin County, which is the same place that I found out my dad died.  Because I had turned off my phone that day, I had found out through my brother via google chat.  I remember looking at my computer, seeing the message, then closing it and walking away.  I had no idea what to do.  I went to Mary Jane Burke, a person I had met only once, but knew that had the biggest heart ever, and told her.  She dropped everything, took me to a room, and made sure that I was able to call my mom.  Obviously I was not going to finish my day, and I remember Mary Jane saying, “we really want you to come back some day and speak to us”, so here I am.

It has been a week that I have been needing to happen.  That week, I was in the middle of a “vacation”, and had to cut it short (obviously) because of the passing of my father.  I decided to come here early, and just be.  I don’t want to term it that I needed “closure”, but I guess I just kind of wanted to be here with the thoughts of my dad.

I remember specifically being driven to my hotel (they would not allow me to drive) after the news, and going over the Golden Gate Bridge.  As we drove over, I could feel my dad there and not there at the same time.  I have no idea how to explain it, but that bridge will always remind me of him. I can see it in a movie and be brought to tears.  I took yesterday to spend some time on my own, and on the advice of a good friend, grabbed a bike, and headed out to the bridge.  I wanted some time with my dad.  As I biked up those steep hills, I got to this point at the top, and no one else was around.  Then I saw the sun shine in a way that I had never seen it before.  I snapped this picture.

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

I could feel my dad there, and for some reason, I felt not only the presence of my dad, but that he was proud of me. I am not one for stopping and admiring things, but that moment I was frozen and I took it all in. Again, these are things that I can’t explain, but it was just my feeling at the time.  I needed to feel that.

There was one other thing that I distinctly remember that day.

Mary Jane came into the office where I was talking to my mom, visibly upset, and she placed a rock on the table that was in the shape of the heart.  Honestly, at the time, I thought it was just weird and made no sense, and to this day, it still doesn’t make sense.  To not come off as being rude, I took the rock and kept it with me on the ride home.  To say I am fidgety would be an understatement, and while driving home, that rock was in my hands and I constantly rubbed it between my thumb and fingers in my right hand.   When I saw my dad for the first time after he passed, I did the same thing, and again during his funeral.  I had amazing support from family and friends during that time, but that little rock, that made no sense to me, calmed me and made me feel at ease.  I took a picture of it and the sight of it can put me into tears, but in a good way.  It will always remind me of my dad and that little thing, that made no sense, has helped me more than I could have ever imagined.

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

Our Instinct Leads To…?

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Jonas Maaløe Jespersen

As I was sitting in a workshop, the presenter referenced a Seth Godin blog post.

My instinct? Google the post, read the link, and tweet it out and share it with others.

The instinct of the person beside me? Write down the link in a notebook, and (perhaps) go look at it later.

My mind was blown by the process and it made me do a lot of thinking.

First of all, how do we get kids to explore their own learning in deeper ways if they don’t have access to all of the information the Internet provides. That being said, it also made me think about is it better to have that immediate access?

When I brought this up in my workshop, I asked one person that was writing notes in her notebook on what she was going to do with them.  She looked at me as if she was “caught” and said, “probably nothing.”  I, like so many others, have done that exact same thing.  Write down a ton of stuff that a presenter says in a book, only to never look at it again.  Do our kids often do the same?

What I challenged the group to do was to create or openly reflect on what they have learned.  I think that I would rather have someone listen to me for 20 minutes and write a blog post about what they learned then to simply listen to me an hour, write it down in a notebook, and never do anything with it.  I think content is important, but it is what you do with that content that really leads to learning.

So why openly reflect?  If I had a 100 people in a room, that all did this, and they just chose to read posts from five others, how much would their own learning improve? What other ideas would it lead to?  I think a ton.

Ultimately this has nothing to do with whether I had easy access to the post (although it did help tremendously), but what I do with what I write down.  Does it matter if I started in a notebook?  Probably not, but the access to so many opportunities to create something and connect learning does have advantages.

What do you think?

3 Ideas To Help Others Embrace Change

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Ed Schipul

“To sell well is to convince someone else to part with resources—not to deprive that person, but to leave him better off in the end.” Daniel Pink

We have all heard it before…many teachers fear change.

As I think about this statement more and more, I think it is often an easy out.  Just because you are doing something, doesn’t mean someone else should be doing it.  That is not enough to get someone to embrace something.  I am firm believer that teachers have different strengths and that there should be a variance of people that you connect with as opposed to everyone being a carbon copy of one another.

Often it is not that teachers fear change, but that people are bad at selling why change is better.

Here is an assumption that we need to make in our work, if we want people to change. Educators want to do what is best for kids.

With that being said, here are three ideas that we need to focus on that are all connected.

1. How will this save me time?  No matter how many initiatives you want to implement in a school, the number of hours in a day does not change.  When we see “shiny,” we want to jump on it, but we have to realize there are only so many things that can be done in any school day.  Sometimes there is an influx of time at the beginning of any initiative, but in the long run, will this save time and if this is added on to someone’s plate, what is being taken off?

Which leads to the idea…

2.  We need to focus on different, not more.  As I have said before, we often make initiatives feel like they are something extra. For anything to happen, it is imperative that we focus on what will be different, not that we are doing more.  But different is not enough.

Which leads to the idea…

3. Is this better? This taps back into the assumption that teachers want to do what is best for kids.  If you can show why the time investment on doing something different makes something better, you will have a lot more buy-in than simply saying it is different.

If you can focus on those three things, do you think that you will be any closer to helping people embrace change?

Who is telling your story?

I fell upon this video by Tony Sinanis and his students.  I was inspired by the way they decided to deliver a message to their school community and ultimately to the world.

Here are some things that I loved about this.

1.  You are watching the principal immersed with his students using digital technologies.  This reminds me of Chris Kennedy’s notion of “elbows deep in learning” with your community.  Kudos to Tony for what he is modelling to his community.

2.  Many people don’t feel the same connection to schools through “newsletters” as they would a video like this.  If we really want to “humanize” our schools, video is a great way to do this.  I felt a totally different connection to this video, seeing students, than I would reading a message from the principal only.

3.  Instead of making a private link, Tony has shared this with the world.  It is not only awesome to give kids an authentic, global audience, but it also is spurring ideas in others.  I watched this with a group of principals and many in the room wanted to do something similar after watching.  Tony’s students are inspiring others to action.

So…how are you sharing your school’s story and who is involved?


4 Assumptions We Shouldn’t Make in Education

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Moyan Brenn

We have all been a victim of it. Saying something and making a very generalized statement about education and the people involved in it.  Sometimes these assumptions can do more harm than good and we have to be cognizant that painting everything with the same brush is not a good way to do what is best for kids.

Here are some assumptions that we too often make and have to really rethink.

1.  Kids just get technology.  You will often hear Marc Prensky’s “Digital Native, Digital Immigrant” argument being discussed when we talk about what our kids should be able to do in school, but I think that it is being used in the wrong way. Simply, many kids were born in a world with iPads, YouTube, Facebook, and other things, but that does not mean they have any idea how to use them, and it especially does not mean they understand the power these different sites have for learning.

I have actually asked students if they see their mobile device as a learning tool and they look at me stunned to even think that it is something that could be used in school.  In fact, some students would argue that it is more of a hindrance than anything as it distracts them from things that many of them are used to in class, such as reading their textbook, paying attention to lectures, etc.  Just because I was born in world with tools such as hammers, screwdrivers and saws, does not mean I have any idea how to use them to their full potential.  Kids still need guidance in this area.

2.  All parents don’t want their kids using technology in school.  A couple of years ago in a parent meeting for Parkland School Division, which is a district that I consider really pushing the boundaries of technology, I was doing a small workshop with parents.  As I opened up the floor to questions, I was waiting for all of the pushback that I was going to receive about some of the things that we were doing.  To my surprise, one of the parents started off by challenging me and saying that we were not moving fast enough!  I was stunned!  With parents having the same information that we do, you are going to find more parents pushing for a new way of learning in school as they hear about it from others.

When we started blogging with my school years ago, and all of the blogs were private, one parent called and asked me, “If my daughter is doing all of this great work in her blog, shouldn’t other people be able to see it?”  Many have made the assumption that parents are going to be the most resistant to the work that is done with technology, yet there are more and more that are pushing for change every single day.

3.  New teachers are innovative and experienced teachers are holding onto the past.  This statement, for me, couldn’t be further from the truth.  First of all, some of the biggest resistors to changing the classroom environment in schools are often new teachers. This really surprised me at first, but then I heard Bruce Dixon speak and he said something that resonated.  He said, “In no other profession do you watch someone do your job for 16 years before you do it yourself.”  Wow.  It is easy to understand how our experience for learning in school really shapes the way we teach and that is why I am big advocate for creating a new experience in the way that we do professional learning.

On the other side of the spectrum, the assumption that more experienced teachers don’t get “tech” or don’t want to change the way that they teach is often grossly misrepresented.  I have connected with so many educators that want to continuously get better and they are open to trying new opportunities for themselves, creating better learning for their students.  Greg Gorman, a superintendent that is either close to or past retirement age, told me once that he wished “all of this stuff existed when he first started teaching,” because he was so excited about the possibilities.  Coming from a place where he did very little with technology, he is now teaching sessions at conferences, as well as to his own staff.

To me, this is all about mindset as opposed to skill set. Once you are done learning as a teacher, you are done.  That does not matter if you are 24 or 64.  Many people at all ends of the spectrum are focused on learning and becoming better for their students.  You couldn’t ask for more.

4.  Disagreement is a bad thing.  I have started to really believe that we need to really listen to the “naysayer” in our work as opposed to simply believing that they are wrong.  Ultimately, most teachers are there to do what is best for kids, and as long as that leads our conversations, we have to find value when we disagree and promote the opportunity to have those conversations.  Many of us, including myself, have been guilty of being too far on one side of the spectrum.  Often it is the “middle space” that promotes balance in the way that we do our work.  All we have to do is focus on what is best for student learning as opposed to what is easiest for our teaching.  If we start with that end in mind, these conversations can create something very powerful for our students.

Assumptions about others in a negative light can often deter the work that we are doing with students.  If we try to get rid of many of these assumptions and start to think in a positive way, we are more likely to bring people along as opposed to lose them in the work that we are doing for kids.