Tag Archives: teaching and learning

Learning and Leadership

In the day of any conference, the conversations are fast and furious, and I can sometimes get overwhelmed by so much flying at me at once.  I do my best to spend time connecting with people, but sometimes the conversations that are had don’t stick with me at first, but resonate with me after I have had some time to decompress.

One of the things that has stuck with me from one event, was a person in an administrative position, approaching me and saying, “after I listened to you and thought about what you were saying, I realized, I am the barrier that is holding us back.”  I am not sure what her position was, but I was amazed by the honesty of her reflection.  She also shared that she did not want to be that person anymore, and was going to try and create different opportunities for those that she served.  It was a humbling conversation that has really been stuck in my brain.  I honestly can’t stop thinking about it because of the courage that she had in sharing that or even being able to say it out loud.

Something I have been saying lately in some conversations I have been having is the following:

“There are people in this room, no matter how compelling of evidence or ideas that I have shared, or the experiences that I have tried to create, will do nothing different tomorrow.  Are you that person?”

It is a comment meant to challenge and push people out of their comfort zone, while also imploring them to reflect on their learning.  I have learned that ideas and my own thinking changes over time, and by being open to challenge and growth in my learning, is how I model what I hope to see in others.  I am never expecting someone to do exactly what I have shared or even not challenge my thoughts, but I am hoping they take action and ownership on how they can move forward.

But with that being said, I am hoping that people not only think about what they have learned, but also how their learning impacts others.  Every single person involved in education is in some type of leadership position in the way that we serve the needs of others, whether it is students or adults, and our willingness or lack thereof to grow, impacts not only ourselves, but others.  This one administrator reminded me of that in her brave way she shared her self-realization.  The willingness to be able to reflect and to identify how your actions and growth are affecting others, is a powerful trait of a leader who wants to make a difference.

“In education, our learning not only impacts our own growth, but the growth of others that we serve.”

 

“Do one thing everyday that scares you.”

Just something I am thinking about and trying to process through writing…

One of the hardest things I have embarked on in the last little while is trying to write a book.  I have been working on it (I know this is going to sound horrible) for the last couple of years, yet have not been able to just finish it.  The amount of content I have written on this blog in the past five years (nearly 1000 posts) has been huge, but writing a book is not only a different process, but also a  different product. If you disagree or want to challenge something in this blog post, your shared point of view might change mine, and the next blog post might be a reflection of that.  What I think now, might be different than what I think in five years.  A book though, has a certain amount of permanence to it.  I think it is totally understandable on challenging a book and having the author rethink their position, yet you might feel something totally different after publishing, but your old viewpoint is still seemingly engraved on those pages.  It is almost the modern day equivalent of being written in stone.  A blog seems like a formative assessment, and a book seems summative; there seems to be a certain finality to it.

That is one thing that I am struggling with.

The other is the effort and time you would need to put into it, and the mere moments it would take to criticize it online.  Going through the process has changed the way I read Amazon reviews.  I cringe at a bad review and think, if something I would publish would actually be on that site, would I even look?  It is something that would haunt your dreams, just like the one negative comment out of a 100 on a session will be the one you focus on?  I think of this not only in writing a book, but any type of music or art that one pours their soul into, and it can be ripped apart in moments.  It is daunting.  I am not saying that we shouldn’t challenge the thoughts in a book (I have done this myself), but just thinking about how we do it.

So here is what I like about the process….actually going through the struggle that I have described above.

I am really trying to focus and finish a first copy sooner than later, and hammer through it to have it ready to go by a certain timeline.  I need to have that timeline in my head, or I will continue to push it off.  But the above things that I struggle with, put me back into a place of discomfort, and lead me to become more empathetic to understanding that others struggle with the things that I now feel are second nature.

I remember working with a teacher who was so reluctant about using Twitter, and then they  finally had the courage to join and try, and it was daunting to them.  On their very first tweet, they asked for help, and other than my resharing of it, the first response was a sarcastic comment on the quality of the question.  I really believe the person had no intent of criticizing the person and it was just their humour, but I saw the worst case scenario in her mind come to life and that was the end of the process for her.  She had no idea who the person was so it was hard for her to understand the comment. I am not sure if they continued on with Twitter, but sometimes when that first “jump” becomes as scary in reality as it was in your head, it is tough to go again.

At the beginning of the year, I decided that my “word” to define my year was going to be empathetic, and it has stuck with me every single day.  I think about the person with their first tweet as well as the person with the thousandth.  On any day, a response without that approach could be the one that pushes a person to lose confidence in their voice.  The recent #semicolonEDU reminded me of not only how many people go through things that I never know, but how courageous so many people are to put themselves out there, whether it is online, or even showing up to work every day.

always be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.

This is not only with social media, but even things like a staff meeting.  I have seen people finally get the courage to speak, but then watch a room that has no one listening.  It is sometimes not even in what we say, but in what we do or not do, that can make an impact.  Will they feel the confidence to share again, or will that be the last time for a long time?  I am guilty of this myself as I know that I can easily become distracted or lost in something, so I am trying to get better at being in the moment.  And don’t blame mobile devices…I was easily distracted LONG before they became the norm in our society.  I am trying to get better.

I think that putting yourself in spaces where you struggle not only helps you to grow your mind, but sometimes grow your heart.  Remembering what it is like to struggle, I mean really struggle, is something that will remind you how hard it is for you and others to put themselves in place of vulnerability.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t challenge, but thinking about when we challenge, and how we do it.  I have said it over and over again, that learning is relational.  An effective coach is not one that treats every player the same, but treats every player as an individual, and knows when to push and when to pull, and builds upon the unique strengths of each to bring a team together.  How one is treated when they struggle and lack confidence, is often remembered on the path to success.

If we followed the advice “do one thing everyday that scares you”, we would not only grow, but we would also remember how hard it is for others to do the exact same.

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The World We Can’t Ignore

The world we live in is messy.

Kids don’t necessarily have the same freedom to screw up that we once did, with the default mode of sharing that is innate in so many.  When I ask educators if they ever drank too much when they were in university or high school, the majority of hands always raise.

When I asked them how many posted it online, zero hands are raised.

We were so much smarter and more mature than the youth of today? Not even close.  The Internet and the ease of sharing that happens today,  did not exist.  Some of the same mistakes so many youth make today, we would have probably done the same if the opportunities were there.

Talking to students often, many of them talk about how unfair it is for them that are held to a much higher standard in many ways than we were as kids.  I agree, but I also remind them that they have opportunities and access to people that I could have not imagined when I was young.  I saw this amazing video of Kevin Durant, one of the best basketball players in the world, connecting with people on Twitter and playing flag football.

I have said often, access to all of the information in the world is pretty amazing, but what is more important, is that we have access to one another.

To be honest though, there are sometimes that I feel uncomfortable with the world that we live in now.  You hear a lot of stories of things happening online, such as how Facebook is cited in so many divorce cases, and I sometimes wonder if we are better off now than we were before. Technology can accelerate everything, both good and bad.  Sometimes the bad can be overwhelmingI get that.

What I do know is that no matter how overwhelming it can become, it is important that schools talk about this with our students and become a part of the conversation.  To ignore it is a disservice to our students.

The world, our world, is really messy and rather complicated.  Although there are so many similarities to kids now compared to when I grow up, there are a lot of differences as well.  Love it or hate, we can’t ignore the world we live in.

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 Assumptions We Shouldn’t Make About Educators

I haven’t had my own classroom of students for a few years, but I always try to remember what it was like to be a teacher, and always try to start from that viewpoint.  It bothers me when I see posts or videos talking about how so many teachers are not willing to do something better for their kids, when every single person that has “embraced change” was at some point doing things previously that they would question now.

I talk a lot about the importance of using technology to enhance learning and relationships, but I didn’t always believe it was important.  It took a lot of suggestions and support from others before I started doing things differently in my practice; it did not happen overnight.  That being said, just like so many other educators, I still have a lot of room to grow in so many areas.  There are so many aspects of education that are important to the development of our kids, and teachers are juggling so many things that they have to do, many of which have little to do with teaching in a classroom, but are admin tasks.  Instead of wondering “why aren’t people moving faster?”, we have to take a step back and get rid of some of the assumptions that people make about educators.  Below are a few that stick out in my mind.

1. Educators are not willing to embrace change.

I think for many educational leaders, this is an easy way out.  It puts the blame others instead of looking at something internal.  Simply telling someone that they should change their practice, and it reminds me of how sometimes people are just bad at selling change in the first place.  I have seen a lot of people talk about the importance of change, but by the end of listening to them, you feel terrible about what you haven’t done as opposed to inspired to do something better.

\Making people feel like crap is not the key to getting them to do something different and will not lead to sustainable change.  What is important is that people experience something different themselves, but also that they are valued for what they do.  If an educator knows that the change is something that will be better for kids, they are more likely to start doing something different.

There are so many things that an educator has to do, so I think it is actually good that many of them are critical about what they put their efforts into.  Have you ever had an initiative in your school that has come and gone and shown no impact on students?  Not all change is good, but I believe if an educator can see the value in it for their students, they are more likely to embrace it.

2. Educators don’t want what is best for kids.

Educators know that they are going into a very giving profession, where the pay is traditionally not that great.  The majority of them want to make a difference.  It is cool when some students get opportunities like Innovation Week, but sometimes kids show up with no food in their stomachs, and making it through their day is a huge accomplishment.  Doing the “innovative ideas” might not be possible for that kid.  There are so many variables to our day as educators, and teachers are rarely ever just teachers.  They take care of kids in so many different ways because of they didn’t, there is no way some kids would be successful in any aspect of their lives.  If every classroom and group of students looked exactly the same, teaching would be easy, although in my opinion, not very rewarding.  The diversity is what makes education so great.  That being said, most educators are doing what they believe is best for their kids.  No one wakes up in the morning wanting to be terrible at their job.  We need to always remember that.

3. That all educators do is teach.

It disheartened me to see an educator friend, who is brilliant and I would want teaching my own children, talk about how they had to get another job to make ends meet.  I have heard this from several people.  To think that a person who would have to work two jobs (one of them serving children all day) would not only have the time or the energy to learn new things, is pretty presumptuous.  Just being a teacher, takes a lot out of you.  We can’t assume that all of our efforts go simply into teaching.  There are so many other aspects of our lives.

It is not only the cases where teachers are juggling another job, but also other aspects of their life.  Many people have so many things going on in their lives, yet we assume that so many should put all of their time and energy into becoming the greatest teacher of all time.  Some people are lucky if they can make it through the day because of whatever is going on in their lives.  This is not only in education, but in all professions.  We want to be great friends, partners, parents, siblings, or whatever, and sometimes teaching needs to take a little bit of a backseat to the other things in life.  Does this mean a teacher doesn’t care about what they do? Not at all.  But I am firm believer that I would rather have a teacher that is focused on being a whole person, than simply focusing on being a teacher.  Personally, some days it is/was hard for me to get up and do my job because of other things going on in my life.  We always have to remember that there is more to a teacher than being a teacher.

Do some teachers not fall in line with what I have shared? Absolutely.  There are bad people in every profession.  I guess my point is that when we make generalized assumptions about others in our profession we are already starting in a deficit.  Trusting someone is doing the best they can before they prove it to you, is an important part of leadership. We have to give trust before we earn trust in many cases.  Assuming the worst of others will not get us to grow as a profession.

New Perspective, New Opportunities

 

Lately, I have been working with a lot of parent groups on the use of social media, and encouraging them to “jump in” and learn with their child, as opposed to fight it along the way. From my own experience. if social media is used right, it can not only improve learning, but strengthen relationships.  There are negatives with everything, but if we want to use it in a positive way, the first step is changing our perspective towards it.  If you think “Twitter is stupid”, it is going to be useless to you.  But if you look at the potential, it can create something much different.

I was ecstatic to see the following tweet from Andrea Markusich, a parent I connected with at a recent session who decided to give social media another try:

I love her perspective shift from this is something that kids are doing, to something we can learn together.  Although kids need and should have some space, I think there is power when we, as adults, take interest in the same things that they are interested in exploring.  I asked Andrea to send me an email telling me more about her experience and I loved some of the things that she shared:

I honestly thought the world was done for with twitter, because I was! I went to a session years ago and couldn’t figure out the purpose of it and then just quit.  But George planted a seed and got me thinking.  Maybe they ARENT disconnecting?? Maybe I am??  Hmmm….

Ironically we watched the movie “CHEF” the following weekend.  The movie totally demonstrated the power of youth and knowledge of social media and the huge power it has to send a message to a very broad audience.  It was very well timed as I got to see a resistant parent in action; and I saw myself.

Go back 3 years and I had my first son starting high school and I was very afraid of the impacts of social media.  I was SO scared of BAD people and all the possible dangers that we have heard in the news.  Some of these stories came way to close to home for me.  So I wanted to lock my kids up until the social media fad passed.  That may take a while….. and it’s a little bit unrealistic.

A different perspective totally transformed my view and opened me up to a new way of thinking.  It has also become a great bonding experience for me and my kids—who knew?

So now I’m on twitter….and instagram.  And I’m hooked! …Last night I posted a picture of our dog and as I was typing they were saying “Mom, you need to shorten your words,” and “c’mon that’s so nerdy why are you writing like that” they were laughing and teaching me the way to do it.  And I have lots to learn, but we are having a lot of fun.  And my kids teaching me something, I can tell it lights them up, that they are the experts.  And they are SMART!  Our world’s future is in good hands.  It’s funny, I used to look forward to getting them to bed so I could relax, now I have to keep reminding myself to make sure they go to bed as they need their sleep.  Time is flying we are having so much fun.

A new perspective leads to new opportunities.

The thing that I loved about Andrea’s note was not only was it that we need to be open to learning about what so many kids are doing, but there is so much opportunity in coming closer together when we are willing to learn from them as well.  I have really embraced the idea that everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner, so it is important in our world that we swap roles back and forth with our kids.  And really, as Andrea articulated, time flies by too fast to not embrace this.

At the end of the day, the big reminder for me from reading what Andrea had shared was the importance of our attitudes towards learning.  If we see learning about something new as an opportunity as opposed to a burden, we are more likely to create something positive from the experience.  I have always said that change is an opportunity to do something great, and I am happy to see a parent embrace the same belief.

Do kids always need to be “challenged” in subjects they don’t care about?

Something reminded me of this story from my teaching career so I am just writing to process my thoughts…please forgive my rambling.

In my first couple years in my education career, I was teaching a high school math course that was based on simply the basic of math.  It was for students who needed a math credit to graduate, but weren’t taking something like calculus or a higher level of math.  To be honest, many of the students in the class either struggled with school, or didn’t see it as relevant.

One of my students (we will call her Lisa) was in the course, not because she wasn’t able to do calculus, but she simply needed the math credit to graduate.  Her attendance in class was terrible, and for the first few weeks, I was on her case about attending.  We would have tests, she would show up, knock it out of the park, and I wouldn’t see her again until one or two days before a test, and she would simply repeat the process. Show up, ace the exam, and leave.

On one of these days, I asked to speak to her and I told her that I knew she was good at the class so I really wanted to challenge her thinking and do some higher level work so that she would be compelled to attend.  Lisa told me that she really had no interest in attending, even if I “challenged” her, and she just needed the math credit to graduate.  Then I told her that she needs to attend or she could get in serious trouble, and she asked me “why?”, to which I replied, “it’s the rule”. Probably the dumbest answer I could give.

We talked, and eventually she convinced me that really, she didn’t need to attend.  She was working on something else that she actually cared about that had nothing to do with math. She would show up for any assessments, prove that she met the objectives of the course, and then go off to do what she was excited about and saw as relevant to her life and goals.  She ended up with the worst attendance and the best mark. Go figure.

A few questions this raises for me…

Why would we keep a kid in a class where they totally understand the objectives and have no interest in going further?  Do we need to “challenge” kids in areas they don’t really care about in the first place?

What purpose is school serving this student if she is just jumping through hoops to get a degree?

Has school changed enough that this wouldn’t happen in the first place?

Would I have done anything differently now?

What do you think?

The Best Classroom Management Develops Classroom Leadership

At the beginning of a school year, I had a student named Michael (not his real name) who had some issues the previous year, so I decided to welcome him outside the school before he even walked in.  Now I assumed that he might have had this “talk” before, but I wanted to change it up.  Instead of giving him a reminder about his “behaviour” and being an example to others, I asked him to look out for a couple of younger students that were struggling at school.  I told him about his ability to influence others would ensure that he could be my “go-to” to help those other kids.  Showing not only that I valued him, but that he was going to be a part of making the school a better place, empowered him to have a very successful year.

We always talk about “managing” people or students, but you manage “stuff”, not humans.  Instead of trying to “fix” a behaviour, it is important to tap in and try to unleash what people already have.  Think of your own work situation?  Do you not go over and above for a boss that not only values you, but taps into you for the well being of your organization?  The principals that trusted me with leadership were the ones that I would go above and beyond for and would gladly do the things that I once hated.

Kids are no different.

Show that you value them and their strengths, tap into them, and get them to help you create a better environment for everyone.  It won’t necessarily be perfect, but for me, I found it to be so much better.

What if I give you a good answer?

 

You probably have either seen it, been a part of it, or done it.

The time that someone asks the question with a negative connotation that basically is giving them the out of doing whatever it is that you are saying.

It will usually start off with something like, “I really like all of the stuff that you said there…but”

The “but” in many cases is the exact reason that they are going to cite why they are not going to try it later.

“But what about cyberbullying? But what about creepy people? But what about our kids not exercising enough? But what about time? But what about balance? But what about the tests that we have to teach?”

These are all logical questions for a lot of the stuff that I talk about, and like many people that I work with, I also see these as concerns.  In my mind they are not reasons to NOT do things, but they are reasons that we need to be proactive.  Ignoring a problem will not make it go away.

So when I am about to give my answer to the “ya but” questions that I will inevitably hear, I might have a question back before my answer.

“What if I have a good answer?  What will you do then? WIll you consider changing the way you do things or will you stay on the same path?”

I don’t think you should ask this in a condescending way, but in a way to open up and have someone think about what they are going to do if they are provided new information.

The idea of a “fixed” and “growth” mindset is fantastic, but I believe that you can actually have both.  Many people that you see that are really “open to change”, are the same people that will not go out and try new restaurants, new experiences, or are set in their ways in other parts of their life.  On the notion of schooling, I have a “growth mindset”; on the idea of bungee jumping, I would say that I am pretty set in my ways.  You do not have one or the other, but probably a combination of both.

But maybe sometimes, we should help people identify where they are at when they ask a question.  Do they really want to hear the answer or is their question just a way of digging their feet in without them even knowing it?

Can we promote a “growth mindset” in subtle ways in the people that we work with?  I hope so.

5 Ideas to Help You Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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