Tag Archives: teaching and learning

Where’s the evidence?

This is one of those posts where I might just ramble on but I am trying to clarify some thoughts in my head…

When talking about new and innovative ways to teach students, a question that I constantly get is “where is the evidence that this works?”  The problem with trying something new, there is rarely evidence to support it because it is new.  That being said, I am seeing many educators be the “guinea pigs” themselves and trying out new strategies for learning on themselves and with staff.  If there engagement and learning is improving from their own experience, it is more likely to make an impact on students.  We have often believed that teachers should be experts on “teaching” when the reality is that they should be experts on “learning” first.  Immersing themselves into learning opportunities will help them get closer to that standard than simply reading about teaching techniques.

As I have started to think about the “where is the evidence” question, I am wondering if it should be asked right back.  Where is the evidence that what we used to do was knocking it out of the park for all of our kids?  When I went to school, many students struggled then in school and it wasn’t the utopia that so many people have made it out to be.  Are grades the measure?  If they are, do we look at factors such as socio-economic status and their impact on test scores?  Do we believe that any one thing is a direct result to improved grades?  If you look at any school division that has improved, do they usually only have one initiative that they can directly correlate to a numerical improvement, or are there multiple factors?  Does critical thinking improve learning? Does helping students make healthy choices improve learning?  Or would a combination of both have an impact?  Or would one make an impact on one student, while the focus on another might be the different for another student?  It is tough to make standardized assessments on individuals; each person is unique and needs different things.

This brings me back to a conversation this morning that I had with one educator who had mentioned that her admin “didn’t think that kids would do well with this type of learning”.  What I told her is that we should never limit a kid to what we, as adults, think that they can or can’t do.  There is a saying that “whether you think you can or you can’t, you are usually right.”  It is one thing to have this mindset for ourselves, but when we decide our kids “can’t” before giving them a chance or showing a belief in them, their opportunities to grow and achieve something great are limited.

So I guess the next time when I am asked, “Where is the evidence that this works?”, my response might be that nothing works for all people. It never has and it never will.  Some kids will do better with pen and paper, and some adults will do better with a laptop; we have to be able to provide options that work for our students, not just ourselves.  I also believe that sometimes our faith in our kids could be as important (if not more) as some of the evidence we collect.  If we believe we can help our students do amazing things, continuously grow, and make the world better, isn’t it more likely to happen?

A conversation starter…

I saw the following image online: Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 7.50.43 AMWhat surprised me about the conversation about it was that most educators (that I connect with) thought the student was ingenious for this “invention” and applauded them.  They were “fighting the power” and found a way to snuck in their device to a classroom. A couple of questions I have when I see this picture… Why would the kid have to create something like this? Why would adults not have to do this?  (I know that if I am disengaged I might gravitate to my device, but I also know that if I am engaged, I also tend to gravitate to my device.) Do you think this is wrong by the student, or cheer them on for their subversiveness? What do you think?

5 Ways To Influence Change

“At the end of the day, what qualifies people to be called ‘leaders’ is their capacity to influence others to change their behavior in order to achieve important results.” Joseph Grenny

In a time where the only constant in education is change, people involved with education need to become “change agents” more now than ever. You can understand pedagogy inside out, but if you are unable to define “why” someone should do something different in their practice, all of that knowledge can be ultimately wasted.  People will take a “known good” over an “unknown better” in most cases; your role is to help make the unknown visible and show why it is better for kids.

Look at the debate over “new math” right now.  Many people, including educators, are pushing back over the new curriculum based on the idea that math was taught in a much better way when we were kids.  Simply explaining the process and the way we teach and learn math is not enough.  It has to go deeper.  Ultimately, you want people to feel that this is so much better than they were kids, and that their children are better off.  Innately, people want what is better for kids.  Tap into that, and people are more likely to move forward.

“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

So how does this happen?  Below are some things that I have seen effective leaders to have not people only accept change, but embrace it as an opportunity to do something better for kids.

  1. Model the change that they want to see.  Although this might seem extremely “cliche”, it is the most imperative step for any leader in leading the “change effort”.  Many organizations talk about the idea that people need to be “risk-takers”, yet they are not willing to model it themselves.  Until that happens, people will not feel comfortable doing something different.  It is also the difference between talking from a “theoretical” to “practical” viewpoint.  Have you ever seen a PowerPoint on “21st Century Change” from an administrator who does not exhibit any of the learning that is being discussed in the presentation? Me too.  People will feel more comfortable taking a journey to an unknown place if they know that the first steps have been taken by someone else.  Although I believe in the idea of distributed leadership, the idea of “leaders” is that they are also ahead; they have done things that have not been done before.  Chris Kennedy has shared the idea that leaders need to be “elbow deep in learning” with others, not only to show they are willing to embrace the change that they speak about, but to also be able to talk from a place of experience.
  2. Show that you understand the value that already exists. The word “change” is terrifying to some because it makes them feel that everything that they are doing is totally irrelevant.  Rarely is that the case.  I have seen speakers talk to an audience for an hour and people walk out feeling like they were just scolded for 90 minutes on how everything that they are doing is wrong.  It is great to share new ideas, but you have to tap into what exists already that is powerful.  When you show people that you value them and their ideas (and not in a fake way which is pretty easy to read through), they are more likely to move mountains for you., and for themselves.  Strengths-based leadership is something that should be standard with administrators to teachers, as it should be standard with teachers to kids.
  3. Tell stories. Data should inform what we do and is an important part of the change process, but it does not move people.  If you look at major companies like Coke and Google, they use stories to elicit emotion from people.  Of course they have numbers that they use in their process, especially when it comes to stakeholders, but organizations know the importance of telling a story to make people “feel” something.   To inspire meaningful change, you must make a connection to the heart before you make a connection to the mind. Stories touch the heart. What is yours?
  4. Bring it back to the kids. What does a 80% to a 90% tell us about a kid? That they are now 10% better?  Most educators got into the profession because of a strong passion for helping kids, so when we reduce who a child is to simply a number, or teaching simply to a process, we lose out on why many of us became educators. To help kids.  If you ever get the change to see Jennie Magiera speak, watch how she shows kids in her presentations and it shows the impact of her work on them.  A 10% difference does not create the same emotion as watching a student talk about something they learned or have done.  I have shared a video of Tony Sinanis doing a “newsletter” with his students and I have watched educators all over the world engrossed by what they are seeing.  Think about it…it’s a school newsletter.  Imagine if I handed out a piece of paper to educators and asked them to read a newsletter from another school.  Do you think they would care as much as seeing the kids, their faces, and their emotions? Don’t let a grade tell a story; let the kids do it themselves.
  5. Get people excited and then get out of the way.  I have been to schools, watched administrators encourage their teachers to embrace something different in their practice, and they make that change impossible to do.  Giving the answer that “we need to change the policy before you can move forward” not only encourages the detractors, but it kills the enthusiasm in your champions.  When “yeah but” is the most commonly used phrase in your leadership repertoire, you might as well just learn to say “no”; it’s essentially the same thing.  The most successful people in the world rarely follow a script, but write a different one altogether.  Are teachers doing something better “because of you” or “in spite of you”.  If you want to inspire change, be prepared to “clear the path” and get out of the way so that change can happen.

“Increase your power by reducing it.” Daniel Pink

The change process is a tough one but simply being knowledgeable is not enough.  Some people that actually “know less” but “influence more” create more change than some of the smartest people you know.  Education is not about “stuff” but about “people”.  Tap into that and you are more likely to see the change that you are hoping to see.

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.

Belief.

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.

Past

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.

Present

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?

Future

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?