Tag Archives: Will Richardson

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.

To Those That Have Heard Everything


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Steven Shorrock

I was a little surprised to see a tweet from someone talking about how we shouldn’t be talking about “being connected” with people anymore because everyone should just be doing it.  I found it rather interesting as a great teacher would differentiate learning for students and understand that people are are different points in their journey, not simply say, “you should all get this by now”.  It should be no different with educators.  Differentiation is not just for kids, and if we treat people like that when we are in an administrative position, you will lose more people along the journey then you will gain.  I understand the “push” that many people make, and have been guilty of doing this myself, but the support has to be there.

My mentor would say to me when I was frustrated with what I sometimes felt was a slow pace by others was, “not everyone is you”.  Because something makes sense to me, it does not necessarily mean it is common practice for others.

Now I have been in keynotes where I have heard the same message over and over.  So what can I learn from this?  Well as someone who is in an administrator position, and especially someone who does keynotes myself, the “content” is only one part of what is happening in any presentation.  I am a huge basketball fan and decided years ago that I wanted to become a referee.  When that happened, the way I watched games changed.  I wasn’t watching the games as much as I was watching the referees.  My focus had shifted onto something different.

This was made abundantly apparent to me when I recently keynoted a conference in Vancouver and Chris Wejr, a good friend and colleague, noted that although he had seen me speak several times, he was more focused on what I did as opposed to what I said. There are great elements of teaching and leadership in many keynotes/talks/presentations, and if you think that you know all of the content being presented, you need to shift your focus.  You can learn from the great speakers as well as the bad ones.

For example, I remember seeing a keynote at a conference who started off with saying something that was totally lost on the audience and was a great way to show he was smart, but he made the audience feel dumb.  He lost them immediately.  Because of that, I really try to focus on taking something complex and making it simple so that is relatable to people, especially in larger settings.

Now for the great lessons that I have learned from others watching them speak.

My brother Alec, who helped me get into speaking, showed me the power of visuals and media to supplement ideas in a talk and was a great way to engage the audience

Dean Shareski taught me that is important to empower the audience to do something great, not for them to feel lesser in their work.

Jenny Magiera showed me that laughter and learning go hand-in-hand and it is way easier to connect people t with an idea when they are smiling.

Adam Bellow showed me to honour and value the people sitting in front of you and although you can share a similar message, it is important to show that you are focused on that audience.

Will Richardson continuously teaches me to ask tough questions, and to push people to think deeply about their work.

I honestly could not tell you much about their content, because in reality, I feel the people that I have listed talk about many similar things.  That being said, all of those lessons can apply to any position, whether you are a speaker, principal, or teacher, or a combination of any of those.  There is a lot to be learned even when sometimes we act like we have seen this all before.

How big is your room? #CEM12


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Dr. Warner

Working in Ontario the last week with teachers and administrators, with many conversations revolving around digital footprint and the impact it has on getting a job, this is a question that popped up in my head, and ultimately our conversations, several times:

It sparked a lot of conversation and strong thoughts on Twitter from many educators who are obviously connected.  Here are some of mine.

Many believed that having a Twitter account and blogging do not make you a great educator. Agreed.  Hence the reason that I try to qualify that you had two great teachers, and if they both had similar qualities, but one of the candidates has a social media presence, does that put them ahead in a competition?  But due to the character limit of the tweet, and pointed out eloquently by others, it depends on how you are using your social media presence.

Obviously no one wants to hire a “Carly Crunk Bear” as an educator simply because she has a Twitter account.  I have said often that social media can create many opportunities for people but only if they do great stuff.

Another great point was that there are many other ways that educators can connect (many pointed out in this great post from Kelly Christopherson).  Ultimately, is it having a blog and using Twitter that are important?  To me, it is that the educator is a constant learner who is connected to others and can learn about whatever he or she wants, whenever he or she wants.

I also would look for candidates that want to share their work with others.  We often think that administrators should have (and rightfully so) a transparency in their work; teachers should be no different. This willingness to learn shows me that they have the “sponge” attitude, and are more likely to be a self-starter.  These are things that I am looking for in a strong teacher candidate.

If you are looking for innovative teaching and learning, I want people that are networked and willing to create on their own, as research shows that the more networked someone is, the more likely they are going to come up with great ideas.  It is also important (to me) that individuals are willing to model the learning that they want to see in their students.

So what if all of the blogs and tweets that show innovative teaching and learning are lies?  That could be very true, and some people that are very intelligent on “paper” are not always great teachers.  Reference checks, interviews, and all of the other things that are part of the hiring process should all be important, but doing a Google search on someone is also a new imperative in our world.  Not in the sense that we are looking for something bad, but that we might just find something good.

The idea of someone having and using a Twitter account effectively to improve their learning will also tell us that they are displaying many of the “21st Century Literacies” as defined by the NCTE.  I found one comment interesting: that they prefer the “Face to Face” interactions as online has too much “noise.”

I believe that when we can get together, it is better than connecting online, but we always don’t have the option.  Filtering through the “noise” is a skill that we need to have and work with our students to ensure they also have this ability.  When you have access to all of the information in the world, how do you find it, know if it is useful, and create something powerful from it?  If I hired someone with this skill-set already, my guess is that they could help navigate students in this world as well.

Here are some interview questions that I have been thinking about:

What is your favourite Ted Talk? What did you learn from it?

Who are some educators that you connect with through social media and what have you learned from them?

Would you ask these questions? What would they tell you?

Honestly though, many administrators out there would not care about those specific questions and answers.  Why is that?  Is it because they believe it is not important or that they don’t know the power that connecting with others outside your organization creates?

I remember being asked in my interviews, “How do you continuously learn?” I gave answers about a book I read a year before or attending a conference that every other teacher in my district had attended.  My answer would be much different now, and honestly, much better. Not just in terms of what I use, but in how I use it, and how it has changed my thinking on teaching and learning.

This quote from Will Richardson says a lot in the new standard that many people are looking for when they are hiring someone to their organization:

“…And truth be told, teachers should be responsible for their own PD now.  Kids wouldn’t wait for a blogging workshop.  Adults shouldn’t either.”

Being connected does not make you a great teacher, but in the long run, it can sure help.  If you truly believe that “the smartest person in the room, is the room,” doesn’t it make a difference on how big your room is?

Leading Innovative Change Series – A New Staff Experience

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

A New Staff Experience

“The only source of knowledge is experience.” — Albert Einstein

Staff meetings were something that I dreaded in my beginning years as a teacher.  We would often spend the majority of our time together discussing rules and policies, and would debate, on end, things that are seemingly significant.  Hours have been spent in schools talking about whether kids should wear hats or not in school.  Really?

I saw the following quote on a slide, and I have shared it many times in talks that I have given to leadership groups.  It seems to resonate with many:

“If I die, I hope it’s during a staff meeting because the transition to death would be so subtle.” Unknown

staff meetingTime is limited, but is this how we want it to be remembered?  How do we make better use of our time?

Epiphany

A few years back, as principal in a school, I had an interesting conversation with my brother (Alec Couros) and Will Richardson.  As we talked about something as simple as bookmarking, he asked why I didn’t use a social bookmarking service such as Diigo.  I simply replied that it was too much of a hassle.  Will simply said, “So you are not into sharing?”

That changed everything.

As I thought about myself as principal of a school who is supposed to be the “instructional leader” in the school,  I was not even sharing with my staff.  I was simply hoarding all of the information that was coming my way.  If you want to be innovative, you have to disrupt your routine.  It was time to do things differently.

I jumped into Twitter and was amazed by the learning that was happening and being shared in such an open network.  The ability to have professional learning at your fingertips every minute of the day, is something that has changed the way I viewed my own practice.  This ability to learn at any time, any place and at any pace is the reality of our world.  As educators, we need to jump in.  Will Richardson acknowledges this belief in how educators need to take advantage of the same opportunities for learning that our kids do every day.

“…And truth be told, teachers should be responsible for their own PD now.  Kids wouldn’t wait for a blogging workshop.  Adults shouldn’t either.”

It is imperative that we move staff to the place that they are able to take ownership of their own learning.

A New Look Staff Experience

We spend a lot of time in schools telling people about how teaching and learning should look.  Yet, how do we create opportunities for them to experience it?  I watch a lot of schools talking about things like blogging initiatives with students, yet their own staff have never blogged.  How do you teach something that you have never done?  More importantly, how do you have people embrace the unknown?  Well, my belief is that you make it known.

I felt it was imperative for our students to use blogging to create digital portfolios of their learning.  It was essential that staff blogged as well.  To create this, I did not simply say, “Thou shalt blog,” but I actually did it myself first.  I spent time doing something that I wanted to trickle down to staff and students.  It is easy to say, “Do this.”  It is more important to say, “Let’s do this together.”

Jumping into blogging and seeing the amazing opportunity that it had created to reflect, collaborate and make learning transparent, we started to give this opportunity to staff.  For example, on one staff Professional Development Day on a Monday, staff were asked to have a blog post written for Friday to share with others.  The catch was that if they did not feel comfortable doing it on their own, we would provide time at the beginning of our staff day for them to have support.  For the staff that were able to do this on their own, they had the opportunity to come in later.  If it is a priority, you will put time and resources into it.  If you do not put those two elements in place, it is not priority. That simple.

So if you want students using Google Apps for Education in the classroom, use it with staff.  If you want learning to be personalized for students, help personalize it for staff.  This experience helps you to not only embrace this change, but to experience what your students will feel in the classroom.

A question that I always ask teachers is, “Could you spend an entire day sitting in your own classroom as a student?”  

The question that I asked myself as a beginning administrator was, “Could I spend the whole day in my staff meeting?”  I tried to create an environment that I would want to be in as a teacher.

Differentiated Learning for Adults

Differentiated instruction is something that we talk about all of the time for students, but it also applies to educators.  We often see frustration from administrators when they feel staff are all over the place, but this is something that we need to embrace.  I am comfortable with staff learning at different paces.  Where I struggle is if they are not open to learning at all.   This does not mean agreeing with everything and not having critical conversations.  Sometimes we have to embrace the “naysayer” as a challenge that helps to make us all better.  It is, however, imperative that they have, as Carol Dweck states, “a growth mindset.”  We have adopted the idea that we need to move staff from their point “A” to their point “B.”

One of the most successful practices that I have partaken in is taking one-on-one time with staff where they have the opportunity to ask questions about things that they are trying to do in their classrooms.  We simply book time in a day, and we have time for them to ask questions to start learning from where they are, as opposed to where someone wants them to be.  The person who is asking the questions is also the one who is often doing the learning. Creating opportunities for individual staff to ask these questions and get personal attention, no matter who it comes from, can often accelerate growth a lot quicker for your entire organization.

Forward 

Innovation often comes out of experience and we have to change the way we do and think about professional development.  I have sat and watched someone speak to a group of teachers and administrators, sitting in rows, for hours on end about “21st Century Learning,” showing bullet points on a presentation.  How much do you think will really change in the classroom if that is what our time together looks like?

Want innovation in the classroom?  Get people to focus on being open to new learning and create different experiences for them.  They are more likely to do the same for their students.

“People never learn anything by being told, they have to find out for themselves.” — Paulo Coelho

Anonymous vs. Appropriate


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by gavin. robinson

Here is some interesting information from the “Pew Internet & American Life Project” on teen use of social media:

Teens are increasingly sharing personal information on social media sites, a trend that is likely driven by the evolution of the platforms teens use as well as changing norms around sharing. A typical teen’s MySpace profile from 2006 was quite different in form and function from the 2006 version of Facebook as well as the Facebook profiles that have become a hallmark of teenage life today. For the five different types of personal information that we measured in both 2006 and 2012, each is significantly more likely to be shared by teen social media users on the profile they use most often.

  • 91% post a photo of themselves, up from 79% in 2006.
  • 71% post their school name, up from 49%.
  • 71% post the city or town where they live, up from 61%.
  • 53% post their email address, up from 29%.
  • 20% post their cell phone number, up from 2%.

In addition to the trend questions, we also asked five new questions about the profile teens use most often and found that among teen social media users:

  • 92% post their real name to the profile they use most often.2
  • 84% post their interests, such as movies, music, or books they like.
  • 82% post their birth date.
  • 62% post their relationship status.
  • 24% post videos of themselves.

Huh.

I guess that push from schools teaching kids to be anonymous online hasn’t really been that effective.

How about the following slide?


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Plug Us In

Are we anywhere near that in our work at schools?  I think in PSD70 with our Digital Portfolio Projectwe are closer than many, but we still have a lot of work to do.

Maybe instead of continuously pretending kids are staying (or even care to stay)anonymous online, maybe we need to change the conversation and talk to them about being appropriate.

Engaging Parents in the Learning Process


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by bestlibrarian

“The role of parents in the education of their children cannot be overestimated.” ~Unknown

When you ask parents from any country in the world, what they ask their children at the end of the day about school, their question is very similar:

“What did you learn today?”

The disconcerting thing is that the answer is almost always exactly the same.

“Nothing.”

With some of the work that we are doing in Parkland School Division, we are really trying to engage parents in the learning of their child by opening the door into the classroom.  Through the use of blogs, twitter, and other social media outlets, the question can change to something similar to, “I saw that you were learning about (blank) today; can you tell me more about it?”

Different questions usually get different responses.  Improve the question and you are more likely to get a better answer.

Parent Participation vs Parent Engagement

Although the more parents can have a positive presence in our schools, the more they will build relationships within the school community, engagement is something different.  Children are shown to have a much better chance at success if their parent is actively engaged and reinforces the learning that is happening in the school.  Case in point; if you want to improve your child’s reading, read to them at a young age and model what you want to see.

Yet as students get older, many parents are uncertain about the learning that is happening and feel uncomfortable with the content.  The benefit of a lot of learning in our schools today is that it is not solely focused on learning content, but skills and process which are important aspects in a learner’s development.  Being able to engage in the process with your child, like reading, will help improve their learning.  That type of engagement brings learning to a different level in the home.

Are we becoming illiterate?

One of the most influential articles that I have read was by Will Richardson on the notion of expanding literacy. In it, Will discusses The National Council of Teachers of English definition of “21st Century Literacies”, and how many adults, not just kids, are becoming or illiterate.  For many, the notion of literacy boils down to reading and writing, yet it is much more.

“Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities and social trajectories of individuals and groups.” NCTE

So with that in mind, what are parents doing at home?  Are they creating websites with their children, assessing what is good and bad information, creating videos and podcasts, and so on?  The majority of our students see the Internet as a place of consumption, not creation.  We need to shift that focus.

Mitch Resnick challenged this notion of consumption when he stated:

“We wouldn’t consider someone literate if they could read but couldn’t write. Are we literate if we consume content online, but don’t produce?”

Based on this ever-changing definition, we have to ask, “Are we literate?”

Keeping Kids Safe

People are quick to jump on using these new types of technologies as either “dumbing down” education (David Crystal’s research shows that reading and writing improve through the use of mobile devices as opposed to the other way around) or that kids will be unsafe.   The reality is that schools in partnership with parents, need to guide children to not only be safe, but to leverage these technologies so that children will have opportunities that we did not.

Carlene Oleksyn, a parent and pharmacist, has immersed herself in the use of social media, not only for the benefit of her own learning, but to ensure that she safely guides her children.  In a recent post on her blog titled, “The Talk”, she shares a conversation that she has with her children:

It started like this:

“Boys, when I need to hire someone do you know what one of the first things is I do?”

Nope, they had no idea.

“I google them,” I said. “I see what they post on Facebook, Twitter, blogs. If they have posted anything that is calling someone else down, is sexually inappropriate, or if they’ve made blatantly disrespectful comments on other people’s postings, I would tend not to hire that person.”

The difference between Carlene and many is not this talk, but it is the credibility that Carlene has from immersing herself in using these technologies herself.  By having a Twitter account, blog, amongst  other things, she has learned how to keep safe by stepping out and looking around first, as opposed to simply letting her kids run wild when they reach the age they are allowed to use social media based on a company’s terms of service.

From her experience, she is able to give some very relevant advice:

I think as parents we need to do three things for our kids:

  • Be aware of what our children are doing on the internet

  • Be on sites with them and teach as they go.

  • Be examples with our own digital identity.

Carlene understands that the world is changing, so she is taking advantage of the learning that can be done while helping her children navigate some murky waters to find a much more positive place.  She is setting a high standard for her kids not only through her words, but through her actions.

Concluding Thoughts

Kids existing online is not enough.  Many schools talk about the notion of “digital citizenship” but simply being a “citizen” is not the heights we should be aiming for offline, so why is it online?

Through my work, I have tried to focus on the idea of “Digital Leadership”; the notion of using the technologies that we have to make a positive difference in the lives of others.  I try to model this simply by writing this post and trying to build more awareness of the opportunities that technology affords parents and children in learning.  Some kids are doing amazing things.

Millgrove School was recently highlighted on Global TV for their work on trying to use social media for learning, but by doing good for their community and hoping to inspire others around the globe.  Isn’t that the standard we should be aiming for as school communities?

To be successful, educators do not only need the support of parents, we need their engagement.  The door is opening more every day to your child’s classroom.  Are you ready to step through?

6 Reasons Why You Should Do a “Blog Study”


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by carlos.a.martinez

Talking with good friends Tom and Leah Whitford, we were discussing moving staff forward and some of the conversations that drive our thinking.  As I started to think about how many leaders do “book studies”, and have been moving those conversation back and forth from and online and offline setting, I thought about the notion of having a “blog study”.  I know that administrators like Kathy A. Melton have done this before, but I just wanted to write what this could look like.

For example, look at an educator blog (Bill FerriterWill Richardson or Dean Shareski could be good options) and have teachers subscribe through email to their posts.  As they write, perhaps have a discussion time once a week or month, on things that were stated in the blog, and whether they agree or disagree, and how those ideas apply to your school.  You can host a chat online through something like twitter, or keep them offline if that is what works best for your community.  Ensure that if you do pick a blog, make sure that it is someone that updates consistently and perhaps connect with the blog author and let them know that you are doing a “blog study” on their work.  This is something that you do not have to do with necessarily an educator blog (Seth Godin would be an interesting one), but I think that it would be more applicable to use a blog on education for schools.

Here are some of the reasons this would be beneficial:

  1. Powerful conversations can start from short time commitments.  Books can be very daunting in any profession where time is always at a minimum.  Reading an entire chapter from a book can take a large amount of time yet a post can take you 30 seconds and still spark a powerful idea. It can be a video that is shared, a quote, a podcast, or whatever medium that the author decides to use.  For some, video is a much more powerful medium to receive a message and resonate in an entirely different way than a written post.  The blog format can give educators an opportunity to have some powerful learning in small amounts of time.
  2. Anywhere, anytime, any place learning.  The nice thing about a blog is that I can access it from any device that I have connected to the Internet.  I can literally be sitting at the doctor’s office and read while I am waiting, or at halftime of a basketball game.  As long as I have my device with me, I can connect to that blog.  Although many people enjoy reading paper books, if you are not carrying that book, you don’t have access.  The Kindle app is a great opportunity to have that anywhere, any time, any place learning, but the blog guarantees that access.
  3. You are truly learning as you go with your staff.  There is a reason that administrators choose the books that they do.  They convey a message that the administrator is in total agreement with and they want to share that message with their staff in some manner.  With a blog, you might not necessarily agree with what the author has said on any day, but the discussion that can ensue is where the real learning can occur.  Yes, you will have an idea of how the author writes, but you have no idea what they are going to say.  The learning that can happen there can be truly authentic and real with your staff which could lead to some interesting conversations.
  4. Interactions with the actual author.  One of the biggest benefits of doing a “blog study” over a traditional book study is that you are more likely to be able to interact with the actual author of the blog.  Through the process of commenting, you can ask for clarifications on ideas, push back, challenge, or even thank the author for the idea.  After you read a chapter you disagree with, there is no opportunity for clarification from that author.  What is written is what you are left with.  More authors see the value in connecting through social media with people that read their books, but you are more likely to get a response from someone who is already sharing openly in that space.
  5. Learning can lead to more learning.  Bloggers rarely only share their own ideas, but often the ideas of others.  I have connected with many great blogs, twitter accounts, and articles by reading specific blogger material.  Learning (again) doesn’t stop at what is written on the page, and you can’t click a physical page in a book.  Many authors reference in books some other books that they have read, yet you have to put down the book, grab your computer, do a search, etc.  With a blog, you click and go.  Who knows that this will lead your staff towards.
  6. Teachers can see the power of blogging to start conversations.  The potential of a teacher of every teacher in a study writing a book is slim to nil.  The opportunity of them deciding that they write a blog is considerably higher.  Seeing the power of sharing ideas in different mediums might inspire them to do the same.  It may also encourage them to explore using this same idea with their students.  I was not comfortable starting my own blog until I was able to see what other blogs looked like and how they shared.  This might be the inspiration that others need to start sharing some of their own ideas and inspiration.

There are ways that you can do this online as well as offline.  Creating your own hashtag or blog space to ask questions can help archive your work, and using sites like Storify can help you share your ideas in a single space in an organized manner.  It can also open the study to others outside of your school.

As I go through these points myself, I think there would be a lot of benefits of trying something like this.  Any other thoughts?  Suggestions for blogs to follow that would be good for this kind of learning?  I think that there could be some real power in this type of learning.

Thanks to Kathy A. Melton for the face-to-face conversation that helped me flesh out these ideas.

 

 

 

5 Reasons Your Students Should Blog

Image from Bill Ferriter at: http://teacherleaders.typepad.com/the_tempered_radical/2012/12/what-are-you-doing-to-make-sure-your-students-are-well-googled-1.html

Image from Bill Ferriter (@plugusin)

As a school division, we are deep into developing blogs as portfolios with our students.  To do this with approximately 10,000 students is a major undertaking but the work is important and I really believe that students should have a space to share and reflect on the work. This should not be unique, but the standard.

With that being said, as a school division we have decided to use a blogging platform (Edublogs)  for student portfolios, as it can be used both as a “learning portfolio” (here is what I am learning right now) and a “showcase portfolio” (here is my best stuff).  Through my own experience both blogging, and using my blog as a portfolio, I have seen some powerful benefits of blogging that would directly benefit our students.

  1. Open Reflection – How many times do we actually just sit down and take time to reflect on what we have learned? How many times do we go to a conference and it is speaker after speaker after speaker, with no time to sit down and reflect on what we have learned?  Instead of simply dumping information into our brains, we have to take time to think about what we are learning and make meaningful connections.  Blogging has been hugely beneficial in doing this for myself because I have seen the benefit of sitting down, writing, and reflecting on what I have learned while also learning to create an emotional connection to the information.  Through being totally open, I have had the opportunity to learn from the comments and advice of others as well, which has helped me refine my own ideas.  By allowing our students to openly reflect, we do not only see what they learn, but they can learn from each other as well.
  2. Developing Literacy with Different Mediums – Blogging is a great way to write and share ideas, but there are many other ways that students can share content through this platform.  Using a site like SoundCloud can give students an easy opportunity to share their actual voice with the world. YouTube is an obvious one, but even presentations through SlideShare are helpful to tell stories in many different ways.  The nice thing about a blog is that basically anything with an embed code can be placed into that space.  This gives many different opportunities for students to share their voice while becoming fluent in “21st century literacies“.
  3. Student Voice – Building upon the last point, giving students a space to share their voice is extremely important.  Blogging should not only be “school related” but “learning related”.  In a blog, you may learn a lot about not only what students are learning in school, but what they are passionate about and hopefully how we could serve them better as educators.  In a world where everyone can have a voice, isn’t essential that we teach students how to use this powerful medium to share theirs in a meaningful way?
  4. Creating an Open Archive of Learning – At any point, I can go back to the beginning of my blog and see where I have learned.  Almost 600 posts later, I can see how I have grown and what my thought process has become and how has it developed.  I have seen the power of this by recently looking at my Twitter archives, but that is in only 140 characters.  Through my blog, I am able to look more in depth into what I have learned, and if I tag and categorize it properly, I am easily able to google my own work, as can anyone else.  The opportunity to search that this medium provides makes it a lot easier to go back and revisit what I have learned in the past, as opposed to flipping through notebook after notebook, trying to find something extremely specific.  Can you imagine googling your work from your childhood?
  5. Developing a Positive Digital Footprint – Recently I spoke to a university class on the notion of developing their digital footprint, and I simply suggested that they learn openly, and their footprint will happen.  It has been suggested by Will Richardson that our students should be able to be “positive google”, by their name, by the time they graduate and I would totally agree.  What are we doing as a school to promote a positive footprint?  I wish that I could say that I had the foresight that when I first started blogging that this would happen, but after doing it for several years, I realized that this is only one, albeit very important side-effect of writing a blog.

To be honest, not every student will take to blogging the way that we envision as teachers, and to be honest, that is okay.  If we make them do it the way we think it should be done, they might have trouble adopting this past the school setting.  That being said, if we do give them the freedom to write or share not only what they are interested in, but also share it how they like, it could develop into something very powerful that will also give them an authentic audience.

Why do you believe students should blog? If they aren’t, why not?

Just give me the fish!


cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by CollegeDegrees360

“We have to stop thinking of an education as something that is delivered to us and instead see it as something we create for ourselves.” Stephen Downes

Traveling around and speaking at conferences, I have peeked my head into several sessions and try to figure out which ones have the highest attendance.  One of the things that I have noticed is that if a session gives you something that you can use on Monday to do with the kids, they are most likely packed.  I remember as a teacher going to conferences, I wanted the exact same thing.

I don’t have time to learn how to fish… just give me the fish!

Unfortunately, I am unable to give those sessions anymore.  To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I gave a session that focused on “teaching” as much as it did “learning”.  Helping educators connect and learn in a way that will help them long term has been my goal, especially since one of the things that I have focused on in leadership has been building capacity.  When I think of the term “leadership capacity”, I do not think of building the future principals of the world, but to help others become servant leaders.  Helping them find ways to help others.  For us to understand what our students go through, should we not try to understand how they learn?

One of the reasons that many people would much prefer going to the session that just gives them stuff “Monday ready” is due to the lack of time.  Curriculum can become overwhelming and teachers do a lot more than simply teach their kids from 9-3:30.  What I hope to see is that teachers, don’t look at what they have learned from one of my sessions and totally transform their work in one day; meaningful change takes time and your experience matters.  If I can help teachers think about how they learn, and what makes them passionate about learning, over time, could that not change the way that their students learn?  I am not going to give you “50 Apps for Your iPad” to use with students; those apps will become boring and then what are you left with?  To transform our teaching, we will have to rethink how we and our students can learn in this world.

Doing sessions at convention and outright telling people that they will have to continue working on their learning after this session can be a daunting thing.  If they do follow up and spend the time connecting with others and sharing their learning, the impact can become transformational, both personally and professionally.  I have experienced this first hand as a learner when people took the time to guide me through Twitter and blogging and sat with me patiently, waiting for me to have my own lightbulb moment.

Every once in awhile though, I see tweets like this that know this focus on learning, can have a huge impact:

The quote that has always stuck out to me is this one from Will Richardson, and it will continue to drive the work that I do:

Meaningful change ain’t gonna happen for our kids if we’re not willing to invest in it for ourselves first. At the heart, it’s not about schools…it’s about us.

If we as educators continue to focus on our learning first, won’t we become better teachers?

The “Flipped” Classroom and Transforming Education

Recently, I wrote a post regarding some ideas that I did not believe that would transform school culture.  Although most agreed on two of the ideas that I shared, there was a large contingent of educators that argued regarding the “flip” and are very passionate about what it can do for the classroom (one even referred to me as a “nut” for even suggesting this!).

Also, Forbes magazine talked about the Khan Academy and the “flipped classroom” being one of the most important stories of 2012.  Whether it was inspired by Salman Khan or by educators, it has certainly stirred a movement:

Entire school districts are now reworking their curriculum, pedagogy, classroom structure and technology around Khan Academy videos. The net result of these changes is that students in Khan-centered schools don’t watch Khan videos in the classroom. They watch them at home. They use classroom time to do homework under the active supervision of their teacher (who serves as more of a learning lab tutor/coach) and fellow students (who, in technologically advanced classrooms, are digitally flagged when a classmate needs help). In perfectly melding with the collaborative learning ethos of the iGeneration, the Khan Academy has not only flipped the classroom, it’s flipped how we look at education.

As I see how passionate educators are regarding this idea, I can definitely see why it has merit.  I also believe that this is something for some of our students, not all.  I think back to hearing about the importance of “hands on” activities for learning, yet I know many students where that is not the best way that they learn.  Even the notion that all students have to have “collaborative” skills in our world, yet there are many careers now and in the future where someone can work outside of a “group” environment.  There is some important in students being able to have choice.  It seems that we are too often looking for a “standardardized” solution for a “personalized” problem.  Students need to have options and choice.

The Year of the Learner

Will Richardson wrote a powerful comment on my own blog talking about 2013 being the “year of the learner”, and it has deeply resonated with me:

My point is that if we keep seeing the point of school through the lens of “teaching,” nothing will be “transformed” in the sense that Papert talks about or in the sense that I think you mean it (though people’s bar for transformation is certainly varied.) Not saying we don’t need teachers…we need teachers who are masters at developing kids as learners who are adept at sense making around their own goals. Teachers who are focused on helping students develop the dispositions and literacies required to succeed regardless of subject or content or curriculum.

This moment is all about learners having an amazing new freedom to learn, not teachers having an amazing new freedom to teach. I’d love to see 2013 all about making that shift in our thinking around education.

As we continue to move forward, I agree that the “Flipped Classroom” and the use of Khan videos can be transformational for some students, but not all.  The focus there is not necessarily on the learner, but about the teacher.  Just like the idea that computers are great for many kids, but again, not all.  The opportunities afforded by a computer opens up many avenues for learning, but just handing a device to a kid does not change how they learn.

We need to do more.   

I agree with Will’s sentiments that as we move forward this year, we have to not get caught up on new ideas to implement in the classroom, but really connecting with our students, learning about them, and helping them to learn the way that works for them (the student), not us (the teacher).

Almost three year ago I wrote about the qualities that make a “master teacher”, and my first point was not about an idea, but about connecting with students:

“For all students to excel, teachers must learn about them and connectwith each child.  This is not just about finding out how they learn, but it is finding out who they are.  It is essential that we get to know our students, learn their passions, and help them find out how we can engage them in their own learning.  If you are not able to do this as a teacher, the (other) characteristics will be moot.”

Want to transform education?  We are going to have to do it one learner at a time because each and every kid we serve deserves that.