Tag Archives: Will Richardson

3 Questions to Drive Passion Based Learning

What will I learn?

What will I solve?

What will I create?

These three questions are ones that could create some amazing passion based learning opportunities for our students, and help shape them as learners as much or more than any curriculum could in the year.  They are not something that you only necessarily have to do answer only once in a year, but they will help to shape some of the learning that your students will create for themselves throughout the year.  I will go further into detail on each one.

1. What will I learn? 

Years ago, watching John Medina speak, the writer of “Brain Rules“, he shared the idea of the importance of content in learning.  He shared the analogy of learning to play the guitar and how basically not knowing how to play the chords would actually lead to simply mimicking playing the air guitar.  Our learning of knowledge is important for us to create from it.  You may know how to play the chords, but eventually creating music could be the goal.  What is important in this process is having the opportunity to learn something that you are interested in.

In Josh Kaufman’s talk on “The First 20 Hours to Learn Anything“, he talks about how we can learn basically how to do anything within 20 hours.  You might not be at the top of your field as shared in the notion of “10,000 hours”, (although if you google “10,000 hours” you will find that this might be a myth), but you will have a good understanding of this.  a “20 hour project”, could be something where students have the opportunity to learn something that they are interested in, without the pressure of solving the world’s problems.  Content is much more engaging to explore when we are actually interested in the topic.

Things that students will need to consider in this opportunity is not only where they will find information but who will teach them? This could give students the opportunity to learn to network and connect with others to help share ideas that they want to learn about.  This could create some very powerful learning opportunities for our students.

 

2. What will I solve?

Ewan McIntosh’s thoughts on “Problem Finders” has long been pushing my thinking not only for education, but innovation.  In his post, he shares the following idea on the topic:

Currently, the world’s education systems are crazy about problem-based learning, but they’re obsessed with the wrong bit of it. While everyone looks at how we could help young people become better problem-solvers, we’re not thinking how we could create a generation of problem finders.

Thinking about this, students could look at problems that they can find within the school, local, or even global community, and share how they have solved it.  Sharing ideas such as “capstone projects”, where students pose a problem that they are trying to solve and then share how they learned it, could be a powerful way to really influence not only innovation and entrepreneurship in our students, but also help them to develop empathy for others.  Whey they have the chance to try and see problems from the perspective of others, that does not help them develop as learners, but also as better people.

3. What will I create?

Will Richardson shared a quote from Gary Stager regarding “making across the curriculum“:

“When school leaders tell me “our school is building a $25 million Makerspace,” I am concerned that Makerspaces may exacerbate educational iniquity. While there are expensive pieces of hardware that may need to be secured, I want the bulk of making to permeate every corner of a school building and every minute of the school day. Teachers whose Makerspace is in a few cardboard boxes are doing brilliant work. Making across the curriculum means students as novelists, mathematicians, historians, composers, artists, engineers–rather than being the recipient of instruction.” Gary Stager

With this in mind, students should have the opportunity to create something of interest to them, and share that process.  This could be in any field, whether it is inventing a process or product, composing music, developing a health initiative, or writing a novel.  This is an opportunity for a student to develop the “Innovator’s Mindset“, and go much deeper than learning, but going to where the magic happens in creation.

If we embraced and worked with our students on these three questions, it would be amazing to watch them develop as learners.  What would be crucial in all three of these questions is the opportunity to constantly reflect on each one throughout the year and have opportunities to create documentation which would not only create evidence of learning, but show growth over time. This could be done through audio, video, written, or whatever the student felt comfortable with, but there would definitely be a benefit in the reflections being accessible to more than simply the teacher.

There would be lots of logistics in creating opportunities for these three opportunities to come to life, and as educators, that it is why it is imperative to be innovators ourselves. We will have to take what we work with, and create opportunities for our students where learning is truly meaningful and powerful for them; great teachers find a way.

Three Questions To Drive Passion Based Learning

3 Long Term Opportunities For Schools Today

After a conference, there is the thought that many need something they can do right away with students.  The demands of being a teacher, while also keep opportunities “fresh”, is something that lends to this way of thinking.  If you go to any conference, there will be a ton of “apps” shared of cool things you can do, but often times, the learning with this is more novelty than depth. Learning that empowers and makes an impact takes thoughtful leadership at all levels, as well as vision.  It also sometimes not only takes a “village”, but the vision of the village to come together.

With that being said, I have been focusing on some initiatives that are new(ish) in some schools, that will need communities to come together. Obviously, ideas like leadership and sharing mutual respect for others, as well as appreciating and celebrating both our similarities and differences, are crucial to our school environments.  Powerful learning does not happen in schools without a focus on relationships and community.

Here are three initiatives that will take time, effort, and community to make happen at the systemic level.

1. A focus on digital citizenship/leadership.  

Slide_WellGoogled

This above image created by Bill Ferriter, quoting Will Richardson, is one that has made a significant impact on my thinking.  I have often asked educators, if a fight broke out, which subject area teacher would deal with it? They look at me as if I am crazy, and then I mention that is much how we treat the notion of digital citizenship. This is on all of us.

I recently shared the idea of “3 Things Students Should Have Before They Leave High School“, but often remind educators that this is not something that starts in high school, but should be part of the fabric of our schools at all levels.  This is either in modelling or helping students create.  This is not to say that students all have to be using social media, but at least the option is there to ensure that the understand the implications of a positive, negative, or neutral footprint.

Stephen Downes commented on this idea, and I loved his thoughts:

I get the general idea, and support it, but I think the description is way too narrow. I’d rather see people have much more than an about.me page and personal portfolio – I think they should have a wider online presence with credentials, tools, artifacts, and whatever else they need. The same with a social network – but not just a ‘social network’ but wide-ranging interactions with people inside and outside their own field.

I couldn’t agree with him more, but definitely believe there needs to be a starting point and emphasis on teaching this in schools.  The shift from “digital citizenship” to simply “citizenship” (since technology is just part of our world) probably won’t happen without putting an emphasis and placing some of these ideas at the forefront.  This is not the work of “specialty” educators, but something we all have a responsibility towards.

2. Digital Portfolios

Building upon the first idea, I think there is a huge power in “Digital Portfolios” to not only help build a footprint, but transform practices in learning and assessment. We have often seen learning in “chunks” in school practice (grade two to grade three, etc.), but is something that is continuous and messy.

Years ago, I wrote a comprehensive plan on the “blogs as digital portfolios“, and really explored the impact it could have on helping connecting learning throughout the school and amongst different subject areas.  This should not be limited to any specific class or grade level, but something that actually becomes an opportunity to not only reflect, create, and connect, but also helps to provide authentic examples of student owned learning.  That being said, if we are to be successful with this type of opportunity, it would make a huge impact if educators had their own versions of digital portfolios, to really understand the impact this could have learning.  This is a “barrier” that could easily become an opportunity.

3. Embracing the Innovator’s Mindset

For any of these things to happen, or other opportunities, we need to embrace a mindset that is open to conducive learning, while also helping to develop it in our students. The “innovator’s mindset” is defined by the following:

Innovator's Mindset

 

With ideas such as genius hour, maker spaces, innovation day/week, and a whole myriad of other ideas for powerful creation to connect learning, it is important that we think differently about learning, and help develop that mindset with our students.

I love this idea from the Center for Accelerated Learning on learning as “creation”:

Learning is Creation, Not Consumption. Knowledge is not something a learner absorbs, but something a learner creates. Learning happens when a learner integrates new knowledge and skill into his or her existing structure of self. Learning is literally a matter of creating new meanings, new neural networks, and new patterns of electro/chemical interactions within one’s total brain/body system.

Krissy Venosdale also shared a powerful image on what “learning” looks like.

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 9.04.23 PM

This mindset should not be limited to our students, but to all of those involved in education.

 

To achieve these goals in a meaningful way, we have to realize that it will take a whole community approach, and cannot be left to the few to achieve.  This takes a change in mindset while also creating the need for leadership to remove barriers to unleash talent which leads to innovative opportunities.  What I believe is the real power of these initiatives, is that these ideas I have shared are not an endpoint, but only a beginning. When we create a culture of sharing, innovative flourishes. Embracing the idea that everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learnerand that these roles will change multiple times daily, is the only way that any initiative will truly succeed in our schools today.

What do we lose?

 

“We must never assume that an appeal to the masses represents illiteracy. In fact, it implies a high degree of literacy. And in the new century, that increasingly means visual media.” Stephen Apkon

Greystone Centennial Middle School is hosting their fifth “Innovation Week” (if you want to learn more, connect with Jesse McLean on Twitter), where students suggest things they want to learn, create, make, during the week, and have time to explore and develop.  In the last week before holidays, it is amazing how engaged the learning is within the school.  It is a pretty powerful experience for students and it is a glimpse in what school could look like all of the time, not just  a couple of weeks.  From the work that is happening at the school, I know the experience has shaped and reshaped the learning that is happening year round.

As I walked around looking at what the students were doing, I saw one student using a program that I had never seen before called “Blender” in which he was designing a prototype for a car.  It kind of blew me away to see what he was doing and how he was doing it, because I guessed that no one showed him how to use the software before.  When I asked him how he learned to use it, he just simply replied with one word; “YouTube”.

I was quickly reminded of this Will Richardson quote:

I don’t disagree that a lot of professional development monies are wasted. 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.

The student wanted to learn about the program, so he went and learned about the program.  This is not in this case, but in so many, whether it is learning how to play an instrument, do a dance, or build something new.  There is a ton of learning opportunities out there, they just might not all be related to the curriculum.  Is our job to teach students how to learn a curriculum, or our students how to learn?  Maybe it is more a combination of both, but more importantly, it is the latter.

I then started to think about how so many schools have blocked sites like YouTube because of all the “distractions” that are on the site.  I admit, I can get lost surfing the web and it is easy to get sucked into something totally different than what you first started looking for, but we lose so much when we take such a robust platform full of information away from our kids.

“Among the more than three billion videos watched each day on sites such as YouTube, there is undoubtedly a lot of garbage. But in what medium is there not?” Stephen Apkon

(As I wrote the above paragraph, I thought about how we have so many books in a library that are simply there for the pleasure of the reading, yet we wouldn’t pull out every novel and replace it with non-fiction, because we see reading is directly correlated to learning, whether it is for the purpose of school or not.  Is there a parallel to the videos we consume as well?)

I know that video sites can become a distraction, not only for kids, but adults as well.  It is rare that there are only positives with any form of technology and I wonder what we lose when we block sites like YouTube (and a myriad of other sites that have a lot to do with learning and maybe not so much to do with school), not only from the perspective of preparing kids for the world we all live in,  but also for the powerful learning that can take place. I can guarantee that if I looked hard enough today, I could have found a student using it and being totally off-task from what they were working on. It is obvious that still exists. But if we looked at sites like YouTube as a library filled with knowledge that we still have to teach our students to navigate, would schools still thinking about banning it from their students?

Credibility in the Conversation

Educators tend to listen to other educators.  It is not that we are not open to listening to people outside of the education realm, but being a part of a school and understanding the intricacies of what teachers deal with is important for perspective.

I have heard before, during, and after talks educators not to excited about a message from a “non-educator” because of those important details that they tend to miss.  Learning is one aspect of our job, but if you are working with so many students that each are so unique in their own way. a lot of ideas shared are not as simple as they may seem to someone who has never taught a classroom full of children.  Although we should always be open to different perspectives, I think it is fair that we tend to connect more with someone who has done the work.

So when so many people are giving young people suggestions on how they use technology, the “do’s and don’ts” (they are more often don’ts from what I have seen), and ideas on social media without ever using it, I wonder if kids see us with the same lens of “credibility” that we tend to use with others outside the field.

I remember this older post by Will Richardson on “Balance” and how we often tell kids that they are out of balance because they use too much technology when they might see adults as out of balance because they do not use it enough.

I just wonder if the same credibility from experience that so many people value (in all professions, not just education) is something that young people consider as well?

If you have no idea what SnapChat is or how to use it, do you think a kid really cares when we say that they shouldn’t use it?

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?