Maybe Not Tomorrow, but When?

I just read a great post by Alice Keeler, titled “In the Real World“, where she discusses the irony of the idea that schools need to prepare students for the “real world”, yet many of the things that happen in our schools do not necessarily mirror the current realities of the world we  live in at the moment.  Here is a sample of some of what she listed as the world’s current realities:

In the real world, we look things up on Google.

In the real world, YouTube is one of the most popular tools for learning.

In the real world, collaborating is not cheating.

In the real world, finding information on the internet is a resource.

In the real world, my job does not ask me things I can Google. I need to use critical thinking.

In the real world, I use my phone for everything.

It is a great post meant to push thinking, and she even crowdsources more ideas, if you are so inclined to add your own.

This being said, I am not about absolutes.  In my own experience, I have seen more schools open up sites like YouTube, and encourage students to not only bring their mobile devices, but encourage them to use them in meaningful ways for learning.  There is a definite shift happening in education. Yet I am sometimes baffled how one organization can block things like YouTube stating that it is unsafe for students to have access, while other organizations in nearby areas have the same site open.  I always wonder why they don’t just talk to each other?

There are many schools that are starting to understand that they are closing powerful learning opportunities down for their students, and they want to get to the place where students are encouraged to bring their own devices, or free up access to social media and sites like YouTube to create powerful and collaborative learning opportunities.  My advice to them? Don’t do it tomorrow, but you need to set a date of when you want to create some of these opportunities.

What is important to understand that simply flicking a switch and unblocking opportunities from students does not mean anything will change about the teaching and learning in the organization.  It should not be teaching plus a mobile device, but it should significantly change the way learning looks like in the organization.  Why I am adamant that there is a time frame is that we do not ignore and constantly put tomorrow out of reach.

For example, I created the following “rubric” on whether your school’s digital citizenship practice is a “pass or fail”.

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In reality, this is not meant to be an evaluative tool as much as it is a conversation starter and guide.  One possible way you can use this is to have a discussion on where you want to be, how you are going to get there, and when you are going to be there by.  Obviously nothing is perfect, but having a date creates an accountability to not only yourselves, but your students.

As John C. Maxwell says, “change is inevitable, but growth is optional”. As we manage change, it is necessary to have the critical conversations to not necessarily get to where we need to be (because it is a constantly moving target in education as it is with all organizations) but to move forward.  Each community is unique, and differentiation is not just for students and teachers, but schools as well.  Creating a plan of how to move to the next step is paramount if we are to take advantage of the opportunities for innovative learning that lay in front of us.

Closing Our Eyes in the Pursuit of Innovation

Just as I was finishing a presentation in Minnesota a few years ago, I knocked a glass of water over onto my computer and completely fried my computer.  Even though I had a presentation the next morning, I wasn’t that concerned because I knew that I had everything on either dropbox of google drive, and everything was saved.  What was important at that moment was that I had access to my presentation for the next day.

I went to the Apple store, and was able to get a new computer, and while my hard drive was working, I knew the old computer wouldn’t work for the presentation.  My presentation was over 1gb and as the people and Apple and myself, all comfortable with technology, waited for it to move over from Dropbox to my account, it seemed painfully slow.  We tried to figure out ways to move the file over using other cloud services, such as Google Drive, or other cloud storage sites.  No matter what we were doing, it was not uploading.  As the store was about to close, and my presentation was not completing the upload, I started freaking out.  After three hours of waiting, I turned to the other three people I was with and said, “Do any of you have a USB stick?”  One minute later, my presentation was uploaded and I was on my way.

In the pursuit to be “innovative” and use the latest and greatest, we miss the obvious answer right in front of us.  Sometimes the best way is the most direct, yet we can easily complicate things.  Far too many people in leadership try to overcomplicate ideas, yet the ability to simplify is often the easiest route to success.  One of the most important qualities of being innovative is having the ability to find the simplest route to solve a problem, not the “coolest”.

Let’s not ignore the direct route when it is right in front of us.

Building Relationships Through the Use of Technology

What do you want leaders to do with tech?

This graphic above that I  created with Bill Ferriter is something that I hope sparks conversations, but also stories of how these things are already happening in schools.  I am going to use it as a guide to show how technology can enhance, amplify, and accelerate leadership. I encourage others to share their stories from one of the “better answers” above.

Building Relationships

As I was at an admin meeting as a principal, and listening to something that really had nothing to do with the my own school or building, I remember usually using this time to catch up on email.  Since I had to stay at the meeting, I thought that I would use this time in a valuable way.  One time though, I decided that I would read student blogs since they had just started.  I was blown away by some of the things that kids were writing, so I decided to comment and share some of my thoughts with them.  This was a great way for me to connect with our students while I was out of the building and get a glimpse into their learning.

What I didn’t realize was the impact that this would have on our students.  I remember coming back to school and seeing a few of the students that I commented on their blogs and it felt like they were ready to throw a parade for me.  It was amazing at how excited they were that I simply commented on their blog, but then I thought about it.  I would have been so excited if my principal would have done the same thing when I was a student, but the reality is that when I was a kid that it didn’t exist.  Many of the students appreciated the time that I took to write something simple to them and acknowledge not only what they were creating and sharing, but also how hard they were working.

After this experience, I went out of my way to comment to as many of my teacher and student blogs, no matter what they had shared.  Reading a blog is beneficial to the reader, but commenting actually really connected to the person willing to share their thoughts. Even if it was a simple announcement of something that happened in the classroom, taking the time to read and, more importantly, comment, helped to create better connections when I saw the people trying something new in person. I would not hide myself in my office and comment to student or teacher blogs, but would do this when I had some down time, as I tried to connect in person as much as I could when I was in the building.

What I have truly believed is that technology isn’t meant to replace face-to-face interactions, but if anything, it can enhance them.  Those couple of minutes of commenting, actually created something where my students showed that they appreciated my effort, and I theirs.  Being able to show that you value someone, even from afar, is still showing them they are valued.

Technology used in these meaningful ways can create connections that we might not have necessarily been able to create from afar before.

Don’t Over Plan Day One

Leaders Today

Lately, I have been doing more and more workshops starting with nothing on my agenda.  I have a topic that I suggest we talk about and an idea of what we can work on, but what I have noticed is that we never stick to the agenda as a group, so why am I spending an inordinate amount of time putting something together that we are not doing.  My focus does not start with the learning, but with the learners.  Their questions and thoughts now lead the session, not only what I think they should learn.  Although, I don’t over plan my sessions, I believe that my understanding of the topic allows me to go in different directions.  That being said though, I will never know everything on any topic, whether I am deemed an expert or not, but because of this crazy invention called the “Internet”, and all of the people that are in the room, I know we can figure out whatever we need for that time.

As I thought about this process, I connected it to my first days of school as a teacher, when I first started my career in education. It was basically the exact opposite.  I would spend days preparing my classroom and decorating it, and even though, I would say it is “our classroom”, the items on the walls were my choice.  I would even have each child’s name written down as a welcome on a basketball, because I wanted them to feel welcome.  The problem is, the basketball was about what I loved, not what they loved.  If you hated playing sports, and you walked into a classroom that featured your name on a basketball, you might not feel very welcomed at all.

Then came the icebreaker activities.  If you are an introvert, day one is going to be extremely tough for you, because we are going to make you get up, walk around, ask and answer questions that totally make you feel uncomfortable, because the student being uncomfortable doing something they hate, is not as important as me feeling safe that the entire day is planned out with things to do.

Wrong.

What if you wanted to learn the student’s names, you asked them to create their own art to display it on which represents something they love?

Instead of decorating the room with what you think should be on the walls, ask the students what they would like the room to look like, and plan how you could shape and decorate it, over time.

Instead of planning the entire day, why not create opportunities to talk to them and learn about them, and get a feel for what your year, or even the day could look like?

If I really think about how the year started for me as a teacher, it was more about the students to get to know me, than it was about me getting to know them.  There actually should be a balance.  Trust and respect are reciprocal feelings; they are not earned only from one direction.

This is not to say don’t plan anything, but to really think about the tone you are setting at the beginning of the year with what you are doing.  Is this more about you, or the students?  Looking back at my own practices, the answer was definitive.  I am trying to get better.

The major shift here is from engagement to empowerment.  I wanted to make sure the students had enjoyed their day, but now I see the importance in not only saying that it is their room, but making it their room.  If we want to create the leaders of tomorrow, there is no better time to develop our students as leaders than today.

Simple Words

I love seeing the different things shared at “opening days” for schools and districts. I have learned so much from experiencing this and it is a great opportunity for people not only to connect, but also set a tone for the year and hopefully fuel inspiration.

Today as I sat and observed opening day in Mcalester, Oklahoma, I was inspired by the “vision” that set the background for the year, that shows schools shifting in a much more “empowered” direction.

What I have also noticed more now than ever, is districts are tapping into the power of student voice to kick off the year.  Who better to set the tone for what we do in a school year than the people we are ultimately there for.  I have seen this more and more, and am always inspired, but today, the young lady that addressed her teachers was so unbelievably inspiring.

What really resonated with me, was her openly emotional speech sharing the impact of her teachers. Within moments, her passion brought me to tears and created such an excitement within me for our future as I could see it so brightly in this student. She talked about how her teachers empowered her to be the leader she is today, so that she can continue to be a leader in the future.

The simple tweet I shared above, followed by my own comments to the entire audience about how inspiring her and her peers were, was a simple acknowledgment of how powerful her words were.  I never thought much of it, because I just said what I felt.  But by the end of my talk, a teacher had approached me, and profusely thanked me for my comments on her daughter (I had no idea her mom was there), telling me that they had experienced a tough year and that it truly meant a lot.  She was very emotional and extremely grateful for my kind words.

It was yet another reminder, that if we have the opportunity to say something kind and sincere, we should, always.  You never know what simple words you share, can mean the entire world to someone else, whether it is a student, a colleague, a family member, or anyone. One moment can sometimes make all of the difference.

Change Agent vs. Change Advocate

Change Agent (1)

In 2013, I wrote an article about the “5 Characteristics of a Change Agent”, with the characteristics and descriptions below:

1.  Clear Vision – A “change agent” does not have to be the person in authority, but they do however have to have a clear vision and be able to communicate that clearly with others.  Where people can be frustrated is if they feel that someone is all over the place on what they see as important and tend to change their vision often.  This will scare away others as they are not sure when they are on a sinking ship and start to looking for ways out.  It is essential to note that a clear vision does not mean that there is one way to do things; in fact, it is essential to tap into the strengths of the people you work with and help them see that there are many ways to work toward a common purpose.

2. Patient yet persistent – Change does not happen overnight and most people know that.  To have sustainable change that is meaningful to people, it is something that they will have to embrace and see importance.  Most people need to experience something before they really understand that, and that is especially true in schools.  With that being said, many can get frustrated that change does not happen fast enough and they tend to push people further away from the vision, then closer.  The persistence comes in that you will take opportunities to help people get a step closer often when they are ready, not just giving up on them after the first try.  I have said continuously that schools have to move people from their point ‘A’ to their point ‘B’not have everyone move at the same pace. Every step forward is a step closer to a goal; change agents just help to make sure that people are moving ahead.

3. Asks tough questions – It would be easy for someone to come in and tell you how things should be, but again that is someone else’s solution.  When that solution is someone else’s, there is no accountability to see it through.  It is when people feel an emotional connection to something is when they will truly move ahead.  Asking questions focusing on, “What is best for kids?”, and helping people come to their own conclusions based on their experience is when you will see people have ownership in what they are doing.  Keep asking questions to help people think, don’t alleviate that by telling them what to do.

4.  Knowledgeable and leads by example – Stephen Covey talked about the notion that leaders have “character and credibility”; they are not just seen as good people but that they are also knowledgeable in what they are speaking about.  Too many times, educators feel like their administrators have “lost touch” with what is happening in the classroom, and many times they are right.  Someone who stays active in not necessarily teaching, but active in learning and working with learners and can show by example what learning can look like now will have much more credibility with others.  If you want to create “change”, you have to not only be able to articulate what that looks like, but show it to others. I have sat frustrated often listening to many talk about “how kids learn today” but upon closer look, the same speakers do not put themselves in the situation where they are actually immersing themselves in that type of learning.  How can you really know how “kids learn” or if something works if you have never experienced it?

5. Strong relationships built on trust – All of the above, means nothing if you do not have solid relationships with the people that you serve.  People will not want to grow if they do not trust the person that is pushing the change.  The change agents I have seen are extremely approachable and reliable.  You should never be afraid to approach that individual based on their “authority” and usually  they will go out of their way to connect with you.

What is most important about all of these characteristics, is the last point on relationships.  There is a difference between a “change agent” and a “change advocate”.  If you hold the first four qualities on this list only, you are someone advocating for change, but not necessarily making it happen.  All the vision and knowledge in the world means nothing if we are not able to connect with others; it is the equivalent of shouting into the wind.  Having the fifth quality focused on relationships, is what makes someone a “change agent”.  The only way to help people move forward is by building relationships and understanding where their journey begins, not focusing solely on where you want them to be.

Why I focus on #DigitalLeadership Instead of Cyberbullying

When we constantly talk to kids about cyberbullying, what ideas are we putting into their heads? We have a constant focus on “here is what you can’t do”” as opposed to here is what you can do?

For years, I have been writing about the concept of Digital Leadership, and shared this definition in 2013:

Using the vast reach of technology (especially the use of social media) to improve the lives, well-being, and circumstances of others.

This little video reminds us how small actions can not only improve the lives of others, but they can easily spread.  That influence on others is a powerful trait of leadership, and something we should focus on when talking to our students.  It is not about what we can’t do, but more importantly, what we can. This belief in ourselves and our students can make all of the difference.

The “Basics” and Innovation

I heard a story once that really resonated with me (I will share it as best as I can from memory), in where an artist is creating art on the street, and a person walks by and wants a picture drawn of themselves.  The artist shares the price of fifty dollars to the patron, to which they agree, and so they start to draw.  Ten minutes later, the artist completes the beautiful piece that is so amazingly creative.  Even though the patron is very happy with the creativity and the high quality of the piece, they challenge the cost of fifty dollars, believing that something that took such a short time to create should not have the high price tag.  The artist responded, it took me ten years to be able to do it in ten minutes; much of the work that I have done to be able to draw this picture so quickly, you have never seen.

This story really resonated with me as I was reading article after article tonight about the battle between the “basics” versus “innovation” in education.  It seems that you may be on one side or the other, but here I lie in the middle.  To be able to be innovative in any area, there often needs to be a fundamental understanding of basic concepts.  To be a great musician, at some point, you would have had to learn some basic concepts of music.  The speed that you may have learned them in can vary from person to person, but you learn them.  The best writers in the world at some point learned how to read and write.  There are always exceptions to the rule, and I am sure that the real life Matt Damon from the movie “Good Will Hunting” exists, but this is not the norm.

I believe that the “basics” in many areas are still important in our world, and maybe sometimes I guess that is an assumed notion. But I also think that many students didn’t learn the “basics” in the way they were taught when I went to school.  I think about those students and then how we have access to so much information in our world from educators, parents, students, and communities, that the opportunities to help as many kids as possible is something that we need to access and capitalize upon.  But I also think about my own experience in school, and even though in grades one to probably around grade seven, my marks were usually in the top three of all students in my classroom, yet I never felt smart enough because I wasn’t ever number one.  Being ranked in school continuously led me to the Ricky Bobby belief that “if you’re not first, you’re last”, and I kind of mailed it in for the rest of the time as my student, was barely accepted in university, and struggled academically for years.  I knew the basics but never really saw myself becoming anything.  I never saw myself as a writer, a mathematician, a scientist, or anything academic.  And do you know why I went to university?  Because my parents made me go.  Not because I had an epiphany when I was six years old that I was going to be a teacher and did everything to get to that point.  My parents expected me to go to university so I did, and after four years of floating around, I then decided to go into education.  I took six years to get a four year degree.

So why did I do well in my first years of school? To please my teachers.

Why did I get through university? To please my parents.

And why did I become a teacher? Because I didn’t really know what else to do.

At about the age of 31, was the first time I identified myself as an educator not by profession, but by passion.  That took someone tapping into my strengths and interests, and helping me see those things in myself.

At about age 35 is when I first viewed myself as truly a learner. And now five years later, I am starting to see myself as a writer.  In eighteen years of school as a student, writing paper after paper, I never once saw myself as a writer, but at the age of 35 where I felt I could finally explore my own passions, did I even start to really go deep into my own learning.  And after almost 1000 posts am I starting to see myself as a writer.  I am thankful that I have found a love for what I do, and I do not see it as a “job” but as part of my being.  That is a beautiful thing.

Did my experience of school help me get here?  Absolutely, and I am thankful to so many teachers who spent so much time helping me to create the opportunities that I have today.  Without those “basics”, that were not only reinforced in my education, but also at home, amongst a myriad of other factors, I would not be doing what I am doing today.  The question I have though is why didn’t I see myself as those things earlier? More importantly, as an educator, how do I help students see themselves in that light as well.  Believe me, as someone who believes powerfully in the notion of “innovation in education”, I still cringe at spelling mistakes.  I hate them.  I would love kids to be able to know their times tables, not simply discount them as something a calculator will do for them.  But here is the thing…You might know how to read and write, but that doesn’t make a you writer.  If you are a writer though, you know how to read and write; that’s a given.

As I think about the next time someone challenges me with the question, “what about the basics?”, my thought is that there are so many educators that not only want that for our students, but so much more.  My parents came to Canada not to provide the same opportunities that they had back in Greece, but to create something better.  That is my drive as an educator; to create a better version of school than what I experienced.  It is not that I think less of my own  teachers as a student, but that I want to build on what they have done.  My hope is that the future teachers of the world will not recreate what this generation has done, but make something so much better.  Is that not our wish for each generation? To do better than what we have done?

What made the artist spend ten years to be able to draw the picture in ten minutes?  It was not only practicing the basics, but at some point, they were inspired and saw themselves as an artist. Hopefully schools can be a part of that spark.

3 Questions To Help Measure School “Success”

3 questions to Measure School -Success-

Yesterday I had a great conversation with a school district administrator about how we measure “student success”.  As I thought about this, one of the ideas that lingered in my mind is the difference between measuring student success, or measuring the impact of school and our organizations on success.

But then there is the word “success”.  What does being successful mean?  Many schools will share statistics regarding how many of their students go on to post-secondary, but if a student has a college degree but is unhappy, compared to a student that didn’t go to college and is, do we deem that a success?  The other part of this is what role did school play in this?  We state there are many factors outside of school that play in the success of a child, so would school be the sole reason a student goes to university?

The success of a school should not only be measured by what students do when they are there, but their impact on what they do after they leave.  We also have to realize that the word “success” is not necessarily one that we can define for our students.  As discussed with my colleagues, their impact on society also has to be a part of this.  You can make a lot of money, be happy, or both, but are you a positive contributing member of the community?  Again, this is not necessarily for a school to determine, but could be looked through the lens of the student.

As a survey to students after they leave school, here are three questions we could ask them to determine how we have done as schools, whether it is 1 to 100 years after the fact.

1. Do you consider yourself as a successful, contributing member to society?

2. Why did you give the answer above?

3. What impact do you think school had on your answers?

The answers will not be in nice and neat little packages, but they would tell us a lot about what our schools are doing.  These three questions would not only give us some powerful data, but the shortness of this survey leaves it more likely to be answered while compiling some powerful quantitative data.

These questions could be a good start, but I would love your thoughts.  How would we measure our impact on student success after they leave our schools? What questions would you ask?

P.S. This video below REALLY challenged my thinking on what being “successful” means. It would be a great video to discuss with staff and students and what schools are trying to do. Are we trying to replicate the same world we live in, or help our students to create something better?

Educator = Trajectory Changer

I have been thinking a lot about the word “trajectory” and it’s relevance to what we do in education.  Every interaction we have with so many, changes trajectory in some way, similar to the idea of the “butterfly effect”.  As someone who speaks, I think about this a lot and what I hope happens in my talks.  I hope for a positive upward change from those interactions that we have in workshops or talks, and that someone does something better after our encounter.  This can be a tricky thing when we want to push someone’s thinking.  Their is a fine balance between challenging someone while also still showing that you value their thoughts as well as their journey.  Sometimes our actions, wrong words, or phrasing might push someone into the negative, even though that was never the intention.  My hope is that I can do everything I can to change trajectories for the positive.  Sometimes it might be a blip, sometimes it could be a large leap, but as long as it is positive, I am happy.

I think about how educators are these trajectory changers.  How those daily interactions may not always lead to a positive, but overall, the best educators make an impact on students long after their time in their classrooms.  I remember so many teachers that I have had that made such a positive impact on me, and sometimes, it was after the fact, thinking about what they had done to go out of their way for me but I did not realize until I grew up.  Sometimes the impact is not instant, but it eventually comes.  Educators are trajectory changes, always. The only thing that matters is whether or not that change is positive or negative.

You could say this is of any profession, but in education, our impact on a daily basis with so many, alters their destination which can alter so many others.  My good friend Holly Clark, recently shared an email that she received from a participant at a conference after speaking in South Africa:

Hi Holly,

I had to sit and type you a quick email to tell you how excited I am about changes I have made in my class.

I attended the ICT conference in Kloof (KwaZulu Natal, South Africa) at the beginning of the school holidays. I actually attended two of your workshops and listened really carefully to your keynote address.

Although we are a “tablet/device” school, I was noticing that our girls were choosing to leave their devices at home, as they weren’t using them at school. Which is SO sad and frustrating! Many teachers battle to integrate the devices, and I think that I have had a light bulb moment when I say it isn’t about the APPS! It’s about finding a way of incorporating the technology to make it work for you.

I arrived back this term with a renewed energy. Firstly, I rearranged my desks and we now sit in groups, we engage and it is fantastic! New rule… devices on desks! When I teach – students may take notes and then we save to Google Drive! Google Drive has changed my life!!

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I have many girls using it! YAY!!! My Grade 9s have already submitted their brainstorming ideas into a shared Drive Folder and I am marking it from my PC. The excitement when they realised that I had received and looked at it was quite cute. At school we have a “library of devices” so girls who don’t have them can use ones I have in my classroom. These were gathering dust in a storeroom and not being used. Not anymore!

You cannot believe the energy and excitement in my classroom! A student commented today when she looking at my chart of apps we use in my class and said  “Finally a teacher who understands us and is allowing us to use our devices for learning!”

Attaching a few pics!

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Thank you so much for inspiring me!

Holly is one of the kindest, humblest , and most authentic people that I know, and what I was reminded of in this email is that educators don’t just teach stuff, but they connect with people.  It was not only the willingness of Holly to share information, but more importantly, how she did it.  This participant left feeling that they could change the world, and I guarantee they are for their students, because that is what great educators do.  Holly’s impact on him, will now impact so many students, who will impact so many others.  The ripple effect is endless.

You can be the smartest person in the world, but if we forget how we communicate and who we do this work for, it doesn’t matter what we know.  Great educators make a positive change in trajectory with so many others and I am proud to work with so many great people that do this every single day.