Competition Is Great Depending on Who Wins

“Collaboration” is one of the words that is often discussed in what is crucial for our students today.  There are so many variations and quotes surrounding the idea that we are better together, and with that, I would totally agree.  The problem sometimes with this is that collaboration is often seen as the opposite of competition. In reality, the two should actually support one another.

Here is when competition is bad…

School “A” is competing with school “B” for students.  Because of that, they are not willing to share the things that they are doing with other schools because these are now “trade secrets”, and giving them away to the “competition”, might actually reduce enrolment.  Although the idea of not sharing your stuff to gain a competitive advantage, is sometimes a fallacy (if no one knows you are doing anything great, why would they come?), this mindset is not about helping kids, but helping ourselves.

And here is where competition is great…

I was having a conversation with a district level coordinator that told me about two high schools using the same hashtag to share amongst their schools for the same subject.  The collaboration between the schools was beneficial to not only the teachers, but more importantly the students.  The competition came in when one of the schools did an activity that the other school was not doing and the kids thought it was amazing.  Not wanting to be outdone, the other school quickly had their own similar activity, with some tweaks to make it better.  Both of these schools are more than willing to help one another, yet not wanting to be outdone.  Who is the ultimate winner of this competition? The kids.

I don’t know one teacher that wants to have the classroom that kids don’t want to go to, yet I have seen a lot of teachers that are reluctant to share. When we see “sharing” as something that both supports and pushes us to be better, the big winner will always be our students.

Competition is only a bad word in education if our students are the ones losing out.

When we see sharing as something that

The Importance of Taking Risks

Innovative teaching and learning will involve risks. If we are to create new opportunities for the learners we serve, things will not always work.  Yet why would we take risks in the classroom, especially when it deals with the future of our students?  The answer is in the question.  Many of our known “best practices” don’t serve a large number of our students.  If we used “grades” as the measure, then we would have figured it out a long time ago.  Part of the risk is necessary to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our students.  Some will respond to one way of learning, while others won’t.  Not taking the risk might be less daunting to you now, but the result later may have dire consequences for our students.

Yet when we think of risk, we shouldn’t just challenge what doesn’t work, but sometimes we will also have to challenge what does work for some of our learners.  We can give a student a worksheet and that specific student may still knock it out of the park in all of their assessments, yet this is not necessarily because of the teaching, but often because of the capabilities of that specific student.  A rubrics may be helpful to a student so that they can understand and meet expectations, but does it ever actually hold a student back from going beyond what they are actually truly capable of doing?  If grades are the way things are measured, and an “A” is the highest mark you can get, why would I go beyond that?

The risk that we face here is actually of conditioning kids to “schooling”.

Many students have become so accustomed to what school has looked like, that they do not want their education to look any other way. But just think of our kindergarten students, and how curious they are before they come to school.  Before school, they ask a ton of questions and are naturally curious, but the one questions I would guarantee that they never ask is, “Am I able to get a worksheet?” Many students would have never seen one before their time in school, yet I have heard many educators say they have tried new ways of learning with students that really push for deeper learning and creation, that their students sometimes respond with, “Can you just give us a worksheet??!?!”  Education has sometimes conditioned them to that.

There has to be a balance of going with what you know, yet still have the willingness to try something new.  Apple still makes a great computer and that is a major part of their business and they could have stopped there, but they went out on a limb creating the iPhone, which has become their most successful product.  Yet taking the  “risk” and trying to create something better, led to other successful endeavours for the company (app store, iPad, and perhaps the Apple Watch).  They could have rested on what they knew, but the mantra of “innovate or die”, that exists for so many companies, includes taking the risk of challenging not only what doesn’t work, but what does.

What is important is that we continue ask the question, “What is best for kids?”, and not try to answer that for our learners, but work from an empathetic viewpoint of our students.  If we are really wanting to serve our students and help them to develop to become the leaders and learners of today and the future, taking risks in our practice is not only encouraged, but necessary.

Add If we are really wanting to serve

Blogging for Staff Professional Learning

I have been really thinking about the idea of using social media to make local impact, not just global.  It is easy to get caught up in the opportunity to connect with classrooms around the world, that we sometimes forget about the teacher across the hall.

A little realization I had this morning when I received a comment on my blog post, “Does Brainstorming Lead to Innovation?“, was how often we are not asked to really think and dissect  something before we get together at a staff.  Often, people are asked to read articles or excerpts, but how often are we asked to share our thoughts prior in some sort of open reflection? This makes all of us smarter, not just the person reflecting.

From the original post, John Spencer shared his thoughts by writing, “Seven Ways to Fix Brainstorming“. Comments on the post shared subtle pushback, or alternatives as well.  What was important was the time to dissect, and actually share something that would be seen by others, ultimately helping people think more critically about their responses.

Clive Thompson

So what if we were to do this?

The week before (maybe more, maybe less) a professional learning opportunity, we had a school/staff blog that had an idea that was going to be discussed with staff.  People would be encouraged to write, create, write a comment on the original, or do whatever they wanted to respond, as long as it was linked back to the original.  This way, you are not limited to one person’s point of view, but are open to learning from others.  Would this not make for a much richer discussion that dives deeper into learning when we would actually connect face-to-face with one another?

My view on brainstorming has changed simply because people were willing to take the time and share their thoughts and ideas.  If you read them, not one of them challenged me, but challenged the ideas that were shared.  That’s the power of a blog.  What is important is to not only give people the opportunity to share their thoughts, but also give them time to create and connect their own learning.  Obviously, the hope for any professional learning is that this trickles down into the classroom with our students, and I think this could be a powerful way to really dive in deep to our own thinking, as well as the thinking of others, in our buildings and organizations.

Does “Brainstorming” Lead To Innovation?


I have a confession to make.  I hate meetings.

Maybe that is not entirely true. I hate bad meetings.

You know the ones where you spend a lot of time going round and round in circles, yet seem to accomplish little at the end of the day.  One of those main staples of these meetings has been “brainstorming”.  This process is one that has been heralded in not only meetings, but also for “Design Thinking” (here is a document on the techniques os brainstorming in design thinking from Stanford University, Institute of Design).

So out of sheer curiosity, I googled “brainstorming is bad” to see what I found (not biased at all I know).  Here are a few of the articles that I read with little snippets from each.


Why Brainstorming is Overrated; A New Approach to Creativity

This is a great article and talks about how sometimes “extroverts” can easily jade this process. It also talks about other opportunities to become creative through “not meeting”.

I love this quote from the article:

My brainstorming basics are simple.  Meet less.  Think more.   Draw inspiration from your day’s little moments.

Why Brainstorming Doesn’t Spark Innovation

This article is an interesting read because it focuses more on the science of “brainstorming”, and actually compares it to “leeches”. Here is a little tidbit:

The theory of brainstorming is that you turn off your analytical left brain, turn on your intuitive right brain, and creative ideas pop out. But neuroscience now tells us that there is no right or left side of the brain when it comes to thinking. Creative ideas actually happen in the mind, as the whole brain takes in past elements, then selects and combines them — and that’s how creative strategy works.

This article, actually linked to the following discussing innovation, entitled, “From Intuition to Creation“, and how some of the ideas aren’t necessarily “innovation”, but simply rehashing “best practice”.

Brainstorming works fine when you don’t need an innovation. People brainstorm mostly to solve problems they already know how to solve with their current expertise, at least as a group. When you brainstorm, you really throw out ideas from your personal experience — these come to mind fastest and strongest. If you have a problem that the total personal expertise of six people can solve, then brainstorming is very efficient. But if the solution actually lies outside their personal expertise, brainstorming is a trap — you toss out ideas and get conventional wisdom, not an innovation.

This really makes me think about the differences between “solving a problem” and “creating a solution”. Are the two phrases always the same?

Why Brainstorming is Bad For Creativity

I thought this was a great article, for two reasons.  First of all, how much do we really listen to others ideas when we are trying to share our own great ideas.

Remembering what you were going to say is not easy when you’re listening to others sharing their ideas. Chances are you’ll have forgotten your brilliant idea by the time you finally get to speak. Even worse, the entire time you’re trying to listen while remembering your own idea, you won’t be able to generate new ideas. The classical brainstorm session limits the amount of ideas that can be generated in a set amount of time. The more people you add to a brainstorm-group, the fewer ideas will be generated per participant per hour.

The second part is about the process of quiet reflection when we are trying to move forward.

Of course there is an obvious solution to these problems: quiet thinking sessions. First people write down their ideas (as much of them as possible) individually or in duos. Then every participant shares their ideas in the group. This doesn’t mean the ideas will be discussed of course, for the ideation phase is no place for criticism. Ideas can be built upon however and might be improved or reshaped into a new idea.

Anytime I have done workshops, I have ensured that there was time for quiet, yet open reflection.  Often, I don’t only ask people to share their thoughts, but also their questions, because you never know the spark that it might create in someone else, hearing about a problem they never thought existed.

Brainstorming Doesn’t Work; Try This Technique Instead

This article talks about the few people that can often dominate a brainstorming session, and this little

Thompson – Brainwriting

I like the shift from “brainstorming” to “brainwriting”. This process allows a focus on the ideas, as opposed to the people, which ultimately is the most important aspect of this process. You do not want to eliminate a great idea because the person behind doesn’t “sell” you enough on it.


With just these few articles, I know that I am going to challenge the next time I am asked to “brainstorm” in the way that I have mostly seen come to play in schools.  What I really noticed from this piece is just how important it is to find ways to share ideas that are not biased or affected by individuals, and give time for people to have some of their own processing.  The opportunity to reflect is not done enough in schools or professional learning, and it seems that my best ideas tend to come while I am exercising or listening to music, as opposed to shouting ideas in a room with my peers.  We need to think about how we can honour more voices and create better ideas through this process.


John Spencer wrote a great post titled, “Seven Ways to Fix Brainstorming“, in response to what I wrote above.  The process he shares is much different, than what I have experienced.

Because We Can

Recently attending a conference in Virginia, I decided that since I was only there for a short stay, I would forgo a car rental, and just take an Uber to and from the airport. It was a very short trip. and as the driver pulled up, he was extremely courteous, waved to me, put my bags into the car, and we drive off to the hotel.  I was using my headphones to talk on the phone, and so I stopped the conversation and just told the driver the location of the hotel, but I thought that he wasn’t paying attention to me because he knew I was on the phone. I said it again, and still no response. Then I tapped him on the shoulder, and he looked at me and mouthed, “I’m deaf”.  I had no idea. He then showed me the location on the phone, and I gave him the thumbs up, and quickly we were at the hotel.

As I left, he jumped out of the car, grabbed my stuff and shook my hand goodbye.  If you ever use Uber, you will see that there is a rating system of drivers.  I have used the service often, but this was the first time that I had a driver who had a perfect score of 5.  He went above and beyond expectations, not just for me, but obviously for others as well.

I remember seeing a post on Imgur of someone sharing they had a deaf driver, and so they googled how to sign “thank you”, and the driver was extremely appreciative of the gesture.  I totally pulled a George Costanza after getting out of the car and thought, “That’s what I should have done!”, and was upset that I missed the chance.

Forward to the next day…

As I am leaving the conference, I connect on Uber and get the same driver. He was there instantly  and smiled to see me again. While in the car, I googled how to sign “thank you”, saw a picture and even watched a short YouTube video on how to sign the gesture.  As I got out of the car, I was nervous that I would screw up, yet I signed, “thank you”, to him, to which he had the biggest smile and the double handshake.  It was a powerful moment and I was really overwhelmed on how such a simple gesture could make such a difference.

Here is part of the reason I went out of my way to do this for this driver.

Because I could.

In my hands, I had the ability to access information to learn more about someone and connect with them in a way that was meaningful to them, so why would I not do that? It was a simple reminder that although we have all of the information in the world at our fingertips, what we do with it, is more powerful than simply having access.

Ten years ago, this post could not have been written because, although we always have had the opportunities to be kind to one another, but because we would not have had access to some of the information that I needed on this day . I am not sure I would have came up with the idea on my own, nor would I necessarily had the ability to access and learning something so quickly. But now this post can be written and I am glad that I had and took the opportunity to make someone’s day better, because through his kindness, he did the exact same thing for me.

“Not Everyone Is You”

This is one of those posts where I am trying to learn through my writing, not necessarily share my learning, so please excuse me if it seems to ramble on…

I read this post from Doug Peterson regarding some of the things that we are still saying in 2015.  Here is a snippet from his post but I encourage you to read the whole thing:

Over and over, I’d read “So and So says that it’s about the pedagogy and not the technology”.

So, why is “So and So” at the conference then?  Well, from this seat, many are people who write books and speak publicly for a living and are trying to get a little notoriety.  Good for them and obviously the credibility has been developed with some to the point that what they say is important.  But how many times do we need to hear it?

I mean, really?

It’s the year 2015.

We’ve lived through so many models and so many attempts to perfect the educational system.  We know that or have always known that learning is a community event with all kinds of social actions and, importantly, relevancy in the eyes of students and parents.  Students so that they maintain focus and parents who want success and will stand fully behind a teacher that engages and pushes students to be constantly learning and improving.

The comments on the post are interesting as well, and based on them and the post, I made the following comment:

I think this is an interesting conversation. Colin stated the following in his above comment:

“We’ve been hearing this message for years. It was pretty exciting the first time you heard someone else echoing your thoughts, but come on.”

How do we know that someone who shared this at ISTE didn’t hear it for the first time? I remember a major shift in my thinking about six years ago and wondering why everyone else was not at the exact same point I was at that moment. While so many others were thinking about me specifically, “why didn’t he pick up on this earlier?”

The reality of it (and what I realize now) is that everyone gets to a different place at a different time, and we have to appreciate that they are ALL moving forward. There were many years as an educator that my major focus was using as many cool tools as possible, and not really thinking about powerful learning as the driver. Are you telling me this still doesn’t exist? Apple Watch was out for like 18 seconds before you saw posts on how to use the Apple Watch in schools. Sometimes the thing we have heard ten million times is needed to be heard once more. You never know who your message will reach at the time when they need it most.

I agree with you Doug that nobody goes to the conference looking for some piece of technology to replace their teaching, but why are the “50 Tools” Sessions so popular at many conferences? ISTE has always been criticized for those type of sessions but what does it say when they are packed? And sometimes, the technology does come first, and changes the learning (I saw this on Twitter which for the first year I used this technology, I used it to keep up with Shaquille O’Neal and Ashton Kutcher).

As long as people are moving forward, that is what matters, not necessarily where they are. The conversations that may seem redundant to someone, might be the first time someone else has heard them. I no longer think that everyone should be where I am, because I also realize that someone is wondering when I specifically will catch up to them.

The nice thing about a blog post  or a tweet is that we each take a little piece of it, and can make our own connection.  It is the same thing about conferences.  When I present, I am always surprised when people come up and talked about what “resonated” with them.  Sometimes it was a statement I made, or something about my dad, or even that something stuck with them that made them think differently as a parent. What you knew yesterday and might be your “common sense”, might be something new to someone else and changes that person today.  A mentor of mine would always say to me, “everyone is not you”, reiterating the idea that we are all different paths on our journey.

The beautiful thing about a “personal learning network” (PLN), is that it is personal.  It is about what you need at that time and something that you can create for yourself.  My experience using social media to connect with others has really taught me that it is not only the “network” that is personal, but learning in itself.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t challenge thinking, but it is more about how we do it.  I have really tried to get better at asking questions to understand a differing viewpoint, as opposed to simply making statements against thinking that is different than mine.  Covey’s philosophy of, “seek first to understand”, is something that I try to keep in the back of my mind, and am focusing on getting better at.  If I want to be a great leader, it is essential that I focus on listening more and understanding where someone is coming from and working from there, as opposed to trying to get someone to where I am currently.

Do the best leaders really just leave people alone?

Once you stop learning, you start

I often ask educators what qualities they like most in their administrator, and the following statement really makes me cringe:

They just leave me alone and let me do what I want.

First of all, I understand the needs for both trust and autonomy and how it is essential to motivation, but there is also a larger purpose to what we do in schools.  If we truly believe that schools are greater as a group than simply individuals, simply “leaving people alone” is probably not the best approach.

I think about the best leaders that I have ever had, and how they have balanced this approach of trust and autonomy, while providing strong mentorship.  This is not necessarily in telling you things to do, but often by pushing your thinking and abilities through asking questions, and challenging perceptions, without micro-managing.  I have always craved mentorship in whatever role that I have taken, and find that I do much better when I have someone who is pushing me in my work.  I love the idea that “if you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room” (often attributed to Michael Dell).  We only get better when we find those that truly elevate us.  Leaders are meant to unleash talent, not control it.

If you think that you have outgrown leadership, what are you doing to continue that growth? Books and blogs are great to push your thinking, but in my opinion, they never beat the conversations you can have others.  Great leaders not only create spaces where they challenge your thinking, but they encourage you to do the same with themselves.  That is part of what makes them great leaders.

Early on in my career, I remember asking my mentor teacher what I needed to do to meet the highest standards of my internship.  She would give me space to make my own mistakes, but she was also always there to not only encourage me, but to ask questions, and push thinking as well.  It was such a great experience that I can’t imagine doing it another way.

I love the following quote:

“Once you stop learning, you start dying.” Albert Einstein

If we just want our leaders to “get out of the way”, it may suggest that we are either not really open to learning or perhaps, we might be in the wrong room. Neither situation is beneficial to our own development.

Don’t Forget About Local Either #ISTE2015

“I have found my tribe.”

Little comments like this about people connecting around the world are something that really has the potential to make an impact on education around the world. I have often said, that the real power of technology now is not that we have access to all of the information in the world, but we have access to one another.

At #ISTE2015 this year, I asked the room I presented in, “how many of you are NOT on Twitter?”, and one hand rose. It was the person running the audio for the session. For the first time was I in a room where every single teacher was on Twitter. Whether they saw the value of it or utilized it in ways to make an impact on teaching and learning is another story, but I have seen a tremendous shift in the past few years.  The world is at our fingertips and people are willing to embrace it.

There is a huge power in bringing experts into our classrooms, but what about sharing our expertise to the rest of the world? Or even sharing it within our own schools?  The walls in our own schools need to be taken down, as we can utilize these technologies to learn from one another.  The idea of “crowd accelerated innovation”, is powerful, and something we need to embrace by opening our classrooms to the world, and to each other.  I shared this idea recently, and asked a simple question:

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 11.50.26 AM

Many people have started global, but we need to think how we can also make an impact locally in our schools.  Transparency to each other can make a big difference in learning and culture.

It is easy to focus on all of the awesome ideas that are shared on Twitter and put educators from around the world on pedestals, but how many times do you see worksheets shared on Twitter? Do we really believe that this never happens in any classrooms?  We often are inclined to share our “best stuff” as opposed to a random sampling of the day-to-day workings of a classroom. Sometimes by focusing solely on the greatness outside of your school, we can sometimes belittle the efforts of those that we work with everyday.

So as conferences like ISTE come to a close, it is great to be inspired by those that we meet at these events, but let’s remember that we can be inspired by those we see every single day. The idea of “you can’t be a prophet in your own land” is something that we as individuals are guilty of because we often choose to applaud the people we see daily the least. We often find greatness in the places that we choose to see it.  The world is at our fingertips, but so are the people in our own organizations. Let’s make sure we look and acknowledge the valuable work that they are doing daily.

The Power of “I Don’t Know”

My idea of a leader or an administrator when I was starting early on in my career, was that they were “all knowing”, like some type of “Wizard of Oz” figure.  What I realized was that not only was this not possible, but something is actually lost when we do not feel comfortable to say “I don’t know”.  I have noticed some administrators, when told of a new idea, feel the need to say, “I thought of that a long time ago”, are playing a game where they feel the need to always assert their status as “leader”, when in fact, it actually disconnects.

Think of the difference between saying, “I had already thought of that idea”, as opposed to, “I never thought of that…that is a really great idea”.  Essentially you are not only giving power over (which some are afraid of losing), but you are showing value in the ideas of others.

With a lot of things that I have found myself thinking about, I am not as much “black or white”, as I am somewhere in the middle of grey.  Lately, I have more questions than answers, but the point is that I am trying to understand new and complicated ideas. “Not knowing” is part of this journey.

This post was inspired by Dean Shareski’s latest blog posts on having conversations, where he keeps using the word “trust”, which is needed to really go deeper into our own learning.  This tweet nicely summarizes some of my thoughts on the topic:

Think of that student that is in your class, that tells you something, to which you respond, “I did not know that! Thanks for sharing that with me.” Once they realize they were able to teach something new to the person of “authority” in the room, it creates a much more powerful dynamic in the relationship.  Adults are no different, especially when they feel they can teach the “expert” something that they didn’t know.  To gain trust, we have to give up power.

Empathy is crucial in developing the innovator’s mindset, and that takes listening, and trying to understand someone else’s viewpoint, while being able and open to learn from them as well.  It is not about who can shout the loudest, but often who can listen best. Being open to learning from others, is crucial to our own development.

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth

Being able to say, “I don’t know” and being willing to be able to go find out, is much more conducive to building relationships than “I already knew that”.  Great leaders often show vulnerability, which in turn, helps develop teams that feel their contributions are not only valued, but necessary. Learning organizations value learning together over learning from one. Saying “I don’t know”, is crucial to not only our own curiosity, but shows an authenticity that helps to build relationships with those that we serve.


Are you willing to take the hit?

I was recently listening to a Seth Godin podcasts regarding “Startups“, and it reminded me of something earlier in my life. Having grown up playing any sport I could try at a young age, I at one time played baseball. It was not my favorite sport nor was I particularly any good, but it was something to do in the summer. Like most young kids, it started with TeeBall, and then a coach throwing, followed by kids allowing to pitch.

As I got older, I remember one pitcher who threw so fast, yet so wild. Nights before the game against his team, I would stay up all night worried about getting hit hard by a pitch, like I saw so many others going through. I remember thinking, “I really don’t like this sport that much to get hit in the head”, and at the end of the season, I quit.

Godin used the analogy about his own childhood in Buffalo playing hockey, and he described three ideas that stick out to him if you are going to be successful.

It helps if you know what to do.
Are you able to do it?
Do you care enough to get hit?

To be successful, we know that it takes hard work and to develop skill in any area, but we rarely mention and focus on the “hits” that we could take. Every time I write a blog post, I’m vulnerable to criticism and pushback, but I want to develop in what I do because I am passionate about my work.

I watch young Vine celebrities with millions of followers, get criticized often simply because they make videos. Brandon Bowen talked about some of the taunts he received about his weight, and he simply said “I just block out the haters”, and continued to do what he loves.  I am sure that it is something that sticks with him, but not to the point where he would quit.

Anything worth doing is going to be risky and open to criticism. Sometimes justified and sometimes simply because of  schadenfreude. But I love the following saying:

Screen Shot 2015-06-28 at 8.27.51 AM

That’s why I have never really focused on celebrating “failure”, but on grit and resiliency, as on any journey you will take a couple of hits, and fall a few times, but as the movie character Rocky famously said,

“But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits…”

Sometimes we have to realize that some of the hits we have taken are not worth it, not because we are weak, but maybe it’s just not something we love. Sometimes quitting shows more bravery than continuing to do something you don’t love. But if you truly are passionate about something, don’t let falling down keep you from getting back up to do what you love.