My Top Tools for Connecting

As discussed in my previous post, I thought I would share some social media tools that I have found EXTREMELY useful in my growth this year in the area of technology innovation.  These are tools that I have found extremely useful for not only sharing my knowledge, but also connecting and learning from others.

Twitter

I would say out of any website or technology tool that I have used, Twitter has had the absolute biggest impact on my learning as an educator, hands down.

When I first signed up for Twitter in December of 2008, I didn’t see the use of it past another way to “update your status” similar to Facebook.  I did not care to know that you were about to “make the biggest paper airplane ever” or that you were the one who “stole the cookie from the cookie jar”. Having that on Facebook has become annoying enough, but having a service that ONLY did that, I though, would be WAY too much. I tried it for about a week, lost interest, and logged off for about a year.

Fast forward to December 2009, and a chance meeting with Will Richardson and my brother, and soon I was totally engulfed in the whole thing.  I know that one of the things that really got me excited about Twitter was when my brother gave me a “shout out” and quickly, several educators around the world were connected to me, and then I became connected to them.  It is tough to see the value of the “Twitterverse” when you are followed by 12 people and following 14 yourself.  Now I am not saying that all the “tweets” I have sent out have been of the utmost importance but I have definitely had the opportunity to share links, useful tools, great blog posts by other educators and more to the masses but, to be honest, it is also fun.  People learn better when they are enjoying themselves.  That is what we want for our students, so why not us?

Watching my brother Alec speak at a session that was broadcast live on the Internet (which I found out via Twitter), he challenged educators to give it a try for 30 days.  I totally agree with this sentiment, but encourage you to do what I did, and pester someone with Twitter “street cred” (someone influential who has a lot of followers) to do the same thing for you that my brother did for me.  Ask for a “shout out”, up your followers, and start sharing your knowledge.   You will be surprised at how quickly you will start to see the benefit.

Google Apps

Having used Microsoft products for the entire duration of  my teaching career, I was also reluctant to start using Google Documents, as I believed it was just a web-based version of Microsoft Office to me.  What I found is that the applications provided by Google are not only very user friendly, but they are a great way to connect with people and share and craft your vision together.  We have started using them in my school on a regular basis to connect with each other and share documents and collaborate on projects.  Staff is getting very comfortable with this and I see more collaboration with students in the future.

I have also found a great benefit of using the Google Forms option for getting instant feedback from people that I work with.  I initially used the forms option to have staff sign up for professional development opportunities that we were hosting within our own school.  Having 55 staff members send emails individually was something that took too  much time, so I created a simple survey using the Google app, and it was done immediately.  These forms would be of great use getting feedback from students, or anyone else in the school community, and they are simple enough for even the least experienced technology user.

Google Apps has many features, but the last one that I will talk about is Google Reader.  I have started using this RSS feeder to not only connect with staff that have just posted their new blogs, but it is also very easy to share a simple website, where you can group blogs together to share to a wider audience.  I have used this function to put all of our individual teacher blogs together for others to easily read, but to also share with our entire school community.  There are lots of good RSS feeder sites, but having one with my gmail, Google Docs, Google Forms, amongst the many other Google applications, makes it extremely easy and convenient for myself, as well as others.

Diigo

The last social tool that I wanted to discuss is Diigo.  Diigo is a social bookmarking tool (that was shared on Twitter to myself and probably thousands of others), that is similar to Delicious, but at this time, has many features that I have not found on other social bookmarking sites.  I do not only have the opportunity to share my great bookmarks with others, but I also have the opportunity to highlight, add sticky notes, or simply save it to read later.  I have learned to LOVE this tool as I find it is a wonderful way to share great links I have collected with staff, while also serving as a way to organize sites for students.  Ultimately, it would be great for students to be able to sort and find bookmarks that they can share with their own learning community.

These applications have been great for my own development as a principal and hopefully you can find them of some value as well.

University of Regina Presentation

I had the chance to work with and learn from some of my brother’s (Alec Couros) university students this week during spring break, and I was blown away by some of their blog posts that they wrote about the lecture after.  It was absolutely wonderful to see how reflective they were in their own practice, and I realize that they are WAY ahead of me at this early time in their career, from where I was.   It is great to see how blogging helps teachers not only to be reflective of their practice, but also gives them the opportunity to learn and collaborate with others.

Reading through all of their own individual blogs and seeing the portfolios that they have created, actually inspired me to create my own personal blog and portfolio.  I said yesterday that a “true master teacher continuously grows and knows that their learning is never done”, and these new educators in the field have shown me that they are willing and wanting to grow in their careers.  This is so motivating and inspiring for me as someone who works with teachers, and I know that the future is definitely bright for students in our (and my) schools, because we have teachers that care and truly “get it”.

Although the presentation was mostly used for talking points to help me navigate and have conversation with these students, I encourage anyone to use it for their own professional practice, or as a guide if you are going into leadership and/or wanting to improve on professional practice.  I made it clear to both of Alec’s classes that these are things that I look for, and not everyone is the same, but I do truly believe that helping students find their passion and learning to recognizing them as “whole people” should be a practice that is done in all school.

University of Regina Presentation

Speaking/Consulting

(For speaking and consulting inquiries, please contact me at georgecouros@gmail.com)

I have had the privilege of working with schools and organizations in many places around the world through conferences, keynoting, providing workshops, and consulting on how organizations can move forward by creating innovative environments for all learners in the community.  It has been an honour to speak to students, parents, educators, school administration, central office administration, school trustees, as well as outside organizations, and believe all are crucial to the important work we do in schools.  Through conversations, both online and face-to-face, I work before, during, and after presentations to empower participants and to build strong connections to not only the content I am discussing, but also to myself as a presenter and educator.  Please feel free to look at some of the comments about my work.

I also do long term consulting projects with school districts that are directly tailored to the needs of the organization.  What is important is to develop a co-created plan that brings my expertise to help serve your specific needs. Long term consulting is focused on innovation in leadership, learning, teaching, and technology, as well as helping to further a positive culture in your organization. My previous consulting engagements have focused on working with all levels of school to provide a consistent message towards developing and furthering the forward-thinking possibilities for your organization.

Below is a sample talk from my keynote at CUE17 in Palm Springs, California.

 

Below are some of the keynotes I have given and workshops I have put together.  Material is continuously updated and adjusted making it relevant to each school or organization I work with.  All of them can be tailored to different audiences.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the work below.

Keynotes/Talks

The Innovator’s Mindset (Keynote and /or Workshop)
Description: Carol Dweck’s work has focused on the ideas of “fixed” and “growth” mindset, yet educators will need to go a step further with these notions to create the learning opportunities and that our students and schools deserve. We need to focus not only what we know, but what we do with what we know. In this talk, George will discuss the idea and characteristics of “The Innovator’s Mindset” (as discussed in the book of the same title), and share powerful examples on why this is so crucial for all educators. George’s presentations are known to be emotional, humorous, all while pushing your thinking, and will definitely connect to your heart first, in a way that will last with you long after this keynote.

Leading Innovative Teaching and Learning (Keynote/Workshop)
Description: Although schools are moving forward, change is always something that many struggle with.  Focusing on an innovator’s mindset and our “why”, this workshop is meant for leaders to help others within their organization not only accept change, but embrace it, to create better powerful learning opportunities for our learners.  It is not focused on the “how to” of technology, but is more focused on the conversations that will help staff move forward in a way that they will be excited yet feel supported in their journey.

The Networked Leader/Educator (Keynote and /or Workshop)
Description:  The role of school/district administrator is essential to what happens in the classroom, yet we often are unaware of some of the amazing opportunities that social media is not only providing our students and teachers, but ourselves as well.  As school administrators, we need to be the “Learning Leader” for our organization and social media gives us the opportunity to connect, openly learn, and humanize our organization.  When we learn together first, only then can we effectively lead our schools to continuous improvement.

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Leader (Keynote and /or Workshop)
Description:  The role of school or district administrator has changed dramatically and instead of people serving the leader, it is more important that it is the other way around.  In this talk/workshop, I discuss five key questions that we need to be able to answer as leaders and the innovative ways that we need to look at our role as administrators.

Learning By Design (Keynote/Workshop)
Description: We know that the role of school has change, but it is important for people to understand why it needs to change.  Once that can be established, then we are more likely to embrace this change, and move forward with the learning of ourselves, and more importantly help our students move forward as well. In this talk, George will discuss the “why” of change, and then using the ISTE Nets, give examples on “how” we can make this happen.

The Myths of Technology and Learning  (Keynote and /or Workshop)
Description: This keynote helps to address some of the “myths” or pushback that many organizations go through in moving technology forward in their organizations.  With many powerful and personal stories of how technology can improve learning and relationships, this has been a great opportunity to help those reluctant move forward in their thinking and adopt a growth mindset.

What to look for in Today’s Classroom (Keynote and /or Workshop)
Description:  The focus of the classroom has, for the better, shifted from a focus on the teacher to a focus on the learner.  In this talk, I will share several elements of what we should be looking for in today’s classroom, knowing that focusing on only a few at a time, can start the move towards a transformational learning environment.

From Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership (Keynote and /or Workshop)
Description: We often tell our students that what they do online can affect their future, but do we share or teach them how their online presence can also provide them opportunities that we never had as kids?  There are many great examples of people and students doing things to not only improve their own opportunities, but to improve the lives of those in their school, communities, and around the world.  Kids have an opportunity to make a difference and we need to focus on giving them both the opportunities and tools to make a difference in their world through the effective use of technology and social media.

Involving Parents in the Process of Learning (Keynote and /or Workshop)
Description: Parent involvement in the learning process of schools is the number one factor for student success.  As schools look forward towards using social media to improve learning in their schools, many parents are fearful of what this means.  Social media provides an opportunity for parents to have meaningful engagement in the learning of their child.  This can greatly change the conversations not only at school, but also at home with the child.  This talk provides peace of mind to parents while also engaging them in considering the unique opportunity they have to participate in their child’s learning.

Workshops

When working with groups, I encourage discussing the “why” through a keynote then following up with hands-on workshops.  This pushes learning forward, having participants leave with ready to use tools and educators ready to implement their new learning immediately.  Examples of workshops on specific ideas and tools that I provide are:

  • What is innovation in education and how do we move forward?
  • Twitter for administrators/educators/parents
  • Blogs as a portfolio
  • Google Apps in the Classroom
  • Web 2.0 Tools for learning/communication
  • Creating a Digital Footprint for our Students
  • Digital Literacy
  • Digital Identity
  • Creating Blended Learning Environments

(Click here for a “menu” of my workshops in greater detail.)

Here is a link to my presentations which are all Creative Commons Licensed for reuse:

George Couros Presentation Slides

 

Providing Instructional Leadership

As discussed in Alberta Education’s document on the Principal Quality Standard, a principal that provides instructional leadership “ensures that all students have ongoing access to quality teaching and learning opportunities to meet the provincial goals of education.”  (Click for posts on “Providing Instructional Leadership“)

I felt I have met the criteria by doing the following:

Embodying Visionary Leadership

As discussed in Alberta Education’s document on the Principal Quality Standard, a principal that embodies visionary leadership “collaboratively involves the school community in creating and sustaining shared school values, vision, mission and goals.” (Click for Blog posts on Embodying Visionary Leadership)

I feel that I have met this criteria by doing the following:

  • Believe first and foremost in helping to guide others to find their passion.
  • Working with students, parents, and staff and clarifying with them the vision of the school.  We believe that through focusing on building relationships with all stakeholders first, we can ultimately work to ensure that these same stakeholders can become leaders in our school community.  This vision is shown through the Forest Green/Connections for Learning Mind Map which is currently under development.
  • Through our Education Planning process, we worked with students, staff, and parents to understand our strengths, along with our areas growth.  This was a collaborative endeavour that was well received by the school community. The results of this document are listed on the attached Education Plan Summaries.
  • I have worked hard to include parents and staff of school initiatives that are based on current and future school community needs through open communication.  This has included communication through monthly newsletters, as well as using a conversational media through the Forest Green School Blog.
  • The school newsletters and website are not only to communicate with parents, but also show some of our success that we have shared as a school.   This has been shown in posts discussing the school’s Family Dance, students participating in the annual Choral Celebration, our success in having our first ever school basketball teams, and a discussion with students in grade 6  on what they liked about our school.
  • To facilitate change and promote innovation, Forest Green/Connections for Learning Professional Development Plan was created to give staff ownership of the direction of the school’s professional development.  It was also an opportunity for staff to develop leadership in areas that they are passionate about.  It was important that we used the following Forest Green-CFL Lead Team Planning Template to create goals and their measure for success.

Fostering Effective Relationships

As discussed in Alberta Education’s document on the Principal Quality Standard, an effective principal  “ builds trust and fosters positive working relationships, on the basis of appropriate values and ethical foundations, within the school community — students, teachers and other staff, parents, school council and others who have an interest in the school.” (Click for blog posts on Fostering Effective Relationships)

I believe that I have met that criteria by doing the following:

  • I believe it is always beneficial to take time to work with students to simply have fun with them to build solid relationships.
  • Work to develop strong relationships with students, staff, and parent.  Open communication is something that I truly believe in and I have created the Forest Green School Website, Forest Green Blog, along with editing and creating both the Forest Green and Connections for Learning Newsletters.
  • Built strong relationships with the School Council and have helped them to communicate their school involvement through the use of the school website, along with doing a formal presentation on Cyberbullying and Web 2.0 Technologies, as a way of informing them of emerging trends in education.
  • A formal request was given to the Forest Green Parent Council in request for funds to clearly outline our vision and Forest Green Fundraising Request 2009-2010 Final.  Instead of simply asking for an allocation of funds from parent council, we wanted to ensure our clear vision for the plan.
  • Forest Green has hosted a pancake breakfast for the last 2 years for staff and students.  This was organized by parents as a way to connect with staff and students in the school.  This was a great opportunity to welcome our students back to school, while also getting to know families on a more personal level.
  • Work with students to become strong citizens in the community and take responsibility for their actions. Also believes that all members of the school community can be Leaders, and has shared that through the Forest Green Mind Map.
  • Work with the Student Council to help develop positive relationships between all stakeholders within the school.
  • Opened to feedback and improvement from all stakeholders to deliver the best opportunities for our students.  Parent, staff, and student input is highly valued and it was shared that it was greatly appreciated that there was an opportunity to discuss the future of Forest Green/CFL as a group.  Highlights are shared in the Education Plan Summaries.
  • Have built a learning community through parents being invited to Forest Green/CFL professional development days.  This gives us the opportunity to share our vision with parents of the community so that they are able to take part in our learning.

Crossing guard for the 2009 Terry Fox Run at Forest Green School.

My Favourite picture of the 2009-2010 School Year

Worked with the student council at Muir Lake Community School to do its first formal day! (2009)