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.

Illuminating a Principal’s Path towards Technology Integration

Recently, my brother Dr. Alec Couros, sent out a short survey asking educators to list three social networking tools they find useful.  His inquiry ignited some memories and reflections for me on the topic of technology integration and brought to light how my views have substantially changed in the last year.

Even though I have always been known as a technology integration leader within the schools and divisions where I worked; this year in particular, I have grown more than any other.  One of my personal professional development goals was to improve the technology integration of the entire school where I currently work as principal. As a first year principal I originally thought this was going to be a daunting, solitary task. I quickly realized I was wrong. I did I not have to accomplish this goal alone. In fact, I found tons of people in the field of education who WANTED to help me along on my journey.

The Light Bulb Moment

Perusing Facebook one day after work, I noticed my brother’s status update and realized he was only two hours away from me presenting at a conference.  Seeing my brother in person is something that I do not get to do enough of, so within moments I was on my way to Red Deer, Alberta to join my brother and one of his colleagues, Will Richardson.

At the time, I knew the work of former NBA player Pooh Richardson better than that of Will Richardson.  My brother informed me of Will’s influence in the area of educational technology, and suggested that sitting with him over supper may be a good opportunity for me to learn more about how to achieve my goal  After a few informal exchanges, the conversation somehow turned to bookmarking.  Will asked me what I tool I use. I proudly shared with him (feeling that I was VERY organized), “I use Xmarks for Firefox.”  Without hesitation, Will jokingly asked, “So you are a hoarder of information?”

At that very moment, it struck me. All of the really good websites that I used, I kept to myself. I was not sharing with the rest of the world, let alone my own colleagues. My light bulb moment illuminated a habit of hoarding, not only my bookmarks, but  ideas, thoughts, tools, and useful practices. I was not sharing useful information (save for a random email explaining some sites I felt worthy of sharing). Neither was I taking the opportunity to learn from others.

Enlightened Commitment

The next day after our conversation, I decided to reestablish myself on Twitter. I wanted to try to take part in the Personal Learning Network (PLN) my brother deemed so valuable.  Twitter never seemed to make sense to me, but I promised I would give it a try.  Within a week, my followers grew from 20 to 200.  Admittedly, I felt the need to ensure I posted information that would be helpful and beneficial to my new and growing circle of friends and colleagues. I quickly realized the importance of the audience, how it affected me and helped me improve my own practice, and strengthened my belief that thoughtful integration of technology would surely help improve the learning of the staff and students at my school.

Sharing the Light

At the beginning of the year, I envisioned using hardware such as document cameras, digital cameras, and SmartBoards in our school, and working with staff to help develop their abilities in this area—I have definitely seen a great improvement in this area. I am also seeing increased enthusiasm in the area of Web2.0 and the benefits of connecting with others. More and more of our staff now recognize the value of joining social networks for learning. IDEAS are valued more than superficial things such as photographs taken with a digital camera.

If a few months ago you would have asked about my goals for technology integration this year, connecting to educators around the world, and learning from them, would not have even been on my radar. Now I see the path more clearly. It has in fact become essential to the work I do as a leader in my school and to my personal growth.

Thoughtful integration of technology, especially PLNs, increasingly illuminates how much I appreciate learning from others, and sharing my learning with the members of our school community. By “sharing the light,” I hope to help my staff find a similar path to the one I am on this year.

Seemingly starting over in Kindergarten, I am glad I have learned to share once again.

Possible Interview Questions for Teachers

Recently, I had worked on a presentation with University of Regina about going into the field of Education.  Some of the feedback that I had received from this session was that they would have loved to see some more questions that could be possibly asked in an interview.  I have put together a few questions that I have used/will use in interviews that could at least, help people possibly get some ideas in your head before going into that process.  Most of the questions will hopefully lead to a conversation with new teachers to the building, as I want to get to know possible additions to staff as well as possible.

Here are some sample questions:

Teaching Practices:

1.  Tell me about a lesson that you thought went incredibly well.  Is there anything that you could change about it?

2. What does a great assignment look like?


Lifelong Learning:

1.  What is an area that you are particularly interested in and what have you done to further your understanding?

2. If you were to come into our school today, what would be an area that you believe you could show leadership in to staff?

Relationships

1.  What have you done in the past to ensure students feel that they are a part of your classroom?

2. As a teacher in the classroom, what are some of the roles you believe that you play in the lives of students?

3. Parental involvement can be a key component to the success of a child.  What have you done in the past to bring parents “on board” to what is going on in the classroom?  Do they have a say in what happens in the classroom, or do they simply need to be notified of practices, events, etc?


Motivation

1.  Do you believe in a rewards system and/or honours?  Why or why not?

2.  What is your understanding of “Performance Goals” and “Learning Goals”?  Which would you prefer?

Classroom Management

1.  Are all consequences the same for each action in your classroom?  Why or why not?

2.  Do you have a set of rules for your class?  If so, how do you go about creating this?

Contributions

1.  What is something you are passionate about outside of “basic curriculum” that you could share with students in our school?  How would you go about sharing your passion with others?

I always  end interviews giving candidates an opportunity to ask questions, and then finally share anything that they wanted to highlight that may have been missed through the interview process.

Any comments or questions are welcomed on these questions as many administrators have different philosophies on interviews.  This is just a possible sample that I may use for different positions.

A Principal's Case for Choosing Certainty vs. Severity

Working with students, and being in the principal’s office, I know there are often many different viewpoints about how we should deal with individual students.  I have certain philosophies on this that I believe help lead students in the right direction, and also help build relationships with students, parents, and staff in the process.

My mentor, our school division’s Associate Superintendent, shared a phrase with me that I have put into my bag of tools and use on many occasions when talking with staff and students.  The saying is, “Certainty vs. Severity.”  The “certainty” in any situation is that students are CERTAIN that their misbehaviour will be addressed fairly and in accordance with our school’s values.  Severity, on the other hand, is an outdated way of thinking and acting about student disciplinary issues.

Severity (an outdated way of thinking)

It was once believed (including by me), that when students “mess up” they need to know there will harsh consequences. Furthermore, that knowing this will somehow ENSURE the student would NEVER make the same mistake again. This heavy-handed approach does not lead to the student quitting the behaviour. In the majority of cases, it does not help to build any type of relationship with the student. The student may end up fearing the consequences of messing up again, but his or her fear does not guarantee improved behaviour.

A Case for Certainty

Establishing a rapport. It is important to me that I have a rapport with students before I deal with their disciplinary issues. The principal as a “boogeyman” is not how I want to be identified. Instead, I am a principal who cares and respects the integrity of each person in the school. I work diligently to get to know students by visiting classes, for example. Students know who I am, and more importantly, I know them.  Establishing this type of rapport with students helps when they visit my office. They know I will listen and work with them to help solve their problems; and no matter what the outcome, the students know I care for them.

Due diligence. Collecting information and coming to an equitable solution is essential under the principle of certainty. When an incident occurs, I talk with each student involved individually. This approach allows me to understand each of the different perspectives involved.  My first question to students is “Why are you here?”  With this question, I help students focus on the situation and not me.  Students must be provided the opportunity to speak and share their version of the event.  Being diligent throughout the endeavor demands I gather all the pertinent information from all of the participants–this could entail several conversations with various students.

Gathering information is essential to making determinations about consequences. My second question to students is “What would be fair?” When we talk about consequences for misbehaviour, students will typically suggest disciplinary actions that are WAY WORSE than I would have ever suggested.  Together, the student and I, identify a resolution and consequence that more often than not has students saying “thank you” when they leave my office (which is much better than being thought of as a “boogeyman”!).

Dependence upon the community. After meeting with students, I typically speak with the parents or guardians about the situation. I depend upon the primary adults in the students’ lives to support their children in all instances, even when a little trouble arises. I want parents to be aware of what has happened in the situation.  Sometimes I call the parents during the meeting with their child. I pursue this course so they can be a part of the solution, especially if there are special circumstances.  The majority of parents are thankful for the opportunity to know what is going on with their child at school; while I appreciate having the opportunity to depend upon parents when issues arise affecting their children.

Teachers are the other key community members I depend upon to uphold the principle of certainty. Teachers who work with the students involved are always part of the conversation.  Teachers often deal directly with conflicts in their classrooms. They definitely have the strongest relationship with the children and have built a strong environment of trust.  This is something that I am very thankful for and certainly makes my day-to-day job easier.

Understanding the Whole Child

Student disciplinary incidents are fairly low at my school. Repeat offenders are few and far between.  Is our system perfect?  Nothing is perfect, but I believe that it is pretty good. Ultimately, when operating from a perspective of certainty it is important to

  • Listen to the child and give them the opportunity to work through their problem,
  • Help the child figure out how he or she could have constructively handled the conflict,
  • Trust students are more often than not, trying their best to do what’s right,
  • Accept responsibility as guides in the lives of our students,  and
  • Treat each child and situation as unique.

Understanding the whole child (emotional, intellectual, social, etc.) is a key element in my enacting the principle of certainty over severity when addressing disciplinary issues in my school. Establishing rapport, collecting information, and promoting community involvement in our students’ lives are the three essential tasks I believe address disciplinary issues under the principle of certainty. If we adopt these practices we can be certain that even when conflicts occur, we are still helping our students grow into responsible adults.

Do you believe in me?

One of my favourite videos that I have seen is of Dalton Sherman, a young student in Dallas, Texas who did the keynote for education staff at the beginning of the school year.  What I find absolutely amazing about this speech, is the confidence and maturity this young man has as a speaker.  He does not only have a great message, but he also has the talent to be engaging and humourous, way past his years.  These are characteristics that I strive for anytime I speak to any group, but Dalton seems to hit it better than I ever could.

There are two things that REALLY stick out to me in this video.  First and foremost, is the message.  As an educator, I truly believe that we need to find a student’s passion and help them build upon that.  Dalton may not be the strongest student academically (I honestly have no idea how his academics are nor to be honest, do I care), but he does have an obvious passion for speaking.  Students should not have to work with educators that do not work their hardest to find and empower students to find their talents.  Engaging students in their passion is our number one job as educators; this will definitely give them the opportunity to become leaders in their lives.

The second thing that stands out to me is that SOMEONE believed enough in this student that Dalton could be the one to inspire educators at the beginning of the year.  It is a monumental task to speak in front of such a large and diverse crowd, but someone believed enough in Dalton to get him up there, and let him lead teachers.  Great to see that such a large group of educators is happy and eager to learn from one of their students.

Enjoy the below video of Dalton; it is definitely one that sticks with me.

Happy Easter!

Having family that is located in different areas of Canada (not one of my siblings, or parents lives in the same city) is tough, but it is always good to connect with each other when we have the opportunity. I was glad to make my way home for the weekend, get my mind (mostly) off of my career, and hang out with my family.

It is really interesting how the dynamics from my childhood always take place immediately when we are in the same room with my brothers. I am the youngest in the family, and my brothers are both very intelligent and opinionated people who have very interesting (and loud) conversations based on their different views. Most people that know me, would be scared to know that I am the “shy” one of the three, but I just really like listening and hearing what they have to say. I learned so much from my brothers, and grew up very quickly listening to them when I was a child. It was great to hop into my older brothers lap and pose for a picture, and even though I am a good 10 cm taller than him, he always makes me feel like the baby brother.

Being away so much has taught me to appreciate, in my own way, seeing my family. We are not the most talkative bunch, but we all feel comfortable when the other is in the room. The safety and certainty of being around one another, knowing that through all times we will back each other up, is a great feeling. It is nice to know that as we grow up and go in our own directions, I feel more connected with my family than I ever have.

I hope everyone had a great Easter with their family as I know I did with mine!

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

Leading by Example

I would like to first welcome everyone to come and see my new blog and soon to be comprehensive digital portfolio.  I am principal of a K-6 school and K-12 Outreach located in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada.  I love my job and appreciate all of the staff, students, and parents that I work with.

As we are moving in both the area of successful technology integration, along with embedding critical thinking into everyday practice, I have decided to try and lead by example by creating a digital portfolio through WordPress, similar to my brother Dr. Alec Couros, amongst many other successful educational practitioners.  The vision is that students and staff would be able to learn from my own practice, with both the success and failures, to develop their own portfolios.

As I start on this journey, I am looking at what different things I would include in my own portfolio to show my growth as a professional.  I have included pages based upon the Alberta Principal Quality Standard and will build upon those in the near future, but what would people suggest that a principal also include in their own portfolio?  I have talked to students in the University of Regina Education program about branding their name and creating a positive online presence, so this is just another way that I think could help to build upon this endeavour.

I know that I do not have much information included on my portfolio and have thrown out the bare bones version to the world, but a famous quote that I stole from the movie, “Coming to America”, which was used from Nietzsche:

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.”

I guess today I am learning to stand.