Category Archives: action

#saskedchat Summer Blogging Challenge

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Week 2 of the #saskedchat Summer Blogging Challenge

Our topic this week is Supporting. Tribe, a post by Jana Scott Lindsay, has me pondering how do we support ourselves and, just as importantly, be part of a support system for others. Jana starts her post off with a great quote from Seth Godin – go check it out. I’ll wait.

Pretty great quote isn’t it? Great post too!

Seth Godin constantly reminds me that I don’t have to write a short story to get a point across. In fact, sometimes less is more. In his post today, The Top of The Pile  he asks

We need an empathy of attention. Attention is something that can’t be refunded or recalled. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

So, what have you done to earn it?

In his latest book What to do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn) Godin reminds us that

Now, more than ever, more of us have freedom to care,

the freedom to connect,

the freedom to choose

the freedom to initiate

the freedom to do what matters,

If we choose.

It’s that choice part that I need to pay attention to and remind myself about. As Jana discusses in her post – you read it right? – being conscious of others is a choice, being part of a tribe is a choice, being involved is a choice

for most of us.

There are others, however, that don’t get to have those choices.

How do we support them? How do we make others aware of this fact? How do we get to the top of their pile?

And not just because it’s part of being an educator but because we have the freedom to care, connect, choose, initiate –

we have privilege.

Support – what does it mean to you?

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It’s Okay to Share Your Work

It’s tempting to sit in the corner and then, voila, to amaze us all with your perfect answer.

But of course, that’s not what ever works. Seth Godin

The other day I gave a presentation in an undergraduate class about using social media in teaching. During the discussion, I was asked if students should continue to blog when they are done classes.

Yes. Continue to blog and share your learning. Make it a part of your professional practice. Don’t see it as an add-on but as part of your daily learning practice. Everyday is a Professional Development day. See your blog as part of your PD practice.

Blogging helps me to put my ideas down and work through them. Part of my online Portfolio shows the work that I am doing. It is also a place where I can share what I am thinking about, pondering, exploring,….. Blogging is a part of my Professional Development. Sometimes I blog openly about it but other days I write just to work through ideas and thoughts. Not everything needs to be published.

Ship before you’re ready, because you will never be ready. Ready implies you know it’s going to work, and you can’t know that.

The purpose isn’t to please the critics. The purpose is to make your work better.

Polish with your peers, your true fans, the market. Because when we polish together, we make better work. Seth Godin

This is the part with which many, including myself, struggle. When is it “ready”? That’s not easy to decide. Harold Jarche recent post a half-baked idea discusses why blogging is important for everyone:

“I’m thinking of doing some coaching in a few years and helping people make decisions around food and nutrition”, I was told the other day by a young man working in a shop. My advice was to start a blog: now. While he had no intention of freelancing for the near term, he needed to get his thoughts in order. A blog is a good place to do this over time. You can start slow. The process builds over time. My early blog posts were pretty bad but they helped me see what ideas I could revisit and build upon. And it took time.

“And it took time.”

In my post Blogging as a Professional I discuss some of the reasons teachers should blog and some of the things to consider when you start out one of which is “why” you want to blog. This is important for keeping your focus. It’s easy to begin blogging but it takes time to develop your voice and produce your best work. Todd Henry discusses this in his latest book Louder Than Words. He calls this the Aspiration Gap

“When this gap exists, it’s often due to high personal expectations founded in your observation of the work of other people you admire. When you are incapable of producing work that meets those high standards, it’s tempting to give up far too soon. For this reason, many people either quit or move on to something more “reasonable” simply because they were frustrated by their temporary inablility to achieve their vision”

One reason I blog is because it’s part of my professional mission

“To relentlessly pursue supporting educators to develop creativity and innovation in the classroom through connections, relationships and effective professional development.”

There are many people whose work I admire and follow. I don’t see my own work meeting those standards. Many days I hesitate to push “publish”. I know that being consistent is important just as it in any other aspect of life because it helps to improve your skills. To make progress we have to consistently practice. As Seth Godin says,

What works is evolving in public, with the team. Showing your work. Thinking out loud. Failing on the way to succeeding, imperfecting on your way to better than good enough.

George Couros, in his latest post The (Nearly) Invisible Portfolio, discusses his development of a portfolio (portfolios & sharing are today’s hot topics!)

The interesting thing about this idea is that my portfolio may have found you, or you may have found it, but in both cases, anyone can see it. There are different ways I can share my learning through different mediums. I love to write, but I also am able to share through visuals, podcasts, video, or things that I couldn’t even imagine.

But, as George points out, not all the learning he does makes it to the portfolio to be published

I also have the option of allowing you to see it or not. I do have spaces where my learning is for my eyes only, or in what I choose to share.

This is a crucial point. Not all we do is ready for shipping. The learning process isn’t about publishing everything. Some works are in the incubation stage, some are in the development stage and some are at the sharing stage.

You should ship when you’re prepared, when it’s time to show your work, but not a minute later. Seth Godin

Sharing our work isn’t easy but it is necessary for growth and development. Feedback from others helps us to reflect on the work being done.

How are you continuing to develop and learn as a professional? Are you sharing that with others and getting feedback? Do you have an online portfolio? Are you shipping?

Your mindset and attitude influence your success. What’s yours?

I’d love to hear your comments and feedback so leave comment. Thanks for taking the time to read

Student Engagement – #saskedchat March 10, 2016

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Another Edu-Awesome #saskedchat! Our topic was Student Engagement and our guest moderator Jade Ballek (@jadeballek) a principal in the Sun West School Division at Kenaston Distance Education Learning Centre.

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We had over 40 participants take part in the chat. For some, this was their first experience joining a chat which can be a bit of a shock with how fast the chat moves and the number of different conversations that take place.

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With this number of participants, missing part of a conversation happens and that is why we archive all the #saskedchats!

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Student Engagement

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What does “Student Engagement” mean to you? Over time, my ideas about student engagement have changed. As a young teacher I was focused on the lesson and my teaching, on creating lessons that were, I thought, “engaging”. Later, as I developed confidence as a teacher and began to explore different teaching strategies, I became less worried about “my teaching” and more focused on “student learning”. In Matt Head’s post Learning or Teaching? he states

As I reflect on my own teaching I have come to realize that what and how I am teaching is usually my first priority.

It is what teachers are doing, focusing on their teaching because that is part of the job. There is the focus on planning, assessment, planning, classroom management, planning, classroom design, planning, student interaction, and planning. During a recent episode of ITTNation, Dave Bircher and I discuss Cross-Curricular planning and how the act of deeply understanding the curricula can open up opportunities for learning that allow for FLOW to take place.

Focus, Learning, Observation and Wonder.

Teachers are able to allow the Focus of the lesson to emerge from interaction with students. The Learning take place through the interactions and is driven by student ideas, interests and passions. Through Observation the teacher is able to guide students in their interests while making connections to Learning Outcomes. This allows students and teachers to Wonder – exploring different topics and concepts from a place of Wonder.

The current focus on the state of education on a global scale is on what teachers do in the classroom. Debates between Reformers of all types draw different ideas about what needs to happen in the classroom in order for students to be prepared for their future. Sometimes, missing from the debate, is what is happening NOW . How many educators are wondering about how the recent two wins by Google’s AlphaGo over the world champion Go player will impact schools? What will this mean for students?

Overall, Google’s DeepMind is calling on a type of AI called deep learning, which involves training artificial neural networks on data — such as photos — and then getting them to make inferences about new data. Venture Beat

Are we preparing students for today? Are we engaging them in a discussion about what is happening in the present? Too often the mantra is “Prepare for the Future”.  In some respects, today isn’t even close to what I thought it was going to be 10 years ago. In other way, it is.

“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” Yoda

This is not a call to toss out all of what is currently happening in schools and classrooms. In the present reform cacophony, it’s hard sometimes to even hear oneself think never mind trying to make sense of what is being proposed especially when there is more and more being added to the discussion. This isn’t just about what tools to use in the classroom or if there should be interactive whiteboards or not, whether teachers should adopt flipped learning or embrace blended learning or Project Based Learning.  The discussion includes environment design, learning design, social justice, content bias, differentiated learning systems, game theory, makerspaces, content diffusion, digital citizenship, digital literacy and other pedagogical and theoretical discussions/issues each with their representatives and lobbyists.

Education, it’s a serious business.

There are no simple answers and stopping schooling until things get figured out isn’t going to happen. It is a work in progress. Yes the shuttle is being built as it is being flown – it is the only way learning can continue.

Engaging or Empowering?

Our chat briefly touch on is engaging someone the same as empowering them? What do we want to happen in schools? Why is this important to discuss? As we live in the midst, it is struggling with such questions that help us to make sense of the noise.

If we want people to feel empowered, then releasing control and giving ownership is the only way this can truly happen. George Couros

Are teachers being engaged or empowered? Are administrators? Are parents? Do we allow people to have ownership of their learning? How do we mange such a shift?

Like other such discussions, everyday implementation is, itself, a work in progress. As an administrator, providing input from students and parents was important but so where division and provincial policies. Providing leadership opportunities and helping people develop their strengths was important to developing a school culture of learning and growth. Shifting school culture from a top-down model to a collaborative/shared leadership model isn’t just about “sharing responsibility”. It involves creating a culture of shared growth, trust, learning and collaboration. Such development takes time and, in an environment of efficiency and improvement, can often be overshadowed by “what the data says”.

The #saskedchat provided a great many things to think about, some of them I’ve touched on.

Your mindset and attitude influence your success. What’s yours?

I’d love to hear your comments and feedback.

It’s in the Details

We do get bogged down by obstacles. They grab our attention. We spend time pondering how they got there. We even spend energy being angry about them. None of this is helpful. We have to look for the openings, choose well, and find our way around them.  Rob Hatch

How often do you hear someone wishing they had more freedom? Or opportunity?

I know I often said such things as I looked out onto a world and thought I was being held back.

Turns out I was but the reason wasn’t linked to someone else.

I was that someone.

Often, instead of seeing the opportunities, I was focused on barriers. Instead of choosing freedom, I chose to acquire more responsibilities.

When in doubt, when you’re stuck, when you’re seeking more freedom, the surest long-term route is to take more responsibility.  Seth Godin

In a world where possibility surrounds us, it can be difficult to admit that we are responsible for our own freedom in different ways. I would often look around and see what others were doing, seeing what I believed to be the freedom and opportunity they had compared to my own, mostly self-imposed, limitations.

As an school administrator, the frustration and stress grew with mounting expectations. Instead of seeking the knowledge and expertise of the people who surrounded me, I forged on, almost wearing the frustration and responsibility like a badge.

Responsibility without freedom is stressful. There are plenty of jobs in this line of work, just as there are countless jobs where you have neither freedom nor responsibility.  Seth Godin

Part of the issue was my attitude was keeping me in a place where there was little opportunity for freedom despite a great deal of responsibility. I was afraid of “freedom” so it was easier to take on more responsibility hoping it would somehow lead to more freedom.

A Feeling of Dissonance

The lack of freedom created a dissonance in the work environment. The increasing amount of details that educators are required to deal with and work through each day, to the “follow the plan, do the initiative, fill in the form. Don’t make mistakes.” creates a dissonance when they are also urged to “take risks and be innovative”. This type of dissonance, like the dissonance of a sound that is off, creates stress that drains creativity and energy.

Expectations and responsibilities are part of any work. It’s how these impact the environment, work culture, and individual performance that is important. When we experience a dissonance, it bothers us and makes us uneasy. We want to correct the dissonance. Much like attention residue that results from multi-tasking which prevents you from moving smoothly from one task to another.

it is difficult for people to transition their attention away from an unfinished task and their subsequent task performance suffers. Sophie Leroy

This dissonance continues to impact all aspects of the learning environment. Students and teachers are affected between the dissonance created when what is said doesn’t align with what is expected. “We want our students to be risk-takers and collaborators – but our reporting system rewards individuality and conformity” 

 It’s In the Details

Now,  Details matter. As Dean Brenner discusses, details are important

But the amount of detail we discuss in meetings and presentations, and the way in which we communicate it, is a daily source of frustration in many work cultures.

Often, there is an overwhelming amount of detail, in the form of data, provided to educators. This increased amount of detail becomes an overwhelming point of stress, not because of the detail but the lack of opportunity to reflect and integrate into the current situation and to make adjustments and changes indicated by the data.

No one wants their time wasted. You must walk into the room ready to get to the point. You should include enough detail to satisfy the expectations and facilitate discussion, but not so much that everyone is looking at their watches. (Or, in the case of a classroom, the floor, the ceiling, out the window or in the desk!)

This applies to all parts of education – we want people to be empowered to learn and develop. In an educational setting, we should

Be ready to go deep, but allow the audience to take you there.

In classrooms, staff meetings, professional development, and presentations is the audience allowed to direct what takes place?  What if those sitting in the audience were provided the opportunity to go deep?   How often do you attend a workshop or PD event where a presenter makes some great points but there isn’t time to reflect? Why doesn’t this happen more often?

Your mindset and attitude influence your success. What’s yours?

I’d love to hear you comments, ideas, and thoughts. Thanks for reading and sharing with me.

That’s Why We Hired You

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A few years back, my daughters were given the responsibility of running the local swimming pool for the summer. They were hired by the local pool board and given the responsibility of getting the pool ready for the upcoming year. There was a manual and a someone who worked on maintaining the mechanical aspects of the pool but they were responsible for the rest. The one hired as the general manager asked the chairperson how she was suppose to learn all that she needed to do. I absolutely loved the response, which I was fortunate to hear because, in a small town, they were discussing this in our kitchen:

We hired you because you are smart and capable. We know that you have the skills necessary to do what is needed. We will support you and I can tell you who you can contact for help but you are the manager. You and your staff will need to keep the pool up and running and I can’t be leaving work to help you out. I’ll do what I can but we have full faith that you will be able to do what is necessary. That’s why we hired you.

And the girls did just that. It was one of the best learning experience my daughters had before they went to university. To this day, they talk about how much they learned. They still get the odd phone call from new managers about how to do things.

Trusted Them

Did they make mistakes? You bet they did. Were there stressful moments? Yep. I was privy to some “deep discussions” (arguments) between the two sisters about everything from schedules to expectations of staff to expectation of patrons to what pool toys to purchase (who knew a blow-up whale could cause so many problems!) The board trusted these young people to do what was right and make good decisions and were rewarded for that trust with hard work and young people who gave it their all (and a lot more) and provided a great service to a small community.

 Grew Their Strengths 

There were courses to take and tests to pass, inspections to meet and technical aspects to master. Each one required different strengths to be developed. Each girl had different strengths which they were allowed to use – to grow. Because they were allowed to use their strengths they were willing to take risks.  And when something wasn’t a strength? Fortunately each of the girls that worked (and they were all girls) had different strengths which they used. Sometimes, it took the intervention of someone to point out that maybe someone else might be better suited to organizing the swimming lessons or managing the chemicals and ensuring that all safety standards were met.

Did they always use their strengths? Nope. In fact, stubborn determination sometimes meant they had to learn through mistakes. But, mistakes they did make and learn they did. For three years, this group managed an outdoor pool in a small town, taking it from losing money to breaking even. All have gone on to other things but each of them grew in so many ways during that time.

I was fortunate to be able to learn with/from them.

Educational Leadership

The role of school leadership and it’s impact on change and innovation has been well documented and discussed. There are different opinions as to the exact extent of the impact that school leadership has on student achievement or the changing role of school leaders in schools today. As a former school administrator, there always seemed to be a wide array of opinions about what I should be doing as a leader and what my role was as a leader within the school and the community. Having been an administrator in 8 different schools in 5 communities, my experiences were different and unique in each setting. Although there were some things that were similar, each school and community was unique with its own set of characteristics, strengths, and challenges.

Seeing Strengths in Others

In education, we traditionally focus a great deal of attention on weaknesses or areas of improvement. A great deal of Data Driven Decision-Making is focused on identifying areas for growth – areas of weakness – that need improvement. One of the primary responsibilities of an educational leader is to use that data to identify areas and implement initiatives to make improvement. A lot of time and effort is spent on looking for deficits.

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It’s somewhat similar at all levels. Identify weaknesses and areas for improvement. Focus on these.

But what about Strengths

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Which Strength?

As an administrator I spent so much time focused on identifying weaknesses in everyone, including myself, but not nearly enough time identifying strengths and helping people use and improve them.

What I learned from watching my daughters was how important it was to focus on strengths – grow them, improve them, nourish them. Through a collaborative team effort where people’s strengths are combined, the synergy of the team leads to even greater growth and development, especially in areas of strengths.

Liz Wiseman in Multipliers identifies 5 traits that leaders have who grow people – develop them and allow them to improve.

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And areas of weakness? They improve but, more importantly, they aren’t used to hold someone back from progress and growing.

Differentiate to grow Strengths

Too often an inordinate amount of time is devoted to weaknesses instead of building teams that are strong because of the variety of strengths the people on the team possess. Teachers, for the most part, spend their days working in classrooms with students. Many teachers are themselves Multipliers, helping students to grow and develop strengths. However these strengths aren’t the one’s found on tests or reflected in test scores which shifts the focus away from helping both teachers and students grow and develop their strengths.

Too often, time is spent trying to improve areas of weakness that result in minimal improvement while areas of strength are left without development. This stifles growth and drains students and teachers of energy. To have innovation, supporting people to use their strengths gives them the freedom to develop these and improve.

We tend to think of innovation as arising from a single brilliant flash of insight, but the truth is that it is a drawn out process involving the discovery of an insight, the engineering a solution and then the transformation of an industry or field. That’s almost never achieved by one person or even within one organization.

If we truly are looking for innovation in education, focusing on improving deficits will not bring that innovation. Instead, allowing people, teachers and students, to use, develop and grow their strengths through collaborative efforts and connecting provides opportunity for creativity and innovation and the possibility of transformational growth.

How are you growing others strengths? How are you growing your own strengths? I’d love to hear your experiences either of helping others to grow or someone who helped you and the impact it had on you.

Learning to Leap

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Taking a Leap

Some leaps, like across a puddle or over an object on the floor, aren’t that big. We do them without even thinking. They don’t scare us and we don’t really think about them. Unless we’re 6. And the puddle is very large. And we aren’t wearing rubber boots. But, if you’re like me 6 year old, you’ll leap anyways. Because it’s fun. And you just might make it. And the worst that can happen is your socks get wet. And it’s fun. So much fun that even if you do get wet, you’ll do it again and again.

As we get older, we begin to assess the leaps we take a bit differently. Will it ruin my shoes? Do I really want to walk around with wet socks? I might hurt my ankle. I might fall and that would look bad to people. It might be fun but…. so we quit even leaping over puddles. We avoid them, going around them so we don’t have to leap.

Seth Godin, in his post on February 29th celebrates leaping. A whole year? A whole year for leaping!

Leaping powers innovation, it is the engine of not only our economy, but of a thrilling and generous life.

Of course, you can (and should) be leaping regularly. Like bathing, leaping is a practice, something that never gets old, and is best done repeatedly.

But if we don’t leap regularly, we get out of practice. We get scared of leaping and trying new things. We worry about failure, what other people will think and say. As educators, we talk about FAIL as something like First Attempt At Learning. But it’s safe failing where the puddles are big enough to get our feet wet and we won’t have to wear wet socks all day. We forget that, if we don’t want wet socks, we can take off our shoes and socks and leap. We may get wet but we will learn some amazing things. We’ll demonstrate to our students that leaping is okay. That maybe, if we roll up our pants, that we can try even bigger leaps.

Innovation in Education

The existing power structure wants to maintain the status quo, and is generally opposed to the concept of leaping.  Seth Godin

This, I believe is one of the greatest things we need to overcome in education. Innovation might be happening but, in general, the status quo of education does not want to change the current structure. Our current structure continues to look the same no matter innovation is taking place in isolated places. Even our current system of PD continues to employ a system of bringing in speakers to deliver a message – controlled, with little chance of anyone getting their socks wet – even when if is a discussion of innovation. Disruptive Innovation  requires the opportunity for people to leap.

In education, our current system does not encourage people to leap. Now, people do leap and we have instances and examples of people trying different things but, for the most part, they continue within the “existing power structures… to maintain the status quo…”.

Greg Satell explores how innovation can be encouraged and leaping can be maybe become more enjoyable.

 The truth is that there are many paths to innovation.

Allowing people the opportunity to leap and try things is important. So is encouraging them to take a leap and working together to help each other leap. As Satell points out

most firms will find that to solving their most important problems will require skills and expertise they don’t have. That means that, at some point, you will need to utilize partners and platforms to go beyond your own internal capabilities.

Networking and connecting are essential components of learning and leaping yet are often underutilized in education at all levels. This doesn’t mean that we don’t look for experts within our own schools. In fact, it means that is exactly what we need to do – building on the strengths of those around us to figure out areas where assistance and support might be needed. Too often it is assumed that schools lack innovative capabilities when, in fact, the skills of the people within the building are not being fully utilized as the current power structures tend to focus on deficits and weaknesses instead of building upon people’s, students and teachers, strengths and passions.

In her blog post Drops of Glue and Scribbles too: How do we start to see things differently the author Aviva discussed seeing what is happening in the classroom from different points of view.

The point is that we may all have these students that are at different developmental stages, and that’s okay.

Allowing and encouraging others to leap is important. In schools and classrooms, providing opportunity for such leaping is critical to student development. Like students, people will be at different stages and, depending on their experiences, may need encouragement to leap.

In his post, Seth Godin states:

 In fact, if you want to make change happen, if you want to give others a chance to truly make a difference and to feel alive, it’s essential that you encourage, cajole and otherwise spread the word about what it means to leap.

Right now, tell ten people about how you’re leaping. Ask ten people about how they hope to leap…

For me, I’m leaping by trying new things, such as the ITTNation podcast with my friend Dave Bircher. I took a huge leap a few years ago by stepping away from my job as a school administrator and returning to graduate school. I am working on a number of presentations for upcoming conferences – Rural Congress and ULead – where I will be presenting on the topic of leadership and change.

Am I worried my socks will get wet?

You bet! I’m worried I might fall but I also know that too often one talks oneself out of doing something because of fear of the rejection. As I’ve learned, in order to leap, one has to develop characteristics  to leap, one being not  to dwell in the past and another is to be positive about the outcome.

Regardless of the “success” of these endeavours, the learning I will do along the way will serve me well and help me to try leaping yet again.

It could almost be written down as a formula that when a man begins to think that he at last has found his method, he had better begin a most searching examination of himself to see whether some part of his brain has not gone to sleep. Henry Ford

I’d love to hear how you are leaping this year and how you are encouraging others to leap. Leave me a comment or link to this post as you describe your own “Year of Leaping”

You Know Enough – Now Start

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Starting…..

It’s hard. It requires taking that first step. Of following it with another. Of having to get back up if you fall down. Learning to walk is tough but small children soon learn all the complex steps in taking one step, then another, then another… then they’re running.

Getting started on making change or reframing the work you do is the same way. It’s hard to get started. You cling to the furniture around you, balancing yourself, looking longingly at the open space in front of you yet not wanting to fall. Maybe just a bit more studying that space….

In a world filled with so much information, when will it be enough learning before it transfers into motion forward.  Maybe if I read more a few blogs or papers or books….. but there isn’t enough time to read it all but maybe just a few more…. the open space beckons you.

but it’s not just the information. It’s the fear. Fear of failure. Fear of going unnoticed. Fear that it won’t work out.

Fear… it holds us back, whispers all sorts of discouraging words,keeps us from even trying. We often don’t have to worry about failure because fear keeps us from trying.

Starting……

When I first began teaching I wasn’t very good. I might have been awful but for the fact that there were other teachers around me whose classes were a lot less exciting than mine. Mind you, I taught Arts Ed, Phys Ed and some English and there were days when it was VERY exciting.  In art – all kinds of things happen when you give 26+ grade 7’s some coloured ink, lino boards, paper and rollers and  instructions that aren’t quite as clear as you thought they were!

Graphic Art!

But I started. Each day, I’d try again. Each evening I’d spend hours trying to figure out what I could do differently or what I might change or….. it was exhausting but exhilarating at the same time but I knew I was missing something. I’d walk past classrooms and … well my classroom wasn’t like that!

Starting…..

Somewhere along the way I began to study teaching: teaching strategies,  methods, assessment, planning….. I began to think that if I could just read the right books or find the right method or strategies then I would become a “good teacher”.

Heck, I wasn’t even shooting for “great”! I wanted to be good. Solid. Not stellar. No way, because then you would stand out and people would up their expectations.

Good Enough…. but that wasn’t me.

I was always trying new strategies and methods in the classroom, experimenting with new configurations for learning, different assessment strategies and ways of students presenting their understanding. Somewhere along the way I stumbled across Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design, Tomlinson’s Differentiation and then both together! Rubrics, feedback, multiple assessment options for students. No two years were the same – with each class I learned that I would have to make changes to meet their learning needs – even though I didn’t really know that was what I was doing at the time.

Starting….

Along the way I was fortunate to work with some great teachers. I mean, really great. What made them great? Their planning? The strategies? The assessment? I spent time trying to figure it out and it was right in front of me all along. See, great teachers begin with the end in mind – they begin with student. Relationships are the foundation. They don’t give up on students. Student growth and development are their focus. They ground their work in the relationships they build with their students.

It took me a long time to figure that out because I was looking in the wrong place to start. I was looking for the method or plan or organization or strategy when, all along, great teachers begin with relationships. All they do is linked to the relationships they develop with students, parents, colleagues, administrators, and community members.

Starting…. 

They aren’t afraid to try new or different things for fear of making mistakes because they know that those mistakes are great opportunities for learning with their students.

 I think we need to do serious hard work in producing alternative models without being tied down to what can be implemented in the short run. I think if we take industries like aircraft, or any big industry, they are spending large resources on planning for the day when they know that what’s cutting-edge today is going to be obsolete. The education world has to learn to put a fraction of its resources into what cannot be done today, but can be, but which can stand there as experimenting, as working with visions of a possible future. Seymour Papert 

They don’t shy away from incorporating technology because they understand that when pedagogically driven, technology can enhance the learning experience. They are always reading and questioning what they do in the classroom because they are a true life-long learner, curious about the world around them.

They aren’t afraid to start even though they don’t know all the steps. See, these teachers have a secret that they share with everyone and that secret, which took me so long to figure out was …….

Just Start

Reframe the Story

It begins with the relationships in the classroom. You can be innovative and creative, I sure was, but I didn’t pay attention to that relationship piece. Somehow I missed that part. See, lost in the search, lost in the reading and reflection, missed in the implementation was just how key relationships are to the classroom.

For me, it took my own struggle with “what am I missing?” and the frustration of not “getting it” to finally cast aside my preconceived ideas about what it meant to be a “good teacher” and reframe – what made me a good student? What drove me along? Why was I motivated to learn?

Yes, part of it was a desire to learn but part, the part I wasn’t always aware of, was the relationship I formed with others as I learned and the key the instructor/teacher played in the learning. When learning begins with relationships, teachers begin to put that little bit of energy into developing for the future. They aren’t content with what they are doing today but are looking forward to see what might be tomorrow.

So, what does your today and tomorrow look like?

 

Let’s Try Re-Framing

The First Follower

This is one of my favourite videos about leadership and being willing to take risks. Early in my career as a teacher, and then as an administrator, I often was so focused on my own agenda that I often missed out on helping others who were more talented that I was as particular things. As I learned through experience (which is only a good teacher if you take the time to be reflective and developmental about your experiences) being a good leader was about helping other people achieve goals, finding ways people can use their talents to grow and improve, searching for ways to allow creativity and innovation to be part of the school environment, allowing others the opportunity and space to be risk-takers and innovators, and building community where adapting and changing are core elements of learning and growing.

Challenge Others to Change

As a leader,  creating an environment where ideas thrive is foundational to making changes that substantially change the learning environment of a school. High expectations are important – helping people reach them is the role of leader. Holding people accountable is important but providing them the opportunity to try new things,  make mistakes and deeply reflect on the what they learn is essential to improvement. People who are afraid to try will stop if they perceive that the consequences for trying are negative or are not connecting to a vision of improvement in learning. To give people room to meet the challenges ahead, leaders need to provide the support for taking risks while also having the expectation that if something isn’t successful there will be reflection making adjustments and moving forward. Leaders create an atmosphere for growth when they use questions to challenge others to see where things might lead, to introduce different perspectives, and provide opportunity for there to be multiple solutions.

Re-Frame the Challenge

The current frame for education is something along the lines of “You need to go to school and do what you are told to do in order to be successful in your future.” or something along those lines. The point is not what the exact frame is but that it really isn’ about challenging or creating wonder or enthusiasm or fun or development or innovation. It’s about showing up and doing school. As an administrator, I often had parents of students who were struggling comment that the student needed to pass and get a grade 12 because without it they wouldn’t be successful in life. There was this “grin & endure” frame. Even successful students would often comment about the lack of connection between what they were doing in school and what they saw as opportunity once they were finished school. There seems to be a “we all survived it so that’s what students need to do.”

But what if school leaders and teachers began to explore the question of “Would students still come if school wasn’t mandatory?” What if the mindset was to open up the discourse around education and what it means to be “educated” in today’s changing world? What challenges are we missing with the current framing of education as “have to” and “endurance”?

What would change if leaders and teachers did a cntrl-alt-delete of the current framing of school?

Why would school be important?

Why would students want to come to school?

Why would teachers want to teach?

Simon Sinek, in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Action, discusses how leaders often start with the What or How of what they are leading instead of the Why. A great example he gives is how Apple, Inc., doesn’t start with the company selling computers or iphones or ipods but, instead, explains that Apple, Inc. begins with:

Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly.

And we happen to make great computers.

Wanna buy one?

So, what would happen if instead of telling students “You have to go to school because you need to in order to be successful sometime in the future” school leaders and teachers reframed it to something like

“We believe that everyone can learn . We believe learning is a life-long skill. We challenge people to explore, question, collaborate and create and share with others as they are learning. And we happen to be a school. Wanna join us?

That’s just one idea for Re-framing that allows teachers and leaders to cntrl-alt-delete the current frame of school and  re-image learning and the school in a different way.

That Can’t Be Done! – Can It?

Often, as a school leader, I didn’t share the responsibility of change, keeping it for myself, often telling myself that I was helping the teachers by being a filter for what came down to us from above. And maybe in a hierarchical system, there is something to this but what I learned was that I wasn’t really protecting as much as I was limiting what we could do as a school. I wasn’t looking at the abilities and talents around me. I wasn’t embracing a community of learning. I wasn’t challenging everyone with getting better or seeking new alternatives. I was protecting what we were doing, incrementally allowing change to take place. That Can’t Be Done! was infact true but only because the way I was leading limited the capacity of others and the school to change and improve.

It took my own public humiliation to recognize that I was no better as a leader than the person who did that to me. I’d like to say that it was a lightning strike and I saw the light but it didn’t happen that way. It took me time and some deep reflection to realize that I was a main reason the school and teachers weren’t progressing and being all they could be.  Can It? I learned that, yes it can but it requires a leader confident in their abilities and, more importantly, confident in the abilities of those around them to meet BIG challenges, a leader willing to ask BIG questions and then give people time to go out and find ways to answer those questions.

I began to understand that a leaders role wasn’t always to be out front, that could in fact lead to  being a  Lone Nut. When a leader thinks small, limits input,  tells but doesn’t ask questions and swoops in to save the day, they demonstrate a lack of trust and community, not great leadership. Being a First Follower can be crucial to the kind of change necessary for schools to hit cntrl-alt-del and embrace change.

Re-Framing as Leader

Re-framing the whole premise of school begins with taking a chance to  reconceptualize what it means to be “educated”. It’s an opportunity to create something new. My experience is that it also means that leaders will come up against resistance, especially from those who are extremely comfortable with the status quo and the hierarchical structure of traditional schooling. However as David Penglase explains about Aspirational Leadership

You could, for example, choose to view and treat leadership as a position or role. Alternatively, you could step up and into your own value, accept and embrace the reality that your leadership role is a privilege and not just a position.

Aspirational leaders have three core principles: Relationships matter, Values and models integrity, and earns, builds and maintains trust.

The difference is how they see their role and the people around them. In re-framing schools, part of the process is re-framing the role that leaders have within schools as creative and innovate centres of discovery and learning.

Thing to Think About

  1. How do you see your role as a leader? If you were to ask others, how would they describe your role as a leader? Are you sure?
  2. Why do you lead? Why is it important to you?
  3. Would you be able to re-frame a new “Why” for your school? Could you work with staff and parents to develop a new re-frame?
  4. What would a new re-frame mean for you as a leader? The teachers? The students? The parents?

Small Changes – getting big results – #saskedchat Aug.27

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It was the Last Summer Chat

Our last chat for the summer was AWESOME! Our topic was Small Change – Making Small Change for Big Results. We are all familiar with the idea that the only thing that stays the same is that things are always changing. Education in recent years has been framed, unfairly I believe, as not making changes to meet the needs of learners. In fact, in a few short years, education has been making incredible changes in many areas, from instruction to assessment and the use of different technologies is growing. One needs to remember that the iPhone was introduced in June of 2007 while the iPad, the first tablet to really take on the market, was released in 2010. In that time, schools have moved from banning these tools to embracing them, teachers have begun to shift away from content teaching to various inquiry approaches which allow students to explore and examine different topics while the teacher supports their learning and, hopefully, having them delve deeper into the social and culture impacts of what they are studying.

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Apple phone timeline

Yes we are 15 years into the 21 Century and things are changing at breakneck speed but that doesn’t mean require that educators try to keep up with every new change. In fact, it’s as prudent to take some time to examine the impact before bathwater and baby hit the ground.

In recent years, the shift from handwritten notes to digital note taking has received a fair amount of attention with attention focused on the retention of information between notes taken on a device and handwritten notes. Recently I read a great article on note taking – A Quick and Dirty Guide to Perfect Note-taking by Joel Lee. In it, Lee begins by outlining that in fact, he prefers pen and paper.

All things being equal, I’d choose handwritten notes over digital notes any day of the week — but all things aren’t equal. While I love the feel of pen, pad, and paper, the truth is that digital notes are way more convenient in this modern age.

In schools, we have the option to maybe do what’s not convenient but to look at options that lead to better learning for students. In some studies, it was shown that taking notes via handwriting allowed students to more deeply process information than when they used a laptop. Remember the viral twitter picture that shows students taking photos of the notes from the board – heck I allowed students to take notes in the same way – it was more convenient.

Is Convenient Good For Learning

But as we examine the use of technology and what takes place in schools, these discussions allow us to reflect on our practice and what we are doing. What is the reason for taking notes from a lecture or off the board? Does this lead to the type of learning allowing students to delve deeply into subjects, to explore different ways of thinking about a topic, to examine their and their classmates opinions, thoughts and worldview? Is taking a photo off the board for convenience going to lead to delving into topics, concepts and ideas at a deeper level?  How can we design classrooms to better allow for students to collaborate as they delve deeply into concepts, ideas, and problems? Are we focusing our energies in the right place or are many of the discussions/debates really surface level (think ditch the desk)?

It’s About Making Small Changes and Growing Over Time

As a father of 8 children, I learned a great deal over time. When our first daughter was born I knew nothing about parenting. Now, 24 years later and 7 other little people to experiment on, I’ve learned a few things. One of them is that small changes can lead to big results. One of the important things is you can’t just add to what you’re doing unless you like that feeling of frazzled anxiety stress. It means taking time to examine what you do and altering your routine/habit.

As we head back to school, just saying “Everyone is going to bed early” will not lead to anyone going to bed early and, with a pre-teen and teenager, may lead to later nights if past experience is any indicator. If the desired outcome is getting anyone to bed earlier, including myself, then making changes to the daily routine that will then become the daily routine are important. In summer, routine tends to be dictated by summer activities so late nights roasting marshmallows for s’mores is important as is watching the Northern Lights dance across the sky, long evening walks and popcorn with a family movie three nights in a row or early mornings to go fishing, take a road trip to visit family or maybe get an occasional golf game in.

This past week we slowly began to change our routine, starting with getting up earlier. Not school early, don’t get crazy, but earlier. In the evening, reading has replaced other activities and the nightly ritual of having a bath has been re-instituted for our youngest despite his protests. Will we be ready for the school start? Nope. Ready, I’ve learned, is a mythical place often spoken about with deep longing but, in reality, isn’t real. “I’m ready as I’ll ever be” is as close as we get. But that doesn’t stop us from moving forward, making changes and continuing on. It’s not about always being busy – that doesn’t really lead to lasting changes but, instead, small focused changes over time that eventually lead us to somewhere near our goal. We’ll be “ready as we can be” for school to start.

The Importance of Small Changes

In this weeks chat, participants discussed different changes they hoped to make this school year. As the chat began, participants described change in three words. Participants know that change is necessary but it doesn’t make it any less daunting or difficult. Indeed, it’s needed but are we ever ready?

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Do You Love Learning?

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Do you love to learn? 

Try new things?

Explore new ideas?

Read books/ebooks about a variety of topics? Search Youtube for different topics? Search the net to learn about something you are doing? Tried a MOOC (Massive Online Open Class)? Participated in a Google Hangout? Done a Mystery Skype? Blogged about your day? Joined a Twitter chat?

Are you trying new things and seeking to learn something new? How about a new summer bbq recipe or some new salad dressing?

That’s What We Do

These are just a few things that I and many of the educators that I know would consider to be just what we do. Learning new things, trying new experiences and seeking out ideas that push our own thinking about the world and our own place in it. Yet, is  that what the majority of the population is doing? Are people reaching out to new experiences, trying new things and learning? According to Philip Pape in This Habit Will Put You in the Top %1 of Experts and Money-Makers ,

  • 25% of people have not read a book in the last year
  • 46% of adults score in the lowest two levels of literacy
  • Reading frequency declines after age eight

Yet, when you’re surrounded by people who read, support reading, encourage reading and like reading, it can seem that most people read and are into learning new things. But is that what is happening? It’s hard to tell. In doing some digging, it appears that Canadians are reading.

A 2005 readership study by the Department of Canadian Heritage (PCH), READING AND BUYING BOOKS FOR PLEASURE, found that nearly 9 in 10 (87%) Canadians said they read at least one book for pleasure in the 12 months preceding the study1 and that half (54%) read virtually every day. The average time spent reading is 4½ hours per week (unchanged since 1991); the average number of books read per year, 17 (down only slightly from 1991). Fully one-quarter (26%) reported that reading is the leisure activity they most commonly engage in, as many as cited TV-watching, putting reading and TV-watching in the #1 spot among leisure pursuits in Canada (and dwarfing “Internet activities,” which only 9% cited). These findings support thePCH report’s conclusion that “reading for pleasure remains a solidly established and widespread habit with little or no change over the last 15 years.”

Now, reading isn’t the only way people learn. In fact, through access to information on the internet, learning in some areas of the world is easier via video and audio. I used this video to repair a crack in the windshield.

Learning is available all around us. But as Steve Haragon discusses in his latest post there is a dissonance that he is seeing and sensing in the world around which is impacting people.

In the absence of coherent and engaging ways of viewing and improving our world, and of helping each other, the result may be that we shut down. We surrender our sense of agency. Cognitively and emotionally, our normal awareness and empathy bubbles shrink down to small, individual, spaces.

It may seem like this at times, especially when there is so many things that are happening and change is taking place at a rapid pace, so quickly that, for some, retreating is a way of coping. I know that there are times when the constant cacophony of educational voices imploring the need for change can feel overwhelming. In some cases, it would seem that throwing out the baby with the bath water is not only desirable but the only way for progress.

Teachers are Bombarded

This summer has seen an increase in the number of learning opportunities for teachers and it looks like this will continue well into the school year. For many teachers, summer is a time to recharge and refresh themselves. Learning is definitely a great way to replenish one’s batteries but in the past few years there has been a growing number of activities and conferences which now includes online conferences, edcamps and MOOCs plus weekly twitter chats and book clubs. These opportunities vary, each one vying to get the attention of teachers.

What does a teacher do?

Despite the rhetoric that fills some blogs, most teachers are life-long learners, trying to improve their classroom practice. With so many ideas and options available, trying to cope can seem daunting. The image of teacher-as-superhuman doesn’t seem to be far off!

Go to this conference!

Get this certification!

Get more certification!

Start a blog, write a book, present at a conference!

Embrace makerspace, genius hour, inquiry learning, flipped classroom, flipped staff meetings, flipped professional development, gamification of the classroom and school and professional development – make all things fun and engaging.

At a time when teachers and education seems to be lacking, improvement seems necessary.

Teachers who are learners and work to improve their teaching are being overwhelmed.

“Teachers retreat into themselves, not because they don’t care but because they care so much and so deeply they are being overwhelmed.”

I can’t remember the source for this quote. As an administrator, I would use this as a way to remind myself that part of the role of being an educational leader was to help teachers to manage the constant bombardment.  If teachers with whom I was working were becoming overwhelmed by all the demands, it would show in there day-to-day interactions. That meant being with them in their classrooms and working with them on projects. Hiding in the office under the desk only to appear when there were good things happening isn’t a successful leadership style.  Were the initiatives and requirements draining the care right out of the teachers? If it seemed that teachers were withdrawing, it was time to realign so that people didn’t disengage.

Are we killing the love of learning in teachers?

Are we becoming over zealous and driving people away? Are we using the excuses of like technology integration and student performance to push our own narrative of good teaching?

“I have seen the light and now you need to or your are a bad teacher!”

In fact, it’s creating a gap. People who just a few years ago weren’t engaged or were just beginning to engage with technology and using social media seem to have made themselves gatekeepers and gurus who proclaim what is and what is not good for teaching and what constitutes good teaching. Teachers are bombarded with someone’s version of what it means to be a good teacher and a lot of it has to do with using some kind of technology or program or …. or… or….!

Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative and  Die Empty and creator of the podcast The Accidental Creative discusses in his interview with Ron Friedman, a tendency to only post the positive-self online, the trips, conferences, publishing, accolades and not the more human parts that get people to these destinations so that it seems everyone we view is living these immaculate lives and doing all the great stuff which can lead to some serious anxiety as people think they need to keep up. Todd Henry describes this very well in Comparison and Competition.

Have you ever looked around at the work of others and felt like yours isn’t measuring up? Has this ever caused your passion for your work to wane? Don’t allow the slow ratcheting-up of expectations to paralyze you.

Too often, teachers are being shown a constant stream of what “experts” are doing without being given the time to improve themselves in a meaningful way. Yes, it can fuel people to improve but, just as easily, it can deflate people to give up. Rockstars were once garage bands.

Start with Relationships

Over and over again I’m reminded that whatever needs to change, building great relationships with students, teachers, parents and other community members is the foundation. Whether it’s Seth Godin in Linchpin, Stephen Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Michael Fullan in  The Six Secrets of Change or Carol Dueck in  Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, relationships again and again are the foundational piece to what people do. In his recent piece in The GuardianPaul Mason explores the end of capitalism in a postcapitalist society. Mason pieces outlines how technology allows information to be freely accessed by anyone. This in turns allows people to work together in new ways that until now were unattainable due to costs and distance.

we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy.

As highlighted by Godin in Linchpin, relationships and giving to others are changing how people and companies interact. We may only be at the beginning of this shift, but for schools and teachers, building relationships with students, other teachers and their community is so important. Teachers and schools no longer control the knowledge and content that students can access. Although many teachers and schools continue to try,  some educators are making the shift to helping students to become inquirers, supporting the student as they learn, focusing more on the learning and relationships and less on controlling content and assessment.

Highly Organized and Controlled 

As schools, school systems and, to some degree, teachers struggle with trying to control information and content, there is a rise in various methods being used to control what students do, when they do it and how they do it. Highly structured uses of technology and implementation of various systems used to monitor and provide feedback to students continue to dominate classrooms as teachers continue to be required to provide traditional grades and students are required to take traditional tests.  Despite these requirements, there are teachers who are pushing for greater openness – Genius Hour, Makerspaces, Gamification, Inquiry Learning, and versions of Blended Learning and Flipped Classrooms all are stretching the traditional classroom to become more learner focused with greater autonomy on the part of the learner.

Stephen Wilmarth, in his chapter Five Socio-Technology Trends That Change Everything in Learning and Teaching from the book Curriculum 21 Edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, explores how technology can lead to greater social interaction and learning. As Wilmarth explains

Be assured, I am not advocating that children do not need to learn to read. They do. Or that writing will not be necessary. It is. Or that the process of arriving at sums no longer matters. It does. But all of these things are the outcomes of social adaptation to prior technological change and invention. It is the nature and relevance of reading, writing, and sums that change as we enter the postliterate era. Significantly, it is and relevance of reading, writing, and sums that change as we enter the postliterate era. Significantly, it is the way in which we make meaning out of information to create new knowledge that is changing.

The relationships that are created within classrooms are beginning relationships of learning. Through social networks, we now have the ability to expand these learning networks beyond the classroom.

Joining communities of interest and shared values (personal, family, cultural, political, economic) has always been essential to a learner’s identity. In this case, identity equates to where an individual is on the learning curve. And where traditional community relationships once defined a learner’s identity, emerging social networking technologies allow wholly new community associations to spring up organically and globally. These community ties, both strong and weak, exert a powerful influence on learning.

First, keep in mind that social networking technologies are changing rapidly. Second, remember that the technologies are not the point. In social networking, it’s important to concentrate on relationships, not technologies.

Teachers are coping with changes on multiple levels both as learners and, in turn, as teachers. To think that teachers will all be able to move at the same pace is akin to saying all students in the classroom will learn along a linear timeline, at the same pace, with the same tools, doing the same things and arrive at the same time. I don’t know anyone who still believes this takes place in a modern classroom.

Do You Love Learning?

As classrooms and schools move through transformational phases, there will continue to be different degrees of adoption and change. Unlike many who seem to be frustrated by a seeming lack of change, I am optimistic because I have seen so much change in so many areas in the past 4 or 5 years. Twitter, which was once a fairly lonely place for me, is now a fully vibrant learning network with connections of all types of learners and leaders. Interestingly, some of the earlier adopters who were avid sharers are now less involved in the networks, working more in a different avenues such as presenting and blogging or become teacherpreneurs on their own.

What drives all these people? I believe it is a love of learning that is at the heart of what they do which leads them to share and connect with others to share that passion, building relationships with others through learning. I believe their passion for learning fuels their passion for teaching. For others, that spark needs to be kindled and fanned not crushed and blown out by a constant bombardment.

I Wonder…… 

…. what if teachers were supported as learners, trying to move through a myriad of changes along with everyone else? What if their learning was supported and valued, incorporated in the their work and part of a systemic view of learning as work?

….. how educational leaders can support teachers as they transition to a learning system where discovery and asking questions is of primary importance instead of content and knowledge distribution?

…. what if learning and relationships were the primary areas of focus? How might schools change to meet the needs of students and teachers through these two lenses?

…. where wondering and innovation will fit as educational institutions transition from being content and knowledge distribution centres?