Category Archives: classroom

Go Ahead – Try It On!

Trying Things On

I have a confession.

I like to go shopping.

Yeah, it’s a bit weird but I like to wander around stores and look at what’s new.  I use to enjoy going shopping with my girls when they were younger (and would let me go along!)  Now, my boys and I sometimes just spend an afternoon wandering around and looking at different things.

Sometimes, I even try things on. Things don’t always fit like I think they will. My mind’s eye doesn’t always give me an accurate image of what things will look like once I actually try them on. Sometimes things that I did’t think would look that great look pretty good.

It’s like that with many things in life. We don’t know how things will really turn out until we overcome our fear and try them.

John Spencer’s latest post The Unintended Consequences of Doing Creative Work explores what happens when someone is working through the creative process.

More often than not, the unintended consequences are actually both negative and positive at the same time.

It’s neither all positive or all negative, unlike how we often imagine things working out – we tend to see things as either/or not a messy both.

It’s Scary – the Fear is Real

It’s is scary and difficult to try new things. We don’t know how they will turn out and we tend to imagine things that don’t happen – we convince ourselves that it’s not worth the risk. We talk ourselves out of trying something on because, well, we just know it won’t fit.

Polish less

Polish more

Average it out

Respect the status quo

Wait

Don’t even bother Seth Godin

This is spills over into the classroom. Instead of trying something different or giving students different options, we stick with what we know. It’s less scary. Our students learn that taking chances and trying things on is scary and, well, not really worth it. Yes, there are sometimes negatives that come along from trying things and being creative but, often, they aren’t what we think. The world does not end. In fact, if we are open to learning, we grow and develop from these experiences whether they are positive or negative.

Rejection Proof is one person’s experiment in learning to deal with rejection – in trying to things on that they were scared of doing. Jia Jing asks

What is this rejection? What is this monster that cripples us?

Try It On – It Just Might Fit

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Trying things on is taking an opportunity to see how something might fit. It doesn’t always fit but sometimes things fit that we didn’t think would. And sometimes, things we thought would be great, well, just don’t turn out that way.

Often, we take someone along with us to get their opinion. We value the input of others. We get insights about how things look from a different perspective.

What if we did this in school? What if we asked someone else for their opinion as we try something new? What if we asked our students what they might think would fit?

Do we give them feedback after they try it or do we discourage them before they even try?

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.

Finding Your Pace

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Running and Pacing

I’ve been training for an upcoming 1/2 marathon for awhile. Now, in order to do this, I’ve had to make a few changes to my lifestyle.  I have adopted an early morning routine. That change, in itself, has been the subject of a number of books and podcasts. However, all the changes don’t mean anything if I don’t actually put on my running shoes and run.

As I prepare for this upcoming meet, I’ve adopted a running routine. Part of the routine is help me with my pacing and the other part is to help me improve my running. I use to have the idea that “Well, I just need to run.” But, as Susan Paul explains

The marathon is a very unique blend of different running components; it requires speed, strength, and endurance. The different training paces you see recommended for runs reflect each of these components. You will need some speed, some strength, and a lot of endurance to successfully complete your race.

So I did some searching and found a routine for a 1/2 marathon that I am following. Now, I could have just gone it on my own but there are many people who have already done this and have advice and ideas that can help me as I train especially since I haven’t been doing much long distant running in a while. I casually run (is that even possible?) but not in the same way one does in a marathon-type event.

The Act of Running

Running is a solitary act but it can be done as part of a group and there are all sorts of online groups and sites that allow you to connect and track your running. I happen to run by myself in the morning mostly because, well, I’m the only one up in my house at that time, no one else wants to get up and run with me at that time and I don’t know anyone around who is running. I could find someone but I like running on my own. It gives me time to think and wrestle with different ideas and concepts.

But it’s not for everyone and that’s okay. In fact, finding our own pace and place is part of the fun and enjoyment of living. The act of running, however, isn’t the only thing I do. It is only a part and to define me through that misses so many other things.

Technology Integration

“Exactly how is this going to connect to technology?”

I’ve been reading a number of posts that discuss technology and it’s use in schools. Everything from looking at how to get teachers to embrace technology to reflections on the use of technology in schools and some of the issues with what is currently happening. I see many of these as being how I use to view running – Just run. You know what to do, running is something that we have done since just after we learned to walk. But, as Susan Paul points out

Yes, you can “just go out and run” but you would be wise to incorporate runs that address these aspects of running to adequately prepare yourself for the demands of the marathon.  Marathon training requires logging quite a few miles each week too, so by varying your training paces and mileage, you’ll not only improve the quality of your training, but you will also reduce the risk of injury or mental burnout.

What if we looked at learning, with or without technology, in this way? Varying the pacing and mileage of learning. Doing different courses and incorporating various aspects into the training?

At 50, I can no longer train like I did but it doesn’t mean I can’t continue to run. In the same way, meeting the needs of the learner means beginning where they are and listening before we start advocating particular ways of doing things. We need to start with their passions and ideas but there is a place for learning from others and their wisdom and knowledge. Age nor experience, in this case, is not “the” determining factor of what can be accomplished. Too often, as Stephen Covey said,

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

How often have we begun a discussion with a fixed position or way of doing something or point of view already firmly established and ready for the discussion?

To Whom Do We Listen

To be honest, listening to someone who has run many marathons and is a veteran might not be the best solution for me. I need to consider a few different things that a veteran marathoner might not be able to tell me as someone starting out. Sometimes, as someone who has been using technology for years, I have had to remind myself of this point. I have a perspective that might not be as open as I’d like to think. In this way, looking outside of education can give us some great insights.

John Spencer explores this very idea in a recent post about a conversation he had with an engineer,

 I would let that kid know that it’s not too late. Doors might be closed, but that doesn’t mean that they’re locked.”

That conversation has stuck with me since then. What if he’s right? What if we told kids that they don’t have to have it all figured out ahead of time? What if they knew that doors might be shut but they aren’t locked for good?

What if we approach all our relationships and conversation from this perspective? Do we close doors because of our own mindset and what people have told us?

How do you approached learning? Why do you think this way?

Your attitude shapes your mindset. What’s yours?

I’d love to hear your ideas and comments and what you are thinking about.

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.

Blogging as a Professional – Jan. 28th #saskedchat

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Blogging as a professional

The January 28th #saskedchat explored Blogging as a Professional.

Now, there has been a great deal written about the benefits of blogging and many connected professionals who do a great deal of blogging will attest to the benefits. Teachers who have a classroom blog discuss the many benefits to the process of blogging for their students.

As someone who has blogged off and on for years, I started my first blog in 2007, and have averaged about 50 posts a year for the past few years. Like many educators, two things with which I struggle are consistency and topic choices.  These were two of the topics that participants discussed during the #saskedchat on January 28th.

Consistent Blogging

Like many educators, finding time to “add” blogging to my own schedule was very difficult. In discussing blogging with other educators, this is one thing that often comes up. Many of these educators actively participate in online communities are indeed “connected educators”. However, the practice of blogging has not become a regular part of their routine.

One of the things that I have learned that in order to consistently do anything, you have to approach it from a positive mindset and be prepared to do some hard work.

It’s like any new action item you want to do whether it be exercise, eating healthy, quitting a bad habit or just being better organized, there is a process to that you need to develop to be successful. I have read a number of those “Do It Like Successful People Do It” whatever the “It” might be. Each person had a different way of approaching their goals, tasks, daily routines, etc. but what seems to be consistent in the literature is:

1. Plan for it.

2. Make it part of your routine

3. Say “NO” to something else

4. Set yourself up to succeed

5. Check on your progress, adjust, and move forward

Something else that consistently is discussed is to follow your own path.

Todd Henry talks about this in his books The Accidental Creative and the follow up Die Empty when he discuss Periphery Paralysis. Too often we get sidetracked by what others are doing or saying we should do instead of looking at what we are doing and focusing on our own creative works. We forget to look at our own strengths – many of us begin to doubt our strengths. Instead, in a world that is filled with constant bombardment of information, we begin to lose our own sense of self as we are asked to do more and more of what others deem is important. To avoid this paralysis, you need to focus on your work and building your own body of work not someone else’s.

So, how do you go about blogging as a professional? Well, from my many false-starts, limited bursts of consistent blogging and experience, the process I would suggest looks something like this:

1. Decide if you really want to make this part of your routine. Maybe it’s not the right time for you and that’s okay! You can’t follow the path of others – you need to walk your own. If you feel it is a good time to add this to your routine, move to the next step.

2. Ask yourself why you want to blog. What is your personal mission statement and how does blogging help you fulfill that mission? This can help to focus you as you begin. This isn’t a “One Mission for Eternity” thing, you can decide to change your focus later on but what is driving you to blog? Even if this is an assigned task, what will focus and ground you? Why do this?

My mission “To relentlessly pursue supporting educators to develop creativity and innovation in the classroom through connecting, developing relationships and effective professional development.” Part of this mission is to continue to assist teachers to connect through #saskedchat and other formats and connect them with other amazing educators locally and globally.

3. How will you make it part of your routine? What will you do make time to write your blog? What might you have to change to make this work? In his book The 5AM Miracle Jeff Sanders explains that you don’t have to get up at 5AM but rather it is about

 the abundance of opportunity that presents itself when you live each day on purpose.

In the book, Jeff outlines The Ideal Morning, The Ideal Evening and the Ideal Week. In each of these, you purposely set out what you will do with the time you have. Remember this is if the week were “Ideal” but it does get one thinking about how to allocate time and what you are doing with the time you have each day. Blogging shouldn’t be an add-on. Instead it needs to be part of your routine. This leads to the next point.

4. Write consistently. Whatever you decide, every day, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, every Saturday morning, it’s up to you. What I have learned is that if you are able to consistently “ship your work”, as Seth Godin  suggests we should, then do this consistently. Consistent writing will help you to improve as a writer. Give you specific deadlines and goals to work towards. It will also help you to move to the next stage.

5. Write about what matters to you. Your topics need to be find their voice through you. There are all kinds of suggestions for the ideal length of all things on the internet and specifically for the length of a blog post.  My suggestion is to keep it shorter to begin with and work at finding your space. Include graphics and links but don’t over use these so they break up what you are trying to say.

6. Topics – this is an extension of the last point. I often thought I would have trouble finding topics. However, after reading Become an Idea Machine: Because Ideas Are the Currency of the 21st Century by Claudia Azula Altucher I began to keep a log of different ideas. I have a small notebook that I use to jot down ideas for blog posts, and anything else that pops into my cranium that I carry with me all the time. I then transfer these to a running list of blog ideas that I have – I’m up to over 100 ideas. I started with the writing examples from the book and then began to add my own based on what I was reading or watching or discussing. Short on ideas? Check out James Altucher’s post The Ultimate Guide to Becoming An Idea Machine for inspirational places to look for ideas.

Blogging shouldn’t be a chore. If it is, then maybe you need to reconsider your “why”. Or maybe you haven’t found something that you can run with yet. I know I needed to schedule it into my day, prioritize what I was doing and get rid of a few things. Becoming effective is different than trying to be efficient. When I was looking at doing things from an efficiency point of view, I would add small tasks that I could get done quickly and efficiently but I wasn’t giving myself time to do “deep work” as Cal Newport describes the work we do when we focus on a specific topic and delve deeply into it.

You might have to say “NO” to something or examine what you are doing and decide that things need to change. From experience, adding it to an already full day without planning and developing a routine doesn’t usually work. Instead, like making a decision to live a healthy lifestyle instead of “dieting”, there will need to be decision that you make and routines that you need to change. It might take a while and you might experience a few setbacks – I sure have! Don’t let these discourage you. When that happens, reassess where you are, what went right and what went wrong. Make alterations and get back at it!

I look foward to hearing about you blogging and any ideas you have for incorporating blogging into your professional, and personal, life.

#saskedchat – January 21, 2016 – Homework

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Our topic was Homework and it was a great discussion. Participants were very willing to discuss the many different aspects of homework and how they used homework in their own classrooms. Most participants agreed that the view of homework is evolving. Sometimes communicating this change to parents isn’t easy. There is still a sense that if students are really going to do some learning, they have to do homework. In many instances, parents question “Why isn’t there more homework?”

Alfie Kohen has a number of articles related to homework which question the research and the necessity of homework. Other authors, such as Kristen Swanson, discuss the need for homework to be authentic, deliberate, and engaging. There is no shortage of ideascommentsthoughts and perspectives on the role of homework.

As a teacher, my own guide was that the question isn’t really about homework. Instead, shifting the discussion to one of learning and expectations. As I shifted to an inquiry based approach to my own teaching and began to look for cross-curricular links for learning objectives, it became clearer to me that the question of “to give or not to give” disappeared and was replaced with a question of learning. What would benefit the learning of the student? What would help the student as they were learning? Sometimes, as with some content, learning sometimes required them to continue at home – reading, doing some research, or an extension that included gathering data from outside the classroom. Other times students would be asked to finish something so we could continue tomorrow. This is the basis of the flipped classroom where students are required to view or listen to specific learning outside the classroom so they can practice and implement while in school – obtaining further instructions and assistance from the teacher.

At its core, “flipped instruction” refers to moving aspects of teaching out of the classroom and into the homework space. With the advent of new technologies, specifically the ability to record digitally annotated and narrated screencasts, instructional videos have become a common medium in the flipped classroom. Although not limited to videos, a flipped classroom most often harnesses different forms of instructional video published online for students. Edutopia Rasmey Musallam

As with any format, there are pros and cons of the flipped classroom as discussed in the article.

Maurice Elias furthers the discussion by asking us to shift the question:

The real question we should be asking is, “What do we believe should happen after the end of the school day to help ensure that students retain what they have learned and are primed to learn more?”

Elias further states

Children should be encouraged to read, write, perform arithmetic, better understand the world around them in terms of civics, science, and the arts, and, of course, develop their people skills — their emotional intelligence. This encouragement should be part of everyday family interactions outside of school, and the school should provide developmental guidance to all parents, in the appropriate languages, to help them do this.

As the article by Kelly Wallace shows, there are many different opinions about homework. As a father of 8 children who span the education spectrum from grade 1 to university, I have witnessed both beneficial work and, unfortunately, some work that was unnecessary. As an educator who has also had the privilege of being a school administrator, I know firsthand the struggle that educators face in response to the different demands placed on them in helping students meet the learning outcomes and the how different policies impact what a teachers do.

I highly recommend taking some time to look at the archive for the chat as participants had some great ideas and insights on the topic.

And How Are You Today?

How often have you asked the question? What about “How are you doing?” or one similar? How often have you listened to the response?

Really listened.

In the hustle and bustle of the day, we’re all very busy and such conversations are sometimes fillers as we politely listen to a reply. And there are those people that we don’t ask, right? They tell us stories and problems that, really, we didn’t really intend to listen to when we asked the question.

As a parent and educator, I was often guilty of asking but not listening. Well, I “heard” what they said but I didn’t always listen to what they were saying. I would do it with my own children, asking them how their day was but only partly listening to what they were saying. We’re all busy, right?

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Intent to listen. Do you even consider this?

As a school leader, I sometimes would get into “fix it” mode where I would listen with the intent to offer advice or a way to solve whatever problem being brought to me. In the busyness of the day, I would have my own thoughts/agenda running as background noise while I listened. It happens now, even though I am much more conscious of my need to listen with intent.

Learning to Quiet the Voices to Listen

One particular student helped me to understand how important it was to listen with the intent to understand. He wasn’t in trouble and he wasn’t bringing me a problem. He was just telling me about the song he was writing. And I might have missed it had he not said “Do you really want to hear this? I can tell you another time.”

I stopped. Did I? What were my choices? See, I hadn’t stopped what I was doing when he asked me. I had kept on doing what I was doing. So I stopped, put down my pen and listened. But instead of just listening, I gave him my attention and he gave me a wonderful gift – he shared his story of writing a song about our class – each person had a verse – all 31 and me. Then he sang it to me. As he proceeded to sing, I began to understand why he was always humming as he worked. Over time, I learned he would write songs to remember what we were doing and used these songs, humming them, as he wrote or did an exam. I had learned so much about him.

Although I learned something,  I really didn’t learn to listen until my 4th daughter taught me. She had a speech impediment and, until she was about 6, hard a difficult time communicating. As a parent, I was often left frustrated by not being able to understand what she was saying. It took me a long time to learn to stop, quiet the rolling voices that were in the background and listen, not just with my ears but with my other senses as well.

That was the beginning but I’ve learned it’s a daily journey, one I must tend each day.

A daily journey.

It sometimes involves tears.

Some are mine.

Let People Know You Are In Relationship With Them

Schools are busy places. There is always something happening and a commotion somewhere. In all this busyness and happenings, how can one possibly listen to all that comes along? I  struggled with this as an administrator – remember Fix-It mode? I also suffered from Pressing Issues syndrome,  Tattling overload, Initiative fatigue, Reporting cramp, Teacher Frustration aches and No Dinner pangs at times. Listening wasn’t always easy – but it was absolutely necessary.

Letting people know you are listening means you need to commit to that relationship in the moment. Listening to a student tell me something isn’t really an efficient use of time. But it can’t be about efficiency – it has to be about effective as it relates to relationships. As leaders, it’s about sharing one of the greatest gifts you have – time.

As a parent, I learned that I needed to listen with all my senses in relationship with my daughter when she was telling me something. And it wasn’t just my one daughter. As a father of 8, it’s sometimes very busy when people get talking. My wife and I have often eaten cold suppers after all the stories have been told.

In silence. Listening to the smiles.

At times, when I was busy, I had to be honest with my children and ask them if they could tell me in a few moments. I’ve done this with students and teachers. It is important to enter into relationship with others as you listen and sometimes being honest with them and arranging another time is the right thing to do.

And if they say no?

that’s was always a cue that I needed to stop and listen because it was important.

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Being In Relationship

In all the discussion about devices, communication, screen time, and distraction, it’s often portrayed that we only have “real” relationships when we are in a fact-to-face interaction. Yet, my experience is that it’s about the relationship of the people that is the important. A while back, I wrote

The point is that today, now, there are many different ways for us to connect as a family. I’ve learned not to compare the past with the present so much any more. Things are different and will be different. There are new things that challenge my worldview and previous assumptions and have made me change how I view and think about many things.

The point is not about the devices or technology but the relationships we have with people. Too often what becomes lost in these discussions is the space where each particular person is at

listening to reply  – not understand

So, how are you today?

9 Ways to Use Portfolios with Students

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A Show Case of Learning

As a teacher, I began having students create portfolios as a way to show what they were doing in class. The first portfolios were Show Case portfolios in which students would included their best work. Each student would select a number of assignments which they thought demonstrated their best work and during Student Led Conferences,  would show these to their parents and talk about the work they were doing. Over time, and with the introduction and access to technology, I began to experiment with different types of portfolios using a wiki with different pages for subjects, a set of linked documents and finally a webpage that students created. Students would embed images of their work. However, this was still a variation of the Show Case Portfolios just in digital format.

I was also experimenting with my own variations of portfolios, trying different formats to see how I could begin to develop my own work for others to see. I realized that I was limiting myself by only focusing on education related items. There was more that I was doing but wasn’t including. Thus began a long journey that continues today of trying to find my own voice as a person.

The Next Stage

As technology changed and it became easier to collect and manage the different items in a portfolio, I began to have students not just show their best work but also started to expand the use of the portfolio to include  drafts of work so they could show the progress of their learning and began to include a reflection portion to the portfolio to have students discuss what they learned and what they might want to add.

Today portfolios can include any number of different types of items from images and documents to sound recordings and videos. All these items can be incorporated to show the growth of student learning. But what if these portfolios were to include not just what the student was doing in school? What if portfolios were include items from outside of school? How might this change how students define their learning?

As you begin to look at portfolio use with students, here are some questions that I believe are important to answer before you embark:

Why use portfolios?

What is the purpose of creating the portfolio?

Who will “own” it? Will it be assessed? How?

What will be included?

Who will decide what is to be included?

Who can access the portfolio?

Can it “move” with the student and beyond?

I know that I didn’t think of many of these things and had to do a lot of backtracking and adjusting in the process.

9 Ways to Use Portfolios with Students

  1. Helping students Digital Fluency skills  – the ability to communicate, collaborate, connect, create. critique and collate – using digital tools is important for students. Students can use portfolios to practice and develop these skills not only for school work but for the different passions they have in their lives and bring them together in one place. Have students include drafts and changes as they work through the process of refining the work they are doing.
  2. Encourage curiosity and ask questions – asking questions that drive learning takes practice. A portfolio can become more than just a place where Show Case items are stored. By helping students develop their ability to ask questions, teachers can support a process of learning, differentiating the support students need as they learn and grow.  Have students include questions they have about a topic or inquiries they have about ideas and concepts. Include mindmaps and brainstorming sessions as processes of developing ideas. Get students to include I Wonder statements and What If ideas.
  3. Engage an authentic audience – through connecting with others, students can receive feedback and assistance as they explore different ideas and create work that has meaning for them. By creating for an audience other than themselves and their teacher, connect what they are doing with what is happening outside of school through interactions with others. Have students connect with other students for feedback and input. Get students to comment on the work of others and offer guidance to providing constructive feedback. Look for ways to connect students work with others through social media and provide opportunities for students work to get beyond the school by sharing with parents.
  4. Develop their own unique voice – In his book Louder Than Words, Todd Henry  discusses how “brilliant contributors commit to the process of developing their authentic voices through trial and error, by paying attention to how they respond to the work of peers, heroes, and even their antagonists, by playing with ideas, by cultivating a sharp vision for their work , and ultimately by honing their skills so they have the ability to bring that vision to the world”. Portfolios provide a place for students to begin this process of developing their own unique voice through practice, failure, reflection and retrying. Have students share stories, videos, podcasts and other work as they practice finding their own authentic voice.
  5. Explore different passions – instead of just including school-related items, students can include the different passions they have and explore different ideas over time. What might be of interest today may not be tomorrow but in a week or month become interesting again. Students have the ability to reflect on what they have done in the past and make connections to where they are now as learners. Have students include what they are doing outside of school. Have them include pictures and videos of things they are doing and talk about them.
  6. Explore multiple ways of expressing their learning and understanding – a portfolio allows students to include all sorts of items which they can use to demonstrate their learning. Videos, podcasts, music, writings, drawing, pictures – all these can be used as part of demonstrating their learning. Have students create different items and explore different ways of expressing their ideas and include reflections of what they did well and areas they see where they need to improve or find more information.
  7. Get feedback from multiple people – students can reach out to different audiences to get feedback and input about the work they are doing. Have them connect with other classes or individuals for feedback and input on what they are doing. Have them explain what they did or what they were hoping to accomplish and receive feedback from different people.
  8. Engage experts in a field through connecting – having the ability to connect with experts in a field provides students with access to knowledge they might not have access to otherwise. Feedback and insight from people who are experts provides students with an opportunity to push beyond the confines of the school. By developing a Personal Learning Network, students have access to support and assistance whenever they need it, taking learning beyond the confines of the school walls.
  9. Develop a cycle of learning – by building a body of work that continues to grow and change, students can develop reflective and generative habits of learning which apply to all areas of their lives. Instead of learning being what is done at school, students can incorporate their learning and the different things they are creating and receive feedback and input from various sources both in school and out of school. Have students identify things they want to learn about – both in the context of school and in other areas of their lives and build reflective practices as they progress.

These are just some of the ways that portfolios can be used with students. I created a personal Portfolio as an example of different types of portfolios and some of the tools that are available to create portfolios. If you click on the highlight with the SMYA presentation it will take you to my examples. Instead of learning being something that happens at school, it becomes connected to all areas of life, where what they do outside of school becomes part of their learning experience in school.

Classroom Design – #saskedchat August 13th, 2015

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Our chat this week was focused on Classroom Design. Participants shared their ideas and insights about creating a learning environment which includes students’ input and adapts to students’ needs.

Participants shared great resources and their experiences of making changes to the classroom that included getting rid of the teacher’s desk, adding standing desks, couches and other furniture and shopping kijiji and IKEA for bargains!