Category Archives: education

#saskedchat Blogging Challenge

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Image by Amielle Christopherson

Summer Challenge

Most people like a good challenge, something that pushes them to reach beyond where they are at the moment, to reach a new level or develop a new skill.

This summer a number of people from #saskedchat have indicated that they are interested in taking on a blogging challenge in order to kickstart their blogging and get back into the habit of writing. To help with this, the #saskedchat Blogging Challenge will offer weekly topics for blogging and, hopefully, provide an opportunity for people to encourage and support others who are taking the challenge.

Why Blog? Why Write?

Last January, one of the #saskedchat topics was blogging and I wrote a post about blogging as a professional. In that post, I discuss 5 habits to develop as a blogger:

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

These five habits will help you to develop your writing habit. The one thing I would suggest BEFORE you begin is to develop a “”WHY” I blog” statement in order to ground your work with “why” – what is the purpose of your blogging? Why will you commit to doing this and developing this habit?

Developing Habits

How do we form habits? Where do they come from? Why are they so darn hard to change?

Because for reasons they were just beginning to understand, that one small shift in Lisa’s perception that day in Cairo – the conviction that she had to give up smoking to accomplish here goal – had touched off a series of changes that would ultimately radiate out to every part of her life…. and when researcher began examining images of Lisa’s brain, they saw something remarkable: One set of neurological patterns – her old habits – had been overridden by new patterns. They could still see the neural activity of her old behaviours, but those impulses were crowded out by new urges. As Lisa’s habits changed, so had her brain. (Location 95)

In the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg explores how people develop habits and how people like Lisa change their habits.

By focusing on one pattern – what is known as a “keystone habit” – Lisa had taught herself how to reprogram the routines in her life, as well.  (Location 104)

Making blogging a “habit” needs to fit in with who you are as a person. If you make it another “add-on”, it becomes something else that you try to ‘fit’ into your schedule and, unless it is a priority, it often ends up something you think about as you doze off to sleep. Like exercise, eating, reading and a whole host of other habits, what you do in one area affects your life in other areas. Want more energy? Look at your eating and sleeping habits. Trying to reduce stress? What habits do you have for organization, sleep, etc.?

There are many articles written about the habits of famous people. Although we can learn from these, it’s important to not try to be them but, instead be your best by developing your own success habits.

I Started Running

Last year I began running – again. I’ve stared running a number of different times in the past but usually it fell to the side – I just didn’t have the time to do something healthy! What was different this time? Partly I needed to take my health a bit more seriously. However, the biggest part, the part I usually don’t tell anyone, was that I needed to replace an unhealthy habit – smoking – with a healthy habit.

But first, I had decided that I needed to change. That change was hard. But by replacing one unhealthy habit with a healthy habit I have been able to make changes in my life that are helping me be a healthier person. I now plan my days to include exercise and healthier eating. I’m still working on adopting other healthy habits – it takes time to develop a new habit.

Like any other habit, writing and blogging needs to be planned and you have to have a “why”. Now, there is no “you must do this or else” part to this challenge. As I wrote in January:

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.

If, however, you wish to develop this into a consistent habit, then developing your “why” is important. As Simon Sinek points out in Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action 

Knowing your WHY is not the only way to be successful, but it is the only way to maintain a lasting success and have a greater blend of innovation and flexibility. When a WHY goes fuzzy, it becomes much more difficult to maintain the growth, loyalty and inspiration that helped drive the original success.

For me, I have been blogging on and off again for a number of years. I just haven’t decided how it fits. Because I don’t have a resounding “WHY”, I often start off with great gusto only to fade quickly into the dark “It’s been 3 months since my last post?”. It’s not that I don’t have topics I could write about – I do have an opinion on almost everything! (Just ask my wife and kids). It’s actually been a case of “Who cares!”. Unlike others who can write because, I need some feedback, something to tell me that I’m not just screaming into the storm. Yes it’s good to work through things but if there is not feedback then the same thing could be accomplished through journaling.

Part of this blogging challenge is to encourage others to not just read but also comment on what people are writing, to provide feedback and offer suggestions. It’s not to do this with all the blogs – that would become onerous and even I would feel too anxious to get involved. Instead, I suggest interacting as part of a habit you develop for reading blogs. We hope to have all the blogs curated at the Saskedchat blog site so people can read through the posts in one place.

Ready for a Challenge?

For the next 2 months, each week a new topic will be posted for those who wish to take part in the weekly blogging. If that’s too much, then choose to do whatever works for you. If that isn’t enough, then use the topic as a springboard to help you. If the topic doesn’t resonate, do your own thing – this isn’t about prescription but support and encouragement. As Chris Brogan says:

“Be a very clear and true version of you that helps others in some way.”

So this morning as I sip my coffee with Southern Pecan creamer, I encourage you to join the challenge. To make a space in your life to share and interact with others through blogging and help and support others on this journey.

This week – tell us about your “WHY” if you can. Why are you wanting to take this challenge? Why are you motivated to join? Why is this important to you? Why do you need to change?

For me, part of my reason is to develop this into a habit that will last long after the challenge is completed. As I have made changes in other areas, I know that I need to have a “keystone pattern” that I can focus upon. I will use this challenge to develop a writing habit that will become integrated into my life-habits.

What’s your “WHY”?

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

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.

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.

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.

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”

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.