As parents, one thing that we have tried to impress upon on children is the importance of sharing, whether it is with siblings, friends, or other people, we have tried to help our children understand the importance of sharing while at the same time helping them to understand that they must be careful with what they are sharing through their social networks, the different social apps that they use, the people with whom they engage and the relationships they have with others.
It’s Not That Simple
Being a “modern” educator, for some, means having a PLN, integrating technology, and, through various means, “sharing”. However, too often educators who aren’t integrating, twittering or blogging or aren’t seen as embracing technological advancements are often described as somehow being “less” as teachers, as being not as worthy,
“And, sadly, some people write off technology as a chore or passing fad”
This attitude, unfortunately, continues to reinforce the binary of the “good/bad” teacher which does little to explore the strengths of people but, instead, serves to limit people and continue traditional power structures that have dominated educational discourses throughout history where certain groups are described as “less worthy” because of their lack of knowledge or talent or whatever can be used to create the power binary. We have to remember throughout time, “good/bad” teachers has meant things very different from the present.
The idea that it is right to be a student-centered and caring teacher rather than a self-centered teacher is one that, while strongly held at this point in time, is contingent as any other idea about good teaching in any other historical period. McWilliam, 2004
Sharing, as an educator, has now become what “relevant teachers” do because it is now “right and proper” to do so. But the definition of “sharing” continues to change and morph as can be seen in the continual changes found in the Terms of Service of apps like Facebook and Twitter and the use of various social networks for various types of sharing.
In fact, there are numerous examples of people who have made poor decisions when sharing online, examples of how sharing and privacy have become issues and the harmful effects that happen when things are shared without people’s knowledge or their consent such as the numerous examples of phishing scams where people have had their information used by scammers and the harmful and destructive consequences of people who have pictures stolen and shared against their consent.
Sharing is Important
Learning to be generous with time and resources is something I want my children to develop and appreciate. However, it’s also not quite as simple as Mark Zuckeburg makes it out
“Facebook’s mission and what we really focus on giving everyone the power to share all of the things that they care about,”
Yes, sharing is important and something that needs to continue, especially for teachers. However, it’s not as simple as “just sharing”. There are many instances when, although I wanted to share, doing so would have been unethical or might have had negative consequences. Like many others, I’ve been on the receiving end of nasty trolling from taking a particular point of view. It’s not always possible or positive to share one’s experiences.
In a world dominated by the digital, sharing online seems to be the ONLY way that some people consider to be real sharing. Yet, in many instances, the intimate conversations that take place between two people, or in a small group, can be what really cements and binds our socially mediated relationships.
As educators, relationships are so important and, although having digital relationships and learning to live in a world where digital discourse, literacy, citizenship, and relationship are important, there is a place for people who are more comfortable with the less-digital, less-technological. If we believe that each person’s development is important, then genuinely respecting and honouring them should allow us to feel anything but “sad”. In fact
Good teachers will one day feel differently about progressive teaching, just as they have done in other times and places. McWilliam, 2004
What do You Share? How do You Share?
How do you share? What do you share? How does sharing fit in your lifestyle as a teacher? Parent? Partner? Individual?
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.
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
How often have you asked the question? What about “How are you doing?” or one similar? How often have you listened to the response?
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?
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.
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?
In a recent Switch and Shift article How Technology is Challenging the Human Side of Business, Pam Ross discusses her role in helping leaders bridge the technology/human relationship gap.
The thing is, technology impacts our workplaces and our culture like never before. To the same degree, it also provides ways to better connect, communicate and engage with your employees. I am excited to join Switch & Shift to write about how leaders can understand and use technology to create awesome culture and more human workplaces.
One of my main focuses has been the intersection of relationships and technology at the school level and in education in general so I was intrigued. Pam covers three topics in the post, We are always connected to work, We have the ability to work from anywhere, and We share our experiences fritionlessly. The same goes for students and teachers, which should come as no surprise. I recently read of two highschools that are experimenting with no substitute teachers when teachers are absent. In these schools, teachers have the option of not having a substitute teacher come in and, instead, having students work on their assignments in a common area.
Both districts said skipping substitutes is a natural extension of increased technology use. They’ve already been using online lessons in the classroom, and, in Farmington’s case, asking students to work on them from home on snow days. Why not try it when the teacher’s absent?
Both schools say a teacher is available to help students who need assistance.
The Human Side of Learning
In the examples above, what is important to note is that the human factor is still an important part of the equation. As someone who has been a proponent of relationships in schools, I believe that these are so important and cannot be replaced with technology. Instead of viewing technology in a binary This or That conflict with relationships, it needs to become part of an integrated system of learning where students can access information from anywhere but where other people – teachers/peers/experts – have a relationship that supports the student in their learning.
As Pam Ross states in her article:
The good news is that technology not only creates engagement challenges, it also creates huge opportunities to alleviate these challenges and to create more engaged and human workplaces.
There is a new form of literacy in the world of work. It’s what I call “Digital Fluency”, and is critical in today’s fast-paced, social and digital world. Digital Fluency is the ability to use technology to communicate, collaborate and connect with customers and coworkers, and the proclivity to learn and adopt new technologies to get work done.
A Focus on Digital Fluency
As Pam points out, there is a need to assist people in developing digital fluency. A recent article Digital Natives, Yet Strangers to the Web in The Atlantic by Alia Wong explored a similar issue. Students might be growing up with digital devices but they need guidance.
Indeed, although many of today’s teens are immersed in social media, that doesn’t mean “that they inherently have the knowledge or skills to make the most of their online experiences,” writes Danah Boyd in her 2014 book It’s Complicated: The Secret Lives of Networked Teens. Boyd, who works as a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, argues that “the rhetoric of ‘digital natives'” is dangerous because it distorts the realities of kids’ virtual lives, the result being that they don’t learn what they need to know about online living. In other words, it falsely assumes that today’s students intrinsically understand the nuanced ways in which technologies shape the human experience—how they influence an individual’s identity, for example, or how they advance and stymie social progress—as well as the means by which information spreads thanks to phenomena such as algorithms and advertising.
Part of issue is that many teachers continue to struggle with technology and the incorporation of technology. Although some schools and districts/division are incorporating a blended learning approach, the subject of digital fluency and the human side of technology is not usually discussed.
Portfolios and Body of Work
As an educator, I’ve been using portfolios for about 18 years. These began as simple folders where students would gather their best work to be used during Student Led Conferences. Since then I’ve been using a variation of portfolios with students as a way to help document their learning and growth. One of the most exciting turns was when I was able to shift to a digital format – first with wikis and then with various other platforms – that allowed students to included a variety of different formats – pictures, videos, drafts of writing, podcasts – allowing students to not just show a final product but to show their learning through stages.
Over time, I have begun to view portfolios as the next stage in the shift in learning. Students, working on a variety of topics, can build a portfolio of the work, from in school or out of school – A Body of Work – that grows as they progress in their learning. Teachers guide, support and challenge students to explore, helping student formulate significantly deeper and more complex questions to explore. It would also help students develop digital fluency – communicating, collaborate, connect, create, critique and collate – all as interactions with other people. As the article by Pam Ross shows, these are important skills.
Technology and relationships are not incompatible but until we shift how we view them working together to build stronger relationships, there will continue to be a deficit attributed so someone depending on which side of the argument you happen to stand.
It might be flattering to have someone imitate you. You might feel it’s necessary to imitate a mentor. But creativity and innovation rarely happen through imitation. It might start with what someone else is doing but creativity and innovation use that as leaping off points. Apple, Inc. didn’t create the technology for the mp3 player but they used the technology as a leaping off point to create and innovate. We know what Apple, Inc. did. And the other player?
What Inspires You?
Last week I had the great fortune to attend the SMYA Conference in Saskatoon as a speaker and participant. It was an awesome experience. One of the highlights was meeting Dave Burgess author of Teach Like a Pirate and moderator of #tlap twitter chat. Dave was generous with his time and a group of us were able to enjoy supper with him on the first night. Throughout our conversation and during his keynote and presentation, Dave spoke of his inspiration for his ideas and the work he does. Dave’s energy and passion are infectious. At one point, Dave spoke of where he gets his inspiration and the creative ideas for the different things he does in the classroom. This had me wondering about the attendees, myself included, and the inspiration they have for the work they do in the classroom each day.
Dave repeated often that inspiration can come in many different ways. The key is to be aware of these ideas and record them. Recently I read Claudia Azula Altucher’s Become an Idea Machine Because Ideas are the Currency of the 21st Century. In this book, Claudia explains that to become better at creative ideas, you have to practice generating ideas.
Writing daily ideas is effective because when we practice making our brain sweat, consistently, we become idea machines. When we are idea machines problems get solutions and questions get answers.
It sounds easy but, many people think being creative and innovating is what “creatives” do, not what the rest of us do because we aren’t really creative. As Dave pointed out, that just isn’t true!
Innovate don’t just Imitate
As a teacher I was always looking for ideas to try in the classroom whether it was a lesson or a way of presenting materials, I was searching. My reason was that I didn’t think I had any good ideas myself. I thought that I needed to use others ideas that were “good” because I wasn’t very creative and I wasn’t able to be creative myself.
Over time, I’ve shifted how I think of my own ideas and what I can do. When I would find a good idea, I often didn’t mess much with it. I wasn’t comfortable with my own creativity or allowing myself to be innovative. Mostly, this was a product of the failures I had experienced which I owned and carried with me as reminders of why I wasn’t creative or innovative. Instead of seeing each of these experiences as learning opportunities or ways of improving, I owned them as proof that I just wasn’t creative or innovative. In some ways, this was a product of my own self-induced limitations that were created from images and reminders of what “good teaching” was suppose to be and look like. I continued to imitate and reproduce what I thought it meant to be a “good teacher”.
However, there was this nagging part of me that kept surfacing every once in a while that would remind me that there was more to teaching and learning than what I was doing. Eventually this nagging grew in intensity and in a bold move I decided I needed to try out a few of my own ideas and, instead of planning like they would fail, to plan for success. This was a turning point for my teaching and the beginning of a journey of realization about creativity and innovation. I didn’t have to do what others did, I had good ideas and, with a little effort and some planning, a few of them would be great.
In his new book The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent and Lead a Culture of Creativity, George Couros discusses how innovation is essential in school. There are many opportunities for change but, often, there is a lack of innovation taking place. Instead, just as I did as a teacher, educators and schools continue to see innovation as something that others can do.
Inspiration is one of the chief needs of today’s students. Kids walk into schools full of wonder and questions, yet we often ask them to hold their questions for later, so we can “get through” the curriculum. We forget that our responsibility isn’t solely to teach memorization or the mechanics of a task but to spark curiosity that empowers students to learn on their own.
In my discussion with teachers, they often express how they wish they could be more creative or innovative but there is too many other things happening – new curricula, differentiation, planning, assessment – which drain their energy and limit what they can do. Often they feel powerless even within their own classroom as they are told to do this, use this program, integrate this technology, adopt this assessment format, etc. They often see creativity and innovation as what ‘other’ people do which in turn then becomes another ‘thing’ they end up having to find time to implement/do. On the surface, this can be seen as just a way to avoid having to change. However, many teachers I talk with want to change. They are apprehensive but aren’t against making change. The feeling of powerlessness inhibits what they believe they can do themselves. Their experiences, like mine, limit what they feel they can do. It’s safe to imitate, it’s a risk to be creative and innovative. Many schools do not seem open to risk-taking and innovation despite the rhetoric of 21st Century Learning.
We are All Creative/Innovative in Some Way
In the article 7 Habits of Innovative Thinkers , Harvey Deutshendorf outlines how innovative thinking is within the reach of anyone who is willing to work at it.
Many people believe that creativity and innovative thinking are traits that we are born with—we either have them or not. However, we have found that people who are highly innovative are a work in progress, forever questioning and examining themselves and the world around them.
These people are curious and inquisitive – sounds like most young students. As George Couros points out
To succeed, they [students] will need to know how to think for themselves and adapt to constantly changing situations.
Teachers need to do the same – to be willing to try something with the understanding that it might be successful but it also might not. However, instead of seeing it as further proof of a lack of creativity and innovation, these situations need to become points of curiosity. Instead of just imitating what someone else is doing, teachers need to exercise their creativity muscle and innovate to fit their personality and the students with whom they interact. Build in feedback loops that allow for adjustment and changes to be made. Look at what was successful and what wasn’t. Know that one success will not mean it will always be successful as there will need to be changes and adaptations to fit the next context and situation. Developing relationships with students is so important to innovation. It’s not what you are doing but how you are doing it and the relationship with students which allows for innovation to grow and develop. Creativity and innovation in a vacuum or without relationship lacks connectivity. It becomes a performance not an experience.
Why Imitate When You Can Innovate?
Yes, one can imitate what someone else is doing and be successful. There are countless examples of people who are successful imitating. Just think of all the entertainers who make a living imitating the likes of Elvis and the Beatles. But they aren’t Elvis or the Beatles. Although they might be great imitators, they lack the ability to innovate and break new ground as Elvis and Beatles did. As Dave Burgess suggested, teachers need to be open to taking an idea and then innovating and becoming creative with it. There is no guarantee that it will be successful, the first time. Sometimes it takes reworking an idea numerous times before things fit into place.
Who was the innovator that created the mp3 technology? Creative Technology Ltd a Singapore-based technology company. Part of creativity and innovation is coming up with something new. But being creative and innovative also means taking something that already is there and using it in new and creative ways that make a difference in people’s lives – it creates an experience that resonates.
Something to Think About
What is keeping you from taking creative licence with what you do in the classroom?
Do you have to implement all you do exactly like the manual says?
Why do you consider yourself lacking creativity? Are you strengthening your creativity muscles or just accepting the status quo?
What are three things you can do with your current units that would be creative and innovative? Why not try one?
Do you love to learn?
Try new things?
Explore new ideas?
Read books/ebooks about a variety of topics? Search Youtube for different topics? Search the net to learn about something you are doing? Tried a MOOC (Massive Online Open Class)? Participated in a Google Hangout? Done a Mystery Skype? Blogged about your day? Joined a Twitter chat?
Are you trying new things and seeking to learn something new? How about a new summer bbq recipe or some new salad dressing?
That’s What We Do
These are just a few things that I and many of the educators that I know would consider to be just what we do. Learning new things, trying new experiences and seeking out ideas that push our own thinking about the world and our own place in it. Yet, is that what the majority of the population is doing? Are people reaching out to new experiences, trying new things and learning? According to Philip Pape in This Habit Will Put You in the Top %1 of Experts and Money-Makers ,
- 25% of people have not read a book in the last year
- 46% of adults score in the lowest two levels of literacy
- Reading frequency declines after age eight
Yet, when you’re surrounded by people who read, support reading, encourage reading and like reading, it can seem that most people read and are into learning new things. But is that what is happening? It’s hard to tell. In doing some digging, it appears that Canadians are reading.
A 2005 readership study by the Department of Canadian Heritage (PCH), READING AND BUYING BOOKS FOR PLEASURE, found that nearly 9 in 10 (87%) Canadians said they read at least one book for pleasure in the 12 months preceding the study1 and that half (54%) read virtually every day. The average time spent reading is 4½ hours per week (unchanged since 1991); the average number of books read per year, 17 (down only slightly from 1991). Fully one-quarter (26%) reported that reading is the leisure activity they most commonly engage in, as many as cited TV-watching, putting reading and TV-watching in the #1 spot among leisure pursuits in Canada (and dwarfing “Internet activities,” which only 9% cited). These findings support thePCH report’s conclusion that “reading for pleasure remains a solidly established and widespread habit with little or no change over the last 15 years.”
Now, reading isn’t the only way people learn. In fact, through access to information on the internet, learning in some areas of the world is easier via video and audio. I used this video to repair a crack in the windshield.
Learning is available all around us. But as Steve Haragon discusses in his latest post there is a dissonance that he is seeing and sensing in the world around which is impacting people.
In the absence of coherent and engaging ways of viewing and improving our world, and of helping each other, the result may be that we shut down. We surrender our sense of agency. Cognitively and emotionally, our normal awareness and empathy bubbles shrink down to small, individual, spaces.
It may seem like this at times, especially when there is so many things that are happening and change is taking place at a rapid pace, so quickly that, for some, retreating is a way of coping. I know that there are times when the constant cacophony of educational voices imploring the need for change can feel overwhelming. In some cases, it would seem that throwing out the baby with the bath water is not only desirable but the only way for progress.
Teachers are Bombarded
This summer has seen an increase in the number of learning opportunities for teachers and it looks like this will continue well into the school year. For many teachers, summer is a time to recharge and refresh themselves. Learning is definitely a great way to replenish one’s batteries but in the past few years there has been a growing number of activities and conferences which now includes online conferences, edcamps and MOOCs plus weekly twitter chats and book clubs. These opportunities vary, each one vying to get the attention of teachers.
What does a teacher do?
Despite the rhetoric that fills some blogs, most teachers are life-long learners, trying to improve their classroom practice. With so many ideas and options available, trying to cope can seem daunting. The image of teacher-as-superhuman doesn’t seem to be far off!
Go to this conference!
Get this certification!
Get more certification!
Start a blog, write a book, present at a conference!
Embrace makerspace, genius hour, inquiry learning, flipped classroom, flipped staff meetings, flipped professional development, gamification of the classroom and school and professional development – make all things fun and engaging.
At a time when teachers and education seems to be lacking, improvement seems necessary.
Teachers who are learners and work to improve their teaching are being overwhelmed.
“Teachers retreat into themselves, not because they don’t care but because they care so much and so deeply they are being overwhelmed.”
I can’t remember the source for this quote. As an administrator, I would use this as a way to remind myself that part of the role of being an educational leader was to help teachers to manage the constant bombardment. If teachers with whom I was working were becoming overwhelmed by all the demands, it would show in there day-to-day interactions. That meant being with them in their classrooms and working with them on projects. Hiding in the office under the desk only to appear when there were good things happening isn’t a successful leadership style. Were the initiatives and requirements draining the care right out of the teachers? If it seemed that teachers were withdrawing, it was time to realign so that people didn’t disengage.
Are we killing the love of learning in teachers?
Are we becoming over zealous and driving people away? Are we using the excuses of like technology integration and student performance to push our own narrative of good teaching?
“I have seen the light and now you need to or your are a bad teacher!”
In fact, it’s creating a gap. People who just a few years ago weren’t engaged or were just beginning to engage with technology and using social media seem to have made themselves gatekeepers and gurus who proclaim what is and what is not good for teaching and what constitutes good teaching. Teachers are bombarded with someone’s version of what it means to be a good teacher and a lot of it has to do with using some kind of technology or program or …. or… or….!
Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative and Die Empty and creator of the podcast The Accidental Creative discusses in his interview with Ron Friedman, a tendency to only post the positive-self online, the trips, conferences, publishing, accolades and not the more human parts that get people to these destinations so that it seems everyone we view is living these immaculate lives and doing all the great stuff which can lead to some serious anxiety as people think they need to keep up. Todd Henry describes this very well in Comparison and Competition.
Have you ever looked around at the work of others and felt like yours isn’t measuring up? Has this ever caused your passion for your work to wane? Don’t allow the slow ratcheting-up of expectations to paralyze you.
Too often, teachers are being shown a constant stream of what “experts” are doing without being given the time to improve themselves in a meaningful way. Yes, it can fuel people to improve but, just as easily, it can deflate people to give up. Rockstars were once garage bands.
Start with Relationships
Over and over again I’m reminded that whatever needs to change, building great relationships with students, teachers, parents and other community members is the foundation. Whether it’s Seth Godin in Linchpin, Stephen Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Michael Fullan in The Six Secrets of Change or Carol Dueck in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, relationships again and again are the foundational piece to what people do. In his recent piece in The Guardian, Paul Mason explores the end of capitalism in a postcapitalist society. Mason pieces outlines how technology allows information to be freely accessed by anyone. This in turns allows people to work together in new ways that until now were unattainable due to costs and distance.
we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy.
As highlighted by Godin in Linchpin, relationships and giving to others are changing how people and companies interact. We may only be at the beginning of this shift, but for schools and teachers, building relationships with students, other teachers and their community is so important. Teachers and schools no longer control the knowledge and content that students can access. Although many teachers and schools continue to try, some educators are making the shift to helping students to become inquirers, supporting the student as they learn, focusing more on the learning and relationships and less on controlling content and assessment.
Highly Organized and Controlled
As schools, school systems and, to some degree, teachers struggle with trying to control information and content, there is a rise in various methods being used to control what students do, when they do it and how they do it. Highly structured uses of technology and implementation of various systems used to monitor and provide feedback to students continue to dominate classrooms as teachers continue to be required to provide traditional grades and students are required to take traditional tests. Despite these requirements, there are teachers who are pushing for greater openness – Genius Hour, Makerspaces, Gamification, Inquiry Learning, and versions of Blended Learning and Flipped Classrooms all are stretching the traditional classroom to become more learner focused with greater autonomy on the part of the learner.
Stephen Wilmarth, in his chapter Five Socio-Technology Trends That Change Everything in Learning and Teaching from the book Curriculum 21 Edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, explores how technology can lead to greater social interaction and learning. As Wilmarth explains
Be assured, I am not advocating that children do not need to learn to read. They do. Or that writing will not be necessary. It is. Or that the process of arriving at sums no longer matters. It does. But all of these things are the outcomes of social adaptation to prior technological change and invention. It is the nature and relevance of reading, writing, and sums that change as we enter the postliterate era. Significantly, it is and relevance of reading, writing, and sums that change as we enter the postliterate era. Significantly, it is the way in which we make meaning out of information to create new knowledge that is changing.
The relationships that are created within classrooms are beginning relationships of learning. Through social networks, we now have the ability to expand these learning networks beyond the classroom.
Joining communities of interest and shared values (personal, family, cultural, political, economic) has always been essential to a learner’s identity. In this case, identity equates to where an individual is on the learning curve. And where traditional community relationships once defined a learner’s identity, emerging social networking technologies allow wholly new community associations to spring up organically and globally. These community ties, both strong and weak, exert a powerful influence on learning.
First, keep in mind that social networking technologies are changing rapidly. Second, remember that the technologies are not the point. In social networking, it’s important to concentrate on relationships, not technologies.
Teachers are coping with changes on multiple levels both as learners and, in turn, as teachers. To think that teachers will all be able to move at the same pace is akin to saying all students in the classroom will learn along a linear timeline, at the same pace, with the same tools, doing the same things and arrive at the same time. I don’t know anyone who still believes this takes place in a modern classroom.
Do You Love Learning?
As classrooms and schools move through transformational phases, there will continue to be different degrees of adoption and change. Unlike many who seem to be frustrated by a seeming lack of change, I am optimistic because I have seen so much change in so many areas in the past 4 or 5 years. Twitter, which was once a fairly lonely place for me, is now a fully vibrant learning network with connections of all types of learners and leaders. Interestingly, some of the earlier adopters who were avid sharers are now less involved in the networks, working more in a different avenues such as presenting and blogging or become teacherpreneurs on their own.
What drives all these people? I believe it is a love of learning that is at the heart of what they do which leads them to share and connect with others to share that passion, building relationships with others through learning. I believe their passion for learning fuels their passion for teaching. For others, that spark needs to be kindled and fanned not crushed and blown out by a constant bombardment.
…. what if teachers were supported as learners, trying to move through a myriad of changes along with everyone else? What if their learning was supported and valued, incorporated in the their work and part of a systemic view of learning as work?
….. how educational leaders can support teachers as they transition to a learning system where discovery and asking questions is of primary importance instead of content and knowledge distribution?
…. what if learning and relationships were the primary areas of focus? How might schools change to meet the needs of students and teachers through these two lenses?
…. where wondering and innovation will fit as educational institutions transition from being content and knowledge distribution centres?
How many times have you heard this?
It’s sounds so simple –
Just Do It!
Change is happening all over the place. In fact, so many of us jump into change that is rather life altering — marriage, children, new jobs…. pretty life altering! I mean, these changes are BIG!
Really, it’s not that people are totally afraid of changing.
New hair styles, wardrobe redos, new menu choices…. they’re all changes.
I know I’ve read more than a few blog articles about no longer accepting the “excuses” for not changing — there needs to be a change and we need to move on — NOW!
Sometimes We See that Change is Necessary
I’m transitioning myself through a major life change — one that is extremely exciting — and scary and terrifying and exhausting and ……. but necessary.
I could no longer ignore that change needed to happen. I wasn’t happy, my family wasn’t happy. We made the decision — discussing it with my wife — to move on and try a new path.
To what, I not really sure but the rut was starting to get too deep. I wasn’t seeing things with new lenses anymore. I was starting to look for “easy” solutions at times — not the right solutions. In short, I was not being the educational leader I expected myself to be.
Sometimes we wander across just the right thing at the right time.
A while back on twitter I happened upon this tweet
As I read through the article there were so many things that struck me as being important in the educational context.
1. Healing takes time – change requires healing time
Often I’ve heard “Well, they need to get over it. That’s the way it is and it’s time to get with the times. There’s a new train leaving and either they’re on it or …” In fact, the number of articles that are almost hostile to people who aren’t willing to change as quickly as they it is deemed they should is somewhat surprising given we are suppose to be an empathetic and concerned group of individuals.
As an administrator who has been involved in working with a number of staffs in different schools on improvement and change – I didn’t always understand this and often thought “Let’s move on. We’ve been going over this and rehashing this.” I didn’t understand that, as the educational leader, I needed to listen to where they were in the change process – not where I was or where I wanted to be. But that’s only the start – the next step is empathizing and then help them move forward with the understanding that staying put isn’t an option and support will be in place to transition.
2. Telling someone that change is going to happen doesn’t eliminate the need for time for healing.
As a parent, this has been so real for me and my wife. We have lived in many different communities. As parents, we learned that we needed to discuss the move with our children well before it happened BUT that didn’t mean the children wouldn’t need time.
I recall my oldest boy, days before we were moving. He had never really experienced leaving friends. There he was, with his best friend, walking behind our house in the late evening along the back road. The two of them, arms over each others’ shoulders walking – occasionally talking – stopping to look, point, talk.
It nearly broke my heart as I watched these two friends help one another – tears rolling down my cheeks as I witnessed friendship as it best.
Later that night, before bed, we talked about how he was feeling. LIke it was yesterday, his reply was “I’ll be okay. I know it will be okay. I just need time to get use to this.” He was 8. He taught me that change was okay – but it wasn’t easy no matter how much advanced warning.
As an administrator, I constantly remember this as I have worked with teachers, parents and students moving through the change process. As a prime example, after moving to a new school, our staff was in the middle of a planning meeting as the old school was being demolished. Many of the teachers couldn’t concentrate on the meeting we were having – the old school being torn down! We stopped. Watched. Some tears were shed. Memories were shared. They knew for 2 years that this was going to happen. It didn’t make it easier.
We took a break. People wandered outside. Some had spent nearly 30 years teaching in the school. They knew rationally that it needed to be done – but 30 years of drama, sports, graduations, first days….. you don’t just walk away.
Too often, in the name of progress, the rush to change becomes a litany of initiative after initiative in the name of “Doing what’s best for students” with new ideas coming from all over the place. Telling people that change is coming doesn’t mean you don’t have to help them when it actually happens. Again, empathy is a big part of this and giving teachers a list of 10 things isn’t empathetic. Neither is listing all the benefits or, like I’ve seen, ridiculing those who aren’t changing in forums of those who’ve changed. The last one, sorry to say, is somewhat of a staple in some twitter circles and is so embarrassing that people with fairly large followings talk about other people like that yet do it in the name of “What’s best for students”.
Exactly what would children learn from that?
Another group I’ve especially seen this with is new teachers. “10 things to you need to know as you begin teaching” is a great title but if you’re really concerned about new teachers, you’ll talk to them – constantly – not just at the beginning of the year or during the new teacher follow-up meetings or class observations. Even if it means making a note to yourself to stop by after school or in the morning to “talk” (I mean listen) to them, it’s needed. They need to “hear” from you in more than emails, memos and observations. And, no, you don’t have the answers – they aren’t asking questions but working through change. Give them a wonderful gift, your attention!
3. Change goals are too vague and too longterm.
“It’s what’s best for students” isn’t good enough anymore. For everyone who pulls this phrase out when referring to school reform and the advancement of technology, quit saying it because I can give you a whole grocery list of items that would fall in this category and fulfill the criteria.
And the rationale that “It’s what is happening everywhere outside of school” is another one that needs to hit the dumpster for the same reason as above. Again, there’s a grocery list of things that fit here. Yes “everyone is on ______________” but, that’s doesn’t mean it’s for everyone or that we will find the same fulfillment/satisfaction/learning/growth. This is as ridiculous as saying we’ll teach all the students in our room the same way with the same material and expect them all to learn and be excited about it. How about let’s stop this “one size fits all” for everyone in education and, instead, help teachers with some long-term goals for change and then short-term feedback goals for success. “Everyone’s doing it” is something a teenager says to their parents not something that I would expect in a conversation concerning educational change that is impacting the lives of teachers.
Goals need to be specific – we’re moving to use ePortfolios because….. – and have the people doing the change fill in some of the reasons because there are people who will be ready and accepting of the change and be prepared to move things forward. Constant initiatives from out there “in the best interest of students” hasn’t really worked so far – why do we expect them to suddenly work? Be specific about the change. Set a longterm goal – but then set short term goals and allow people to move forward, make mistakes and work through the changes. Give time for feedback and reflection that can then be integrated into the next step.
Give individuals the assistance they need to move forward, hold them accountable and be expected to be amazed.
As an administrator, one thing I’ve encountered numerous times is the “3 year plan – 1 year mindset”. The initiative is given 3 years to be fully implemented but that is 2 years longer than the timelines given for seeing results. There will always be those people who want to impress and will be willing to “succeed” at all costs – but in education, the human cost – especially when it relates to teachers, students and parents – is just too much. Either live by the 3 years or stop the smoke and mirrors and be honest about the change timeline. People may not be happy but they will know what is expected of them – especially the leaders in the school – and adjust accordingly. Support for a 3 year initiative is much different than that of a 1 year initiative.
4. Not everyone moves at the same rate or has the same needs
Individual needs are not usually part of the planning process when discussing change. People talk about them and acknowledge them but don’t plan for the differences. Instead, whether it’s teachers within a school or schools within a division/district, the expectation is that the change will look and proceed along a certain path and, if it doesn’t, there is something wrong with the person/school and nothing at all wrong with the plan.
Educational leaders talk about students with different learning needs yet I’m still somewhat astounded at how similar so many classrooms look. Talk isn’t action and for the latter to occur there needs to be specific planning and supports integrated to help with the transition. There is a large hue and cry for change – assessment, planning, cross-curricular integration, technology integration, flipped classrooms, blended learning, inquiry learning. Yet, it’s astounding how most of these come with a small range of implementation and time-lines.
5. Not all Teachers are the same!
Planning for different needs and different progress is messy and isn’t without problems – which you would think would be understood given the situation. Yet, it is not uncommon to have educational leaders compare teacher A to B&C&D because A is a “rock star”. The reasons for this are numerous but it’s usually doesn’t have the desired impact. Which, really shouldn’t be a surprise. Instead, leaders should be a) continuing to support teacher A with their work but also providing support for B, C & D. Not being a “rock star” shouldn’t be seen as a negative or be used as a comparison of ability. Instead, plan for individual differences, identify who might need assistance, be open to working with them and provide supports with short-term goals and help to move them along. Too often, the expectation is that with adults, the learning will be similar for everyone and, as organizations, the same inputs will provide consistent results across the domain.
Change isn’t an event – it’s a movement.
Individuals need time to move through significant change. Too often, because teachers are adults, the assumption is that they will not need that much time or they will be able to rationally see the need for change and will “Get on with it.” As Chip and Dan Heath explore in their book Switch.
Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our own lives? The primary obstacle, say the Heaths, is a conflict that’s built into our brains. Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems—the rational mind and the emotional mind—that compete for control. The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine. This tension can doom a change effort—but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.
Too often, this mistake becomes costly in terms of the human factor which then affects the school culture and, well, my experience in changing these errors is that it leads to a negative and unproductive working and learning environment. Maybe it’s time that people focused more on the individuals in the change process and less time telling them to “just get on with it.” because “there’s no excuse not to move on.” In my experience, there may not be an excuse but there is a reason and, if you take the time, not only will you find out why but you’ll be amazed at the change that will take place.
The power of one.
How can one person have influence and bring about change?
I often referred to this Margaret Meade quote when I was an administrator – as a small group of educators there was the opportunity to do great things if we just allowed ourselves the latitude to be more and do more.
A small group, yes!
But one person? Can it really happen?
They Walk Among Us
This past Sunday, #txeduchat was discussing ways that teachers could connect students with the world. One thing that I have learned is there are many students who are already doing amazing things – changing the world some who popularized through video or on the internet. But there are many more who are doing amazing things because they are driven to do so. I have had the privilege of having a number of students show me how they, as youth, can change the world.
It is one example of how we are surrounded by people who are taking risks and making changes because they see a need and try to address it. They don’t wait for someone to tell them to do something or to get permission to make a difference. They are risk-takers and innovators.
These people wander at the edge of possibility, creating wonder with others, not afraid to see what might be, undeterred by failure or mistakes; lifelong learners and co-creators, they are passionate and embrace the complexity of life not seeking reward but wishing only to make the world a better place than they found it.
We don’t all have to be raising money or campaigning although some people find that it fits. But, as I indicated in my last post, continuing to ignore the things taking place around us or hoping someone else will take the risk is not helping students address the issues they face today.
Jade Balleck, an educator who is now taking on the responsibility of being an administrator, takes the step of acknowledging that she needs to do more. Her post Principal’s Short Course Part II is a great example of someone not waiting to take a step forward but bolding stepping forward as she seeks to develop a deeper awareness of the need to be culturally aware as an administrator/educator.
Allowing Ourselves to Be Artists
In Linchpin, Seth Godin describes how it is possible to become a person that is necessary, a linchpin, not by doing what everyone else is doing but by being creative at what you are doing, to seeing a problem and beginning to solve that problem. Become the linchpin that holds things together. In doing this, Godin explains that there are choices we have to make about how we approach work and what we decide to do at work. At one point, in discussing the topic of labour, specifically emotional labour, Godin explains
The essence of any gift, including the gift of emotional labor, is that you don’t do it for a tangible, guaranteed reward. If you do, it’s no longer a gift; it’s a job.
Labour as a gift? Working to make a change in the world without worrying about whether you get rewarded? As children, helping others without expecting a reward is something that we often learn from parents or people around us. Somewhere along the way the intrinsic nature of doing something without expecting a reward is often replaced as we seek to get something for our efforts, recognized for what we are doing.
In Invisibles- The Power of Anonymous Work David Zweig looks at how those people who, although anonymous to most of the world, are indeed necessary and highly respected by the people who know them within their industry. These people are linchpins in their industry
…highly skilled, and people whose roles are critical to whatever enterprise they are a part of. … often highly successful and recognized by, indeed deeply respected among their co-workers for their expertise and performance… [they] have chosen, or fallen into and then decided to stay in, careers that accord them no outward recognition from the end user. This is defiantly in opposition to the accolades, or even just pats on the back, most of us desire. And yet – Invisible are an exceptionally satisfied lot.
What drives them?
A passion for the work they do, a desire to make things better, and a meticulousness that fuels their passion. In the interviews and discussions Zweig has with these people throughout the book, it becomes apparent that these people are drawn to make a difference without a need to be recognized. According to Zweig, these people exhibit three common traits:
1) Ambivalence toward recognition
3) Savoring of responsibility
As an educator and administrator, these traits are similar to those I have seen in educators with whom I have worked. Unfortunately, they rarely are afforded the last – responsibility. In classrooms and schools, there are people who are doing meticulous work trying to do what’s best for the students in their rooms/schools but lack the opportunity to demonstrate their responsibility. They have an incredible passion for what they are doing – without it they wouldn’t be able to continue. Yet, too often, they are frustrated and constrained by those around them.
Many people choose to remain doing what they are doing, even if they are unhappy and don’t like it, because fear of the unknown and what might happen, the possibility of failure and the pain associated with that failure are much greater than their desire to change what is happening. Making a change is difficult, in some cases it requires us to learn new things or to maybe admit we weren’t as good as we thought we were at what we were doing.
Just this week I had a great conversation about change, fear and innovation. During the conversation I mentioned that at one point I had switched to tables in the classroom and removed my teacher desk. A common response from teachers is that they rarely use their desk or sit at it, it’s just a place to keep their stuff. So I challenge them to remove it and see how it frees them to envision their classroom space differently, to envision their role in the classroom differently, to begin to revise the flow, the interactions and the space. It brings a change to the classroom that other educators can sense when they walk in. Something is just different.
….. what keeps each of us from being able to bring about change? What if each teacher wrote their fears down and began to address them? What if we shared and worked together, helping each other?
….. recognition isn’t necessarily a motivator but being given responsibility is. According to Liz Wiseman, author of The Multiplier Effect, leaders who expect people around them to do great things and then give them the responsibility to do so multiply the effects of the people with whom they lead. What would happen if teachers were given responsibility, not for grades and assessment, but learning and growth, for supporting their students to make the world a better place?
…. why many school leaders are so enthralled with data that dehumanizes the learning relationship?
…. what data can tell us that a great teacher with strong relationships can’t?
…. why schools are so afraid of risk-taking and innovations if learning takes place in the space of discomfort between what we know and what we want to know, which may, in fact, include failure?
Multipliers know how to find this dormant intelligence, challenge it, and put is to use at its fullest. …. They are genius makers. They know that at the apex of the intelligence hierarchy is not the lone genius but rather the smart leader who also brings out smarts and capability in everyone around him or her.