Category Archives: failure

#saskedchat Summer Blogging Challenge

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Week 2 of the #saskedchat Summer Blogging Challenge

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

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

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

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

So, what have you done to earn it?

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

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

the freedom to connect,

the freedom to choose

the freedom to initiate

the freedom to do what matters,

If we choose.

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

for most of us.

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

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

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

we have privilege.

Support – what does it mean to you?

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It’s Okay to Share Your Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And it took time.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

You Know Enough – Now Start

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Starting…..

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

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

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

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

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

Starting……

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

Graphic Art!

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

Starting…..

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

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

Good Enough…. but that wasn’t me.

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

Starting….

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

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

Starting…. 

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

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

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

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

Just Start

Reframe the Story

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

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

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

So, what does your today and tomorrow look like?

 

It Isn’t This or That

Last year I began working on a PhD full time. It meant leaving my family and living apart for a period of time. Almost every night I would join them via Skype or Facetime to talk and hear about their day. My wife, a teacher, would tell me about her day or interesting things going on in the community. My 5 children would tell me about their day and I’d get to see the things they made and what they did with their friends.

Technology allowed us to connect even though we were miles apart. It allowed me to see them and, in some way, be with them. We were connected in ways that a few years ago would not have been possible.

But I missed the contact. Of being able to have my youngest son sit on my lap. Of being a part of the daily routine. It allowed us to connect but it wasn’t the same as physically being there. 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 Power of Connecting

John Spencer, someone whom I have followed  for some time and admire for his willingness to share his journey, recently wrote a post Missing the Connective Power of Technology . John tells a similar story as mine of using technology to connect and be with family despite living apart. He discusses the friends he has met through connecting and being connected. In the post, John explores the continuing discussion that swirls around technology and connecting

You’ve seen the videos imploring people to “look up” and abandon their devices. It’s easy to look into a crowd and say, “They’re not interacting with each other.” But I’ve always had a hard time with these complaints. The problem isn’t the device. It’s the crowd. It’s the urbanization. It’s the packed rooms with people you don’t know. The reason I won’t look up from my device while I’m in the crowd is that talking to strangers is exhausting.

I agree, being in a crowd is difficult, it isn’t my comfort zone. It’s difficult for me to strike up a conversation with someone I  don’t know. But, and this is something I’ve learned over time, it also is an opportunity to meet someone new, to learn something new. So I’ve worked at taking the step and striking up a conversation. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much. Like anything I do, there is an inherent possibility that failure will happen but there is also the inherent possibility that success is possible so I take a deep breath and step out.

John also discusses the this/that view of technology and connecting, exploring how these binaries limit people’s possibilities.

But there’s another part of this critique that bothers me. It approaches technology with a deficit mindset. I get it. Hugs are better than texts. Physical presence is an optimal choice. However, in an industrial society, we are stuck with isolation and our devices have the potential for relational connection. A forty minute commute is a forty minute commute.

I use to think that the approach was seeing technology as a deficit but now I wonder if, instead of a deficit mindset, it’s a different mindset? A mindset that sees interpersonal connections in a different way. I agree with John that technology allows us to connect to people in powerful ways yet some people see technology as limiting human interactions and connections. A different mindset than I have about technology and its use.

My father is one of those people. I’ve learned that trying to convince him otherwise isn’t going to happen. Instead, I listen more instead of trying to think of a counter argument. In doing so, I’ve come to realize that he isn’t anti-technology. In fact, he was a maker and inventor who created amazing things – surround-sound was standard in our house, even in the bathroom. He was always tinkering and innovating but, for him, face to face interaction is his comfort zone.

And it’s okay.

Its not this or that

Sometimes the devices connect us to people when we find ourselves isolated or when we need a safe place to talk but one isn’t available with the people around us. I’ve had that experience and being able to reach out to someone, a friend, is crucial. We can connect to people, friends, in new and different ways and we can find people with whom we feel a connection even though they are in different locations. We can be with our families even when we are far apart.

But it’s not for everyone and that’s okay.

There is no one right path 

As a teacher, face to face interaction is constant – students, parents, colleagues. Just this week I subbed in a school where I knew almost no one but I spent the day interacting with students and teachers, getting to know them and learning with them. Some people don’t have this experience everyday as they work in isolation or near isolation and going into a new situation is daunting. I’ve been asked how I do it, going into new schools to work not knowing anyone. It’s within my comfort zone. It’s energizing in a way that being in a crowd of strangers is exhausting.

And so it is with technology. It allows me to connect with people all over the world. I see the power in connecting and sharing, learning and growing. It’s what I have always done.

But I can also isolate myself from people close to me – I’ve done that too. I spent time connecting but not working on the relationships close to me because they were hard and it was difficult. We didn’t see the world the same way. As an administrator, I learned that I had to work on those close relationships as they were critical to building a positive collaborative culture in the school. Some days it was so exhausting and frustrating but if things were going to change it was going to be the work I did with those people around me.

A Tale of Two 

I find it difficult in crowds. To me, it can be like a bad movie with stale popcorn – I can’t wait to for it to end.  But my wife  finds these interactions energizing and full of great adventure, meeting others, laughing, interacting. I make small talk while she learns the life history of half the people in the room. We’re at the same event yet our experiences are different. The same is true about about connecting with technology. For me,  it is a great experience. I feel energized meeting people and having discussions, joining edchats and impromptu conversations.  Just this morning I had a discussion with people I only know online but with whom I have a relationship. For my wife, it’s a necessity to connect in order to keep in touch.

Two tales of connecting. Two experiences of connections.

Listening in the Midst of Living

Recently I was in a staffroom at a school where I was subbing. Someone mentioned having to spend the evening in the rink for hockey – it was going to be a long season!  A younger teacher, who had recently returned from maternity, remarked that before she had children, her youngest is one, she had all kinds of time and energy but now, with two toddlers at home, she feels exhausted. She remarked that she could understand now why some teachers never make it past 5 years. At some time in the past I would have made a comment about children but now I don’t. See, when you mention you have 8 children, it makes almost everyone else feel like they shouldn’t complain, like there’s no more room. It takes away their story, usurps what they are feeling. It’s hard. I remember that time since my youngest is only 6. But things have changed, and, thankfully, I’ve learned a little bit.

Filtering the Influx

In the blog post The Coming Podcast Surplus, Seth Godin discusses how the growing number of podcasts means he doesn’t have enough time in the day to listen to what is being produced. I find myself in a similar predicament where there are more podcasts created than I have time to listen and I have to limit/select what I listen to because, as Seth says

I can’t listen to something new without not listening to something else. Which makes it challenging to find the energy to seek out new ones.

I also find the same is happening with blogposts. There are more being written than I have time to read. Even though I subscribe to an RSS reader and scan the titles, there is so much being created and I am limited to what I can read.  I have to filter more than I did just a year ago and I don’t go looking for new input as often as I did. I rely on suggestions from others or something from my twitter feed or Flipboard.

As a blogger, I have found that although people may read what I write, they rarely comment anymore. I also have to keep in mind the amount of time it takes to read a post – many readers don’t seem to stick around if the post gets too long.

In talking with teachers I know, they feel the same and, with the continual implementation model that has landed and planted in education, and a new expert popping,  they have less time to do these things than they did before.

Time for What’s Important

Today, a tweet with a link to an older post by George Couros Isolation is now a choice educators make  appeared in my feed. As I read through the post, I began to think about how, in the two years since that post first appeared, my own situation has changed drastically

Then – I was in the middle of my last year of full-time administrating/teaching/coaching. With 6 children who had a full slate of extra-curricular activities, a wife that I like to spend time with occasionally,  a school and staff going through transition, I found I had little time for other activities. We lived a 45 minute commute to my daughter’s hockey practice and I coached/reffed 400+ hours that year. Every day I wrote in a journal as a reflective practice, something I had begun in my first years of teaching as a way to describe and work through some of the many things going on around me. I didn’t exercise as I knew I should and there wasn’t much time for other things.  I definitely didn’t have time to blog nor did I have a great deal of time for “connecting”. I was too attached to the events, too in the middle of the story, to be able to reflectively write for public. In the middle of a living story. As the young teacher had expressed, I was exhausted. But, despite all this, at times I felt like a failure – I wasn’t connecting enough!

Now –  Two years later – I am a part-time stay-at-home-dad helping my wife raise 4 children,  I sub a few days a week, work as a graduate student and spend time helping educators connect and grow through #saskedchat, #saskedcamp and visiting classes to discuss Digital Citizenship .  I have time to reflect, to think about what has happened around me and time to filter  events. I have time to do presentations, to speak with teachers about what they are doing, to listen intently to their stories, and make connections that, in the midst of the story, I couldn’t. As I read George’s post, I recognized how some of my own thoughts shifted about connecting. I have time to blog and see how it helps. I have time to listen to podcasts as I run, something I couldn’t do. I read from a variety of genres and topics and am challenged by topics of race, gender, colonialism, hegemony and their impact on society and our lives. Living in the midst, time was given to the priorities that were important – life connections.

I didn’t have time for a number of things, even though they were on my “I really want to do that” list because there were higher priorities – marriage, children, teaching, coaching, driving, watching my children as they played – all more important because those connections – wife, children, colleagues, community – were priorities. Priceless time spent driving with my youngest daughter and listening to her grow into a wonderful young woman. Priceless – worthy of all my time.

Take Away – Expecting people to do things without knowing their story and taking account of their experience is akin to asking all students to learn the same way.  We’ve moved on. Expecting people to connect because of my personal experience is, well, selfish. I’m not listening to them. It works for me, now. Why, because of my circumstances. Even though 5 or 7 or 9 years ago I had used technology, I am now able to grow my connections and help other educators through that role.

The guilt is gone.

Did it need to be there? Why do we do that?

Listening in the Midst

As an educational leader I have worked with a number of different schools to shift negative school culture to one of  collaboration and sharing where student learning was our primary focus,  to transition new teachers into the profession and, with difficulty, to transition a few teachers out of the profession. I have worked with students, staff and community on a number of community-based school policies. I’ve learned the importance of relationships, learning, leading and following. One of the most important learnings I have had is to meet people where they are, walk with them, support them, challenge them to grow and learn but, most importantly, to honour their lives in their midst. To impose my idea of what is correct or right or the best on those with whom I am in relationship does not honour their stories.

George is correct, isolation is a choice.

I have met very few teachers who are all alone.

They might not be online blogging or tweeting but they have connections – a network of people who support them and to whom they turn to for support, ideas, inspiration, who they bring into their classrooms and the lives of their students, and who connect them with others in so many ways. They have young families, are dealing with life changing challenges and a myriad of other living in the midst and using their time for what is important in their lives.

I am fortunate enough to have had the time to be able to experience this, to learn from others as I they told me their stories. Yes, I have worked with some and helped them to connect, to grow their connections, to shift and change their teaching practices. But, I have also learned to honour those who have other priorities while supporting them where they are. They are worthy of my time and my experience.

I have 8 children. 4 girls. 4 boys. They, along with my wife, are my highest priorities because, long after I am no longer around, they will continue to change the world in ways I cannot begin to dream.

If it’s a priority, we devote time to it. Was I wrong?

Don’t Imitate – Innovate

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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.

Being Innovative

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?

I Failed But It Was Worth It

Screenshot 2015-10-26 14.09.05

Failure is Important

My run this morning wasn’t great. I laboured through it. My time was below my usual pace and I was struggling. I didn’t run as far as I usually run and my side hurt.

It was a great run.

Huh? How can that be?

It was great because I ran. It all depends on how I frame the run. If I frame it by the time, it wasn’t very good. If I frame by comparing it to past runs, it wasn’t a success. But if I frame differently, as something I do as part of trying to live a healthy lifestyle, it was a great run. I didn’t let the fact that it wasn’t a nice morning keep me from lacing on my runners and heading outside.  It wasn’t just my effort either. Today my best wasn’t as good as a couple past runs but it is better than when I would find an excuse not to run. Instead of giving up or finding an excuse, I went out and ran.

It’s Not Just Effort

Part of my daily routine includes exercise.  I usually listen to a podcast when exercising. Todd Henry’s Accidental Creative is one of my favourites. Today I was listening to an interview with Mitch Joel who hosts Six Pixels of Separation . During the discussion the topic of failure came up. Lately when someone begins discussing failure there is a familiar frame “Fail fast, fail forward, fail often, fail…. ” where failure is described as almost the reason people do things – so they can fail. However, as Todd Henry points out, failure isn’t wonderful or great, it’s not the reason people do things but it can be one of the outcomes when people do something. Failure is not the desired outcome, success is what people strive towards. For failure to be beneficial, there needs to be a way for a person or organization to examine what happened and make adjustments so improvements can be made. Blindly rushing forward without any way of reflecting on what takes place may lead to success. Or it may lead to failure. But without a plan or way to examine the process, duplicating the success or avoiding further failure becomes very difficult if not impossible. By framing my run as part of living a healthy lifestyle, I can see that it is only one part of a bigger plan for success.

Learning from Our Mistakes

When I was younger I used to show up at the gym, maybe do a little bit of cardio, some light workout and then jump into the work and work hard. However, no matter how hard I worked in the gym, I made little gains and I often would end up slowly missing a workout here and a run there until, you guessed it, there was 2 months between gym visits! I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Why did I start out strong only to slowly quit?

Like most people, I was only looking at the exercise part of my life . It wasn’t until I began to look at all areas of my life, including diet, sleep, and exercise, that I began to see any sustained improvement. But, despite taking a closer look, I would still fall into the same rut where I would be start great but eventually fall off. What was I doing wrong? Why was I failing? Why was I exercising anyway?

By focusing on what and how, I had missed examining why. This little shift in focus, from what and how to why, has helped me to reconsider how I examine and reflect upon what I am doing and the failures that I experience.

We Over-estimate Our Ability

It wasn’t until I began to seriously look at my goals for exercising, why I was doing what I was doing,  that I saw how I needed to be able to recognize ways I was sabotaging my efforts by not being realistic about my own abilities, adjust my plan and record daily what I was doing. Technology helped me, I bought a fitness band, to track what I was doing beyond the exercising. This alone did not make me a better athlete which was a bit of a disappointment! Just adding technology didn’t make me suddenly find success.

Instead, it gave me the incentive and some easy ways to remind myself to do things like get up and have a drink of water or walk around for 15 minutes. It wasn’t that I didn’t know to do these things but I didn’t do them regularly. I over-estimated my own ability to follow routines long enough for them to become a habit that would become part of the day.

I also over-estimated my own ability when it came to exercise but I didn’t know this until I began to keep track of my exercise patterns and what I was doing. Like many people, I over-estimated my ability to recover from intense workouts before my body had time to adjust to a new workload. And, funny thing, as I get older it takes a bit longer to recover from my own over-estimation of ability which means I was continuing a cycle of failure but looking in the wrong places to correct what was happening. Like many people, I wanted to improve but I continued to experience failure. Why?

Eventually I realized that I wasn’t looking at the whole picture. I didn’t have a success plan. Instead, I was working with a FAIL plan. I wasn’t looking at the points of success but instead would try to figure out what went wrong, looking at the failures without also examining the successes I had. Although it was important to understand what I was doing wrong, I wasn’t looking at what I was doing right! When things didn’t work, I focused solely on my exercise habits and not my lifestyle.

Have a Success Plan?

As an educator, I admit that I didn’t have a success plan. It wasn’t that I didn’t plan or use reflection for my own growth or look at ways to improve. For most of my career, I have been extremely interested in professional development. Like my exercise program, I often didn’t look at the successes but focused on the failures to see what I could learn. It wasn’t until recently that I began to look at the successes along with the failures. Even in failure there are successes that take place. I’ve rarely experienced an utter failure unless you count that cake when I used way too much baking soda – that was a complete failure! However, most of the time, the failure wasn’t so complete that there wasn’t some successes. I also began to focus on success, building forwards instead of expecting failure.

The goal is not to fail but to learn from mistakes in order to improve toward success. I don’t write blog posts so no one will read them. Hopefully, over time from the feedback I receive, I will learn to write better which will make people share my writing with others.

Failure Can Promotes Growth 

Continuously failing is demoralizing unless there is a way to bring that failure forward to improve and continue on. Even when I exercise, continually working to failure taxes my body too much if that is all that I do. It’s alright to work to failure at times but not all the time. It’s too hard. Failure can help us to grow but if all we do is work to failure, it eventually takes it toll.

As educators, helping students learn from failure is crucial to their learning and growth. As Carol Dweck outlines in the article Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’

Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve.

We also need to remember that effort is a means to an end to the goal of learning and improving. Too often nowadays, praise is given to students who are putting forth effort, but not learning, in order to make them feel good in the moment: “Great effort! You tried your best!” It’s good that the students tried, but it’s not good that they’re not learning. The growth-mindset approach helps children feel good in the short and long terms, by helping them thrive on challenges and setbacks on their way to learning. When they’re stuck, teachers can appreciate their work so far, but add: “Let’s talk about what you’ve tried, and what you can try next.”

I was putting forth effort but I wasn’t examining what I had tried nor was I looking at what to try next. Yes I tried. Yes I put forth effort. But, despite all this effort, I continued the cycle.

Breaking the Cycle

Carol Dweck discusses how praising effort doesn’t break the failure cycle:

Recently, someone asked what keeps me up at night. It’s the fear that the mindset concepts, which grew up to counter the failed self-esteem movement, will be used to perpetuate that movement. In other words, if you want to make students feel good, even if they’re not learning, just praise their effort! Want to hide learning gaps from them? Just tell them, “Everyone is smart!” The growth mindset was intended to help close achievement gaps, not hide them. It is about telling the truth about a student’s current achievement and then, together, doing something about it, helping him or her become smarter.

I also fear that the mindset work is sometimes used to justify why some students aren’t learning: “Oh, he has a fixed mindset.” We used to blame the child’s environment or ability.

Must it always come back to finding a reason why some children just can’t learn, as opposed to finding a way to help them learn? Teachers who understand the growth mindset do everything in their power to unlock that learning.

To break the cycle praising effort isn’t enough. Instead, help the student to examine what went wrong and plan to try again looking for success.

Failure needs to be a step in moving toward success. Whenever we try something, there is a chance of failure, especially when pushing oneself to try something new. As part of moving toward success, failure helps us learn what doesn’t work in this particular situation for this person. One might not get it right the first time. Or, in the case of my run, it depends on how I frame things. If I was training for competition, my run wasn’t a good run. However, if I frame it as part of developing and living a healthy lifestyle, the run was great.

Today I failed but it was worth it!

Things to Think About

How do you plan for success? Do you plan for success?

Are you looking at the bigger picture and the particular? How do they support your plan for success?

As an educator, are you praising effort or helping students to move toward success?