Category Archives: goal setting

#saskedchat – January 21, 2016 – Homework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elias further states

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

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

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

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.

Are you Failing or Flailing?

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Failing or Flailing?

On a resent episode of  Mitch Joel’s podcast Six Pixels of Separation, Mitch talks with Seth Godin about his book What To Do When It’s Your Turn and It’s Always Your Turn . During the interview Seth Godin talks about Failing and Flailing as being the difference between learning from failure and doing something that has little chance of learning moving to success. As Mitch points out, it’s one letter difference but it’s a big difference.

This had me thinking about change in education.

In my experience, the change that takes place in schools isn’t clearly explained for everyone. The “Why” of the change is sometimes fuzzy. ‘It will improve ___________ ‘ – is one of the main reasons touted for the change yet it doesn’t really delve into the nuances of why THIS is important. The process is started – the ‘What and How’ are meticulously laid out for everyone and a timeline for implementation is set. People move forward implementing change, data is collected but the ‘Why’ is left up in the air, an unspoken truth – “All good teachers know why”. A great deal of flailing is happening and, maybe, some success but it becomes hard to separate the success from the over-enthusiasm for failure.

Failing has almost become an end in and of itself – “If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying” is something I’ve heard quite often. Yet, what are we learning from this Failing? Why is it so important that we need to fail? Why are we doing this? How will we know if we are successful?

FAIL has become an acronym for First Attempt In Learning. It’s a great way to visually show students that mistakes happen and it’s okay. But what is learned from the failure?  As I’ve written about before, is there a plan for reflecting on failure so it can lead to success? As Carol Dweck points out in her discussion of a growth mindset

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.”

Failing is part of learning but it’s not the goal of learning. Understanding ‘Why’ we have failed is important in learning to succeed not an end goal in the process. If there is no process for reflection and new action, then failing really is flailing.

Things to Think About

How does a failure help you in moving to success?

What are you doing to support others to learn from their failures in order that they may succeed?

Is there failure because there is a lack of clarity about ‘WHY’?

Let’s Try Re-Framing

The First Follower

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

Challenge Others to Change

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

Re-Frame the Challenge

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

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

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

Why would school be important?

Why would students want to come to school?

Why would teachers want to teach?

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

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

And we happen to make great computers.

Wanna buy one?

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

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

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

That Can’t Be Done! – Can It?

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

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

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

Re-Framing as Leader

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

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

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

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

Thing to Think About

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

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

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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?

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

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It was the Last Summer Chat

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

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Apple phone timeline

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

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

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

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

Is Convenient Good For Learning

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

It’s About Making Small Changes and Growing Over Time

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

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

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

The Importance of Small Changes

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

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What Can One Do?

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.

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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.

One such student, Taylor, did so through a campaign to raise money to build a school. Her campaign, 1kidmakingadifference, raises money to help children. She told her story at WeDay Saskatchewan.

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

2) Meticulousness

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.

I Wonder….. 

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?