Category Archives: Leadership

And this is why…..

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I’ve seen this a few time over the past week or so. I realize that we’re two decades or more into the technology integration phase in education. I know that we need to integrate technology and that, by now, this shouldn’t even be a discussion. But it is. And it will continue to be for some time to come.

Please Pick up Your …..

For the past two plus decades I’ve been saying those words to one or more of my children. My oldest, is now into her 20’s while my youngest is five which means that for the next number of years I will continue to repeat the same phrase…… because it is all part of the process of learning.

In a recent post at TeachThought entitled Putting Technology At the Centre of Learning , the article highlights that technology needs to be a focus in schools. Indeed “ For all the promotion and obvious benefits that edtech encourages, edtech remains a tokenistic endeavor” is a fair statement when one looks at the case of where many schools technology adoption currently sits. Technology doesn’t always get the focus that is needed to change the policies in the districts/divisions/schools and much of the infrastructure is not able to handle what is needed. And, yes, technology can improve the educational opportunities  – in some cases. 

The Focus Needs to Be Relationships First

This is my starting place as an educator. Why? Because if we don’t focus on relationships and build culture and capacity within classrooms, schools and communities, no amount of technology will bring changes that will solve the issues our students face – today. Without developing relationships that build the foundation to tackle questions related to the environment, race, gender, ability, class and other divisive issues, schools will continue on the merry-go-round of the next “educational fad” whatever that might be. Yes, schools need to focus on curriculum. Yes, there needs to be technology integration. But, as we explored during our last #saskedchat, a shift in focus brings to light that we can do all of this but still not provide students the skills to delve into issues of equity and privilege or how they relate to current issues at a local or global level.

Reminders Are Okay 

I could look at continuing to remind my sons they need to pick up their ….. as a, well, I’ve done it enough already. But, they still need the direction – just like new teachers and people who are shifting how they teach  – it’s a reminder that we have new people who are trying and learning and need some guidance. Which is exciting, isn’t it?

So, when will we learn? When can this stop? Actually, I hope that it continues for a bit longer – it means we are continuing to evolve and grow, with teachers, new and old, trying new things and exploring. Someday, maybe, we won’t have to have this discussion –

But wait…..

I still need reminders…… which aren’t a bad thing. In fact, I sometimes need reminders from my five year old that I need to spend time with him…. which I’m off to do. It helps to build relationships, these reminders – to make human what can sometimes become narrowly focused and somewhat out of focus.

Remember – What’s best for students? isn’t always a straight forward question – it depends on many different factors and sometimes we need to remind ourselves – what do we really mean when we ask this question? What is our motivation? Why are we asking the question?

Collaboration – EdcampPBS Style

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This past weekend I spent Saturday morning at #edcampPBS organized by teachers from a few different schools and school divisions around the city of Regina. Over the past few weeks we have been collaborating to organize the event which was held at Pilot Butte School. I’ve been to a few other edcamps which I really enjoyed and found to be great learning experiences and this was no different. As the morning progressed, people became more comfortable with the format and began to ask questions and offer ideas and input which is what this is all about. But, the biggest take away from today was:

As teachers, we have to tell and retell our stories, share what we are doing and be willing to be vulnerable as learners

As I was sitting with a group during the last session of the day, we heard about some great ideas for learning and sharing. All the members of the group were from different schools and school divisions. There was no “One Way” or “Right Way”. We discussed what some of the participants were doing and the learning that was going on. I was familiar with some of the people but only knew other via twitter or just met them. Each person had an vision for how they saw things based on their experiences and learning. As each member talked, the stories they told were of learning journeys – of wanting to improve and seeking ways to improve as teachers and administrators. For me, it was these stories where the deep and rich learning was taking place.

From where I sat

Working on a PhD and doing a great deal of reading about PLN’s, Professional Development and teacher career paths, I have come across a great deal of deep thought about what is needed to improve teaching from some of the world’s foremost leaders on these topics. If this was an academic work, I’d begin to delve into each area but that’s not the purpose. Instead, it’s to highlight that in almost all the reading I am doing, the perspective and learning of the teachers is not used to highlight teachers’ learning. But as I listened to these stories, which were filled with reflective anecdotes, insights about school change, the importance of relationship as primary to everything we do, and the passion these people brought to the table, I was struck by two things:

1. The desire of these teachers to improve and get better, to be the best teachers/administrators/consultants they could be in order to help the students/teachers/community where they taught.

2. The importance of relationships and culture for learning. We work in relationship each day and each of these people mentioned over and over the importance of this to learning. Part of the conversation revolved around helping those teachers who continue to work in isolation – teaching in the silo to venture forth at required times – and the desire to help them see the power of connecting and learning with others. For me, this is the crack, the place where teachers fall through. There were “this is the way” answers which I’ve heard many times. But what was different was that everyone at the table recognized/felt/sensed the changes taking place in their buildings. Hope!

Passion for learning

As someone who has not stopped trying to improve as a teacher/administrator/person, I sometimes don’t understand when people shy away from learning, especially when it relates to the work they do each day. I understand that people are in different places in their careers/lives and this has an impact that too often is not discussed. And too often we highlight the “super stars” who are atypical. I call this SuperStar syndrome but you could now call it (fill in the blank with your pick of superstar) who we hold up to demonstrate that anyone can do it, just look at them. Now ponder that for a moment. How to deflate anyone trying to improve by comparing them to the “super star”. They already know they aren’t that person – resentment, depression, anxiety, angst – all roll into play. Would you ever say that to a student to motivate them? Hey, look at _____________, if you work harder you can be just like her/him. Instead, listen to their story and find the thread where there just might be something of a passion.

In MultipliersLiz Wiseman demonstrates that there are people who bring out the best in others, they multiply their abilities. Not all leaders are multipliers – I wasn’t when I started. I wasn’t open to listening or trying to improve the whole – I was what Wiseman calls a Diminisher.

I was a Diminisher. However, somewhere along the way, I realized I wasn’t the smartest person in the room and this changed how I began to see things in school – there were so many smart people around, my role as an administrator was to help them and support them, give them ideas or nudges or, sometimes, a push forward. It was about changing the relationships in the building – building the capacity of the people who were there. It wasn’t about me – it was about others. When I let go of “me”, things began to change which eventually allowed me to revision my own career path.

Technology had always been an interest for me and it was helping other harness this in their own teaching that eventually moved me to change paths. Through building relationships and changing the way educators can assist students, technology offers educators a way to fundamentally change what happens in the classroom and to think differently about their roles. That’s scary. That’s why we need Multipliers – to help others during their career path change. But, from what I’ve experienced, heard, witnessed and felt, that change and shift is  career changing.

The Stories

Stories are so important to us as people. For far too long, the stories of teachers have not been where we have focused. Instead, the focus has been on someone else’s idea of where teachers need to be. Even when people discuss Professional Growth Plans, they are typically tied to a teacher learning within the parameter of the School Improvement Plan or the Vision or ….. instead of listening, intently, to the teacher. I have a passion for using technology to build relationships and improve learning but everything starts with the person/people that I am with – where are they at. As I sat with the group Saturday morning, their passion to improve, to offer more to their teachers and students filled their stories. Too often, these stories get lost in the march of school improvement in yet another initiative. What, if instead of using data to sort and sift, the stories behind the data were investigated and those stories drove the learning? What if instead of starting with data, we started with story?

“This is the best PD I’ve had in my 29 years of teaching.”

I’ve heard that and read that a number of times as I listen to people’s stories. Part of me is happy that this is happening. Part of me, however, is saddened by this fact. As I see young teachers enter the profession and hear their stories too, I wonder if we can change this story, make it a different path. Do we have the will to help change this story? Or, as I’ve also heard, are we going to hope that these new teachers change their story and become more “committed” to their work, willing to “do things as they have been done” because that’s what “gets results”? Do we want them repeat, somewhere in a distant future, if they stay, that finally, “this was the best PD I’ve had…..”?

Step Out of the Comfort Zone

I came across George Couros’ new project, #EDUin30 today. I think it’s a great way to get teachers to tell their stories and build relationships with other teachers. In a nutshell, George is hoping educators will use the new video recording feature of twitter to share a 30 second piece about their teaching.

My hope is that educators partake in this for their own learning, and then think of ways that they can do this type of reflection with their kids.

George is asking that each week you look for the #EDUin30 hashtag to see what the new topic is and then, if you are so inclined, to record a short post and tag it with the appropriate week hashtag – #EDUin30w1 for week 1, #EDUin30w2 and so on. Really, check out his post and, if you’re so inclined, tell your story.

Tell your story, please. Share your Edu-Awesomeness with others. Each teacher has so much to share. If you want to get started with blogging, join our #saskedchat blog challenge where each week we offer up another topic to write about. Last week, well, we focused on collaboration which is where I started. But, like a good story, it took me to places I wasn’t sure about when I started. So now I return to the start and hope each of you will reach out, in some way, to share and collaborate with others.

#saskedchat – Feb 19th, 2015

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Topic – Professionalism – teacher well being

We had a great chat tonight with a number of new participants. Our focus was to discuss well being and ways that we, as professionals, can support ourselves and each other to be the best we can be each day.

The topic was prompted by a blog post by @stangea – Burning Out which then became our #saskedchat blogging challenge topic for the week. There have been a number of post that deal with teacher burn out and a number of response posts that discuss why teachers are not leaving teaching and staying. I won’t discuss either of these. Instead, I will refer you to my own experience, my last experience, with being at a cross-roads – Free Falling

Thanks to everyone who joined the chat and took part – we appreciate your sharing and the time you take to come together each week. Thank you!

 

It’ in the Attitude

For years I was a painter — I put myself through university and spent a few years afterward running my own company painting houses and commercial properties. At one point, the company had 20 summer students and 3 full time people besides myself. Like many ventures, what started off as a way to make some extra money turned into to a full blown job which led to an entrepreneurial endeavour. I learned a great deal about what life was like outside of education.

At some point, the work I was doing went from being something I enjoyed and took great pride in doing to being “a job”. I don’t know when it changed. It wasn’t necessarily what I was doing that changed but my own attitude about what I was doing. In my early twenties, I was sure there was “more”.

They made it Better

I worked one commercial job that still stands out for me. Not because of the work I did but because of two other people who were on the job. One was Tony, a tile setter and the other was Mike, a drywaller. I don’t remember much about them but I remember how they made me feel. Some people do something and the way they do it and the attitude they have forever changes the way you see things. It may be a commonplace thing but afer you see them do it, it becomes different. It leaves an impression on you that lasts a lifetime — you are made better by that exeperience. It’s not necessarily their passion for the work/thing they are doing that sticks with you but the passion for life that they have that permeates the work they do.

For me, as I worked along side these two who were doing hard , backbreaking work, I was impacted at their amazingly positive attitude. They had a presence that was ‘incredible’! They were happy and took pride and pleasure in what they were doing but it was more — it is still hard to describe. The world was made better by being with them. For that time, I once again enjoyed what I was doing.

These two would be, I think, what Liz Wiseman would call “multipliers” — they made other people better — not because of what they did but because of who they were. They had a positive effect on others. There were some people, however, that weren’t as impressed — they seemed threatened and were down and hard on them. It would make me mad sometimes but Tony would tell me to “Tend my own garden, plant my seeds and not let the weeds take over”. It took me a long time to figure out what he meant!

Attitude is Important

                                                          Mindset is important

George Couros asked this question the other day —

I think I understand what he was getting at — that what students do needs to have relevance, be connected to their lives, connected to their passions, meaningful to them as individuals — it needs to matter. I agree. I also know that there are many things that need to get done that can be drudgery and can seem like a waste of time. There were many things that I did while painting that were drudgery — but they were drudgery mostly because of my attitude. Over time, I’ve come to see that how I approach things, my mindset, makes a huge difference — in fact, it might make all the difference.

Writing for….value if…

As a student myself, very little of what I ‘produce’ sees the light of eyes. Even work that I have created and put online for an ‘authentic audience’ has seen little exposure — with a limited amount of feedback. In fact, as I type this, I look over to see a shelf full of papers I’ve written and, if I were to open a few files, there would be posts that have been published with zero views. In reality, much of the work I’ve done hits the “waste bucket” if I look at the ‘authentic interaction’ it has received. Does that means it’s a waste? Or is there value in the learning that I did? Can we always separate things into ‘value/no value’ piles? Do all the things we do need to have some immediate value to them to be worth doing? I write here to work things through myself and maybe get some feedback, maybe. But if there is no feedback, is there no value? Does the value have to be immediately visible? What if I were to return to this idea at a later date having grown and rethought things? What if others disagree with me? Does it now have less value? Or if they agree — more value? Does their status matter?

It’s part of LearningPart of my learning and growth has been to realize that being different and seeing things differently isn’t a problem or an issue or a “career crippler” as I have been told for most of my life. As I stumble, make errors and mistakes, take missteps, and agree and disagree with others, I learn so much about the world, about myself and the people in my life. Much of what I have done has been discarded, like assignments in a waste basket, recycled for other purposes. But the learning — that’s stayed with me. Sometimes, it’s what I’ve learned by having to push myself through, to not just quit and walk away that has allowed me to see things differently on the other end, to see the greatness in others who do ‘ordinary things with extra-ordinary attitude’.

The Story is in the Stones

Often, when I visit the mall in Saskatoon, I can still see the stones that were laid by Tony — worn from years of use. The shops where Mike did his drywalling are still there as are the headers and other work. Covered over — no one the wiser. And I smile — it makes me feel different/better — and I’m thankful because I was changed by my relationships with a stone setter and a drywaller — and I can see that now.

I wish I could thank them.

The relationships with students and the impression we leave with them aren’t because of the ‘great assignments or the amazing lesson plan’. It’s not the ‘great BYOD policy and walkthrough report’ you wrote. It’s those mistakes I made early in my career. Yes, having students do work that is meaningful is important; having them interact with authentic audiences is important; having them create and produce instead of consume and respond should be an essential part of what students do in schools. But do you do ordinary things with extra-ordinary attitude? I know I didn’t.

Some people are able to work with their life passion while others are able to bring their passion for life to their work.

School Change – Breaking Free

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Despite the massive amount of changes taking place in society, schools continue to resist. However a small number break free of the traditional classrooms, halls and desks to embrace different designs that permit students to engage and embrace learning and allow creativity, imagination, and collaboration to gain an equal footing with the traditional reading writing and arithmetic. The article by Matthew Jenkins Inside the Schools that Dare to Break with Traditional Teaching explores how some schools are breaking free and choosing to build their own paths – something that is so often quoted but seldom truly encouraged in children at school. As Jenkins states

Just as we are still waiting for someone to market hoverboards and self-tying shoelaces, we have yet to see a radical shift in teaching models, despite the ebb and flow of education reforms.

Which is true in so many instances. Although there is great discussion of reform, what type of reform is the question. Too often, reform, especially any reform that deviates from the traditional, is slow and hampered by the skeptics cries of rigour and relevance. A recent article in the National Post “public-school-spending-up-dramatically-in-canada-despite-falling-enrolment-fraser-institute” explores why spending on education is up despite dropping numbers. Too often, it’s the statistics of rank and sort testing that determines if the returns on investment are worth it for education instead of looking at the needs for the future from a progressive lens. In this same way, Elyse Watkins article on ending the grading game, points to the need to move away from archaic modes of assessment and embrace creativity, life-long learning,  personal development and collaboration through new methods of reporting. As Watkins explains

While some would argue that higher grades are a reflection of ambition and hard work, they are more so a distraction from a deeper learning process. If we want to create a truly equitable education system with excellent learners, we need to stop this futile metric.

Our system of grading has changed little since schools began yet our society has progressed and developed, almost like schools and their policies were left in a systemic time-warp. Moves to change these systems are often met with extreme resistance with cries to “return to the basics” and “more rigour” being hailed as necessary in schools where “no one fails”. Schools are seen to be the ranking and weeding ground for the rest of society, a place where students learn what the real world is like and the gifted are separated from the rest through their excellent grades. Yet, time and again, we see that not only is school not anything like the real world, but the rigour of the testing machine isn’t found outside schools! Instead, as Grace Rubinstein points out, some schools are seeking ways to shift to portfolios and other assessments.

Typically, these assessments come in the form of portfolios and presentations — tasks that bear something in common with the kind of work students may ultimately do in college or in a job.

Yet, as is often the case, these changes are making slow progress. As Marc Tucker explores in What Teachers Hear When You Say ‘Accountability’, the testing regime that has been implemented, especially in the United States hasn’t produced any major gains.

There is little doubt—whether test-based accountability is being used to hold schools accountable or individual teachers—that it has failed to improve student performance. That should be reason enough to abandon it. But it is not. The damage that test-based accountability has done goes far deeper than a missed opportunity to improve student achievement.  It is doing untold damage to the profession of teaching.

Teachers, as professionals, have been undermined by policies and policy-makers who continue to add to the growing demands for accountability through increased tracking, form-filling and other data-gathering methods which do little to develop the foundational relationships between students, teachers and parents that are essential to the learning environment in schools. Instead, continued focus on grades and testing ignores the social changes that are developing outside schools.

As I mentioned in my last post, a recent study The Future of Work – Jobs and Skills in 2030 outlines that by 2030 employees with need an increasing agility and hybridization of skills

  • Portfolio careers, whereby people combine several different paid activities at the same time, become mainstream. Personal agility, such as the ability to adapt to or embrace change and acquire new skills and competencies, becomes more important.

This is a trend that is growing as people seek new and different ways to strike a balance between career and home life, searching for ways to develop and maximize their talents, no longer satisfied with careers or working for managers that do not allow them to grow and develop their own talents.

It’s one of the oldest jokes in the business world: Two managers are talking about training their employees. The first one asks, “Yeah, but what if we train them, and they just leave?” The second responds, “What if we don’t train them, and they stay?” The Week

Changing Mindsets

There are some schools working to break the traditional mould of schools and there is a growing movement of teachers who are working through grassroots movements such as edcamps to change professional development to meet their needs and the needs of their students not fulfill a PD requirement or implement a new program or strategy. Teachers are developing Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) via social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Plurk, Instagram, tumblr and other platforms in order to connect and share their ideas about teaching, learning, digital literacies, collaboration, assessment and other topics that are essential for shifting the current status quo paradigm found in most schools. In my experience as a teachers and an administrator, once teachers begin to experience the power of connecting and sharing, other aspects of their teaching also begin to shift and change. As I’ve seen over and over again, teachers who connect and develop a PLN experience a shift and change that can be career changing. 

Change takes Time
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Although many early adopters saw twitter as being the tool for connection, instead there is a growing number of tools that allow people to connect and learn together. Too often, the association is that if teachers aren’t on twitter, they aren’t growing – they lack a growth mindset – which couldn’t be farther from the truth. If we all did the same thing and thought the same way the world sure would be dull! Remembering this, one needs to look to see that many teachers are in fact embracing the use of technology and shifting. Continuing to support them and tell their stories is, as far as I can see, the best way to continue to help teachers as they shift and go through various stages of change. In my experience in a few different schools, it take about 3 years to make a shift in the culture and see large scale changes in classrooms and the school.

What about you?

What are you doing to support those around you make a shift? How do you lead through example? How can I help you as you these shifts yourself or lead others?

The Depth of the Rut

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cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Ronny Siegel

Today, as with most days, I was going to spend a few moments  browsing through my RSS Reader as T settled in for some colouring and hot chocolate. I usually begin the day by picking few that I can highlight and get back to reading later. It’s kind of a routine. T, my 4 year old, settles in for some iPad time or colouring or both. It’s about 30 minutes.

The Rut

When I start to get a bit comfortable with how things are going, I remember this quote:

The difference between a rut and a grave is the depth. Gerald Burrill

The reason is that it’s so easy to move from routine to rut to, well, maybe not a grave but something that keeps us from venturing beyond. So what does my RSS Reader have to do with this? Well, I’d usually begin the process of browsing. Instead of going through the RSS feed, I mixed it up and went to Pocket and began to look around. No apparent reason other than there was an email about “What’s new for You?” Well, what is new for me?

Look What I Found!

This is where I came across this great post about Meaningful Work by Paul Jarvis. Jarvis discusses being an entrepreneur and working on his own – “innovating, hacking, making something new.” This statement resonated with me. I read the article, in some places reread. And then, instead of moving on, I stopped. It had me. It connected with my thoughts about teacher growth – professional development. Connections…..

First, it speaks directly to staying out of the rut! Or seeking new ways of looking at what is around you and being willing to ask questions and a risk or two. As an educational leader, we’re always surrounded by new ways of looking at things – ask the students, that will get you out of a rut! Ask the teachers and see what they have to say. Get parent input. Use the ideas to take a risk. Some will pan out and some won’t. As Jarvis points out, don’t think of them as risks but as experiments.

I do this because experiments don’t fail, they simply show results. Sometimes those results are great and point you in the direction for bigger and better things. Sometimes they just show you what idea isn’t worth pursuing.

The second reason I liked that line – “innovating, hacking, making something new.” – is because it’s what teachers need to do in their classrooms. They need to see themselves as “innovating, hacking and making something new” in their work. Instead of closing their doors and toiling away, they need to step out, sharing what they are doing and connecting with other educators. Administrators and other supervisors need to move away from the top-down view and instead work on a more parallel perspective, with their role being to assist teachers to make their products the absolute best they can be through additional resources, support people, mentoring and connections.

Final, the statement “innovating, hacking, making something new.” is what students should be doing in their classrooms alongside the teacher. Yes they will need to learn certain “basics” as foundations. Changing the mindset of how these “basics” are measured and how they are used within the school is where this idea of “innovating, hacking, making something new.” needs to play itself out.

After Reading

After reading the article, T and I moved on to, in no apparent order:

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Legos, Wii, PS2, books, Youtube – TMNT, saving the world as TMNT and some excellent chocolate milk and snack. Then it was time to make lunch. I’m learning that each day doesn’t need to be completely structured and, oddly enough, I find myself being much more open to ideas for writing and thinking about things differently, slowly letting go of years of routines. A 4 year old will do that to you – and there are no ruts when you follow a 4 year old!