Category Archives: learning

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

Student Engagement – #saskedchat March 10, 2016

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Another Edu-Awesome #saskedchat! Our topic was Student Engagement and our guest moderator Jade Ballek (@jadeballek) a principal in the Sun West School Division at Kenaston Distance Education Learning Centre.

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We had over 40 participants take part in the chat. For some, this was their first experience joining a chat which can be a bit of a shock with how fast the chat moves and the number of different conversations that take place.

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With this number of participants, missing part of a conversation happens and that is why we archive all the #saskedchats!

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Student Engagement

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What does “Student Engagement” mean to you? Over time, my ideas about student engagement have changed. As a young teacher I was focused on the lesson and my teaching, on creating lessons that were, I thought, “engaging”. Later, as I developed confidence as a teacher and began to explore different teaching strategies, I became less worried about “my teaching” and more focused on “student learning”. In Matt Head’s post Learning or Teaching? he states

As I reflect on my own teaching I have come to realize that what and how I am teaching is usually my first priority.

It is what teachers are doing, focusing on their teaching because that is part of the job. There is the focus on planning, assessment, planning, classroom management, planning, classroom design, planning, student interaction, and planning. During a recent episode of ITTNation, Dave Bircher and I discuss Cross-Curricular planning and how the act of deeply understanding the curricula can open up opportunities for learning that allow for FLOW to take place.

Focus, Learning, Observation and Wonder.

Teachers are able to allow the Focus of the lesson to emerge from interaction with students. The Learning take place through the interactions and is driven by student ideas, interests and passions. Through Observation the teacher is able to guide students in their interests while making connections to Learning Outcomes. This allows students and teachers to Wonder – exploring different topics and concepts from a place of Wonder.

The current focus on the state of education on a global scale is on what teachers do in the classroom. Debates between Reformers of all types draw different ideas about what needs to happen in the classroom in order for students to be prepared for their future. Sometimes, missing from the debate, is what is happening NOW . How many educators are wondering about how the recent two wins by Google’s AlphaGo over the world champion Go player will impact schools? What will this mean for students?

Overall, Google’s DeepMind is calling on a type of AI called deep learning, which involves training artificial neural networks on data — such as photos — and then getting them to make inferences about new data. Venture Beat

Are we preparing students for today? Are we engaging them in a discussion about what is happening in the present? Too often the mantra is “Prepare for the Future”.  In some respects, today isn’t even close to what I thought it was going to be 10 years ago. In other way, it is.

“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” Yoda

This is not a call to toss out all of what is currently happening in schools and classrooms. In the present reform cacophony, it’s hard sometimes to even hear oneself think never mind trying to make sense of what is being proposed especially when there is more and more being added to the discussion. This isn’t just about what tools to use in the classroom or if there should be interactive whiteboards or not, whether teachers should adopt flipped learning or embrace blended learning or Project Based Learning.  The discussion includes environment design, learning design, social justice, content bias, differentiated learning systems, game theory, makerspaces, content diffusion, digital citizenship, digital literacy and other pedagogical and theoretical discussions/issues each with their representatives and lobbyists.

Education, it’s a serious business.

There are no simple answers and stopping schooling until things get figured out isn’t going to happen. It is a work in progress. Yes the shuttle is being built as it is being flown – it is the only way learning can continue.

Engaging or Empowering?

Our chat briefly touch on is engaging someone the same as empowering them? What do we want to happen in schools? Why is this important to discuss? As we live in the midst, it is struggling with such questions that help us to make sense of the noise.

If we want people to feel empowered, then releasing control and giving ownership is the only way this can truly happen. George Couros

Are teachers being engaged or empowered? Are administrators? Are parents? Do we allow people to have ownership of their learning? How do we mange such a shift?

Like other such discussions, everyday implementation is, itself, a work in progress. As an administrator, providing input from students and parents was important but so where division and provincial policies. Providing leadership opportunities and helping people develop their strengths was important to developing a school culture of learning and growth. Shifting school culture from a top-down model to a collaborative/shared leadership model isn’t just about “sharing responsibility”. It involves creating a culture of shared growth, trust, learning and collaboration. Such development takes time and, in an environment of efficiency and improvement, can often be overshadowed by “what the data says”.

The #saskedchat provided a great many things to think about, some of them I’ve touched on.

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

I’d love to hear your comments and feedback.

It’s in the Details

We do get bogged down by obstacles. They grab our attention. We spend time pondering how they got there. We even spend energy being angry about them. None of this is helpful. We have to look for the openings, choose well, and find our way around them.  Rob Hatch

How often do you hear someone wishing they had more freedom? Or opportunity?

I know I often said such things as I looked out onto a world and thought I was being held back.

Turns out I was but the reason wasn’t linked to someone else.

I was that someone.

Often, instead of seeing the opportunities, I was focused on barriers. Instead of choosing freedom, I chose to acquire more responsibilities.

When in doubt, when you’re stuck, when you’re seeking more freedom, the surest long-term route is to take more responsibility.  Seth Godin

In a world where possibility surrounds us, it can be difficult to admit that we are responsible for our own freedom in different ways. I would often look around and see what others were doing, seeing what I believed to be the freedom and opportunity they had compared to my own, mostly self-imposed, limitations.

As an school administrator, the frustration and stress grew with mounting expectations. Instead of seeking the knowledge and expertise of the people who surrounded me, I forged on, almost wearing the frustration and responsibility like a badge.

Responsibility without freedom is stressful. There are plenty of jobs in this line of work, just as there are countless jobs where you have neither freedom nor responsibility.  Seth Godin

Part of the issue was my attitude was keeping me in a place where there was little opportunity for freedom despite a great deal of responsibility. I was afraid of “freedom” so it was easier to take on more responsibility hoping it would somehow lead to more freedom.

A Feeling of Dissonance

The lack of freedom created a dissonance in the work environment. The increasing amount of details that educators are required to deal with and work through each day, to the “follow the plan, do the initiative, fill in the form. Don’t make mistakes.” creates a dissonance when they are also urged to “take risks and be innovative”. This type of dissonance, like the dissonance of a sound that is off, creates stress that drains creativity and energy.

Expectations and responsibilities are part of any work. It’s how these impact the environment, work culture, and individual performance that is important. When we experience a dissonance, it bothers us and makes us uneasy. We want to correct the dissonance. Much like attention residue that results from multi-tasking which prevents you from moving smoothly from one task to another.

it is difficult for people to transition their attention away from an unfinished task and their subsequent task performance suffers. Sophie Leroy

This dissonance continues to impact all aspects of the learning environment. Students and teachers are affected between the dissonance created when what is said doesn’t align with what is expected. “We want our students to be risk-takers and collaborators – but our reporting system rewards individuality and conformity” 

 It’s In the Details

Now,  Details matter. As Dean Brenner discusses, details are important

But the amount of detail we discuss in meetings and presentations, and the way in which we communicate it, is a daily source of frustration in many work cultures.

Often, there is an overwhelming amount of detail, in the form of data, provided to educators. This increased amount of detail becomes an overwhelming point of stress, not because of the detail but the lack of opportunity to reflect and integrate into the current situation and to make adjustments and changes indicated by the data.

No one wants their time wasted. You must walk into the room ready to get to the point. You should include enough detail to satisfy the expectations and facilitate discussion, but not so much that everyone is looking at their watches. (Or, in the case of a classroom, the floor, the ceiling, out the window or in the desk!)

This applies to all parts of education – we want people to be empowered to learn and develop. In an educational setting, we should

Be ready to go deep, but allow the audience to take you there.

In classrooms, staff meetings, professional development, and presentations is the audience allowed to direct what takes place?  What if those sitting in the audience were provided the opportunity to go deep?   How often do you attend a workshop or PD event where a presenter makes some great points but there isn’t time to reflect? Why doesn’t this happen more often?

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

I’d love to hear you comments, ideas, and thoughts. Thanks for reading and sharing with me.

Finding Your Pace

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Running and Pacing

I’ve been training for an upcoming 1/2 marathon for awhile. Now, in order to do this, I’ve had to make a few changes to my lifestyle.  I have adopted an early morning routine. That change, in itself, has been the subject of a number of books and podcasts. However, all the changes don’t mean anything if I don’t actually put on my running shoes and run.

As I prepare for this upcoming meet, I’ve adopted a running routine. Part of the routine is help me with my pacing and the other part is to help me improve my running. I use to have the idea that “Well, I just need to run.” But, as Susan Paul explains

The marathon is a very unique blend of different running components; it requires speed, strength, and endurance. The different training paces you see recommended for runs reflect each of these components. You will need some speed, some strength, and a lot of endurance to successfully complete your race.

So I did some searching and found a routine for a 1/2 marathon that I am following. Now, I could have just gone it on my own but there are many people who have already done this and have advice and ideas that can help me as I train especially since I haven’t been doing much long distant running in a while. I casually run (is that even possible?) but not in the same way one does in a marathon-type event.

The Act of Running

Running is a solitary act but it can be done as part of a group and there are all sorts of online groups and sites that allow you to connect and track your running. I happen to run by myself in the morning mostly because, well, I’m the only one up in my house at that time, no one else wants to get up and run with me at that time and I don’t know anyone around who is running. I could find someone but I like running on my own. It gives me time to think and wrestle with different ideas and concepts.

But it’s not for everyone and that’s okay. In fact, finding our own pace and place is part of the fun and enjoyment of living. The act of running, however, isn’t the only thing I do. It is only a part and to define me through that misses so many other things.

Technology Integration

“Exactly how is this going to connect to technology?”

I’ve been reading a number of posts that discuss technology and it’s use in schools. Everything from looking at how to get teachers to embrace technology to reflections on the use of technology in schools and some of the issues with what is currently happening. I see many of these as being how I use to view running – Just run. You know what to do, running is something that we have done since just after we learned to walk. But, as Susan Paul points out

Yes, you can “just go out and run” but you would be wise to incorporate runs that address these aspects of running to adequately prepare yourself for the demands of the marathon.  Marathon training requires logging quite a few miles each week too, so by varying your training paces and mileage, you’ll not only improve the quality of your training, but you will also reduce the risk of injury or mental burnout.

What if we looked at learning, with or without technology, in this way? Varying the pacing and mileage of learning. Doing different courses and incorporating various aspects into the training?

At 50, I can no longer train like I did but it doesn’t mean I can’t continue to run. In the same way, meeting the needs of the learner means beginning where they are and listening before we start advocating particular ways of doing things. We need to start with their passions and ideas but there is a place for learning from others and their wisdom and knowledge. Age nor experience, in this case, is not “the” determining factor of what can be accomplished. Too often, as Stephen Covey said,

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

How often have we begun a discussion with a fixed position or way of doing something or point of view already firmly established and ready for the discussion?

To Whom Do We Listen

To be honest, listening to someone who has run many marathons and is a veteran might not be the best solution for me. I need to consider a few different things that a veteran marathoner might not be able to tell me as someone starting out. Sometimes, as someone who has been using technology for years, I have had to remind myself of this point. I have a perspective that might not be as open as I’d like to think. In this way, looking outside of education can give us some great insights.

John Spencer explores this very idea in a recent post about a conversation he had with an engineer,

 I would let that kid know that it’s not too late. Doors might be closed, but that doesn’t mean that they’re locked.”

That conversation has stuck with me since then. What if he’s right? What if we told kids that they don’t have to have it all figured out ahead of time? What if they knew that doors might be shut but they aren’t locked for good?

What if we approach all our relationships and conversation from this perspective? Do we close doors because of our own mindset and what people have told us?

How do you approached learning? Why do you think this way?

Your attitude shapes your mindset. What’s yours?

I’d love to hear your ideas and comments and what you are thinking about.

Learning to Leap


Taking a Leap

Some leaps, like across a puddle or over an object on the floor, aren’t that big. We do them without even thinking. They don’t scare us and we don’t really think about them. Unless we’re 6. And the puddle is very large. And we aren’t wearing rubber boots. But, if you’re like me 6 year old, you’ll leap anyways. Because it’s fun. And you just might make it. And the worst that can happen is your socks get wet. And it’s fun. So much fun that even if you do get wet, you’ll do it again and again.

As we get older, we begin to assess the leaps we take a bit differently. Will it ruin my shoes? Do I really want to walk around with wet socks? I might hurt my ankle. I might fall and that would look bad to people. It might be fun but…. so we quit even leaping over puddles. We avoid them, going around them so we don’t have to leap.

Seth Godin, in his post on February 29th celebrates leaping. A whole year? A whole year for leaping!

Leaping powers innovation, it is the engine of not only our economy, but of a thrilling and generous life.

Of course, you can (and should) be leaping regularly. Like bathing, leaping is a practice, something that never gets old, and is best done repeatedly.

But if we don’t leap regularly, we get out of practice. We get scared of leaping and trying new things. We worry about failure, what other people will think and say. As educators, we talk about FAIL as something like First Attempt At Learning. But it’s safe failing where the puddles are big enough to get our feet wet and we won’t have to wear wet socks all day. We forget that, if we don’t want wet socks, we can take off our shoes and socks and leap. We may get wet but we will learn some amazing things. We’ll demonstrate to our students that leaping is okay. That maybe, if we roll up our pants, that we can try even bigger leaps.

Innovation in Education

The existing power structure wants to maintain the status quo, and is generally opposed to the concept of leaping.  Seth Godin

This, I believe is one of the greatest things we need to overcome in education. Innovation might be happening but, in general, the status quo of education does not want to change the current structure. Our current structure continues to look the same no matter innovation is taking place in isolated places. Even our current system of PD continues to employ a system of bringing in speakers to deliver a message – controlled, with little chance of anyone getting their socks wet – even when if is a discussion of innovation. Disruptive Innovation  requires the opportunity for people to leap.

In education, our current system does not encourage people to leap. Now, people do leap and we have instances and examples of people trying different things but, for the most part, they continue within the “existing power structures… to maintain the status quo…”.

Greg Satell explores how innovation can be encouraged and leaping can be maybe become more enjoyable.

 The truth is that there are many paths to innovation.

Allowing people the opportunity to leap and try things is important. So is encouraging them to take a leap and working together to help each other leap. As Satell points out

most firms will find that to solving their most important problems will require skills and expertise they don’t have. That means that, at some point, you will need to utilize partners and platforms to go beyond your own internal capabilities.

Networking and connecting are essential components of learning and leaping yet are often underutilized in education at all levels. This doesn’t mean that we don’t look for experts within our own schools. In fact, it means that is exactly what we need to do – building on the strengths of those around us to figure out areas where assistance and support might be needed. Too often it is assumed that schools lack innovative capabilities when, in fact, the skills of the people within the building are not being fully utilized as the current power structures tend to focus on deficits and weaknesses instead of building upon people’s, students and teachers, strengths and passions.

In her blog post Drops of Glue and Scribbles too: How do we start to see things differently the author Aviva discussed seeing what is happening in the classroom from different points of view.

The point is that we may all have these students that are at different developmental stages, and that’s okay.

Allowing and encouraging others to leap is important. In schools and classrooms, providing opportunity for such leaping is critical to student development. Like students, people will be at different stages and, depending on their experiences, may need encouragement to leap.

In his post, Seth Godin states:

 In fact, if you want to make change happen, if you want to give others a chance to truly make a difference and to feel alive, it’s essential that you encourage, cajole and otherwise spread the word about what it means to leap.

Right now, tell ten people about how you’re leaping. Ask ten people about how they hope to leap…

For me, I’m leaping by trying new things, such as the ITTNation podcast with my friend Dave Bircher. I took a huge leap a few years ago by stepping away from my job as a school administrator and returning to graduate school. I am working on a number of presentations for upcoming conferences – Rural Congress and ULead – where I will be presenting on the topic of leadership and change.

Am I worried my socks will get wet?

You bet! I’m worried I might fall but I also know that too often one talks oneself out of doing something because of fear of the rejection. As I’ve learned, in order to leap, one has to develop characteristics  to leap, one being not  to dwell in the past and another is to be positive about the outcome.

Regardless of the “success” of these endeavours, the learning I will do along the way will serve me well and help me to try leaping yet again.

It could almost be written down as a formula that when a man begins to think that he at last has found his method, he had better begin a most searching examination of himself to see whether some part of his brain has not gone to sleep. Henry Ford

I’d love to hear how you are leaping this year and how you are encouraging others to leap. Leave me a comment or link to this post as you describe your own “Year of Leaping”

#saskedchat – November 12, 2015

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Our topic for the November 12th, 2015 chat was Moving from Teacher Competition to Collaboration. The participants were eager to explore this topic and had great insights into the reasons why competition sometimes masquerades as collaboration and how, at times, cooperation can be substituted for collaboration. Both Competition and Cooperation allow school staffs to get things done and to get started on initiatives and implementation. Teachers are “involved” in the the implementation but it’s not their implementation. Collaboration is not something most people do naturally. We’ve learned to cooperate with others but collaboration is more than just cooperation.
Professional Learning Communities co-creators Rick DuFour, Rebecca DuFour, and Robert Eaker would define collaboration as teams of teachers who work interdependently to achieve common goals — goals linked to the purpose of learning for all — for which members are held mutually accountable. This type of definition seems to take all the fun out of teacher planning time, but it is exactly what needs to be in place in order to build strong students and strong teachers.
It’s more than just working together and includes setting goals, timelines, data, checkins, planning, reflecting, sharing ideas, disagreeing, readjusting, and making adjustments. In my own experience, there is often a big emphasis on everyone getting together and not rocking-the-boat which often means that some things are ignored or let go in order not to make waves. Part of collaboration is everyone working together, putting effort towards achieving a goal/set of goals and, sometimes, crucial conversations are necessary to continue progressing. During a time of increased public scrutiny of education, a solid and united front becomes more important than innovation and creativity.
Competition is something that isn’t regularly discusses but can lurk in the halls and staffroom, undermining the best intentions of teachers and administrators. In a period of school ranking, student testing, and reform implementations, schools have become grounds for competition where one-up-manship can become more important than doing what’s best for students. Educators get caught up in “Edu-speak”, discussing education and learning in such a way that few outside their own circle can understand what they are saying, creating a further barrier.
Another dark side is the implementation competition in which schools are compared to one another in the relation to how well they are implementing particular programs. In all these cases, instead of sharing and collaborating on projects, schools and teachers are “compared” to others to see how they measure up with the general public being brought into the mix through published school rankings.  Often competition becomes a comparison with winners and losers. Social media can act as yet another avenue for school competition as schools, instead of collaborating to improve learning, become a “Look what we are doing!”.
Don’t get me wrong, teachers need to connect and share, working together to be better but they also need to leave the ego at the door, be willing to try things, admit mistakes, participate in reflective discussions about the work that is being done and explore innovative and new ideas about learning. It won’t be easy or without issues, there may even be disagreement. But, if the goal really is to do what is best for students, can anything less be acceptable?

The Human Side of School

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In a recent Switch and Shift article How Technology is Challenging the Human Side of Business, Pam Ross discusses her role in helping leaders bridge the technology/human  relationship gap.

The thing is, technology impacts our workplaces and our culture like never before. To the same degree, it also provides ways to better connect, communicate and engage with your employees. I am excited to join Switch & Shift to write about how leaders can understand and use technology to create awesome culture and more human workplaces.

One of my main focuses has been the intersection of relationships and technology at the school level and in education in general so I was intrigued. Pam covers three topics in the post, We are always connected to work, We have the ability to work from anywhere, and We share our experiences fritionlessly. The same goes for students and teachers, which should come as no surprise. I recently read of two highschools that are experimenting with no substitute teachers when teachers are absent. In these schools, teachers have the option of not having a substitute teacher come in and, instead, having students work on their assignments in a common area.

Both districts said skipping substitutes is a natural extension of increased technology use. They’ve already been using online lessons in the classroom, and, in Farmington’s case, asking students to work on them from home on snow days. Why not try it when the teacher’s absent?

Both schools say a teacher is available to help students who need assistance.

The Human Side of Learning 

In the examples above, what is important to note is that the human factor is still an important part of the equation. As someone who has been a proponent of relationships in schools, I believe that these are so important and cannot be replaced with technology. Instead of viewing technology in a binary This or That conflict with relationships, it needs to become part of an integrated system of learning where students can access information from anywhere but where other people – teachers/peers/experts – have a relationship that supports the student in their learning.

As Pam Ross states in her article:

The good news is that technology not only creates engagement challenges, it also creates huge opportunities to alleviate these challenges and to create more engaged and human workplaces.

There is a new form of literacy in the world of work. It’s what I call “Digital Fluency”, and is critical in today’s fast-paced, social and digital world. Digital Fluency is the ability to use technology to communicate, collaborate and connect with customers and coworkers, and the proclivity to learn and adopt new technologies to get work done.

A Focus on Digital Fluency

As Pam points out, there is a need to assist people in developing digital fluency. A recent article Digital Natives, Yet Strangers to the Web in The Atlantic by Alia Wong explored a similar issue. Students might be growing up with digital devices but they need guidance.

Indeed, although many of today’s teens are immersed in social media, that doesn’t mean “that they inherently have the knowledge or skills to make the most of their online experiences,” writes Danah Boyd in her 2014 book It’s Complicated: The Secret Lives of Networked Teens. Boyd, who works as a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, argues that “the rhetoric of ‘digital natives'” is dangerous because it distorts the realities of kids’ virtual lives, the result being that they don’t learn what they need to know about online living. In other words, it falsely assumes that today’s students intrinsically understand the nuanced ways in which technologies shape the human experience—how they influence an individual’s identity, for example, or how they advance and stymie social progress—as well as the means by which information spreads thanks to phenomena such as algorithms and advertising.

Part of issue is that many teachers continue to struggle with technology and the incorporation of technology. Although some schools and districts/division are incorporating a blended learning approach, the subject of digital fluency and the human side of technology is not usually discussed.

Portfolios and Body of Work

As an educator, I’ve been using portfolios for about 18 years. These began as simple folders where students would gather their best work to be used during Student Led Conferences. Since then I’ve been using a variation of portfolios with students as a way to help document their learning and growth. One of the most exciting turns was when I was able to shift to a digital format – first with wikis and then with various other platforms – that allowed students to included a variety of different formats – pictures, videos, drafts of writing, podcasts – allowing students to not just show a final product but to show their learning through stages.

Over time, I have begun to view portfolios as the next stage in the shift in learning. Students, working on a variety of topics, can build a portfolio of  the work, from in school or out of school – A Body of Work – that grows as they progress in their learning. Teachers guide, support and challenge students to explore, helping student formulate significantly deeper and more complex questions to explore. It would also help students develop digital fluency – communicating, collaborate, connect, create, critique and collate – all as interactions with other people. As the article by Pam Ross shows, these are important skills.

Technology and relationships are not incompatible but until we shift how we view them working together to build stronger relationships, there will continue to be a deficit attributed so someone depending on which side of the argument you happen to stand.

It 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’?

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?