Category Archives: networking

Sharing – #saskedchat – Week 4 Summer Blogging Challenge

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Sharing

As parents, one thing that we have tried to impress upon on children is the importance of sharing, whether it is with siblings, friends, or other people, we have tried to help our children understand the importance of sharing while at the same time helping them to understand that they must be careful with what they are sharing through their social networks, the different social apps that they use, the people with whom they engage and the relationships they have with others.

It’s Not That Simple

Being a “modern” educator, for some, means having a PLN, integrating technology, and, through various means, “sharing”. However, too often educators who aren’t integrating, twittering or blogging or aren’t seen as embracing technological advancements are often described as somehow being “less” as teachers, as being not as worthy,

“And, sadly, some people write off technology as a chore or passing fad”

This attitude, unfortunately, continues to reinforce the binary of the “good/bad” teacher which does little to explore the strengths of people but, instead, serves to limit people and continue traditional power structures that have dominated educational discourses throughout history where certain groups are described as “less worthy” because of their lack of knowledge or talent or whatever can be used to create the power binary. We have to remember throughout time, “good/bad” teachers has meant things very different from the present.

The idea that it is right to be a student-centered and caring teacher rather than a self-centered teacher is one that, while strongly held at this point in time, is contingent as any other idea about good teaching in any other historical period. McWilliam, 2004

Sharing, as an educator, has now become what “relevant teachers” do because it is now “right and proper” to do so. But the definition of “sharing” continues to change and morph as can be seen in the continual changes found in the Terms of Service of apps like Facebook and Twitter and the use of various social networks for various types of sharing.

In fact, there are numerous examples of people who have made poor decisions when sharing online, examples of how sharing and privacy have become issues and the harmful effects that happen when things are shared without people’s knowledge or their consent such as the numerous examples of phishing scams where people have had their information used by scammers and the harmful and destructive consequences of people who have pictures stolen and shared against their consent.

Sharing is Important

Learning to be generous with time and resources is something I want my children to develop and appreciate. However, it’s also not quite as simple as Mark Zuckeburg makes it out

“Facebook’s mission and what we really focus on giving everyone the power to share all of the things that they care about,”

Yes, sharing is important and something that needs to continue, especially for teachers. However, it’s not as simple as “just sharing”. There are many instances when, although I wanted to share, doing so would have been unethical or might have had negative consequences. Like many others, I’ve been on the receiving end of nasty trolling from taking a particular point of view. It’s not always possible or positive to share one’s experiences.

In a world dominated by the digital, sharing online seems to be the ONLY way that some people consider to be real sharing. Yet, in many instances, the intimate conversations that take place between two people, or in a small group, can be what really cements and binds our socially mediated relationships.

As educators, relationships are so important and, although having digital relationships and learning to live in a world where digital discourse, literacy, citizenship, and relationship are important, there is a place for people who are more comfortable with the  less-digital, less-technological. If we believe that each person’s development is important, then genuinely respecting and honouring them should allow us to feel anything but “sad”.  In fact

Good teachers will one day feel differently about progressive teaching, just as they have done in other times and places. McWilliam, 2004

What do You Share? How do You Share?

How do you share? What do you share? How does sharing fit in your lifestyle as a teacher? Parent? Partner? Individual?

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.

Blogging as a Professional – Jan. 28th #saskedchat

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Blogging as a professional

The January 28th #saskedchat explored Blogging as a Professional.

Now, there has been a great deal written about the benefits of blogging and many connected professionals who do a great deal of blogging will attest to the benefits. Teachers who have a classroom blog discuss the many benefits to the process of blogging for their students.

As someone who has blogged off and on for years, I started my first blog in 2007, and have averaged about 50 posts a year for the past few years. Like many educators, two things with which I struggle are consistency and topic choices.  These were two of the topics that participants discussed during the #saskedchat on January 28th.

Consistent Blogging

Like many educators, finding time to “add” blogging to my own schedule was very difficult. In discussing blogging with other educators, this is one thing that often comes up. Many of these educators actively participate in online communities are indeed “connected educators”. However, the practice of blogging has not become a regular part of their routine.

One of the things that I have learned that in order to consistently do anything, you have to approach it from a positive mindset and be prepared to do some hard work.

It’s like any new action item you want to do whether it be exercise, eating healthy, quitting a bad habit or just being better organized, there is a process to that you need to develop to be successful. I have read a number of those “Do It Like Successful People Do It” whatever the “It” might be. Each person had a different way of approaching their goals, tasks, daily routines, etc. but what seems to be consistent in the literature is:

1. Plan for it.

2. Make it part of your routine

3. Say “NO” to something else

4. Set yourself up to succeed

5. Check on your progress, adjust, and move forward

Something else that consistently is discussed is to follow your own path.

Todd Henry talks about this in his books The Accidental Creative and the follow up Die Empty when he discuss Periphery Paralysis. Too often we get sidetracked by what others are doing or saying we should do instead of looking at what we are doing and focusing on our own creative works. We forget to look at our own strengths – many of us begin to doubt our strengths. Instead, in a world that is filled with constant bombardment of information, we begin to lose our own sense of self as we are asked to do more and more of what others deem is important. To avoid this paralysis, you need to focus on your work and building your own body of work not someone else’s.

So, how do you go about blogging as a professional? Well, from my many false-starts, limited bursts of consistent blogging and experience, the process I would suggest looks something like this:

1. Decide if you really want to make this part of your routine. Maybe it’s not the right time for you and that’s okay! You can’t follow the path of others – you need to walk your own. If you feel it is a good time to add this to your routine, move to the next step.

2. Ask yourself why you want to blog. What is your personal mission statement and how does blogging help you fulfill that mission? This can help to focus you as you begin. This isn’t a “One Mission for Eternity” thing, you can decide to change your focus later on but what is driving you to blog? Even if this is an assigned task, what will focus and ground you? Why do this?

My mission “To relentlessly pursue supporting educators to develop creativity and innovation in the classroom through connecting, developing relationships and effective professional development.” Part of this mission is to continue to assist teachers to connect through #saskedchat and other formats and connect them with other amazing educators locally and globally.

3. How will you make it part of your routine? What will you do make time to write your blog? What might you have to change to make this work? In his book The 5AM Miracle Jeff Sanders explains that you don’t have to get up at 5AM but rather it is about

 the abundance of opportunity that presents itself when you live each day on purpose.

In the book, Jeff outlines The Ideal Morning, The Ideal Evening and the Ideal Week. In each of these, you purposely set out what you will do with the time you have. Remember this is if the week were “Ideal” but it does get one thinking about how to allocate time and what you are doing with the time you have each day. Blogging shouldn’t be an add-on. Instead it needs to be part of your routine. This leads to the next point.

4. Write consistently. Whatever you decide, every day, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, every Saturday morning, it’s up to you. What I have learned is that if you are able to consistently “ship your work”, as Seth Godin  suggests we should, then do this consistently. Consistent writing will help you to improve as a writer. Give you specific deadlines and goals to work towards. It will also help you to move to the next stage.

5. Write about what matters to you. Your topics need to be find their voice through you. There are all kinds of suggestions for the ideal length of all things on the internet and specifically for the length of a blog post.  My suggestion is to keep it shorter to begin with and work at finding your space. Include graphics and links but don’t over use these so they break up what you are trying to say.

6. Topics – this is an extension of the last point. I often thought I would have trouble finding topics. However, after reading Become an Idea Machine: Because Ideas Are the Currency of the 21st Century by Claudia Azula Altucher I began to keep a log of different ideas. I have a small notebook that I use to jot down ideas for blog posts, and anything else that pops into my cranium that I carry with me all the time. I then transfer these to a running list of blog ideas that I have – I’m up to over 100 ideas. I started with the writing examples from the book and then began to add my own based on what I was reading or watching or discussing. Short on ideas? Check out James Altucher’s post The Ultimate Guide to Becoming An Idea Machine for inspirational places to look for ideas.

Blogging shouldn’t be a chore. If it is, then maybe you need to reconsider your “why”. Or maybe you haven’t found something that you can run with yet. I know I needed to schedule it into my day, prioritize what I was doing and get rid of a few things. Becoming effective is different than trying to be efficient. When I was looking at doing things from an efficiency point of view, I would add small tasks that I could get done quickly and efficiently but I wasn’t giving myself time to do “deep work” as Cal Newport describes the work we do when we focus on a specific topic and delve deeply into it.

You might have to say “NO” to something or examine what you are doing and decide that things need to change. From experience, adding it to an already full day without planning and developing a routine doesn’t usually work. Instead, like making a decision to live a healthy lifestyle instead of “dieting”, there will need to be decision that you make and routines that you need to change. It might take a while and you might experience a few setbacks – I sure have! Don’t let these discourage you. When that happens, reassess where you are, what went right and what went wrong. Make alterations and get back at it!

I look foward to hearing about you blogging and any ideas you have for incorporating blogging into your professional, and personal, life.

#saskedchat July 30, 2015 – #tlap

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It was another amazing #saskedchat tonight. Dave Burgess dropped by at the start of the chat to get things going. @MrALongstaff and @brettReis then took over and guided the #saskedchat ship through a great chat focused on Teach Like a Pirate. The participants had some great ideas and suggestions for building relationships with students in order to develop rapport and trust. Take a look through the archive for some great resources and fantastic ideas!

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?

Let’s Talk about the Learning … not the grading

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Toss the grades.

Get rid of grades.

Learners don’t need grades.

Throw out grades.

Over the past few weeks these statements have flittered across my twitter feed.

Many teachers I know are shifting and changing how assessment is done in their classroom. Many teachers I have worked with have already made this shift and are moving on. Although it may be something that isn’t common, it definitely isn’t new.

Fixing Grading 

Ten years ago now, the school division I was working in began to move away from letter, percentage and other similar forms of grading in K – 8. Ken O’Connor’s book A Repair Kit: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades  began a conversation about changing grading practices.  Removing zeroes from assessment, allowing for flexible deadlines, creating rubrics and exemplars for students, providing formative assessment throughout the learning experience, Student Led Conferences, digital learning portfolios and online reporting were some of the shifts that took place as teachers moved away from traditional grades. It didn’t mean tossing report cards or jettisoning the use of tests but it did mean that teachers had to shift away from traditional grading practices, alter their assessment practices and shift away from testing.

Along the way, some teachers resisted, arguing that grades provided rigour and zeroes were a necessary as an incentive for students who didn’t hand in work. They resisted adopting a different mindset. Parents and students were also resistant – this wasn’t part of their worldview of school and learning.

Resistance Is Futile

Over time, those teachers who were resistant began to make changes to their assessment practices  by changing their teaching practices and adopting such practices as peer feedback, self & peer assessment, formative assessment, and continuous feedback. This became the standard mode of operation as teachers shifted their teaching practices and restructured their planning. This happened through supporting and encouraging teachers through various PD experiences including division-wide inservice, conferences and developing PLC’s in schools. School leadership was a vital component of making a shift and helping to develop new cultures of learning in schools.

As a teacher, I have given very few tests over the past 15 years. My classes were project/inquiry based with a minimal amount of lecturing. Final grades were a combination of student/teacher  input in senior classes while any middle years classes used a totally different approach to reporting on outcomes. This was not unusual for many teachers I have known who began to shift and integrate technology in the classroom, adopting

As an administrator, providing teachers with the necessary supports so they could transition from the traditional system was important because my own transition was supported through my own PD and learning. In the past 10 years I have worked in two schools were there were no letter/percentage grades in the K – 8.  In grades 9 – 12 percentages were still provided at the end of the semester as they are required but assessment and reporting practices shifted to adopt continuous feedback throughout the learning experience. Project Based Learning and Inquiry were used by many teachers with formative assessment being provided on a continuous basis. Rubrics and feedback were used in all grades as was the use of digital portfolios. But assessment was not the focus – learning was.

The Future Has Arrived

For many teachers I work with, the shift away from traditional assessment began years ago.  Students and parents have access to online information about student progress, online portfolios are shared with parents with regular updates of student work – they are developing a Portfolio Lifestyle as outlined by Jeff Goin – discussions about learning focus on growth and development not on grades. Student Led Conferences and Celebrations of Learning are opportunities for students to share their learning. Conversations revolve around improvement, learning from mistakes, support and growth. Marks are only discussed because of the need to provide them for reporting in grades 9 – 12. Formative assessment is part of every classroom with teachers using various tools to develop and improve the feedback and discussion that they are having with students.

This isn’t something to look forward to because it’s already been done –  across whole divisions – successfully. The grading practices have shifted from the “test for mark” system to continuous feedback where formative assessment is incorporated into the planning, continuous access to growth is provided parents through online portals and portfolios, and testing is not the norm. Granted it’s not everywhere but it isn’t just a few random teachers who are trying to make change – it’s what all teachers are expected.

In making this shift, the discussion about education needed to change. Trying to convince people to change their worldview about grades and grading is very hard if that is where you begin the discussion.

Reward Risk-taking Not Failure

In the podcast the Accidental CreativeTodd Henry explores how creativity can be developed and cultivated. In his recent interview with Ron Friedman, they discuss his latest book The Best Place to Work. One of things that really struck me was the idea that many people and companies say they want people to be risk-takers and innovative yet they don’t reward people for being risk-takers and innovators. Instead, the pervasive climate of efficiency and the bottom-line continue to dominate the workplace. In schools, we hear the same thing. We want students to be innovative and take-risks but instead of focusing on creating the optimal space for doing this and developing a story for students to be risk-takers and innovators, we continue to discuss the same bottom line – assessment. The thru-line of the story is not risk-taking or innovation – it’s assessment and reporting.

Changing the story to allow for teachers and students to be risk-takers and innovators requires a change in mindset. It also requires that the focus of schools be learning where risk-taking and innovation are the focus of the story not the assessment. Maybe throwing out grades eliminates the punitive assessment practices but it still focuses on assessment. To create a climate for risk-taking and innovation, a focus on learning as a whole is critical to helping to change the mindset of people – a new story where risk-taking and innovation are central to the learning needs to be told.

Talk About the Learning

Many people have a fixed mindset when it comes to grading and grades. In other words they have “a set of beliefs or way of thinking that determine’s one’s behaviour, outlook and mental attitude.”   It’s part of their cultural worldview and, as Seth Godin points out, getting people to change their worldview is very difficult – it’s admitting they’re wrong.

In my experience over the last 10 years with shifting mindsets and school cultures away from traditional practices, talking about grading and grades is the least effective way to create a shift. Instead, talk about learning.

When you discuss learning, it’s leads to a discussion of including and using formative assessment, the effective use of digital portfolios, the focus on taking risks, making mistakes, creativity and development, the use of differentiation for all students and the use of maker space/genius hour/inquiry/problem based learning.

It allows the conversation to examine the different skills that people will need in the future and how these skills are built into learning through the use of collaboration, peer-assessments, continuous formative feedback, differentiation and the opportunities for redo’s where learning isn’t finite but truly life-long. Talking about assessment and grades misses out on the important part of the story – the learning.

Change the Story of School

Many people have a very static picture of school. Too often I hear/read about students still in desks, where rote copying off the board is the norm and weeks of standardized testing take place every year. Honestly, I have no idea what that is like. My own transition began 15 years ago when I removed the desks from my grade 7 classroom and began to explore Inquiry Learning. I quit giving finals 10 years ago when I once again began teaching senior Social Studies and PAA classes. My own experiences reinforced that talking about grading and grades was beginning with the wrong end of the learning story.

As an administrator, changing the story of what happens in school is important. Connecting parents with classes and the school via social media  allows parents to see that the story of school and the story of learning are changing and changing for the better for their children. Helping parents and students who were use to the traditional forms of learning and assessment is essential in helping a school culture transition. Telling a different story allows people to see themselves in a new way within the storyline. Without telling a complete story, but starting with assessment and grading, people are disconnected from the changes taking place in classrooms and the school, imposing their own story of learning which is incompatible with the changing story of assessment.

I Wonder….

My work with teachers and their stories of connection and change through connecting online make me more appreciative of the need to listen to the stories that people are telling about school and learning. In a world that is hyper-focused on assessment and grading, the story of learning is a by-line when it should be the headline. For decades the focus has been on test results, so much so that the current educational environment seems to rarely focus on the learning – it’s all about assessment. Maybe it’s time to change the story…..

…. what would happen if learning and development were the focus of discussion rather than assessment and changing grading?

….. why people continue to only tell a small part of the learning story with a focus on the end instead of the journey?

…. what would happen if teachers were asked to focus on learning and innovation as much as they are being told to focus on assessment and assessment practices?

….. what if the assessment rhetoric shifted to focusing on learning, risk-taking and innovation?

But is it Effective?

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I spent the last year at home, each morning with my 6yrold son. Together we’ve had some great adventures, built some pretty amazing pillow forts, conquered lands, baked cookies and cakes and eaten many a bowl of chicken noodle soup. As I described earlier, it was through spending time together that I was able to rediscover my wonder.

During this time I’ve been reading, listening to podcasts and immersing myself in various literature. One of the authors I’ve been following is Todd Henry. His books The Accidental Creative and Die Empty offer many ideas and suggestions about creativity and being creative. One of the areas Todd focuses on is the whole area of being effective vs being efficient. In his podcast The Accidental Creative, Todd explores this during different episodes, examining how we often

“sacrifice being effective on the altar of efficiency”.

Learning isn’t Efficient

My 6yrold and I have spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen baking. We’ve also spent an equal amount of time gaming. In the kitchen, it would be much easier and much more efficient for me to do everything, showing and telling. However, it’s not as effective for his learning if all he does is watch and listen. So, when we make cookies, what would take me about 30 minutes takes a whole morning for the two of us. No, it’s not an efficient way to make cookies and if one looked at the expenditure of time versus the results, it’s neither cost-effective or the best use of the resource of time. I could use the time I saved doing it myself for other things like playing or reading or other ‘educational’ pursuits. At 6 he probably won’t be baking cookies, or anything else for that matter, by himself for a while so it’s not an immediately transferable effect.

Nope, this is definitely not efficient.

But is it effective?

The time put into these activities will bring so many other benefits later on in terms of self-esteem, memories, skills for life but, most importantly, it builds our relationship which is the foundation of all the rest. So, yes, it is effective but I can’t tell you right now how it will pay off other than I know that it will because it is building a stronger relationship.

It’s not quantity of the time I know, it the quality but having time to do different things adds to the quality.

Let’s tell a different story

So often I’ve been involved in initiatives and new programs that speak the language of effectiveness but are implemented and reduced to creating systems of efficiency. Often, programs and initiatives are brought in and in the name of efficiency all teachers or schools are required to follow the same timelines and processes. It’s the efficient use of time, money, resources. Eventually most of the schools have the same look with similar programs and initiatives.

But is it effective?

Some times. But not as effective as it could be.

Many times the program or initiative isn’t nearly as effective as it was described or proposed when first begun because the drive to be efficient overshadows allowing time to be effective. Too often initiatives start with a 3–5 year implementation period only to be efficiently implemented in 1 or 2. Decisions are centralized and distributed from the top, stages of implementation are mandated within particular time-frames and implementation effectiveness is done through comparison of who has and who has not successfully completed implementation. Standardization is the metric of success.

When the story is directed along the efficient timeline people are rewarded for bringing changes the quickest, competition is the norm for initiatives with data being used to demonstrate implementation successes. Data is used to tell the story of efficient implementation and use of resources. Success stories are framed around conformity and levels of implementation.

But is it effective?

In a recent article by Mother Jones entitled What if Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong? the work of Dr. Ross Greene is highlighted. I have read both his books The Explosive Child and Lost at School so was familiar with what was being discussed in the article and recommend you take a look. Too often, as is mentioned in the article, the most efficient process is selected instead of the most effective. In this case

They sacrifice long-term goals (student behavior improving for good) for short-term gain — momentary peace in the classroom.

We look for programs and systems that will bring “control and management” to the classroom. Implementation processes focus on system-wide metrics which allow schools to be compared to each other. The same way that standardized tests are used to measure and compare schools. No matter how it is spun, the comparisons happen as educational systems are closed with a finite amount of resources so competition is part of the distribution process.

But is it effective?

As an administrator, I’ve worked through a number of different school-wide initiatives that have involved parents, students and staff as co-creators. The process is not efficient and it takes a great deal of time. But it is very effective and the relationships that are created and develop add to the effectiveness. When timelines and artificial constraints and parameters are placed on this process, which has happened, then the effectiveness is diminished. Efficiently implementation will bring about some change but it may not be long lasting or effective but it will provide data for analysis. But, as in the case of behaviour, the methods that are used will provide different outcomes and some require a different story to be told about school.

I Wonder

As schools and teachers are going through a tremendous amount of change, with a new program, app, tool or strategy being introduced almost weekly and all of these competing for the finite resource of time, it would appear that efficiency is the only way to deal with the onslaught. And so teachers are busy trying this and that program, seeing how this or that app will augment their lessons, examining how this strategy or that will work and allow them time to still prepare for exams. Busy, busy, busy.

Summer is the time to ramp it up, go to conferences, read books, take in chats, get connected. Busy, busy, busy.

Is all this busyness productive? Are we sacrificing effectiveness again and again at the altar of efficiency?

What story of learning do we need to begin to tell in order that being effective becomes primary?

Why is being busy so important in education? Does the sound of quiet reflection scare people? Or is the noise of joy and fun while learning that offensive?

How can we make being more effective a priority in a efficiency dominated society?

It’s about being Curious

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Ever watch a small child with something they have picked up? How they study it and become fascinated by what they are looking at? Or how they will watch insects just crawl around? If you’ve done this, then you know that it will be followed by questions. Many questions! Oh so many questions. But….. the wonder and awe…. and joy in those questions.

Rediscovering Curious

I’ve always been curious about the world. Growing up on a farm, I had so much freedom to roam, search and discover. Some of the discoveries were amazing – watching a calf being born or holding a small chick were amazing. Climbing trees to touch the sky and lying on the hill in the pasture just watching the clouds flow by …. wondering how they stayed up there. I was actually disappointed when I learned that I couldn’t ride one. Somewhere along the way, that curiosity slowly changed into wondering about how things worked – how does a motor run? Taking things apart to find out and then putting it back together to see if, indeed, it would still run led to fixing things which led to breaking things to see just how far to the edge things could be pushed. Yes, I know what the sound of a blown motor sounds like!

The wondering about changed but I was still curious. However, being curious and wanting to know why, asking questions isn’t always popular. Or desirable. I learned that asking why wasn’t necessarily a great trait in the system of education. Eventually the wonder wandered. It was gone for a while, replace by the search to fit in and move up.

I almost missed finding my wonder, almost gave up that the best that I could hope for was to mull around the edges of fitting in. I almost missed it because I was scared. As Jamie Forest explores in her post What’s holding you back? fear holds us back and gives us an excuse not to. It reminds us that being curious has consequences that might not be pleasant so we back off. It keeps us from exploring and wondering. As Jamie says about sharing our ideas:

Deep down, however, the dialogue is different.  Who would want to read it?  My ideas aren’t worth sharing.  My ideas aren’t original.  What if what I write doesn’t match what I mean?  What if I get negative, or downright mean, feedback?

Fear keeps us from wondering and then creating. It holds us back and reminds us that it’s safe. “Let others take the chance. A few might succeed but so many fail” bounce around whenever we begin to flirt with the idea of publicly sharing our wonder. We rationalize our fear – use big data to defend it – “There’s only one Great One.” We strip away the awe, wonder and curiosity in order to be safe. We forget to look at the ants in awe and wonder, instead thinking “I hope they don’t move any closer to the house. That will be a pain to get rid of them.” We see problems and roadblocks, ways that disappointment will lead to hurt and pain. “I just want a normal life” becomes something we allow to seep into our thoughts as Fear gains hold. “Be safe. You might not like your job but it’s safe. The pension is good. It’s only 8 more years.”

Safe. Secure. Without Risk. Life in a box …… let someone else take the chance.

I Danced in the Rain

This year I spent every weekday morning with my son being a stay-at-home dad and

I FOUND MY WONDER!

There it was, dancing and splashing in the puddles on a rainy day. My first urge was to stop it. To remind it that there would be wet shoes and sticky shirts and, even worse, sticky underwear!

And then I joined in. Splashing, dancing and catching raindrops on my tongue. I didn’t care if the neighbours saw us. Since then I have skipped across parking lots, rolled in leaves, stared at ants, rolled in the snow, gotten wet, cold, muddy and sweaty. I’ve played and read, coloured and drawn.

But I was still afraid to share what I was doing. Afraid because that’s not what real men do.

And then I wandered with wonder to the edge, a place I hadn’t been in a long time for Fear had told me that to fit in, being near the edge wouldn’t work. But the box of wonder had been opened and the lid wouldn’t go back on.

Being Curious is Where It Starts

This week, ISTE has been filling my twitter feed with updates and blog posts about different things. Some are the excited and exhilarating tweets of people who have found their WONDER again. Mostly, they tweet about tools and different ways that this or that technology has them wondering. They are curious. They want to know more.  Some are disappointed by the lack of a shift away from the tech and tools. I get that – I’m not often wowed any more by a tool. And it is important to remember that learning is about relationships – helping others to seek and learn, to fan the flame of curiosity, awe and wonder despite the adult desire to calculate, allocate and fixate on data. Tools can enhance the learning in many, many ways.

I Wonder

Seeing adults excited and rekindling their wonder is a start. Excited about Genius Hour, Maker Space, Flipped Classrooms, Problem Based Learning, Justice Education, Emotional Intelligence, etc – moving past their fear to wonder and explore. That’s good. It’s changes the story we are telling, which changes the language we use to discuss learning, which allows for a different story to begin to filter to others…..

Being curious is where it starts.

Helping spark that curiosity is a gift of sharing wonder. No, not all teachers are joining in the discussion. But it’s more than it was – and that’s good!

Join Us

Jana Scott Lindsay’s post Thinking Beyond the Box explores some of the reasons why teachers don’t blog and share.

These are only some of the questions that would most likely surface:
What would I say?
Who would read what I wrote anyway?
How will I react to negative feedback?
What if no one reads what I wrote?
Why would I want to share my thinking with others?
 
In reality, these are very natural feelings.  Ones that seem to plague us as a society, no matter what age or category we fall into. Fear and insecurity have been known to drive us not only towards that box, but force us to exist entirely within it for most of our lives. Feeling safe is sometimes more than a fallback, it becomes a necessity.
However, she invites readers, as I do, to join us as we get out of the box.
Please join us as we take on a new adventure- follow along here at #skblog15
Today might be the day that begins a journey that you will look back on years from now and wonder why it took so long. Unless you are willing to go beyond the box, you just might never know.
She’s right. Although Fear might be whispering at you to take it safe, we offer that rediscovering your wonder and awe is worth it. Please, join us.
Dance in the rain.
                               Watch ants or that butterfly or the clouds float by.
Experience your Wonder and Awe!

No More Box

I will not be confined by the box of Fear

Nor the worry that others will not understand

That some will push back while others ignore

Will no longer stop my Wonder and Awe.

No Box will inhibit my search at the edge

Nor will Fear keep me back from moving along

Looking and dancing and skipping and seeing

It’s time to Bust Open the Box that disabled

Wonder and Awe are back on the table.

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.