Category Archives: Teaching and Learning

Learning to Leap

cropped-img_0056.jpg

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 – January 21, 2016 – Homework

Screenshot 2016-02-07 17.06.21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elias further states

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

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

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

9 Ways to Use Portfolios with Students

Screenshot 2015-11-10 16.06.11

A Show Case of Learning

As a teacher, I began having students create portfolios as a way to show what they were doing in class. The first portfolios were Show Case portfolios in which students would included their best work. Each student would select a number of assignments which they thought demonstrated their best work and during Student Led Conferences,  would show these to their parents and talk about the work they were doing. Over time, and with the introduction and access to technology, I began to experiment with different types of portfolios using a wiki with different pages for subjects, a set of linked documents and finally a webpage that students created. Students would embed images of their work. However, this was still a variation of the Show Case Portfolios just in digital format.

I was also experimenting with my own variations of portfolios, trying different formats to see how I could begin to develop my own work for others to see. I realized that I was limiting myself by only focusing on education related items. There was more that I was doing but wasn’t including. Thus began a long journey that continues today of trying to find my own voice as a person.

The Next Stage

As technology changed and it became easier to collect and manage the different items in a portfolio, I began to have students not just show their best work but also started to expand the use of the portfolio to include  drafts of work so they could show the progress of their learning and began to include a reflection portion to the portfolio to have students discuss what they learned and what they might want to add.

Today portfolios can include any number of different types of items from images and documents to sound recordings and videos. All these items can be incorporated to show the growth of student learning. But what if these portfolios were to include not just what the student was doing in school? What if portfolios were include items from outside of school? How might this change how students define their learning?

As you begin to look at portfolio use with students, here are some questions that I believe are important to answer before you embark:

Why use portfolios?

What is the purpose of creating the portfolio?

Who will “own” it? Will it be assessed? How?

What will be included?

Who will decide what is to be included?

Who can access the portfolio?

Can it “move” with the student and beyond?

I know that I didn’t think of many of these things and had to do a lot of backtracking and adjusting in the process.

9 Ways to Use Portfolios with Students

  1. Helping students Digital Fluency skills  – the ability to communicate, collaborate, connect, create. critique and collate – using digital tools is important for students. Students can use portfolios to practice and develop these skills not only for school work but for the different passions they have in their lives and bring them together in one place. Have students include drafts and changes as they work through the process of refining the work they are doing.
  2. Encourage curiosity and ask questions – asking questions that drive learning takes practice. A portfolio can become more than just a place where Show Case items are stored. By helping students develop their ability to ask questions, teachers can support a process of learning, differentiating the support students need as they learn and grow.  Have students include questions they have about a topic or inquiries they have about ideas and concepts. Include mindmaps and brainstorming sessions as processes of developing ideas. Get students to include I Wonder statements and What If ideas.
  3. Engage an authentic audience – through connecting with others, students can receive feedback and assistance as they explore different ideas and create work that has meaning for them. By creating for an audience other than themselves and their teacher, connect what they are doing with what is happening outside of school through interactions with others. Have students connect with other students for feedback and input. Get students to comment on the work of others and offer guidance to providing constructive feedback. Look for ways to connect students work with others through social media and provide opportunities for students work to get beyond the school by sharing with parents.
  4. Develop their own unique voice – In his book Louder Than Words, Todd Henry  discusses how “brilliant contributors commit to the process of developing their authentic voices through trial and error, by paying attention to how they respond to the work of peers, heroes, and even their antagonists, by playing with ideas, by cultivating a sharp vision for their work , and ultimately by honing their skills so they have the ability to bring that vision to the world”. Portfolios provide a place for students to begin this process of developing their own unique voice through practice, failure, reflection and retrying. Have students share stories, videos, podcasts and other work as they practice finding their own authentic voice.
  5. Explore different passions – instead of just including school-related items, students can include the different passions they have and explore different ideas over time. What might be of interest today may not be tomorrow but in a week or month become interesting again. Students have the ability to reflect on what they have done in the past and make connections to where they are now as learners. Have students include what they are doing outside of school. Have them include pictures and videos of things they are doing and talk about them.
  6. Explore multiple ways of expressing their learning and understanding – a portfolio allows students to include all sorts of items which they can use to demonstrate their learning. Videos, podcasts, music, writings, drawing, pictures – all these can be used as part of demonstrating their learning. Have students create different items and explore different ways of expressing their ideas and include reflections of what they did well and areas they see where they need to improve or find more information.
  7. Get feedback from multiple people – students can reach out to different audiences to get feedback and input about the work they are doing. Have them connect with other classes or individuals for feedback and input on what they are doing. Have them explain what they did or what they were hoping to accomplish and receive feedback from different people.
  8. Engage experts in a field through connecting – having the ability to connect with experts in a field provides students with access to knowledge they might not have access to otherwise. Feedback and insight from people who are experts provides students with an opportunity to push beyond the confines of the school. By developing a Personal Learning Network, students have access to support and assistance whenever they need it, taking learning beyond the confines of the school walls.
  9. Develop a cycle of learning – by building a body of work that continues to grow and change, students can develop reflective and generative habits of learning which apply to all areas of their lives. Instead of learning being what is done at school, students can incorporate their learning and the different things they are creating and receive feedback and input from various sources both in school and out of school. Have students identify things they want to learn about – both in the context of school and in other areas of their lives and build reflective practices as they progress.

These are just some of the ways that portfolios can be used with students. I created a personal Portfolio as an example of different types of portfolios and some of the tools that are available to create portfolios. If you click on the highlight with the SMYA presentation it will take you to my examples. Instead of learning being something that happens at school, it becomes connected to all areas of life, where what they do outside of school becomes part of their learning experience in school.

And this is why…..

Screenshot 2015-03-21 22.14.27

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?

#saskedchat – Feb 19th, 2015

aeb21-screenshot2b2014-09-122b16-34-23

Topic – Professionalism – teacher well being

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

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

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

 

It’ in the Attitude

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

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

They made it Better

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

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

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

Attitude is Important

                                                          Mindset is important

George Couros asked this question the other day —

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

Writing for….value if…

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

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

The Story is in the Stones

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

I wish I could thank them.

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

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

The Padagogy Wheel – Thinglink

Screenshot 2013-12-07 15.38.54

http://www.unity.net.au/padwheel/padwheelposter.pdf#!

I first encountered the Padagogy Wheel a few months ago. I’ve been using it to help introduce and explain how iPads apps can assist teachers in creating authentic learning that provides a rich and deep learning experience. I found the discussion at The Padagogy Wheelhouse helped to clarify a ideas and concepts. In order to make things a bit easier for people, I’ve created a thinglink image of the wheel which links each of the images to the iPad app and given a brief description of the app, either from my own experience or from the description given for the app.

I hope this will help and make accessing the apps simpler.

The Depth of the Rut

cart-ruts-malta-03-550x217

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Ronny Siegel

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

The Rut

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

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

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

Look What I Found!

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

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

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

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

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

After Reading

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

IMG_0741

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

Phase One – Reaching Out

Screenshot 2013-11-20 09.55.11

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by raymaclean

As I reflect on helping teachers grow as professionals, it’s important to realize that this is a journey for all involved and that it will continue to be as such. In this series, I am looking at the process in three parts: Phase One – Reaching Out, Phase Two – Giving Support and Phase Three – Reflecting and Celebrating.

Reaching out to teachers can sometimes be difficult for administrators. In the hectic, and sometimes frantic, happenings of the school and the daily demands it is sometimes easy to put off what seem like “other” things. As Amber Teamann points out in this post, Stephen R. Covey reminds us that we need to focus on things that will help us to build our capacity as leaders and the capacity of those around us.  As an administrator, it was always one of my goals to provide teachers with the supports they needed, to provide a helping hand.

Phase One – Reaching Out

In order to help teachers grow as professionals, administrators do need to be willing to reach out and listen. The key – listening. Too often the paradigm is to provide answers or solutions, to give “supports” so teachers can get on with their growth. Some will know what they want to do and quickly move forward. Many others, however, aren’t really sure of what supports they might need or where they want to focus their growth. As people, they are busy trying to meet the needs of their students through their planning, feedback and interactions. They are building communications with parents. For many, their own professional growth is keeping up with the initiatives and directives that they get.

Individualized PD

One way to help teachers is to provide 1 to 1 PD . As an administrator, time is a diamond commodity – it precious. In order to provide 1 to 1 PD for teachers, one needs to be do some preplanning to ensure the effective use of everyone’s time.

Three Step Plan

Professional Growth Plan –

Step 1 – start with listening/Identify strengths

I would meet with each teacher to listen to their goals. In this step, asking questions and listening are so important. “I want to use more technology” might be where the conversation starts but by asking questions and listening to teacher, we were able to narrow down and decide on some specific goals. “I really don’t know what I want to do” is okay too! Changes in teaching and the classroom dynamics may have some teachers unsure what or where to begin. Again, listening and asking questions about what they are doing right now is important. Focusing on areas where they are finding success is important. These can provide insights to strengths that can then be used to redirect to an area for growth. By providing teachers with lead time before this meeting and giving them a format for the discussion – the first meeting is to identify an area for growth – the teacher isn’t feeling like they have to make this plan by themselves. You are there as a support to help them. A simple form that has the teacher identify areas of strength in their teaching, areas of interest for Professional Development and their reasons.

Be specific with the goal. This isn’t the same as creating a SMART goal but the goal needs to have a specific focus. I would highly recommend checking out Beyond the To Do List by Erik Fisher. It gives some practical ideas to helping set specific goals. The idea here is to focus on using the strengths that were identified earlier to help in creating a plan for an area of growth.

Step 2 –  identify what things are within the sphere of influence of the teacher and what supports they may need from you or others. Depending on the resource people that are available, this is a good time to identify anyone who might be able to help them.

Step 3 –  set a date for the next meeting where you will discuss the plan the teacher will develop. It is important that the teacher be able to visit you to discuss things. This is where you, as an administrator can organize supports – training ideas, personnel, coaching, 1 to 1 time, etc

As I worked with teachers, I realized that I couldn’t work with all of them but that, through listening to them, I could support them in their growth through support. Recently I read what George Couros has been doing with teachers. As an administrator, this is one way that you could support teachers within your building by accessing resource people. Also, the idea of sharing that time and growth with others is a great idea that, as an administrator, will help others to see possibilities.

As an educational leader, you don’t need to have all the answers. You do need to use the tools and resources at your disposal to support teachers so they can “Do what is best for Students” and, just as important, share that learning with others. This allow individuals to connect and the synergy to take over. By leading others to connect with others, a leader is helping others find their passions and grow as an individual – nothing is more powerful than that!

Leadership – Lesson #1

Screenshot 2013-11-19 21.49.55

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by lovequotes.symphonyoflove.net/category/a/albert-schweitzer

These past few weeks I’ve been listening to Read to Lead podcast. I came across it as I was looking for something that would help me in my quest to figure out which direction I needed to explore next. Being that I really don’t believe in coincidence, the podcast has introduced me to a number of great books and thought leaders. Better yet, it has introduced me to a number of great authors who are really at their peaks, each being an influential and successful entrepreneur.

The Read to Lead Podcast is based on the belief that intentional and consistent reading is key to success in business and in life.

As a leader in education, this is a foundational belief that I have had since I began teaching. I know that I would not have been able to make the progress nor been able to continue to grow as a teacher and an administrator without continuing to read and learn. Most of my reading was educational in nature until I ventured into social media sites and began to broaden my reading through recommendations of people within my PLN. Lately, having decided that I needed to change course, I was searching for insights and ideas, new experiences that would introduce me to things that weren’t necessarily educational in nature. This is when I found Read to Lead.

At the end of each podcast, the host, Jeff Brown asks each of his guests about a leadership lesson they’ve learned. These guests include Chris Brogan, Scott M. Fay, Dave Delaney and Todd Henry just to mention a few. Almost to a one, they all answered with a version of “Be good to other people. Help others. Build relationships.” As I listened to these, I wondered what educational leaders would say. If I were honest, I would probably have answered “Do what’s best for students.” Really, that’s probably what I would have answered. As I’ve listened to the podcasts, I began to realize that maybe in education we’ve tried to make things much more complicated than needs to be. As I listen to these leaders of today, it was clear that they genuinely were focused on helping others to get better. Do we really focus on making everyone around us better? Or just on most of the people around us? Do we have an entrepreneurial mindset of looking not to make ourselves look good but to help others? Do our divisions/districts focus on this from top to bottom or is this lost somewhere along the way?

Helping Others

Today I received an email from one of administrators I’m mentoring in the mentorship group that George Couros established this fall – SAVMP – about a situation. As I read through what was happening, I again wondered about the “helping others” leadership model which definitely wasn’t being followed. Why does it seem that many of the educational leaders are not understanding that in our social and connected world, the top-down hierarchical system doesn’t work? That to be effective, you must connect other people to something of value. In the case of education, connecting students to learning of value to the student is quickly shaping the change in education. Helping others is the cornerstone of this and teachers and principals, in order to do that, require new skills which in turn requires that schools, division/districts and states/provinces begin to shift away from the top-down, one-size-fits-all format. It’s becoming apparent that the traditional models of teaching and the systems of schooling are not able to meet the needs of many of the students within the system but the desire to retain “power” in some fashion limits what can be done in schools and in classrooms.

Let’s Look Outward – Our Navels Have Been Studied

I’m all for listening to the thought leaders in education and what is being said. It’s time, however, we looked around – raised our heads and looked beyond the nest of education. Not listening to Big Business and what they think of education but to listen to what thought leaders in other areas are saying from their perspectives and seeing how it might have cross-over potential and how it will help us help students find value in their learning. That’s why I believe such things as Design Thinking has so much potential in education because it has been successfully used in many different industries and situations. They focus on helping others, on creation and innovation. So if you have a few moments, I highly recommend Read to Lead Podcast.

#1 Leadership Lesson

Again and again and again – it’s helping others. A great example of this is someone like George Couros who continues to work to help others to make connections, to find value in what they are doing and bring about change and innovation in education. Helping others – who would have thought!