Learning to Leap

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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”

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 – January 21, 2016 – Homework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elias further states

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

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

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

And How Are You Today?

How often have you asked the question? What about “How are you doing?” or one similar? How often have you listened to the response?

Really listened.

In the hustle and bustle of the day, we’re all very busy and such conversations are sometimes fillers as we politely listen to a reply. And there are those people that we don’t ask, right? They tell us stories and problems that, really, we didn’t really intend to listen to when we asked the question.

As a parent and educator, I was often guilty of asking but not listening. Well, I “heard” what they said but I didn’t always listen to what they were saying. I would do it with my own children, asking them how their day was but only partly listening to what they were saying. We’re all busy, right?

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Intent to listen. Do you even consider this?

As a school leader, I sometimes would get into “fix it” mode where I would listen with the intent to offer advice or a way to solve whatever problem being brought to me. In the busyness of the day, I would have my own thoughts/agenda running as background noise while I listened. It happens now, even though I am much more conscious of my need to listen with intent.

Learning to Quiet the Voices to Listen

One particular student helped me to understand how important it was to listen with the intent to understand. He wasn’t in trouble and he wasn’t bringing me a problem. He was just telling me about the song he was writing. And I might have missed it had he not said “Do you really want to hear this? I can tell you another time.”

I stopped. Did I? What were my choices? See, I hadn’t stopped what I was doing when he asked me. I had kept on doing what I was doing. So I stopped, put down my pen and listened. But instead of just listening, I gave him my attention and he gave me a wonderful gift – he shared his story of writing a song about our class – each person had a verse – all 31 and me. Then he sang it to me. As he proceeded to sing, I began to understand why he was always humming as he worked. Over time, I learned he would write songs to remember what we were doing and used these songs, humming them, as he wrote or did an exam. I had learned so much about him.

Although I learned something,  I really didn’t learn to listen until my 4th daughter taught me. She had a speech impediment and, until she was about 6, hard a difficult time communicating. As a parent, I was often left frustrated by not being able to understand what she was saying. It took me a long time to learn to stop, quiet the rolling voices that were in the background and listen, not just with my ears but with my other senses as well.

That was the beginning but I’ve learned it’s a daily journey, one I must tend each day.

A daily journey.

It sometimes involves tears.

Some are mine.

Let People Know You Are In Relationship With Them

Schools are busy places. There is always something happening and a commotion somewhere. In all this busyness and happenings, how can one possibly listen to all that comes along? I  struggled with this as an administrator – remember Fix-It mode? I also suffered from Pressing Issues syndrome,  Tattling overload, Initiative fatigue, Reporting cramp, Teacher Frustration aches and No Dinner pangs at times. Listening wasn’t always easy – but it was absolutely necessary.

Letting people know you are listening means you need to commit to that relationship in the moment. Listening to a student tell me something isn’t really an efficient use of time. But it can’t be about efficiency – it has to be about effective as it relates to relationships. As leaders, it’s about sharing one of the greatest gifts you have – time.

As a parent, I learned that I needed to listen with all my senses in relationship with my daughter when she was telling me something. And it wasn’t just my one daughter. As a father of 8, it’s sometimes very busy when people get talking. My wife and I have often eaten cold suppers after all the stories have been told.

In silence. Listening to the smiles.

At times, when I was busy, I had to be honest with my children and ask them if they could tell me in a few moments. I’ve done this with students and teachers. It is important to enter into relationship with others as you listen and sometimes being honest with them and arranging another time is the right thing to do.

And if they say no?

that’s was always a cue that I needed to stop and listen because it was important.

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Being In Relationship

In all the discussion about devices, communication, screen time, and distraction, it’s often portrayed that we only have “real” relationships when we are in a fact-to-face interaction. Yet, my experience is that it’s about the relationship of the people that is the important. A while back, I wrote

The point is that today, now, there are many different ways for us to connect as a family. I’ve learned not to compare the past with the present so much any more. Things are different and will be different. There are new things that challenge my worldview and previous assumptions and have made me change how I view and think about many things.

The point is not about the devices or technology but the relationships we have with people. Too often what becomes lost in these discussions is the space where each particular person is at

listening to reply  – not understand

So, how are you today?

You Know Enough – Now Start

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Starting…..

It’s hard. It requires taking that first step. Of following it with another. Of having to get back up if you fall down. Learning to walk is tough but small children soon learn all the complex steps in taking one step, then another, then another… then they’re running.

Getting started on making change or reframing the work you do is the same way. It’s hard to get started. You cling to the furniture around you, balancing yourself, looking longingly at the open space in front of you yet not wanting to fall. Maybe just a bit more studying that space….

In a world filled with so much information, when will it be enough learning before it transfers into motion forward.  Maybe if I read more a few blogs or papers or books….. but there isn’t enough time to read it all but maybe just a few more…. the open space beckons you.

but it’s not just the information. It’s the fear. Fear of failure. Fear of going unnoticed. Fear that it won’t work out.

Fear… it holds us back, whispers all sorts of discouraging words,keeps us from even trying. We often don’t have to worry about failure because fear keeps us from trying.

Starting……

When I first began teaching I wasn’t very good. I might have been awful but for the fact that there were other teachers around me whose classes were a lot less exciting than mine. Mind you, I taught Arts Ed, Phys Ed and some English and there were days when it was VERY exciting.  In art – all kinds of things happen when you give 26+ grade 7’s some coloured ink, lino boards, paper and rollers and  instructions that aren’t quite as clear as you thought they were!

Graphic Art!

But I started. Each day, I’d try again. Each evening I’d spend hours trying to figure out what I could do differently or what I might change or….. it was exhausting but exhilarating at the same time but I knew I was missing something. I’d walk past classrooms and … well my classroom wasn’t like that!

Starting…..

Somewhere along the way I began to study teaching: teaching strategies,  methods, assessment, planning….. I began to think that if I could just read the right books or find the right method or strategies then I would become a “good teacher”.

Heck, I wasn’t even shooting for “great”! I wanted to be good. Solid. Not stellar. No way, because then you would stand out and people would up their expectations.

Good Enough…. but that wasn’t me.

I was always trying new strategies and methods in the classroom, experimenting with new configurations for learning, different assessment strategies and ways of students presenting their understanding. Somewhere along the way I stumbled across Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design, Tomlinson’s Differentiation and then both together! Rubrics, feedback, multiple assessment options for students. No two years were the same – with each class I learned that I would have to make changes to meet their learning needs – even though I didn’t really know that was what I was doing at the time.

Starting….

Along the way I was fortunate to work with some great teachers. I mean, really great. What made them great? Their planning? The strategies? The assessment? I spent time trying to figure it out and it was right in front of me all along. See, great teachers begin with the end in mind – they begin with student. Relationships are the foundation. They don’t give up on students. Student growth and development are their focus. They ground their work in the relationships they build with their students.

It took me a long time to figure that out because I was looking in the wrong place to start. I was looking for the method or plan or organization or strategy when, all along, great teachers begin with relationships. All they do is linked to the relationships they develop with students, parents, colleagues, administrators, and community members.

Starting…. 

They aren’t afraid to try new or different things for fear of making mistakes because they know that those mistakes are great opportunities for learning with their students.

 I think we need to do serious hard work in producing alternative models without being tied down to what can be implemented in the short run. I think if we take industries like aircraft, or any big industry, they are spending large resources on planning for the day when they know that what’s cutting-edge today is going to be obsolete. The education world has to learn to put a fraction of its resources into what cannot be done today, but can be, but which can stand there as experimenting, as working with visions of a possible future. Seymour Papert 

They don’t shy away from incorporating technology because they understand that when pedagogically driven, technology can enhance the learning experience. They are always reading and questioning what they do in the classroom because they are a true life-long learner, curious about the world around them.

They aren’t afraid to start even though they don’t know all the steps. See, these teachers have a secret that they share with everyone and that secret, which took me so long to figure out was …….

Just Start

Reframe the Story

It begins with the relationships in the classroom. You can be innovative and creative, I sure was, but I didn’t pay attention to that relationship piece. Somehow I missed that part. See, lost in the search, lost in the reading and reflection, missed in the implementation was just how key relationships are to the classroom.

For me, it took my own struggle with “what am I missing?” and the frustration of not “getting it” to finally cast aside my preconceived ideas about what it meant to be a “good teacher” and reframe – what made me a good student? What drove me along? Why was I motivated to learn?

Yes, part of it was a desire to learn but part, the part I wasn’t always aware of, was the relationship I formed with others as I learned and the key the instructor/teacher played in the learning. When learning begins with relationships, teachers begin to put that little bit of energy into developing for the future. They aren’t content with what they are doing today but are looking forward to see what might be tomorrow.

So, what does your today and tomorrow look like?

 

#saskedchat – November 12, 2015

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

9 Ways to Use Portfolios with Students

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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.

The Human Side of School

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

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

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

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

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

The Human Side of Learning 

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

As Pam Ross states in her article:

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

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

A Focus on Digital Fluency

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

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

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

Portfolios and Body of Work

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

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

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

It Isn’t This or That

Last year I began working on a PhD full time. It meant leaving my family and living apart for a period of time. Almost every night I would join them via Skype or Facetime to talk and hear about their day. My wife, a teacher, would tell me about her day or interesting things going on in the community. My 5 children would tell me about their day and I’d get to see the things they made and what they did with their friends.

Technology allowed us to connect even though we were miles apart. It allowed me to see them and, in some way, be with them. We were connected in ways that a few years ago would not have been possible.

But I missed the contact. Of being able to have my youngest son sit on my lap. Of being a part of the daily routine. It allowed us to connect but it wasn’t the same as physically being there. The point is that today, now, there are many different ways for us to connect as a family. I’ve learned not to compare the past with the present so much any more. Things are different and will be different. There are new things that challenge my worldview and previous assumptions and have made me change how I view and think about many things.

The Power of Connecting

John Spencer, someone whom I have followed  for some time and admire for his willingness to share his journey, recently wrote a post Missing the Connective Power of Technology . John tells a similar story as mine of using technology to connect and be with family despite living apart. He discusses the friends he has met through connecting and being connected. In the post, John explores the continuing discussion that swirls around technology and connecting

You’ve seen the videos imploring people to “look up” and abandon their devices. It’s easy to look into a crowd and say, “They’re not interacting with each other.” But I’ve always had a hard time with these complaints. The problem isn’t the device. It’s the crowd. It’s the urbanization. It’s the packed rooms with people you don’t know. The reason I won’t look up from my device while I’m in the crowd is that talking to strangers is exhausting.

I agree, being in a crowd is difficult, it isn’t my comfort zone. It’s difficult for me to strike up a conversation with someone I  don’t know. But, and this is something I’ve learned over time, it also is an opportunity to meet someone new, to learn something new. So I’ve worked at taking the step and striking up a conversation. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much. Like anything I do, there is an inherent possibility that failure will happen but there is also the inherent possibility that success is possible so I take a deep breath and step out.

John also discusses the this/that view of technology and connecting, exploring how these binaries limit people’s possibilities.

But there’s another part of this critique that bothers me. It approaches technology with a deficit mindset. I get it. Hugs are better than texts. Physical presence is an optimal choice. However, in an industrial society, we are stuck with isolation and our devices have the potential for relational connection. A forty minute commute is a forty minute commute.

I use to think that the approach was seeing technology as a deficit but now I wonder if, instead of a deficit mindset, it’s a different mindset? A mindset that sees interpersonal connections in a different way. I agree with John that technology allows us to connect to people in powerful ways yet some people see technology as limiting human interactions and connections. A different mindset than I have about technology and its use.

My father is one of those people. I’ve learned that trying to convince him otherwise isn’t going to happen. Instead, I listen more instead of trying to think of a counter argument. In doing so, I’ve come to realize that he isn’t anti-technology. In fact, he was a maker and inventor who created amazing things – surround-sound was standard in our house, even in the bathroom. He was always tinkering and innovating but, for him, face to face interaction is his comfort zone.

And it’s okay.

Its not this or that

Sometimes the devices connect us to people when we find ourselves isolated or when we need a safe place to talk but one isn’t available with the people around us. I’ve had that experience and being able to reach out to someone, a friend, is crucial. We can connect to people, friends, in new and different ways and we can find people with whom we feel a connection even though they are in different locations. We can be with our families even when we are far apart.

But it’s not for everyone and that’s okay.

There is no one right path 

As a teacher, face to face interaction is constant – students, parents, colleagues. Just this week I subbed in a school where I knew almost no one but I spent the day interacting with students and teachers, getting to know them and learning with them. Some people don’t have this experience everyday as they work in isolation or near isolation and going into a new situation is daunting. I’ve been asked how I do it, going into new schools to work not knowing anyone. It’s within my comfort zone. It’s energizing in a way that being in a crowd of strangers is exhausting.

And so it is with technology. It allows me to connect with people all over the world. I see the power in connecting and sharing, learning and growing. It’s what I have always done.

But I can also isolate myself from people close to me – I’ve done that too. I spent time connecting but not working on the relationships close to me because they were hard and it was difficult. We didn’t see the world the same way. As an administrator, I learned that I had to work on those close relationships as they were critical to building a positive collaborative culture in the school. Some days it was so exhausting and frustrating but if things were going to change it was going to be the work I did with those people around me.

A Tale of Two 

I find it difficult in crowds. To me, it can be like a bad movie with stale popcorn – I can’t wait to for it to end.  But my wife  finds these interactions energizing and full of great adventure, meeting others, laughing, interacting. I make small talk while she learns the life history of half the people in the room. We’re at the same event yet our experiences are different. The same is true about about connecting with technology. For me,  it is a great experience. I feel energized meeting people and having discussions, joining edchats and impromptu conversations.  Just this morning I had a discussion with people I only know online but with whom I have a relationship. For my wife, it’s a necessity to connect in order to keep in touch.

Two tales of connecting. Two experiences of connections.

Listening in the Midst of Living

Recently I was in a staffroom at a school where I was subbing. Someone mentioned having to spend the evening in the rink for hockey – it was going to be a long season!  A younger teacher, who had recently returned from maternity, remarked that before she had children, her youngest is one, she had all kinds of time and energy but now, with two toddlers at home, she feels exhausted. She remarked that she could understand now why some teachers never make it past 5 years. At some time in the past I would have made a comment about children but now I don’t. See, when you mention you have 8 children, it makes almost everyone else feel like they shouldn’t complain, like there’s no more room. It takes away their story, usurps what they are feeling. It’s hard. I remember that time since my youngest is only 6. But things have changed, and, thankfully, I’ve learned a little bit.

Filtering the Influx

In the blog post The Coming Podcast Surplus, Seth Godin discusses how the growing number of podcasts means he doesn’t have enough time in the day to listen to what is being produced. I find myself in a similar predicament where there are more podcasts created than I have time to listen and I have to limit/select what I listen to because, as Seth says

I can’t listen to something new without not listening to something else. Which makes it challenging to find the energy to seek out new ones.

I also find the same is happening with blogposts. There are more being written than I have time to read. Even though I subscribe to an RSS reader and scan the titles, there is so much being created and I am limited to what I can read.  I have to filter more than I did just a year ago and I don’t go looking for new input as often as I did. I rely on suggestions from others or something from my twitter feed or Flipboard.

As a blogger, I have found that although people may read what I write, they rarely comment anymore. I also have to keep in mind the amount of time it takes to read a post – many readers don’t seem to stick around if the post gets too long.

In talking with teachers I know, they feel the same and, with the continual implementation model that has landed and planted in education, and a new expert popping,  they have less time to do these things than they did before.

Time for What’s Important

Today, a tweet with a link to an older post by George Couros Isolation is now a choice educators make  appeared in my feed. As I read through the post, I began to think about how, in the two years since that post first appeared, my own situation has changed drastically

Then – I was in the middle of my last year of full-time administrating/teaching/coaching. With 6 children who had a full slate of extra-curricular activities, a wife that I like to spend time with occasionally,  a school and staff going through transition, I found I had little time for other activities. We lived a 45 minute commute to my daughter’s hockey practice and I coached/reffed 400+ hours that year. Every day I wrote in a journal as a reflective practice, something I had begun in my first years of teaching as a way to describe and work through some of the many things going on around me. I didn’t exercise as I knew I should and there wasn’t much time for other things.  I definitely didn’t have time to blog nor did I have a great deal of time for “connecting”. I was too attached to the events, too in the middle of the story, to be able to reflectively write for public. In the middle of a living story. As the young teacher had expressed, I was exhausted. But, despite all this, at times I felt like a failure – I wasn’t connecting enough!

Now –  Two years later – I am a part-time stay-at-home-dad helping my wife raise 4 children,  I sub a few days a week, work as a graduate student and spend time helping educators connect and grow through #saskedchat, #saskedcamp and visiting classes to discuss Digital Citizenship .  I have time to reflect, to think about what has happened around me and time to filter  events. I have time to do presentations, to speak with teachers about what they are doing, to listen intently to their stories, and make connections that, in the midst of the story, I couldn’t. As I read George’s post, I recognized how some of my own thoughts shifted about connecting. I have time to blog and see how it helps. I have time to listen to podcasts as I run, something I couldn’t do. I read from a variety of genres and topics and am challenged by topics of race, gender, colonialism, hegemony and their impact on society and our lives. Living in the midst, time was given to the priorities that were important – life connections.

I didn’t have time for a number of things, even though they were on my “I really want to do that” list because there were higher priorities – marriage, children, teaching, coaching, driving, watching my children as they played – all more important because those connections – wife, children, colleagues, community – were priorities. Priceless time spent driving with my youngest daughter and listening to her grow into a wonderful young woman. Priceless – worthy of all my time.

Take Away – Expecting people to do things without knowing their story and taking account of their experience is akin to asking all students to learn the same way.  We’ve moved on. Expecting people to connect because of my personal experience is, well, selfish. I’m not listening to them. It works for me, now. Why, because of my circumstances. Even though 5 or 7 or 9 years ago I had used technology, I am now able to grow my connections and help other educators through that role.

The guilt is gone.

Did it need to be there? Why do we do that?

Listening in the Midst

As an educational leader I have worked with a number of different schools to shift negative school culture to one of  collaboration and sharing where student learning was our primary focus,  to transition new teachers into the profession and, with difficulty, to transition a few teachers out of the profession. I have worked with students, staff and community on a number of community-based school policies. I’ve learned the importance of relationships, learning, leading and following. One of the most important learnings I have had is to meet people where they are, walk with them, support them, challenge them to grow and learn but, most importantly, to honour their lives in their midst. To impose my idea of what is correct or right or the best on those with whom I am in relationship does not honour their stories.

George is correct, isolation is a choice.

I have met very few teachers who are all alone.

They might not be online blogging or tweeting but they have connections – a network of people who support them and to whom they turn to for support, ideas, inspiration, who they bring into their classrooms and the lives of their students, and who connect them with others in so many ways. They have young families, are dealing with life changing challenges and a myriad of other living in the midst and using their time for what is important in their lives.

I am fortunate enough to have had the time to be able to experience this, to learn from others as I they told me their stories. Yes, I have worked with some and helped them to connect, to grow their connections, to shift and change their teaching practices. But, I have also learned to honour those who have other priorities while supporting them where they are. They are worthy of my time and my experience.

I have 8 children. 4 girls. 4 boys. They, along with my wife, are my highest priorities because, long after I am no longer around, they will continue to change the world in ways I cannot begin to dream.

If it’s a priority, we devote time to it. Was I wrong?

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