Tag Archives: connecting

Sharing – #saskedchat – Week 4 Summer Blogging Challenge

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Sharing

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

It’s Not That Simple

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing is Important

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do You Share? How do You Share?

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

Change – #saskedchat – Week 3 Blogging Challenge

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How Do You View Change?

Change is constant.

Change is inevitable.

Change can be positive or it can be negative.

Change can be hard to describe and its effects can be even harder to put into words.

A Summer of Change

This summer has brought about a number of changes for many people I know – some are moving to new jobs, some are moving to new schools, some are moving to new communities, some are entering new stages of their lives and a few are doing all of the above!

Having gone through the process of moving (9 times), a new job (8 times), a new school (10 times) and community (6 times) and the change brought on by having children (8 of them) or having children leave (3 of them), I’ve come to view change as the way life is lived. I’ve recently had to begin to care for my parents as they age, something with which I have little experience which means that, like many things, I’m learning as I go.

Change

As I read various articles that are geared at examining changes that might be experienced by teachers, either by new technology or new strategies or new assessment or different expectations or the recent online phenomenon or …. it goes on, I notice that there is a natural tendency to generalize things across a population, something that tends to happen quite often in education. People speak of “teachers” needing to “…..” because of their particular worldview and point of view. Not that’s it’s bad but that really is theirs and, sometimes, if it’s the dominant societal one, it goes without question.

However, in my experience, this tendency masks the individual responses that people experience as they go through change. Generalizing that this change or that change will have this effect or that effect misses the point – the change will be individual and will have a different affect depending on the person. What I view as a positive change, others will deem negative and, surprisingly, many won’t even register nor care about.

How do You envision Change?

Usually we begin with something like “How do you mange change?” Or “How do you deal with Change?” Or “9 Ways to Deal with Change”.

However, if Change is happening regularly, maybe taking a different approach might help.

The diagram at the beginning of the post is from the Design Thinking approach to problem solving and innovation. Having read Tim Brown’s book Change by Design a number of years ago and reread parts since then and taking the Stanford Course on Design Thinking, I began applying the principles to how I view change and the changes taking place around me. Eventually, applying these principles, I determined that change was not only okay, but desirable – part of the reason that I headed off to the University of Regina to begin a PhD with Dr. Alec Couros.

As this image from the Change by Design site shows, looking at change from different perspectives not only can help one to determine the What and How of change but give you different options for addressing change.

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Change By Design at IDEO | IDEO http://buff.ly/2a1Xkk7

In combination with the work of Todd Henry – Accidental CreativeDie EmptyLouder than Words – and Cal Newport – So Good they Can’t Ignore YouDeep Work – and others, I have shifted my thinking about my work, the impact of change and the process of development from one that “happens” to one I am able to be part of the solution process and make decisions that help me to continue to follow my unique path.

Instead of always looking to innovate, adopt a new mindset or flip something, I can be open to new ideas and new processes but not always looking for the “next big thing” because my focus isn’t being distracted by my peripheral vision – something I borrowed from Todd Henry. So, yes there are many things going on – change is all around us but, for many people, it’s a distraction from doing their great work, a distraction from the path they are creating and building. Learning from/with others is important, such as doing a book study with others to expand ideas and push oneself, reading different authors and listening to TEDtalks and other forms of learning but it’s just as important to be creative, to question what people are saying, and to build your own – isn’t that what everyone seems to be saying needs to happen?

Often many of us are pulled this way or that, always looking for the next “new thing, great book, interesting method and innovation” instead of focusing on the path we are building. Yes, something might be interesting and worth exploring – but make no mistake, many who are commenting on it and writing about it are interweaving it with their path – seeing how it can add to their message – which is what you need to do.

You are on your own journey – one unique to you.

Jana Scott Lindsay, in her last post Consumed explores the impact of being connected and how she is seeing a need for change …

I think that it is time to work at finding balance. Leave your devices out of sight, to encourage out of mind for a time & space each and every day.

Change – yes, it’s always happening.

Change – what about you?

#saskedchat Summer Blogging Challenge

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Week 2 of the #saskedchat Summer Blogging Challenge

Our topic this week is Supporting. Tribe, a post by Jana Scott Lindsay, has me pondering how do we support ourselves and, just as importantly, be part of a support system for others. Jana starts her post off with a great quote from Seth Godin – go check it out. I’ll wait.

Pretty great quote isn’t it? Great post too!

Seth Godin constantly reminds me that I don’t have to write a short story to get a point across. In fact, sometimes less is more. In his post today, The Top of The Pile  he asks

We need an empathy of attention. Attention is something that can’t be refunded or recalled. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

So, what have you done to earn it?

In his latest book What to do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn) Godin reminds us that

Now, more than ever, more of us have freedom to care,

the freedom to connect,

the freedom to choose

the freedom to initiate

the freedom to do what matters,

If we choose.

It’s that choice part that I need to pay attention to and remind myself about. As Jana discusses in her post – you read it right? – being conscious of others is a choice, being part of a tribe is a choice, being involved is a choice

for most of us.

There are others, however, that don’t get to have those choices.

How do we support them? How do we make others aware of this fact? How do we get to the top of their pile?

And not just because it’s part of being an educator but because we have the freedom to care, connect, choose, initiate –

we have privilege.

Support – what does it mean to you?

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#saskedchat Blogging Challenge

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Image by Amielle Christopherson

Summer Challenge

Most people like a good challenge, something that pushes them to reach beyond where they are at the moment, to reach a new level or develop a new skill.

This summer a number of people from #saskedchat have indicated that they are interested in taking on a blogging challenge in order to kickstart their blogging and get back into the habit of writing. To help with this, the #saskedchat Blogging Challenge will offer weekly topics for blogging and, hopefully, provide an opportunity for people to encourage and support others who are taking the challenge.

Why Blog? Why Write?

Last January, one of the #saskedchat topics was blogging and I wrote a post about blogging as a professional. In that post, I discuss 5 habits to develop as a blogger:

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

These five habits will help you to develop your writing habit. The one thing I would suggest BEFORE you begin is to develop a “”WHY” I blog” statement in order to ground your work with “why” – what is the purpose of your blogging? Why will you commit to doing this and developing this habit?

Developing Habits

How do we form habits? Where do they come from? Why are they so darn hard to change?

Because for reasons they were just beginning to understand, that one small shift in Lisa’s perception that day in Cairo – the conviction that she had to give up smoking to accomplish here goal – had touched off a series of changes that would ultimately radiate out to every part of her life…. and when researcher began examining images of Lisa’s brain, they saw something remarkable: One set of neurological patterns – her old habits – had been overridden by new patterns. They could still see the neural activity of her old behaviours, but those impulses were crowded out by new urges. As Lisa’s habits changed, so had her brain. (Location 95)

In the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg explores how people develop habits and how people like Lisa change their habits.

By focusing on one pattern – what is known as a “keystone habit” – Lisa had taught herself how to reprogram the routines in her life, as well.  (Location 104)

Making blogging a “habit” needs to fit in with who you are as a person. If you make it another “add-on”, it becomes something else that you try to ‘fit’ into your schedule and, unless it is a priority, it often ends up something you think about as you doze off to sleep. Like exercise, eating, reading and a whole host of other habits, what you do in one area affects your life in other areas. Want more energy? Look at your eating and sleeping habits. Trying to reduce stress? What habits do you have for organization, sleep, etc.?

There are many articles written about the habits of famous people. Although we can learn from these, it’s important to not try to be them but, instead be your best by developing your own success habits.

I Started Running

Last year I began running – again. I’ve stared running a number of different times in the past but usually it fell to the side – I just didn’t have the time to do something healthy! What was different this time? Partly I needed to take my health a bit more seriously. However, the biggest part, the part I usually don’t tell anyone, was that I needed to replace an unhealthy habit – smoking – with a healthy habit.

But first, I had decided that I needed to change. That change was hard. But by replacing one unhealthy habit with a healthy habit I have been able to make changes in my life that are helping me be a healthier person. I now plan my days to include exercise and healthier eating. I’m still working on adopting other healthy habits – it takes time to develop a new habit.

Like any other habit, writing and blogging needs to be planned and you have to have a “why”. Now, there is no “you must do this or else” part to this challenge. As I wrote in January:

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.

If, however, you wish to develop this into a consistent habit, then developing your “why” is important. As Simon Sinek points out in Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action 

Knowing your WHY is not the only way to be successful, but it is the only way to maintain a lasting success and have a greater blend of innovation and flexibility. When a WHY goes fuzzy, it becomes much more difficult to maintain the growth, loyalty and inspiration that helped drive the original success.

For me, I have been blogging on and off again for a number of years. I just haven’t decided how it fits. Because I don’t have a resounding “WHY”, I often start off with great gusto only to fade quickly into the dark “It’s been 3 months since my last post?”. It’s not that I don’t have topics I could write about – I do have an opinion on almost everything! (Just ask my wife and kids). It’s actually been a case of “Who cares!”. Unlike others who can write because, I need some feedback, something to tell me that I’m not just screaming into the storm. Yes it’s good to work through things but if there is not feedback then the same thing could be accomplished through journaling.

Part of this blogging challenge is to encourage others to not just read but also comment on what people are writing, to provide feedback and offer suggestions. It’s not to do this with all the blogs – that would become onerous and even I would feel too anxious to get involved. Instead, I suggest interacting as part of a habit you develop for reading blogs. We hope to have all the blogs curated at the Saskedchat blog site so people can read through the posts in one place.

Ready for a Challenge?

For the next 2 months, each week a new topic will be posted for those who wish to take part in the weekly blogging. If that’s too much, then choose to do whatever works for you. If that isn’t enough, then use the topic as a springboard to help you. If the topic doesn’t resonate, do your own thing – this isn’t about prescription but support and encouragement. As Chris Brogan says:

“Be a very clear and true version of you that helps others in some way.”

So this morning as I sip my coffee with Southern Pecan creamer, I encourage you to join the challenge. To make a space in your life to share and interact with others through blogging and help and support others on this journey.

This week – tell us about your “WHY” if you can. Why are you wanting to take this challenge? Why are you motivated to join? Why is this important to you? Why do you need to change?

For me, part of my reason is to develop this into a habit that will last long after the challenge is completed. As I have made changes in other areas, I know that I need to have a “keystone pattern” that I can focus upon. I will use this challenge to develop a writing habit that will become integrated into my life-habits.

What’s your “WHY”?

Go Ahead – Try It On!

Trying Things On

I have a confession.

I like to go shopping.

Yeah, it’s a bit weird but I like to wander around stores and look at what’s new.  I use to enjoy going shopping with my girls when they were younger (and would let me go along!)  Now, my boys and I sometimes just spend an afternoon wandering around and looking at different things.

Sometimes, I even try things on. Things don’t always fit like I think they will. My mind’s eye doesn’t always give me an accurate image of what things will look like once I actually try them on. Sometimes things that I did’t think would look that great look pretty good.

It’s like that with many things in life. We don’t know how things will really turn out until we overcome our fear and try them.

John Spencer’s latest post The Unintended Consequences of Doing Creative Work explores what happens when someone is working through the creative process.

More often than not, the unintended consequences are actually both negative and positive at the same time.

It’s neither all positive or all negative, unlike how we often imagine things working out – we tend to see things as either/or not a messy both.

It’s Scary – the Fear is Real

It’s is scary and difficult to try new things. We don’t know how they will turn out and we tend to imagine things that don’t happen – we convince ourselves that it’s not worth the risk. We talk ourselves out of trying something on because, well, we just know it won’t fit.

Polish less

Polish more

Average it out

Respect the status quo

Wait

Don’t even bother Seth Godin

This is spills over into the classroom. Instead of trying something different or giving students different options, we stick with what we know. It’s less scary. Our students learn that taking chances and trying things on is scary and, well, not really worth it. Yes, there are sometimes negatives that come along from trying things and being creative but, often, they aren’t what we think. The world does not end. In fact, if we are open to learning, we grow and develop from these experiences whether they are positive or negative.

Rejection Proof is one person’s experiment in learning to deal with rejection – in trying to things on that they were scared of doing. Jia Jing asks

What is this rejection? What is this monster that cripples us?

Try It On – It Just Might Fit

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Trying things on is taking an opportunity to see how something might fit. It doesn’t always fit but sometimes things fit that we didn’t think would. And sometimes, things we thought would be great, well, just don’t turn out that way.

Often, we take someone along with us to get their opinion. We value the input of others. We get insights about how things look from a different perspective.

What if we did this in school? What if we asked someone else for their opinion as we try something new? What if we asked our students what they might think would fit?

Do we give them feedback after they try it or do we discourage them before they even try?

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

I’d love to hear your comments and feedback so leave comment. Thanks for taking the time to read.

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 – November 12, 2015

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

The Human Side of School

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

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

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

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

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

The Human Side of Learning 

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

As Pam Ross states in her article:

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

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

A Focus on Digital Fluency

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

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

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

Portfolios and Body of Work

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

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

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

It Isn’t This or That

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

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

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

The Power of Connecting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s okay.

Its not this or that

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

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

There is no one right path 

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

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

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

A Tale of Two 

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

Two tales of connecting. Two experiences of connections.

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?