Tag Archives: future education

That’s Why We Hired You

Screenshot 2016-03-03 14.11.05

A few years back, my daughters were given the responsibility of running the local swimming pool for the summer. They were hired by the local pool board and given the responsibility of getting the pool ready for the upcoming year. There was a manual and a someone who worked on maintaining the mechanical aspects of the pool but they were responsible for the rest. The one hired as the general manager asked the chairperson how she was suppose to learn all that she needed to do. I absolutely loved the response, which I was fortunate to hear because, in a small town, they were discussing this in our kitchen:

We hired you because you are smart and capable. We know that you have the skills necessary to do what is needed. We will support you and I can tell you who you can contact for help but you are the manager. You and your staff will need to keep the pool up and running and I can’t be leaving work to help you out. I’ll do what I can but we have full faith that you will be able to do what is necessary. That’s why we hired you.

And the girls did just that. It was one of the best learning experience my daughters had before they went to university. To this day, they talk about how much they learned. They still get the odd phone call from new managers about how to do things.

Trusted Them

Did they make mistakes? You bet they did. Were there stressful moments? Yep. I was privy to some “deep discussions” (arguments) between the two sisters about everything from schedules to expectations of staff to expectation of patrons to what pool toys to purchase (who knew a blow-up whale could cause so many problems!) The board trusted these young people to do what was right and make good decisions and were rewarded for that trust with hard work and young people who gave it their all (and a lot more) and provided a great service to a small community.

 Grew Their Strengths 

There were courses to take and tests to pass, inspections to meet and technical aspects to master. Each one required different strengths to be developed. Each girl had different strengths which they were allowed to use – to grow. Because they were allowed to use their strengths they were willing to take risks.  And when something wasn’t a strength? Fortunately each of the girls that worked (and they were all girls) had different strengths which they used. Sometimes, it took the intervention of someone to point out that maybe someone else might be better suited to organizing the swimming lessons or managing the chemicals and ensuring that all safety standards were met.

Did they always use their strengths? Nope. In fact, stubborn determination sometimes meant they had to learn through mistakes. But, mistakes they did make and learn they did. For three years, this group managed an outdoor pool in a small town, taking it from losing money to breaking even. All have gone on to other things but each of them grew in so many ways during that time.

I was fortunate to be able to learn with/from them.

Educational Leadership

The role of school leadership and it’s impact on change and innovation has been well documented and discussed. There are different opinions as to the exact extent of the impact that school leadership has on student achievement or the changing role of school leaders in schools today. As a former school administrator, there always seemed to be a wide array of opinions about what I should be doing as a leader and what my role was as a leader within the school and the community. Having been an administrator in 8 different schools in 5 communities, my experiences were different and unique in each setting. Although there were some things that were similar, each school and community was unique with its own set of characteristics, strengths, and challenges.

Seeing Strengths in Others

In education, we traditionally focus a great deal of attention on weaknesses or areas of improvement. A great deal of Data Driven Decision-Making is focused on identifying areas for growth – areas of weakness – that need improvement. One of the primary responsibilities of an educational leader is to use that data to identify areas and implement initiatives to make improvement. A lot of time and effort is spent on looking for deficits.

2014-09-11 10.30.23

It’s somewhat similar at all levels. Identify weaknesses and areas for improvement. Focus on these.

But what about Strengths

Screenshot 2015-07-14 15.02.30

Which Strength?

As an administrator I spent so much time focused on identifying weaknesses in everyone, including myself, but not nearly enough time identifying strengths and helping people use and improve them.

What I learned from watching my daughters was how important it was to focus on strengths – grow them, improve them, nourish them. Through a collaborative team effort where people’s strengths are combined, the synergy of the team leads to even greater growth and development, especially in areas of strengths.

Liz Wiseman in Multipliers identifies 5 traits that leaders have who grow people – develop them and allow them to improve.

Screenshot 2016-03-03 13.35.32

And areas of weakness? They improve but, more importantly, they aren’t used to hold someone back from progress and growing.

Differentiate to grow Strengths

Too often an inordinate amount of time is devoted to weaknesses instead of building teams that are strong because of the variety of strengths the people on the team possess. Teachers, for the most part, spend their days working in classrooms with students. Many teachers are themselves Multipliers, helping students to grow and develop strengths. However these strengths aren’t the one’s found on tests or reflected in test scores which shifts the focus away from helping both teachers and students grow and develop their strengths.

Too often, time is spent trying to improve areas of weakness that result in minimal improvement while areas of strength are left without development. This stifles growth and drains students and teachers of energy. To have innovation, supporting people to use their strengths gives them the freedom to develop these and improve.

We tend to think of innovation as arising from a single brilliant flash of insight, but the truth is that it is a drawn out process involving the discovery of an insight, the engineering a solution and then the transformation of an industry or field. That’s almost never achieved by one person or even within one organization.

If we truly are looking for innovation in education, focusing on improving deficits will not bring that innovation. Instead, allowing people, teachers and students, to use, develop and grow their strengths through collaborative efforts and connecting provides opportunity for creativity and innovation and the possibility of transformational growth.

How are you growing others strengths? How are you growing your own strengths? I’d love to hear your experiences either of helping others to grow or someone who helped you and the impact it had on you.

Learning to Leap

cropped-img_0056.jpg

Taking a Leap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Innovation in Education

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

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

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

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

 The truth is that there are many paths to innovation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In his post, Seth Godin states:

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

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

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

Am I worried my socks will get wet?

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

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

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

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

#saskedchat – November 12, 2015

Screenshot 2015-08-26 18.22.43

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

Screenshot 2015-11-10 16.06.11

A Show Case of Learning

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

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

The Next Stage

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

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

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

Why use portfolios?

What is the purpose of creating the portfolio?

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

What will be included?

Who will decide what is to be included?

Who can access the portfolio?

Can it “move” with the student and beyond?

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

9 Ways to Use Portfolios with Students

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

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

#saskedchat – September 10, 2015

Screenshot 2015-09-10 18.12.39
Our chat this week centred around School Culture. Participants reflected on the importance of positive school culture on the learning and relationships of teachers, students and parents. Participants shared ideas and resources for building and shaping a positive school culture and the important role that students and parents play in developing a school culture. Check out the archive for some great ideas and resources!

Small Changes – getting big results – #saskedchat Aug.27

Screenshot 2015-08-27 14.39.18

It was the Last Summer Chat

Our last chat for the summer was AWESOME! Our topic was Small Change – Making Small Change for Big Results. We are all familiar with the idea that the only thing that stays the same is that things are always changing. Education in recent years has been framed, unfairly I believe, as not making changes to meet the needs of learners. In fact, in a few short years, education has been making incredible changes in many areas, from instruction to assessment and the use of different technologies is growing. One needs to remember that the iPhone was introduced in June of 2007 while the iPad, the first tablet to really take on the market, was released in 2010. In that time, schools have moved from banning these tools to embracing them, teachers have begun to shift away from content teaching to various inquiry approaches which allow students to explore and examine different topics while the teacher supports their learning and, hopefully, having them delve deeper into the social and culture impacts of what they are studying.

Screenshot 2015-08-28 11.48.37

Apple phone timeline

Yes we are 15 years into the 21 Century and things are changing at breakneck speed but that doesn’t mean require that educators try to keep up with every new change. In fact, it’s as prudent to take some time to examine the impact before bathwater and baby hit the ground.

In recent years, the shift from handwritten notes to digital note taking has received a fair amount of attention with attention focused on the retention of information between notes taken on a device and handwritten notes. Recently I read a great article on note taking – A Quick and Dirty Guide to Perfect Note-taking by Joel Lee. In it, Lee begins by outlining that in fact, he prefers pen and paper.

All things being equal, I’d choose handwritten notes over digital notes any day of the week — but all things aren’t equal. While I love the feel of pen, pad, and paper, the truth is that digital notes are way more convenient in this modern age.

In schools, we have the option to maybe do what’s not convenient but to look at options that lead to better learning for students. In some studies, it was shown that taking notes via handwriting allowed students to more deeply process information than when they used a laptop. Remember the viral twitter picture that shows students taking photos of the notes from the board – heck I allowed students to take notes in the same way – it was more convenient.

Is Convenient Good For Learning

But as we examine the use of technology and what takes place in schools, these discussions allow us to reflect on our practice and what we are doing. What is the reason for taking notes from a lecture or off the board? Does this lead to the type of learning allowing students to delve deeply into subjects, to explore different ways of thinking about a topic, to examine their and their classmates opinions, thoughts and worldview? Is taking a photo off the board for convenience going to lead to delving into topics, concepts and ideas at a deeper level?  How can we design classrooms to better allow for students to collaborate as they delve deeply into concepts, ideas, and problems? Are we focusing our energies in the right place or are many of the discussions/debates really surface level (think ditch the desk)?

It’s About Making Small Changes and Growing Over Time

As a father of 8 children, I learned a great deal over time. When our first daughter was born I knew nothing about parenting. Now, 24 years later and 7 other little people to experiment on, I’ve learned a few things. One of them is that small changes can lead to big results. One of the important things is you can’t just add to what you’re doing unless you like that feeling of frazzled anxiety stress. It means taking time to examine what you do and altering your routine/habit.

As we head back to school, just saying “Everyone is going to bed early” will not lead to anyone going to bed early and, with a pre-teen and teenager, may lead to later nights if past experience is any indicator. If the desired outcome is getting anyone to bed earlier, including myself, then making changes to the daily routine that will then become the daily routine are important. In summer, routine tends to be dictated by summer activities so late nights roasting marshmallows for s’mores is important as is watching the Northern Lights dance across the sky, long evening walks and popcorn with a family movie three nights in a row or early mornings to go fishing, take a road trip to visit family or maybe get an occasional golf game in.

This past week we slowly began to change our routine, starting with getting up earlier. Not school early, don’t get crazy, but earlier. In the evening, reading has replaced other activities and the nightly ritual of having a bath has been re-instituted for our youngest despite his protests. Will we be ready for the school start? Nope. Ready, I’ve learned, is a mythical place often spoken about with deep longing but, in reality, isn’t real. “I’m ready as I’ll ever be” is as close as we get. But that doesn’t stop us from moving forward, making changes and continuing on. It’s not about always being busy – that doesn’t really lead to lasting changes but, instead, small focused changes over time that eventually lead us to somewhere near our goal. We’ll be “ready as we can be” for school to start.

The Importance of Small Changes

In this weeks chat, participants discussed different changes they hoped to make this school year. As the chat began, participants described change in three words. Participants know that change is necessary but it doesn’t make it any less daunting or difficult. Indeed, it’s needed but are we ever ready?

Screenshot 2015-08-28 12.39.44 Screenshot 2015-08-28 12.39.28 Screenshot 2015-08-28 12.39.07 Screenshot 2015-08-28 12.38.42 Screenshot 2015-08-28 12.38.32

But I Can’t “Just Do It!”

How many times have you heard this?
It’s sounds so simple –

Just Do It!

Change is happening all over the place. In fact, so many of us jump into change that is rather life altering — marriage, children, new jobs…. pretty life altering! I mean, these changes are BIG!

Really, it’s not that people are totally afraid of changing.

New hair styles, wardrobe redos, new menu choices…. they’re all changes.

I know I’ve read more than a few blog articles about no longer accepting the “excuses” for not changing — there needs to be a change and we need to move on — NOW!

Sometimes We See that Change is Necessary

I’m transitioning myself through a major life change — one that is extremely exciting — and scary and terrifying and exhausting and ……. but necessary.

I could no longer ignore that change needed to happen. I wasn’t happy, my family wasn’t happy. We made the decision — discussing it with my wife — to move on and try a new path.

To what, I not really sure but the rut was starting to get too deep. I wasn’t seeing things with new lenses anymore. I was starting to look for “easy” solutions at times — not the right solutions. In short, I was not being the educational leader I expected myself to be.

Sometimes we wander across just the right thing at the right time.

A while back on twitter I happened upon this tweet

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 11.37.53 PM

As I read through the article there were so many things that struck me as being important in the educational context.

1. Healing takes time – change requires healing time

Often I’ve heard “Well, they need to get over it. That’s the way it is and it’s time to get with the times. There’s a new train leaving and either they’re on it or …” In fact, the number of articles that are almost hostile to people who aren’t willing to change as quickly as they it is deemed they should is somewhat surprising given we are suppose to be an empathetic and concerned group of individuals.

As an administrator who has been involved in working with a number of staffs in different schools on improvement and change – I didn’t always understand this and often thought “Let’s move on. We’ve been going over this and rehashing this.” I didn’t understand that, as the educational leader, I needed to listen to where they were in the change process – not where I was or where I wanted to be. But that’s only the start – the next step is empathizing and then help them move forward with the understanding that staying put isn’t an option and support will be in place to transition.

2. Telling someone that change is going to happen doesn’t eliminate the need for time for healing.

As a parent, this has been so real for me and my wife. We have lived in many different communities. As parents, we learned that we needed to discuss the move with our children well before it happened BUT that didn’t mean the children wouldn’t need time.

I recall my oldest boy, days before we were moving. He had never really experienced leaving friends. There he was, with his best friend, walking behind our house in the late evening along the back road. The two of them, arms over each others’ shoulders walking – occasionally talking – stopping to look, point, talk.

It nearly broke my heart as I watched these two friends help one another – tears rolling down my cheeks as I witnessed friendship as it best.

Later that night, before bed, we talked about how he was feeling. LIke it was yesterday, his reply was “I’ll be okay. I know it will be okay. I just need time to get use to this.” He was 8. He taught me that change was okay – but it wasn’t easy no matter how much advanced warning.

As an administrator, I constantly remember this as I have worked with teachers, parents and students moving through the change process. As a prime example, after moving to a new school, our staff was in the middle of a planning meeting as the old school was being demolished. Many of the teachers couldn’t concentrate on the meeting we were having – the old school being torn down! We stopped. Watched. Some tears were shed. Memories were shared. They knew for 2 years that this was going to happen. It didn’t make it easier.

We took a break. People wandered outside. Some had spent nearly 30 years teaching in the school. They knew rationally that it needed to be done – but 30 years of drama, sports, graduations, first days….. you don’t just walk away.

Too often, in the name of progress, the rush to change becomes a litany of initiative after initiative in the name of “Doing what’s best for students” with new ideas coming from all over the place. Telling people that change is coming doesn’t mean you don’t have to help them when it actually happens. Again, empathy is a big part of this and giving teachers a list of 10 things isn’t empathetic. Neither is listing all the benefits or, like I’ve seen, ridiculing those who aren’t changing in forums of those who’ve changed. The last one, sorry to say, is somewhat of a staple in some twitter circles and is so embarrassing that people with fairly large followings talk about other people like that yet do it in the name of “What’s best for students”.

Exactly what would children learn from that?

Another group I’ve especially seen this with is new teachers. “10 things to you need to know as you begin teaching” is a great title but if you’re really concerned about new teachers, you’ll talk to them – constantly – not just at the beginning of the year or during the new teacher follow-up meetings or class observations. Even if it means making a note to yourself to stop by after school or in the morning to “talk” (I mean listen) to them, it’s needed. They need to “hear” from you in more than emails, memos and observations. And, no, you don’t have the answers – they aren’t asking questions but working through change. Give them a wonderful gift, your attention!

3. Change goals are too vague and too longterm.

“It’s what’s best for students” isn’t good enough anymore. For everyone who pulls this phrase out when referring to school reform and the advancement of technology, quit saying it because I can give you a whole grocery list of items that would fall in this category and fulfill the criteria.

And the rationale that “It’s what is happening everywhere outside of school” is another one that needs to hit the dumpster for the same reason as above. Again, there’s a grocery list of things that fit here. Yes “everyone is on ______________” but, that’s doesn’t mean it’s for everyone or that we will find the same fulfillment/satisfaction/learning/growth. This is as ridiculous as saying we’ll teach all the students in our room the same way with the same material and expect them all to learn and be excited about it. How about let’s stop this “one size fits all” for everyone in education and, instead, help teachers with some long-term goals for change and then short-term feedback goals for success. “Everyone’s doing it” is something a teenager says to their parents not something that I would expect in a conversation concerning educational change that is impacting the lives of teachers.

Goals need to be specific – we’re moving to use ePortfolios because….. – and have the people doing the change fill in some of the reasons because there are people who will be ready and accepting of the change and be prepared to move things forward. Constant initiatives from out there “in the best interest of students” hasn’t really worked so far – why do we expect them to suddenly work? Be specific about the change. Set a longterm goal – but then set short term goals and allow people to move forward, make mistakes and work through the changes. Give time for feedback and reflection that can then be integrated into the next step.

Give individuals the assistance they need to move forward, hold them accountable and be expected to be amazed.

As an administrator, one thing I’ve encountered numerous times is the “3 year plan – 1 year mindset”. The initiative is given 3 years to be fully implemented but that is 2 years longer than the timelines given for seeing results. There will always be those people who want to impress and will be willing to “succeed” at all costs – but in education, the human cost – especially when it relates to teachers, students and parents – is just too much. Either live by the 3 years or stop the smoke and mirrors and be honest about the change timeline. People may not be happy but they will know what is expected of them – especially the leaders in the school – and adjust accordingly. Support for a 3 year initiative is much different than that of a 1 year initiative.

4. Not everyone moves at the same rate or has the same needs

Individual needs are not usually part of the planning process when discussing change. People talk about them and acknowledge them but don’t plan for the differences. Instead, whether it’s teachers within a school or schools within a division/district, the expectation is that the change will look and proceed along a certain path and, if it doesn’t, there is something wrong with the person/school and nothing at all wrong with the plan.

Educational leaders talk about students with different learning needs yet I’m still somewhat astounded at how similar so many classrooms look. Talk isn’t action and for the latter to occur there needs to be specific planning and supports integrated to help with the transition. There is a large hue and cry for change – assessment, planning, cross-curricular integration, technology integration, flipped classrooms, blended learning, inquiry learning. Yet, it’s astounding how most of these come with a small range of implementation and time-lines.

5. Not all Teachers are the same!

Planning for different needs and different progress is messy and isn’t without problems – which you would think would be understood given the situation. Yet, it is not uncommon to have educational leaders compare teacher A to B&C&D because A is a “rock star”. The reasons for this are numerous but it’s usually doesn’t have the desired impact. Which, really shouldn’t be a surprise. Instead, leaders should be a) continuing to support teacher A with their work but also providing support for B, C & D. Not being a “rock star” shouldn’t be seen as a negative or be used as a comparison of ability. Instead, plan for individual differences, identify who might need assistance, be open to working with them and provide supports with short-term goals and help to move them along. Too often, the expectation is that with adults, the learning will be similar for everyone and, as organizations, the same inputs will provide consistent results across the domain.

Change isn’t an event – it’s a movement.

Individuals need time to move through significant change. Too often, because teachers are adults, the assumption is that they will not need that much time or they will be able to rationally see the need for change and will “Get on with it.” As Chip and Dan Heath explore in their book Switch.

Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our own lives? The primary obstacle, say the Heaths, is a conflict that’s built into our brains. Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems—the rational mind and the emotional mind—that compete for control. The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine. This tension can doom a change effort—but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.

Too often, this mistake becomes costly in terms of the human factor which then affects the school culture and, well, my experience in changing these errors is that it leads to a negative and unproductive working and learning environment. Maybe it’s time that people focused more on the individuals in the change process and less time telling them to “just get on with it.” because “there’s no excuse not to move on.” In my experience, there may not be an excuse but there is a reason and, if you take the time, not only will you find out why but you’ll be amazed at the change that will take place.

What Can One Do?

The power of one.

How can one person have influence and bring about change?

I often referred to this  Margaret Meade quote when I was an administrator – as a small group of educators there was the opportunity to do great things if we just allowed ourselves the latitude to be more and do more.

Screenshot 2015-07-20 16.35.27

A small group, yes!

But one person? Can it really happen?

They Walk Among Us

This past Sunday, #txeduchat was discussing ways that teachers could connect students with the world. One thing that I have learned is there are many students who are already doing amazing things – changing the world some who popularized through video or on the internet. But there are many more who are doing amazing things because they are driven to do so. I have had the privilege of having a number of students show me how they, as youth, can change the world.

One such student, Taylor, did so through a campaign to raise money to build a school. Her campaign, 1kidmakingadifference, raises money to help children. She told her story at WeDay Saskatchewan.

It is one example of how we are surrounded by people who are taking risks and making changes because they see a need and try to address it. They don’t wait for someone to tell them to do something or to get permission to make a difference. They are risk-takers and innovators.

These people wander at the edge of possibility, creating wonder with others, not afraid to see what might be, undeterred by failure or mistakes; lifelong learners and co-creators, they are passionate and embrace the complexity of life not seeking reward but wishing only to make the world a better place than they found it.

We don’t all have to be raising money or campaigning although some people find that it fits. But, as I indicated in my last post, continuing to ignore the things taking place around us or hoping someone else will take the risk is not helping students address the issues they face today.

Jade Balleck, an educator who is now taking on the responsibility of being an administrator, takes the step of acknowledging that she needs to do more. Her post Principal’s Short Course Part II  is a great example of someone not waiting to take a step forward but bolding stepping forward as she  seeks to develop a deeper awareness of the need to be culturally aware as an administrator/educator.

Allowing Ourselves to Be Artists

In Linchpin, Seth Godin describes how it is possible to become a person that is necessary, a linchpin, not by doing what everyone else is doing but by being creative at what you are doing, to seeing a problem and beginning to solve that problem. Become the linchpin that holds things together. In doing this, Godin explains that there are choices we have to make about how we approach work and what we decide to do at work. At one point, in discussing the topic of labour, specifically emotional labour, Godin explains

The essence of any gift, including the gift of emotional labor, is that you don’t do it for a tangible, guaranteed reward. If you do, it’s no longer a gift; it’s a job.

Labour as a gift? Working to make a change in the world without worrying about whether you get rewarded? As children, helping others without expecting a reward is something that we often learn from parents or people around us. Somewhere along the way the intrinsic nature of doing something without expecting a reward is often replaced as we seek to get something for our efforts, recognized for what we are doing.

In Invisibles- The Power of Anonymous Work David Zweig looks at how those people who, although anonymous to most of the world, are indeed necessary and highly respected by the people who know them within their industry. These people are linchpins in their industry

…highly skilled, and people whose roles are critical to whatever enterprise they are a part of. … often highly successful and recognized by, indeed deeply respected among their co-workers for their expertise and performance… [they] have chosen, or fallen into and then decided to stay in, careers that accord them no outward recognition from the end user. This is defiantly in opposition to the accolades, or even just pats on the back, most of us desire. And yet – Invisible are an exceptionally satisfied lot.

What drives them?

A passion for the work they do, a desire to make things better, and a meticulousness that fuels their passion. In the interviews and discussions Zweig has with these people throughout the book, it becomes apparent that these people are drawn to make a difference without a need to be recognized. According to Zweig, these people exhibit three common traits:

1) Ambivalence toward recognition

2) Meticulousness

3) Savoring of responsibility

As an educator and administrator, these traits are similar to those I have seen in educators with whom I have worked. Unfortunately, they rarely are afforded the last – responsibility. In classrooms and schools, there are people who are doing meticulous work trying to do what’s best for the students in their rooms/schools but lack the opportunity to demonstrate their responsibility. They have an incredible passion for what they are doing – without it they wouldn’t be able to continue. Yet, too often, they are frustrated and constrained by those around them.

Many people choose to remain doing what they are doing, even if they are unhappy and don’t like it, because fear of the unknown and what might happen, the possibility of failure and the pain associated with that failure are much greater than their desire to change what is happening. Making a change is difficult, in some cases it requires us to learn new things or to maybe admit we weren’t as good as we thought we were at what we were doing.

I Wonder….. 

Just this week I had a great conversation about change, fear and innovation. During the conversation I mentioned that at one point I had switched to tables in the classroom and removed my teacher desk. A common response from teachers is that they rarely use their desk or sit at it, it’s just a place to keep their stuff. So I challenge them to remove it and see how it frees them to envision their classroom space differently, to envision their role in the classroom differently, to begin to revise the flow, the interactions and the space. It brings a change to the classroom that other educators can sense when they walk in. Something is just different.

….. what keeps each of us from being able to bring about change? What if each teacher wrote their fears down and began to address them? What if we shared and worked together, helping each other?

….. recognition isn’t necessarily a motivator but being given responsibility is. According to Liz Wiseman, author of The Multiplier Effect, leaders who expect people around them to do great things and then give them the responsibility to do so multiply the effects of the people with whom they lead. What would happen if teachers were given responsibility, not for grades and assessment, but learning and growth, for supporting their students to make the world a better place?

…. why many school leaders are so enthralled with data that dehumanizes the learning relationship?

…. what data can tell us that a great teacher with strong relationships can’t?

…. why schools are so afraid of risk-taking and innovations if learning takes place in the space of discomfort between what we know and what we want to know, which may, in fact, include failure?

How do you connect to the world?

Screenshot 2015-07-19 17.59.21

Current World Events

That was a title on a board that has been in a few rooms when I’ve taught Social Studies. The idea is that students need to connect with what is happening in the world.

Sounds simple.

Not really.

With the different worldview students bring to the classroom, world events can be a somewhat hotspot for discussions. Events around the world aren’t simple, not that they ever were. But we are now beginning to discuss what previously was non-discussable and that can be difficult in a classroom.

What are some of the different options that teachers have when trying to use current world events as points of discussion in the classroom? How can they address some of these issues? What if they have no idea where to start?

Avoidance

One option is not to. It’s sounds rather odd that the events happening in the world would be ignored but, for some teachers, this is the simplest way to avoid any type of controversy. Surface treatment of issues that mentions or references events can pass as “covering” if techniques of “read the article, answer the questions” is used. Short discussions that name people and places pass as covering the issue as teachers, worried about what might be said, avoid discussions or debates that might come up and certainly avoid any discussion of privilege, discrimination, oppression, persecution and other discussions that may make people, including the teacher, uncomfortable.

It’s important to reflect upon how our actions and words impact and influence students. When I began teaching, I wasn’t aware of my own privilege or how it provided a very narrow worldview of events that took place in the world. As I have been made aware of my privilege and come to understand that this privilege taints my own view of events, using world events in my own teaching has changed.

As a young teacher, I use to think that I had a pretty good idea of the different points of view of various events. Naive as I was, it did not stop me from using various sources to examine and open discussions about events as they took place. As the opportunity to connect with others became easier, the opportunity to see different views of events also became easier. Just as the images in a kaleidoscope change as you turn it, so to do views of any event change depending on the point of view. For a teacher, it can be somewhat difficult to know what to do or how to approach any topic in the classroom.

It  can be a challenge. Most definitely.

But the great thing is that students can often lead us if given the opportunity.

But we have to be willing to speak up.

Being Quiet Isn’t An Option

Early this year, David Theriault wrote a post The Injustice of Staying Quiet. Like all great posts, this one has had me thinking since I first read it. David makes some great points as he describes his own journey, one where I glimpse myself a few times but, truthfully, is much different from my own childhood growing up in a small town in Saskatchewan with little exposure to other cultures.  I was unaware of the various privileges that I had as I grew up and it wasn’t until much later in life I began to realize how this influenced my worldview and the impact it had on my teaching. My mother, who has had a great influence on me, was a leader, one of the first females to serve as a union representative, working at many projects as she raised three children and took care of my father who was hurt in an accident.  I was aware of being different,  not having the same “normal” family made one an outsider but I didn’t realize until much later the great sacrifice she made or the abuse she suffered because of her work. To this day I am forever grateful for all that she taught me, and still teaches me, about helping others.

When David says

And that’s one of the points I would like to make. If you are not listening to other voices, it’s hard to move beyond your fixed notion of what is right and wrong. What we call, in my family, social justice.

I still struggle with uneasiness, unsure of what to do or what to say, fearful that I will offend someone because of my lack of understanding or my ignorance of what is happening or simply because I do not understand at all.

So I remain quiet.

That is a mistake.

Connecting Students with the World

This past Thursday during #saskedchat, our topic for the chat was Connecting our students with the World. It was focused on different ways that teachers can use current events in their classroom. During the chat, I kept wondering how teachers approach social justice issues with students. Teachers offered ideas for discussing issues with students such as using different sources to examine how different points of view reporting the same issue and how social media sources such as twitter can be used for social justice issues. Whatever we do, I agree with David:

So what can we DO?

Well I’ll tell you what we can’t do. We can’t make excuses and we can’t just ignore things and hope they will go away.

I highly recommend you take a moment to read through David’s whole post as it is extremely thoughtful and thought provoking plus David has taken the time and effort to add some great resources. One great resource that David shares is a social justice twitter list with different people on twitter that I recommend following. However, for me, one of  the greatest resources that David provides is his honesty and straightforward approach to the subject and his challenge for educators to address social justice issues.

How Do I Connect?

Just this weekend, Vincent Hill, someone who I know via twitter, shared  the resource Speaking Truth To Power with me that I then shared with others. Twitter is a great place for finding and accessing different resources for the classroom such as Unpacking Culturally Responsive Pedagogy,  The Truth and Reconciliation Report , and an article focused on the Truth and Reconciliation Report. 

But what good are resources unless we are willing, as David says, to set aside our own “fixed notion of what is right and wrong.” and begin to question what is happening? To start bringing these issues into the classroom? To open up the dialogue with students?

I don’t have answers. In fact, I have many questions and am still uncertain about so many things. One thing I am certain about though is that, as teachers, we cannot avoid talking about these issues. With so many resources available and, more importantly, access to people who can help us and speak to students about these issues, there is someone who is wiling help us if we just reach out and ask for their help and guidance. We live during one of the greatest periods of change in history and it’s important that we involve students in discussions about what is happening.

I Wonder….

So often our focus is planning and assessment, an almost obsession with assessment in its various forms, that relationships and the changes society and the world are experiencing seem mere data points on someone’s data chart.

…. what might change if we began with the conditions and stories of students lives before we worried about which assessment tool/format teachers were using?

…. if learning is truly the goal, why we are fixated with assessment instead of all the wonders of learning and possibilities that are available for children to explore what is happening in the world?

…. if helping students develop skills for the future, why so much emphasis is placed on knowledge of the past?

…. how teachers might change their practices to allow for more opportunities to explore various societal issues in meaningful ways?

5 Ways to Empower Educators

Screenshot 2015-07-14 15.02.30
Ever feel totally empowered? Like you could do anything? I know that when I feel this way, I sure can get a lot done, more than I thought was possible when I began.
When I’m not empowered?
I’m disengaged from the task or problem that I’m working on. Now this happens for a number of reasons – I’m tired, I don’t feel well, I’m confused and don’t understand what I’m suppose to really do. However, when I was a teacher, one of the biggest reasons: I knew that whatever I suggested would go unnoticed.
I remember when we were asked as a staff by our principal to come up with a different supervision format since many of us were dissatisfied with the current system. We had morning meetings, did brainstorming and came up with several different options which we presented to the staff only to have the principal make a suggestion and then go with that suggestion. Totally disempowered! Total waste of time. Disengaged.
Disengaged to empowered
My recent post dealt with disengagement. One of the stats that I found stated that 70% of teachers report being disengaged at work. As I thought about this and wondered why teachers are disengaged?  I reflected that maybe it wasn’t that they were disengaged but feeling undervalued as professionals, and like our group, were not being given the opportunity to lead and use our talents. As Liz Wiseman says in The Multiplier Effect – Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools 

Multipliers know how to find this dormant intelligence, challenge it, and put is to use at its fullest. …. They are genius makers. They know that at the apex of the intelligence hierarchy is not the lone genius but rather the smart leader who also brings out smarts and capability in everyone around him or her.

Too often teachers are told what they need to do, what they need to teach, how they need to teach it. People visit their rooms and critique their performance. That’s part of the problem, it’s seen as a performance. Yet most teachers I know see teaching as their calling, it’s their vocation in the traditional sense of the word.
Jeff Goins in his book The Art of Work explores people finding their calling – finding their place. If you listen to teachers, you soon get that they were meant to be in the classroom with children. They’re calling is to help students. However, in an attempt to make schooling more efficient and learning more standardized, teachers are being left out of the learning discussions more and more.
Empower the Teachers
So, how can an administrator shift this to empower teachers within the school? Below I present five ideas that might help empower educators which, in turn will help them to feel engaged in the work they are doing.
1. Provide each teacher with a reading budget. Each month. Encourage teachers to read. Share what you are reading. Exploring beyond the traditional educational reading is good – and have them share – each month at a staff meeting – in groups do a book sharing.
2. Have TEDstyle talks every month. Each month have teachers give a TEDtalk about something they are doing in their classroom or something they are learning about. Don’t know what at TED talk looks like, check it out here.  If the teachers need some resources:
3. Have teachers share.  A blog post, article, or something they read on twitter or Pinterest. Have each teacher share with other teachers about something that really resonated with them. Again, this can be done at a staff meeting in groups. Don’t know where to start with blog posts? Here are a few suggestions to get started:
Teach 100 – a list of international educational blogs. There are more than a 100!
Now, you might not want to limit this to blogs but also add in Youtube videos and Podcasts. Some great non-education podcasts that I recommend include:
ReadtoLead Podcast – Jeff Brown
Accidental Creative – Todd Henry
This is Your Life – Michael Hyatt
The Moment  – Brian Koppelman
7 Levels to become a Greater Influencer – Ryan Eller and Jerrod Murr
The Big Shift – Bill Baren
The Portfolio Life – Jeff Goins
Live Life Zoomed – Pam Moore
Beyond the To-Do List – Erik Fisher
Freakonomics Radio – Stephen Dubner
4. Have teachers visit the rooms of other teachers. Find time to have teachers observe other teachers. As an administrator I had the privilege of visiting many classrooms and my own teaching improved because I was able to learn from the teachers. Why not allow teachers to learn from one another through observing each other teach? Start out in your own building but see if there are other schools interested in sharing and co-operating to do this.
5. Have teachers lead staff meetings and other presentations. Have teachers talk about the successes and growth that is happening at the school. Give them opportunity to lead by supporting their ideas and letting them lead projects and groups. Don’t just leave this for those who volunteer. “I’m not very good at…….” is an invitation for you to support. “What is holding you back from being successful?” will show that you are interested in them being successful.
I don’t think any of these are difficult to do but I do think that each of these will  help to empower teachers as professionals. I wouldn’t suggest doing them all at once! I would also suggest that, as an administrator, you lead by example in doing these – give a TEDsyle talk, share your own blog or blogs you read. Also, give teachers the gift of time to do these – teach their class once or twice before they give their talk, find ways so they can visit other classrooms, nudge them to lead the staff meeting or presentation and help them prepare for it. If we are truly concerned about the level of student engagement then being concerned about teacher engagement should also be a priority. Rather than engaging teachers in specific agendas, empower them to be leaders, using their talents and abilities to share and grow together with other teachers.