Tag Archives: school change

Student Engagement – #saskedchat March 10, 2016

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Another Edu-Awesome #saskedchat! Our topic was Student Engagement and our guest moderator Jade Ballek (@jadeballek) a principal in the Sun West School Division at Kenaston Distance Education Learning Centre.

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We had over 40 participants take part in the chat. For some, this was their first experience joining a chat which can be a bit of a shock with how fast the chat moves and the number of different conversations that take place.

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With this number of participants, missing part of a conversation happens and that is why we archive all the #saskedchats!

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Student Engagement

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What does “Student Engagement” mean to you? Over time, my ideas about student engagement have changed. As a young teacher I was focused on the lesson and my teaching, on creating lessons that were, I thought, “engaging”. Later, as I developed confidence as a teacher and began to explore different teaching strategies, I became less worried about “my teaching” and more focused on “student learning”. In Matt Head’s post Learning or Teaching? he states

As I reflect on my own teaching I have come to realize that what and how I am teaching is usually my first priority.

It is what teachers are doing, focusing on their teaching because that is part of the job. There is the focus on planning, assessment, planning, classroom management, planning, classroom design, planning, student interaction, and planning. During a recent episode of ITTNation, Dave Bircher and I discuss Cross-Curricular planning and how the act of deeply understanding the curricula can open up opportunities for learning that allow for FLOW to take place.

Focus, Learning, Observation and Wonder.

Teachers are able to allow the Focus of the lesson to emerge from interaction with students. The Learning take place through the interactions and is driven by student ideas, interests and passions. Through Observation the teacher is able to guide students in their interests while making connections to Learning Outcomes. This allows students and teachers to Wonder – exploring different topics and concepts from a place of Wonder.

The current focus on the state of education on a global scale is on what teachers do in the classroom. Debates between Reformers of all types draw different ideas about what needs to happen in the classroom in order for students to be prepared for their future. Sometimes, missing from the debate, is what is happening NOW . How many educators are wondering about how the recent two wins by Google’s AlphaGo over the world champion Go player will impact schools? What will this mean for students?

Overall, Google’s DeepMind is calling on a type of AI called deep learning, which involves training artificial neural networks on data — such as photos — and then getting them to make inferences about new data. Venture Beat

Are we preparing students for today? Are we engaging them in a discussion about what is happening in the present? Too often the mantra is “Prepare for the Future”.  In some respects, today isn’t even close to what I thought it was going to be 10 years ago. In other way, it is.

“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” Yoda

This is not a call to toss out all of what is currently happening in schools and classrooms. In the present reform cacophony, it’s hard sometimes to even hear oneself think never mind trying to make sense of what is being proposed especially when there is more and more being added to the discussion. This isn’t just about what tools to use in the classroom or if there should be interactive whiteboards or not, whether teachers should adopt flipped learning or embrace blended learning or Project Based Learning.  The discussion includes environment design, learning design, social justice, content bias, differentiated learning systems, game theory, makerspaces, content diffusion, digital citizenship, digital literacy and other pedagogical and theoretical discussions/issues each with their representatives and lobbyists.

Education, it’s a serious business.

There are no simple answers and stopping schooling until things get figured out isn’t going to happen. It is a work in progress. Yes the shuttle is being built as it is being flown – it is the only way learning can continue.

Engaging or Empowering?

Our chat briefly touch on is engaging someone the same as empowering them? What do we want to happen in schools? Why is this important to discuss? As we live in the midst, it is struggling with such questions that help us to make sense of the noise.

If we want people to feel empowered, then releasing control and giving ownership is the only way this can truly happen. George Couros

Are teachers being engaged or empowered? Are administrators? Are parents? Do we allow people to have ownership of their learning? How do we mange such a shift?

Like other such discussions, everyday implementation is, itself, a work in progress. As an administrator, providing input from students and parents was important but so where division and provincial policies. Providing leadership opportunities and helping people develop their strengths was important to developing a school culture of learning and growth. Shifting school culture from a top-down model to a collaborative/shared leadership model isn’t just about “sharing responsibility”. It involves creating a culture of shared growth, trust, learning and collaboration. Such development takes time and, in an environment of efficiency and improvement, can often be overshadowed by “what the data says”.

The #saskedchat provided a great many things to think about, some of them I’ve touched on.

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

I’d love to hear your comments and feedback.

It’s in the Details

We do get bogged down by obstacles. They grab our attention. We spend time pondering how they got there. We even spend energy being angry about them. None of this is helpful. We have to look for the openings, choose well, and find our way around them.  Rob Hatch

How often do you hear someone wishing they had more freedom? Or opportunity?

I know I often said such things as I looked out onto a world and thought I was being held back.

Turns out I was but the reason wasn’t linked to someone else.

I was that someone.

Often, instead of seeing the opportunities, I was focused on barriers. Instead of choosing freedom, I chose to acquire more responsibilities.

When in doubt, when you’re stuck, when you’re seeking more freedom, the surest long-term route is to take more responsibility.  Seth Godin

In a world where possibility surrounds us, it can be difficult to admit that we are responsible for our own freedom in different ways. I would often look around and see what others were doing, seeing what I believed to be the freedom and opportunity they had compared to my own, mostly self-imposed, limitations.

As an school administrator, the frustration and stress grew with mounting expectations. Instead of seeking the knowledge and expertise of the people who surrounded me, I forged on, almost wearing the frustration and responsibility like a badge.

Responsibility without freedom is stressful. There are plenty of jobs in this line of work, just as there are countless jobs where you have neither freedom nor responsibility.  Seth Godin

Part of the issue was my attitude was keeping me in a place where there was little opportunity for freedom despite a great deal of responsibility. I was afraid of “freedom” so it was easier to take on more responsibility hoping it would somehow lead to more freedom.

A Feeling of Dissonance

The lack of freedom created a dissonance in the work environment. The increasing amount of details that educators are required to deal with and work through each day, to the “follow the plan, do the initiative, fill in the form. Don’t make mistakes.” creates a dissonance when they are also urged to “take risks and be innovative”. This type of dissonance, like the dissonance of a sound that is off, creates stress that drains creativity and energy.

Expectations and responsibilities are part of any work. It’s how these impact the environment, work culture, and individual performance that is important. When we experience a dissonance, it bothers us and makes us uneasy. We want to correct the dissonance. Much like attention residue that results from multi-tasking which prevents you from moving smoothly from one task to another.

it is difficult for people to transition their attention away from an unfinished task and their subsequent task performance suffers. Sophie Leroy

This dissonance continues to impact all aspects of the learning environment. Students and teachers are affected between the dissonance created when what is said doesn’t align with what is expected. “We want our students to be risk-takers and collaborators – but our reporting system rewards individuality and conformity” 

 It’s In the Details

Now,  Details matter. As Dean Brenner discusses, details are important

But the amount of detail we discuss in meetings and presentations, and the way in which we communicate it, is a daily source of frustration in many work cultures.

Often, there is an overwhelming amount of detail, in the form of data, provided to educators. This increased amount of detail becomes an overwhelming point of stress, not because of the detail but the lack of opportunity to reflect and integrate into the current situation and to make adjustments and changes indicated by the data.

No one wants their time wasted. You must walk into the room ready to get to the point. You should include enough detail to satisfy the expectations and facilitate discussion, but not so much that everyone is looking at their watches. (Or, in the case of a classroom, the floor, the ceiling, out the window or in the desk!)

This applies to all parts of education – we want people to be empowered to learn and develop. In an educational setting, we should

Be ready to go deep, but allow the audience to take you there.

In classrooms, staff meetings, professional development, and presentations is the audience allowed to direct what takes place?  What if those sitting in the audience were provided the opportunity to go deep?   How often do you attend a workshop or PD event where a presenter makes some great points but there isn’t time to reflect? Why doesn’t this happen more often?

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

I’d love to hear you comments, ideas, and thoughts. Thanks for reading and sharing with me.

That’s Why We Hired You

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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.

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

But what about Strengths

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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.

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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.

9 Ways to Use Portfolios with Students

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A Show Case of Learning

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

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

The Next Stage

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

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

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

Why use portfolios?

What is the purpose of creating the portfolio?

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

What will be included?

Who will decide what is to be included?

Who can access the portfolio?

Can it “move” with the student and beyond?

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

9 Ways to Use Portfolios with Students

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

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

Let’s Try Re-Framing

The First Follower

This is one of my favourite videos about leadership and being willing to take risks. Early in my career as a teacher, and then as an administrator, I often was so focused on my own agenda that I often missed out on helping others who were more talented that I was as particular things. As I learned through experience (which is only a good teacher if you take the time to be reflective and developmental about your experiences) being a good leader was about helping other people achieve goals, finding ways people can use their talents to grow and improve, searching for ways to allow creativity and innovation to be part of the school environment, allowing others the opportunity and space to be risk-takers and innovators, and building community where adapting and changing are core elements of learning and growing.

Challenge Others to Change

As a leader,  creating an environment where ideas thrive is foundational to making changes that substantially change the learning environment of a school. High expectations are important – helping people reach them is the role of leader. Holding people accountable is important but providing them the opportunity to try new things,  make mistakes and deeply reflect on the what they learn is essential to improvement. People who are afraid to try will stop if they perceive that the consequences for trying are negative or are not connecting to a vision of improvement in learning. To give people room to meet the challenges ahead, leaders need to provide the support for taking risks while also having the expectation that if something isn’t successful there will be reflection making adjustments and moving forward. Leaders create an atmosphere for growth when they use questions to challenge others to see where things might lead, to introduce different perspectives, and provide opportunity for there to be multiple solutions.

Re-Frame the Challenge

The current frame for education is something along the lines of “You need to go to school and do what you are told to do in order to be successful in your future.” or something along those lines. The point is not what the exact frame is but that it really isn’ about challenging or creating wonder or enthusiasm or fun or development or innovation. It’s about showing up and doing school. As an administrator, I often had parents of students who were struggling comment that the student needed to pass and get a grade 12 because without it they wouldn’t be successful in life. There was this “grin & endure” frame. Even successful students would often comment about the lack of connection between what they were doing in school and what they saw as opportunity once they were finished school. There seems to be a “we all survived it so that’s what students need to do.”

But what if school leaders and teachers began to explore the question of “Would students still come if school wasn’t mandatory?” What if the mindset was to open up the discourse around education and what it means to be “educated” in today’s changing world? What challenges are we missing with the current framing of education as “have to” and “endurance”?

What would change if leaders and teachers did a cntrl-alt-delete of the current framing of school?

Why would school be important?

Why would students want to come to school?

Why would teachers want to teach?

Simon Sinek, in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Action, discusses how leaders often start with the What or How of what they are leading instead of the Why. A great example he gives is how Apple, Inc., doesn’t start with the company selling computers or iphones or ipods but, instead, explains that Apple, Inc. begins with:

Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly.

And we happen to make great computers.

Wanna buy one?

So, what would happen if instead of telling students “You have to go to school because you need to in order to be successful sometime in the future” school leaders and teachers reframed it to something like

“We believe that everyone can learn . We believe learning is a life-long skill. We challenge people to explore, question, collaborate and create and share with others as they are learning. And we happen to be a school. Wanna join us?

That’s just one idea for Re-framing that allows teachers and leaders to cntrl-alt-delete the current frame of school and  re-image learning and the school in a different way.

That Can’t Be Done! – Can It?

Often, as a school leader, I didn’t share the responsibility of change, keeping it for myself, often telling myself that I was helping the teachers by being a filter for what came down to us from above. And maybe in a hierarchical system, there is something to this but what I learned was that I wasn’t really protecting as much as I was limiting what we could do as a school. I wasn’t looking at the abilities and talents around me. I wasn’t embracing a community of learning. I wasn’t challenging everyone with getting better or seeking new alternatives. I was protecting what we were doing, incrementally allowing change to take place. That Can’t Be Done! was infact true but only because the way I was leading limited the capacity of others and the school to change and improve.

It took my own public humiliation to recognize that I was no better as a leader than the person who did that to me. I’d like to say that it was a lightning strike and I saw the light but it didn’t happen that way. It took me time and some deep reflection to realize that I was a main reason the school and teachers weren’t progressing and being all they could be.  Can It? I learned that, yes it can but it requires a leader confident in their abilities and, more importantly, confident in the abilities of those around them to meet BIG challenges, a leader willing to ask BIG questions and then give people time to go out and find ways to answer those questions.

I began to understand that a leaders role wasn’t always to be out front, that could in fact lead to  being a  Lone Nut. When a leader thinks small, limits input,  tells but doesn’t ask questions and swoops in to save the day, they demonstrate a lack of trust and community, not great leadership. Being a First Follower can be crucial to the kind of change necessary for schools to hit cntrl-alt-del and embrace change.

Re-Framing as Leader

Re-framing the whole premise of school begins with taking a chance to  reconceptualize what it means to be “educated”. It’s an opportunity to create something new. My experience is that it also means that leaders will come up against resistance, especially from those who are extremely comfortable with the status quo and the hierarchical structure of traditional schooling. However as David Penglase explains about Aspirational Leadership

You could, for example, choose to view and treat leadership as a position or role. Alternatively, you could step up and into your own value, accept and embrace the reality that your leadership role is a privilege and not just a position.

Aspirational leaders have three core principles: Relationships matter, Values and models integrity, and earns, builds and maintains trust.

The difference is how they see their role and the people around them. In re-framing schools, part of the process is re-framing the role that leaders have within schools as creative and innovate centres of discovery and learning.

Thing to Think About

  1. How do you see your role as a leader? If you were to ask others, how would they describe your role as a leader? Are you sure?
  2. Why do you lead? Why is it important to you?
  3. Would you be able to re-frame a new “Why” for your school? Could you work with staff and parents to develop a new re-frame?
  4. What would a new re-frame mean for you as a leader? The teachers? The students? The parents?

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

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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.

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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?

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And this is why…..

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I’ve seen this a few time over the past week or so. I realize that we’re two decades or more into the technology integration phase in education. I know that we need to integrate technology and that, by now, this shouldn’t even be a discussion. But it is. And it will continue to be for some time to come.

Please Pick up Your …..

For the past two plus decades I’ve been saying those words to one or more of my children. My oldest, is now into her 20’s while my youngest is five which means that for the next number of years I will continue to repeat the same phrase…… because it is all part of the process of learning.

In a recent post at TeachThought entitled Putting Technology At the Centre of Learning , the article highlights that technology needs to be a focus in schools. Indeed “ For all the promotion and obvious benefits that edtech encourages, edtech remains a tokenistic endeavor” is a fair statement when one looks at the case of where many schools technology adoption currently sits. Technology doesn’t always get the focus that is needed to change the policies in the districts/divisions/schools and much of the infrastructure is not able to handle what is needed. And, yes, technology can improve the educational opportunities  – in some cases. 

The Focus Needs to Be Relationships First

This is my starting place as an educator. Why? Because if we don’t focus on relationships and build culture and capacity within classrooms, schools and communities, no amount of technology will bring changes that will solve the issues our students face – today. Without developing relationships that build the foundation to tackle questions related to the environment, race, gender, ability, class and other divisive issues, schools will continue on the merry-go-round of the next “educational fad” whatever that might be. Yes, schools need to focus on curriculum. Yes, there needs to be technology integration. But, as we explored during our last #saskedchat, a shift in focus brings to light that we can do all of this but still not provide students the skills to delve into issues of equity and privilege or how they relate to current issues at a local or global level.

Reminders Are Okay 

I could look at continuing to remind my sons they need to pick up their ….. as a, well, I’ve done it enough already. But, they still need the direction – just like new teachers and people who are shifting how they teach  – it’s a reminder that we have new people who are trying and learning and need some guidance. Which is exciting, isn’t it?

So, when will we learn? When can this stop? Actually, I hope that it continues for a bit longer – it means we are continuing to evolve and grow, with teachers, new and old, trying new things and exploring. Someday, maybe, we won’t have to have this discussion –

But wait…..

I still need reminders…… which aren’t a bad thing. In fact, I sometimes need reminders from my five year old that I need to spend time with him…. which I’m off to do. It helps to build relationships, these reminders – to make human what can sometimes become narrowly focused and somewhat out of focus.

Remember – What’s best for students? isn’t always a straight forward question – it depends on many different factors and sometimes we need to remind ourselves – what do we really mean when we ask this question? What is our motivation? Why are we asking the question?

Collaboration – EdcampPBS Style

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This past weekend I spent Saturday morning at #edcampPBS organized by teachers from a few different schools and school divisions around the city of Regina. Over the past few weeks we have been collaborating to organize the event which was held at Pilot Butte School. I’ve been to a few other edcamps which I really enjoyed and found to be great learning experiences and this was no different. As the morning progressed, people became more comfortable with the format and began to ask questions and offer ideas and input which is what this is all about. But, the biggest take away from today was:

As teachers, we have to tell and retell our stories, share what we are doing and be willing to be vulnerable as learners

As I was sitting with a group during the last session of the day, we heard about some great ideas for learning and sharing. All the members of the group were from different schools and school divisions. There was no “One Way” or “Right Way”. We discussed what some of the participants were doing and the learning that was going on. I was familiar with some of the people but only knew other via twitter or just met them. Each person had an vision for how they saw things based on their experiences and learning. As each member talked, the stories they told were of learning journeys – of wanting to improve and seeking ways to improve as teachers and administrators. For me, it was these stories where the deep and rich learning was taking place.

From where I sat

Working on a PhD and doing a great deal of reading about PLN’s, Professional Development and teacher career paths, I have come across a great deal of deep thought about what is needed to improve teaching from some of the world’s foremost leaders on these topics. If this was an academic work, I’d begin to delve into each area but that’s not the purpose. Instead, it’s to highlight that in almost all the reading I am doing, the perspective and learning of the teachers is not used to highlight teachers’ learning. But as I listened to these stories, which were filled with reflective anecdotes, insights about school change, the importance of relationship as primary to everything we do, and the passion these people brought to the table, I was struck by two things:

1. The desire of these teachers to improve and get better, to be the best teachers/administrators/consultants they could be in order to help the students/teachers/community where they taught.

2. The importance of relationships and culture for learning. We work in relationship each day and each of these people mentioned over and over the importance of this to learning. Part of the conversation revolved around helping those teachers who continue to work in isolation – teaching in the silo to venture forth at required times – and the desire to help them see the power of connecting and learning with others. For me, this is the crack, the place where teachers fall through. There were “this is the way” answers which I’ve heard many times. But what was different was that everyone at the table recognized/felt/sensed the changes taking place in their buildings. Hope!

Passion for learning

As someone who has not stopped trying to improve as a teacher/administrator/person, I sometimes don’t understand when people shy away from learning, especially when it relates to the work they do each day. I understand that people are in different places in their careers/lives and this has an impact that too often is not discussed. And too often we highlight the “super stars” who are atypical. I call this SuperStar syndrome but you could now call it (fill in the blank with your pick of superstar) who we hold up to demonstrate that anyone can do it, just look at them. Now ponder that for a moment. How to deflate anyone trying to improve by comparing them to the “super star”. They already know they aren’t that person – resentment, depression, anxiety, angst – all roll into play. Would you ever say that to a student to motivate them? Hey, look at _____________, if you work harder you can be just like her/him. Instead, listen to their story and find the thread where there just might be something of a passion.

In MultipliersLiz Wiseman demonstrates that there are people who bring out the best in others, they multiply their abilities. Not all leaders are multipliers – I wasn’t when I started. I wasn’t open to listening or trying to improve the whole – I was what Wiseman calls a Diminisher.

I was a Diminisher. However, somewhere along the way, I realized I wasn’t the smartest person in the room and this changed how I began to see things in school – there were so many smart people around, my role as an administrator was to help them and support them, give them ideas or nudges or, sometimes, a push forward. It was about changing the relationships in the building – building the capacity of the people who were there. It wasn’t about me – it was about others. When I let go of “me”, things began to change which eventually allowed me to revision my own career path.

Technology had always been an interest for me and it was helping other harness this in their own teaching that eventually moved me to change paths. Through building relationships and changing the way educators can assist students, technology offers educators a way to fundamentally change what happens in the classroom and to think differently about their roles. That’s scary. That’s why we need Multipliers – to help others during their career path change. But, from what I’ve experienced, heard, witnessed and felt, that change and shift is  career changing.

The Stories

Stories are so important to us as people. For far too long, the stories of teachers have not been where we have focused. Instead, the focus has been on someone else’s idea of where teachers need to be. Even when people discuss Professional Growth Plans, they are typically tied to a teacher learning within the parameter of the School Improvement Plan or the Vision or ….. instead of listening, intently, to the teacher. I have a passion for using technology to build relationships and improve learning but everything starts with the person/people that I am with – where are they at. As I sat with the group Saturday morning, their passion to improve, to offer more to their teachers and students filled their stories. Too often, these stories get lost in the march of school improvement in yet another initiative. What, if instead of using data to sort and sift, the stories behind the data were investigated and those stories drove the learning? What if instead of starting with data, we started with story?

“This is the best PD I’ve had in my 29 years of teaching.”

I’ve heard that and read that a number of times as I listen to people’s stories. Part of me is happy that this is happening. Part of me, however, is saddened by this fact. As I see young teachers enter the profession and hear their stories too, I wonder if we can change this story, make it a different path. Do we have the will to help change this story? Or, as I’ve also heard, are we going to hope that these new teachers change their story and become more “committed” to their work, willing to “do things as they have been done” because that’s what “gets results”? Do we want them repeat, somewhere in a distant future, if they stay, that finally, “this was the best PD I’ve had…..”?

Step Out of the Comfort Zone

I came across George Couros’ new project, #EDUin30 today. I think it’s a great way to get teachers to tell their stories and build relationships with other teachers. In a nutshell, George is hoping educators will use the new video recording feature of twitter to share a 30 second piece about their teaching.

My hope is that educators partake in this for their own learning, and then think of ways that they can do this type of reflection with their kids.

George is asking that each week you look for the #EDUin30 hashtag to see what the new topic is and then, if you are so inclined, to record a short post and tag it with the appropriate week hashtag – #EDUin30w1 for week 1, #EDUin30w2 and so on. Really, check out his post and, if you’re so inclined, tell your story.

Tell your story, please. Share your Edu-Awesomeness with others. Each teacher has so much to share. If you want to get started with blogging, join our #saskedchat blog challenge where each week we offer up another topic to write about. Last week, well, we focused on collaboration which is where I started. But, like a good story, it took me to places I wasn’t sure about when I started. So now I return to the start and hope each of you will reach out, in some way, to share and collaborate with others.

It’ in the Attitude

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

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

They made it Better

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

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

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

Attitude is Important

                                                          Mindset is important

George Couros asked this question the other day —

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

Writing for….value if…

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

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

The Story is in the Stones

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

I wish I could thank them.

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

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

School Change – Breaking Free

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Despite the massive amount of changes taking place in society, schools continue to resist. However a small number break free of the traditional classrooms, halls and desks to embrace different designs that permit students to engage and embrace learning and allow creativity, imagination, and collaboration to gain an equal footing with the traditional reading writing and arithmetic. The article by Matthew Jenkins Inside the Schools that Dare to Break with Traditional Teaching explores how some schools are breaking free and choosing to build their own paths – something that is so often quoted but seldom truly encouraged in children at school. As Jenkins states

Just as we are still waiting for someone to market hoverboards and self-tying shoelaces, we have yet to see a radical shift in teaching models, despite the ebb and flow of education reforms.

Which is true in so many instances. Although there is great discussion of reform, what type of reform is the question. Too often, reform, especially any reform that deviates from the traditional, is slow and hampered by the skeptics cries of rigour and relevance. A recent article in the National Post “public-school-spending-up-dramatically-in-canada-despite-falling-enrolment-fraser-institute” explores why spending on education is up despite dropping numbers. Too often, it’s the statistics of rank and sort testing that determines if the returns on investment are worth it for education instead of looking at the needs for the future from a progressive lens. In this same way, Elyse Watkins article on ending the grading game, points to the need to move away from archaic modes of assessment and embrace creativity, life-long learning,  personal development and collaboration through new methods of reporting. As Watkins explains

While some would argue that higher grades are a reflection of ambition and hard work, they are more so a distraction from a deeper learning process. If we want to create a truly equitable education system with excellent learners, we need to stop this futile metric.

Our system of grading has changed little since schools began yet our society has progressed and developed, almost like schools and their policies were left in a systemic time-warp. Moves to change these systems are often met with extreme resistance with cries to “return to the basics” and “more rigour” being hailed as necessary in schools where “no one fails”. Schools are seen to be the ranking and weeding ground for the rest of society, a place where students learn what the real world is like and the gifted are separated from the rest through their excellent grades. Yet, time and again, we see that not only is school not anything like the real world, but the rigour of the testing machine isn’t found outside schools! Instead, as Grace Rubinstein points out, some schools are seeking ways to shift to portfolios and other assessments.

Typically, these assessments come in the form of portfolios and presentations — tasks that bear something in common with the kind of work students may ultimately do in college or in a job.

Yet, as is often the case, these changes are making slow progress. As Marc Tucker explores in What Teachers Hear When You Say ‘Accountability’, the testing regime that has been implemented, especially in the United States hasn’t produced any major gains.

There is little doubt—whether test-based accountability is being used to hold schools accountable or individual teachers—that it has failed to improve student performance. That should be reason enough to abandon it. But it is not. The damage that test-based accountability has done goes far deeper than a missed opportunity to improve student achievement.  It is doing untold damage to the profession of teaching.

Teachers, as professionals, have been undermined by policies and policy-makers who continue to add to the growing demands for accountability through increased tracking, form-filling and other data-gathering methods which do little to develop the foundational relationships between students, teachers and parents that are essential to the learning environment in schools. Instead, continued focus on grades and testing ignores the social changes that are developing outside schools.

As I mentioned in my last post, a recent study The Future of Work – Jobs and Skills in 2030 outlines that by 2030 employees with need an increasing agility and hybridization of skills

  • Portfolio careers, whereby people combine several different paid activities at the same time, become mainstream. Personal agility, such as the ability to adapt to or embrace change and acquire new skills and competencies, becomes more important.

This is a trend that is growing as people seek new and different ways to strike a balance between career and home life, searching for ways to develop and maximize their talents, no longer satisfied with careers or working for managers that do not allow them to grow and develop their own talents.

It’s one of the oldest jokes in the business world: Two managers are talking about training their employees. The first one asks, “Yeah, but what if we train them, and they just leave?” The second responds, “What if we don’t train them, and they stay?” The Week

Changing Mindsets

There are some schools working to break the traditional mould of schools and there is a growing movement of teachers who are working through grassroots movements such as edcamps to change professional development to meet their needs and the needs of their students not fulfill a PD requirement or implement a new program or strategy. Teachers are developing Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) via social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Plurk, Instagram, tumblr and other platforms in order to connect and share their ideas about teaching, learning, digital literacies, collaboration, assessment and other topics that are essential for shifting the current status quo paradigm found in most schools. In my experience as a teachers and an administrator, once teachers begin to experience the power of connecting and sharing, other aspects of their teaching also begin to shift and change. As I’ve seen over and over again, teachers who connect and develop a PLN experience a shift and change that can be career changing. 

Change takes Time
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Although many early adopters saw twitter as being the tool for connection, instead there is a growing number of tools that allow people to connect and learn together. Too often, the association is that if teachers aren’t on twitter, they aren’t growing – they lack a growth mindset – which couldn’t be farther from the truth. If we all did the same thing and thought the same way the world sure would be dull! Remembering this, one needs to look to see that many teachers are in fact embracing the use of technology and shifting. Continuing to support them and tell their stories is, as far as I can see, the best way to continue to help teachers as they shift and go through various stages of change. In my experience in a few different schools, it take about 3 years to make a shift in the culture and see large scale changes in classrooms and the school.

What about you?

What are you doing to support those around you make a shift? How do you lead through example? How can I help you as you these shifts yourself or lead others?