Environment As The Third Teacher

How do you move forward teaching and learning in a classroom?  We know from our work with Collaborative Teacher Inquiry that the “smartest person in the room is the room”.  If we de-privatize the classroom and share best practices and student work to move forward instruction, learning will become more personalized for both students and teachers.

This learning is even better if the Principal is actively learning alongside their staff.  A meta analysis on the Principal’s effect size in schools notes that Promoting and Taking Part in Teacher Learning has an effect size of 0.84 – Anything over 0.20 should be considered.  Ensuring an Orderly and Supportive Environment -0.27.  What we focus our attention on is what gains momentum.  As a Principal in a school, what do you focus the majority of your attention on?

The same can be said for student work.  Alan November says that “Teachers need to stop saying, ‘Hand it in,’ and start saying ‘Publish it,’ instead”.  If students are handing it in to teachers, the work is often good enough.  If the work is being viewed by a larger audience, students will be thoughtful about what their audience is receiving.  This is the de-privatization of the classroom.  As a Principal, how to you model the iterative process of sharing ideas and nurturing creativity and innovation?  Does the learning environment extend beyond the classroom wall?  

Environment should reflect the beliefs and philosophy about students’ social/physical/cognitive development and their learning needs- The Third Teacher

Do the classroom walls reflect students’ understanding, student learning, student voice?  Can they change the learning environment to reflect their learning, thinking and understanding?  Are teachers privileging and celebrating student thinking and demonstrating their learning on a continuum?  We know that students learn best when we begin with their strengths and move forward their understanding using student voice.  Do the walls reflect the messy ambiguity of learning or do they celebrate the answer over the process?

As part of a Collaborative Inquiry on Brain Based Learning, I learned about the magic of an eraser free school.  Students proudly demonstrated their mistakes as part of the learning process.  This work and the mistakes were showcased on the walls of the hallway.  As a Principal do we proudly demonstrate that mistakes are important to the learning process or do we only showcase the work that is perfect.  Do we extend our learning space to include parents, other educators, the community?  Can we use student work to impact and change the local and global communities?  Do we use social media to ensure that student work and learning is impactful?

When we put up student work on the walls of the classroom we build a community of learners in the school.  When we publish student work and learning online we extend the learning community to include parents, local and global audiences.

Gianna Helling

Student Achievement Officer

SAMR and TPACK – Assessing our Use of Technology in the Classroom

Chris Hadfield says that “If anything can go wrong with technology it absolutely will”  Probably not his most notable quote, but the quote I use most often.  Another one of my favourites I found on Facebook- “I’m just a girl, with an interactive white board…willing it to work”  I’m sure that we could blog endlessly about our struggles with technology.  However “What we focus our attention on is what gains momentum”.  So let’s focus our attention on how we can transform learning through the use of technology.  

The SAMR model was designed by Dr. Ruben Puenteura. This model can help us assess the effectiveness of the technology and question why we might be using it.  After all, if the task can be completed using paper and pencil why put it on the interactive white board?

The TPACK model stands for Technological, Pedagogical and Content Knowledge.  This model looks for the intersectionality of the three frames to enhance student learning.

“Technology will never replace teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers is transformational”- George Couros  

How do we engage students in the world?  How do we involve our students in real life problem solving?  How do we give students agency to change the world?  These are just a few of the questions that have guided my use of technology in schools?  What are some of the questions that guide the implementation of technology in your school community?

Gianna Helling
Student Achievement Officer

Global Competencies, Innovation and the Iterative Process of Posting & Sharing Ideas

Last week’s blog was on innovation and this week I’m hoping
to link innovation to the Global Competencies.  If I drill down my thinking, this blog is really about the iterative process of sharing ideas – throwing out an idea and allowing the process of sharing and transforming the idea to build it, refine it and make it better.  

Personally I believe that this process is better if you give yourself permission to try out the biggest, and the best ideas.  Linking Global Competencies to teaching and learning calls for cross-curricular, creative lesson planning that is responsive and empowers student voice.  The iterative process of sharing the lessons and building on each others’ ideas will transform these lessons and create the innovative spaces that allow for co-learning, creativity, problem solving, communication, which in turn will help transform classrooms, schools, local and global communities.

What are the conditions that allow for innovation that empowers student voice?

  1. Mindset – As a principal, your mindset, the expectations and vision you have, directly impacts the possibilities in your school.  Do you see the possibilities or the restrictions?  What you focus your attention on is what gains momentum.
  2. Setting the Conditions – How many restrictions (ie how much paper compliance) do you impose on your staff to ensure your own comfort??  Do you model the sharing of ideas?  Do you celebrate innovation or compliance?
  3. Constantly Share – share ideas, share resources, share opportunities.  The biggest and best ideas may not be in the room, or even in the school.  
  4. Include consolidation into the learning.  Do we co-plan, co-learn, co-debrief?  This does not have to privilege the cycle but it must privilege the learning.  It should be done formally and informally every day.

One out of the box, incredible learning opportunity that I saw this week. An Idea Worth Sharing- This idea challenged my mindset!!

Often we believe that Global Competencies are introduced and/or developed with older students.  This idea will challenge this assumption.

Last fall at #Edinnovation2016 in Ottawa I was introduced to a teacher who was using coding to teach math and literacy through story re-tells.  She was explicit about the links to the Ontario Curriculum documents- number lines, graphing…

This week I was introduced to coding, spatial reasoning, dance, and story re-tells in the kindergarten classroom.  @rodgers_rupali and @MathStudio_Usha are having kindergarten students re-create their dance moves, their knitting and their stories on a grid using sequencing, proportional and directional language.  Their kindergarten classes were coding.  The school also set up a maker space for innovation for kindergarten classes and they were coding  #Beebot  Wow!  Checkout and share their work on twitter.

Gianna Helling
Student Achievement Officer

Innovation – Students As Agents of Change

As Principals, How Do We Give Permission to Innovate?

As Principals, how do we create the conditions that allow and empower deep learning?  

How do we change our mindset and in turn change the mindsets of our community?  How do we create a lasting change in practice?  In order to change our thinking we need to know our biases.  More importantly, we have to challenge our biases and create a culture that challenges, changes and creates something new.

The word innovation has sometimes been confused with the use of technology.  I’m not sure if I believe in the power of technology, but I do believe in the power of great teaching and in the magic of great teachers guiding and being guided by student voice, advocacy and action. Technology in the hands of great teachers in transformative.  It is the Principal that creates the conditions for learning that allows for this magic to happen.  

What does innovation look like in your school?

How do we allow student learning to change how we teach?  …Change how the classroom looks? …Change our school and the local and global communities???

I believe that the answer to these questions is the key to unlocking innovation in school communities.  

Michael Fullan writes, “Our main goal in education is to provide immediate opportunities for students to help humanity … students have a role as change agents.” (Fullan, 2014)

Students need to believe that their learning is important, that it can change their classrooms, their school, and their local and global communities. They also need to believe in the impact of their learning. If students believe that they can change the world through their learning, they will know that their learning is important. Responding to student voice empowers students and improves student engagement achievement and well being.

How do we create the conditions necessary in our schools  for students to become agents of change?

Gianna Helling 
Student Achievement Officer

La voix des élèves, plus possible de l’ignorer…

La voix des élèves, plus possible de l’ignorer…

Pendant la période estivale, j’ai pris plaisir à explorer en profondeur le document de réflexion Définir les compétences du 21e siècle pour l’Ontario présenté à l’hiver 2016.  Une des parties de ce document qui portaient sur le rôle de l’apprentissage informel et expérientiel m’a particulièrement interpellé. On peut y lire le passage suivant :

« L’essor des outils numériques ont des répercussions sur la façon dont les élèves interagissent et réagissent dans le monde qui les entoure. Les technologies numériques, y compris les médias sociaux et les jeux, s’inscrivent dans le mode de vie des jeunes, phénomène que les écoles ne peuvent plus ignorer si elles veulent conserver leur pertinence. »[1]

Cette question de la nécessité de transformer l’école pour qu’elle demeure pertinente pour les élèves du 21e siècle me semble cruciale! Cette question concerne toutes les intervenantes et à tous les intervenants du milieu de l’éducation. Une question pour laquelle on ne peut pas se dérober puisqu’il s’agit de l’avenir des élèves dont on nous confie l’apprentissage. Aussi, parce que la réalité sociale des jeunes est en constante mutation grâce, entre autres, à l’accessibilité à de nombreux moyens de communiquer, d’apprendre et d’interagir! impossible de faire marche arrière peu importe le rythme avec lequel on arrive à s’adapter. Alors, pour que l’école garde sa pertinence, que devrons-nous entreprendre?

Lorsque l’on regarde ce que nous disent les élèves (voir réflexions menées le Conseil consultatif des élèves), il est clair, pour eux, que les relations doivent être le fondement de l’éducation. Ils souhaitent établir un réel partenariat avec le personnel de l’école, ils veulent apprendre à partir de situations réelles en lien avec leurs passions et leurs besoins, ils veulent collaborer avec leurs pairs d’ici et d’ailleurs. Ils veulent s’exprimer et créer. Ils recherchent des leaders empathiques et bienveillants… Lors de conférence provinciale Tac2016 nous avons jugé essentiel d’accorder une voix aux élèves qu’ils soient grands ou petits. Quelque temps avant le forum, la rencontre avec ses élèves a été très inspirante. À la question;  qu’est-ce qui t’aide le plus à apprendre à l’école et en classe? Tous ont indiqué que la collaboration et les interactions avec leurs pairs étaient essentielles.

Forum des élèves, Conférence Tac2016Être attentif aux réalités des élèves que nous côtoyons, sans porter de jugements, devrait être la première tâche qui nous passionne. Observer attentivement leurs comportements, leurs façons de réagir, leurs façons d’agir et surtout, oser leur poser des questions pour réellement comprendre et s’intéresser à leurs réalités.  Mme @NancyBrousseau, lors de la conférence Tac2016, tweetait le message suivant : Écouter La VOIX des élèves pour nous permettre de trouver notre VOIE.

Si on écoute attentivement la voix de l’élève, je crois qu’on pourra entendre que nos élèves font de l’apprentissage un acte social. Ils partagent et collaborent à l’aide d’infonuagique, publient abondamment leurs impressions, leurs compréhensions, leurs créations, et souvent sans se censurer. Avant-hier ils étaient sur Facebook, hier sur Twitter, aujourd’hui sur Instagram, Snapchat et Youtube, demain… on verra, peut-être la réalité virtuelle, voir autre chose…  Ils ont accès, en tout temps, à de nombreux savoirs sous de multiples formes écrites, audios, vidéos, images… Les élèves que nous accompagnons peuvent très rapidement se faire une idée des points de vue que nous leurs présentons en explorant d’autres opinions, voir des discours contradictoires, et ce, à l’aide des nombreuses ressources numériques à leur disposition. Ils nous diront que l’utilisation des ressources et des outils numériques est un incontournable en 2016. Ils nous invitent à les suivre et à leur faire confiance… Eux ne feront pas marche arrière! Pour les élèves, il est clair que les bénéfices qu’apportent les ressources technologiques sont beaucoup plus grands que les dangers souvent soulevés par les adultes.

Et nous, au sein de notre communauté scolaire, comment arrivons-nous à répondre à ces nouvelles réalités? Sommes-nous disposés à repenser le partenariat élèves-enseignants et à ajuster nos pratiques pédagogiques?  Dans l’ensemble, notre communauté scolaire arrive-t-elle à saisir ce changement et ce passage nécessaires de l’intégration des ressources numériques dans l’apprentissage? Thierry Karsenti, dans un récent billet de blogue précisait…

« Lorsque l’on parle de technologies à l’école, il est grand temps de dépasser ce débat. Il faut replacer l’enseignant et l’élève au cœur du rôle des technologies pour l’apprentissage. Il faut se demander comment les technologies peuvent permettre de mieux enseigner, de mieux apprendre, de développer les compétences du 21e siècle, de donner le gout d’apprendre, etc. C’est le comment qui est important. L’époque du pour ou du contre est, depuis longtemps, dépassée, même si trop de personnes tardent toujours à l’accepter. »[2]

En écoutant la voix de nos élèves et en considérant les nouvelles réalités sociales dans lesquelles ils grandissent, nous serons en mesure de mieux les impliquer pour orienter, soutenir et donner un sens aux changements… Somme toute, en écoutant la voix des élèves que deviendront nos voies pédagogiques et nos voies relationnelles pour soutenir l’apprentissage de ces derniers pour paraphraser Nancy Brousseau…

André Savard, Leader pédagogique, CFORP équipe TacTIC


[1] Définir les compétences du 21e siècle pour l’Ontario, document de réflexion, MEO, édition hiver 2016, p.37.

[2] Thierry Karsenti, Les technologies ont-elles un réel impact sur la réussite scolaire?

Leading School Operations

Learning with others in many different ways is what brings about growth and reflection titlethat is not only powerful, it is energizing.  It is my privilege and honour to spend time learning alongside with aspiring leaders in formal and informal ways.  One formal way is as an instructor for OPC’s Principal’s Qualification Program.  This past weekend, we spent time learning about School Operations.  The focus was to understand the legislation and policies that are in place that impact how a school runs.  Sound exciting?  Your initial response may be “no”. Sounds straight-forward but to the contrary it is very complex. Digging deeper and looking at school operations through the lens of a leader makes one realize that it’s about mindset, influence and resiliency.  

We began in a way that involved a collaborative inquiry approach with this guiding slide:   


As a practicing principal who moved to a new school this past September, I share that aspiring leaders and transitioning leaders alike must always keep School Operations as an ongoing area of focus.  School Operations are the underpinning to maintaining a safe and healthy environment.  

Guiding questions:  
How does a leader give purpose and meaning to policies and procedures they are duty bound to implement?  

How does a leader communicate school operations to staff and students

in ways that explicitly make connections to how they support teaching and learning?

How does a leader promote collective responsibility and accountability for respecting school operations?  

Why are these questions important to ask?  It is important that staff understand the intent and the why connected to rules, routines and day to day expectations. Ask yourself each and everyday:   

  • Is the school safe?
  • Does the school have structures in place that support creating an effective teaching and learning environment?  
  • How do students and staff know how the school operates on a day to day basis with predictability so that teaching and learning can happen?  

My colleague, Gerry Smith, while presenting with a focus on Health and Safety to participants made these relevant points:

  • Mindset matters.  You set the parameters for things to be safe from an operational stance.  It is your responsibility to ensure your school runs day to day with a focus on safety and routine.
  • gerry-pqpAlways remember it is about protecting everyone – students, staff and members of the community.  Legislation, policy & procedures are there for a very good reason.  Make sure you know why and that it happens.  Your level of preparedness is key.
  • Exercise your influence and talk out loud sharing the whys of structures and procedures and how they support the teaching and learning. Mention as needed how they are grounded in legislation and policy.  No one can opt out.    
  • Know yourself.  Be prepared.  Things will go wrong.  Everyone is watching how you respond.  How you respond sets the tone.   

How does a principal / vice-principal bring School Operations to life with meaning:

  • Humanize it. Give school operations meaning by making connections to how they impact teaching and learning and keep people safe and secure.
  • Be knowledgeable. Find time to read policies, procedures and operationalize them in ways that make sense in your school.  Know where to go to know.
  • Communication is crucial.  Many ways are needed.  E.g.  staff handbook, memos, bulletin boards, schedules, calendars, announcements, signage, website, 1:1 reminders, group shares, assemblies, class presentations
  • Be open to concerns and questions. Say thank you when they are voiced and most importantly, follow up with actionables.
  • Pay close attention during inspections and plant improvements.  Ask questions and seek advice.  Check in daily with your caretaker.  
  • Be present.   See your school operations in action.  Be out on the playground. Be out and about during the start of the day and the end of the day. Notice what is going well and where operational improvements might be made.  Ask questions.  Be visible.  Note and respond to areas of concern connected to safety, supervision and security in a timely way.

Don’t lose sight of knowing who you are in relations to your personal leadership resources.  Know thyself.  Be self-aware of how you respond in crisis or conflict situations.  Consult with system supports.   Be sure to pose questions and debrief with a mentor about how they navigate situations.  Process is your friend.  Access checklists. Stay low on the ladder and observe.  Listen. Take notes. Ask questions.  And listen again.

Follow up post coming soon:
How do you cope as a school leader when things go wrong?

Lisa Neale, Principal – HWDSB

Risk-taking, Resiliency and a Growth Mindset Can Carry you a Long way

Ok, so, last week I had one of those week that just wouldn’t stop.  You know, the kind where you hit the ground running on Monday and keep sprinting to the finish line on Friday.  As part of the many things that I needed to do – and it seemed like the week was leading to this culminating event – was our Subject Council Chairs Meeting.  

While one of my colleagues put the agenda together and invited department heads from across the board to the meeting, it was my job (and I volunteered to do this) to lead the group in a Google Hangout.  You see, due to budget constraints, we cannot afford to bring all the department heads together for our regular Subject Council meetings.  Solution to this problem?  Technology!

The plan was for us to train the Subject Council Chairs how to set up and execute a moderated Google Hangout.  

Of course, I was excited, passionate and enthusiastic about this “innovation,” and being what you might call a risk-taker, I volunteered to put a package together to support our subject council chairs in their learning a new technology.

google-sitesFrom the get go, I knew that we would have to lay everything
out for a group of people who likely had varying degrees of comfort with technology in general. That’s why I put together a document outlining Google Hangout etiquette.  Mute the mic when not speaking, turn the camera off when you need to step away from the computer, comment and ask questions in the chat box, and share screens.  In addition to that, knowing some need step by step instructions, I put together screen shots outlining the process and even put together a video tutorial with a colleague – which was an interesting experience in and of itself.

I should have know, when my colleague, who through no fault of her own, couldn’t make it due to a family emergency, that this endeavour was going to take a turn for the interesting!

First thing, how would I put together my Google Hangout presentation in an effective manner?  Lately, I have really been stuck on using Google sites as a container.  The new Google sites that is, not the classic, which for me is like trying to exorcise the devil from the internet!  The new Google sites allows me to embed text, images, documents, whole folders, videos, etc. in a very simple and graphically attractive fashion.

So you are probably thinking, why not put everything in a shared folder and be done with it?  A folder easily serves that purpose, but if you are like me – when someone shares a folder with me, I maybe look at one document or two? At most?  Using a Google site as a repository or a “container” allows me to direct people’s attention to particular information and allows me to create an interactivity with the material that a folder does not and because it is posted on the web, I can be continuously updating the information and people can bookmark the page and access long after the inservice.

I was so into putting it all together, that I decided, not only to put my Google Hangout together using a Google site, but I put the whole agenda for the meeting on the site.

Day of the meeting.  I am chairing my first Subject Council Chairs meeting.  I am in early to make sure everything is in order.  I ask my admin assistant if hooking up my laptop in the boardroom is complicated?  Oh no Lou.  It is simple….

I get down there. Nada. I can’t even get the projector to work for me.  My admin assistant comes down. Nada. At one point, even the lights go out leaving us in the dark with 20 teachers representing the subject councils from across the board. IT comes in to save the day…nada.  Admin assistant runs upstairs gets a projector and we decide to go old school.

The whole time that this is playing out, I am thinking, I cannot let people see me get frustrated or flustered and I can’t give up!  After all, it wouldn’t bode well for me to introduce a new technological innovation only to be stymied by a technological glitch.  So I kept laughing and smiling and saying aloud, I am not going to let a laptop or projector prevent me from doing my job. I was all plan B, then plan C, and plan D.

Even when we jury rigged something, the wireless connectivity kept cutting out on me.  In short, it was a technological nightmare.

I think, the thing that saved me, was humour and the video that I obviously had the clairvoyance to open up my session by Dr. Carol Dewek on “The Power of Not Yet.”  I kept going back to the idea that this time might be hard, but the next time will be easier for me.  I knew I had to model resiliency and commitment and I knew that we had to power through.  The Google Hangout demo…well, I would like to say it went off without a hitch, but I warned them a head of time and I emphasized that while it might not be perfect YET, we will keep practicing and eventually, it will be a lot easier.

subject-council-meetingsThe outcome of the meeting?  Well, instead of epic fail, I am happy to say, it was an epic win!  Not only were the chairs open to the innovation, but they wanted me to do and impromptu walk through of Google sites and indicated that they would be willing to participate in few google hangout practices that I will schedule and moderate, so they can get they can become more comfortable in the environment.  So in the end, they accepted the new practice (Google Hangouts for Subject Council meetings), with the pleasant by product being, an interest in the new Google sites simp because I had decided to used it as a container for information and documentation I wanted to make sure they were easily able to access and find at a mouse click or two.

The lessons to be learned?  Modelling risk-taking, resiliency and a growth mindset or “not yet” attitude carry you a long way in the face of technological challenges and an uncertain reception to innovation.  As teachers left the session, some made a point to shake my hand and thank me for a “fun” workshop, a workshop that was well worth for them and that’s how I like to measure success.

Oh yeah, walked into the boardroom about 30 minutes after we all cleared out of the room.  The same IT person who tried to help me get set up was there with his laptop and guess what….it totally worked for him.  Of course, but in retrospect, I am glad it played out the way it did and that I was able to model a good sense of humour and a “not yet” attitude.

The Power of Telling Stories

Be sure to listen to them.  Be sure to read them.  Be sure to write them.  Be sure to draw them.  Be sure to tell them.  Stories.  Stories matter.  The more the better.  

As an educator, I often reflect on how important sharing our stories may help others.  Students may see us in a different light and learn from us in ways that go beyond knowing us as an educator.  Colleagues see us in ways that acknowledge who we are as people. Think about it.  Our stories not only define us, they bring us closer together as humans.  

Why do we tell stories?  We tell stories to others to learn more about ourselves through self-reflection. Brian McDonald writes, “Stories teach us how to live.” (Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories That Resonate).  It’s not only the visible ink, the words that we read or hear but it’s the invisible ink underneath the words.  The invisible ink is what you cannot see; it is what you feel and think.

Stories are important because they define us.  Stories can and do overlap. I recently watched a Ted Talk entitled, “The Danger of A Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In her Ted Talk, she cautions us to be wary of the single story.  In fact, she tells us to reject the single story.  Why?  The reason is simple.  Hearing only a single story about a person or a country fosters misunderstanding.  We must always engage in multiple narratives.

It is important to own your story.  Telling a story, especially one that is challenging, is courageous.  

Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution by Brene Brown

As Brene Brown shares in her book, Rising Strong, one of my most recent reads,
We are the authors of our lives. We write our own daring endings.
Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.”

Why do I share this quote with you?  I will tell you why.  You want to be the authors of your story.  Believe me, someone else telling your story is not what you want to happen.

So, think about it. Think about writing your story.  
A story that is interesting, meaningful and one you want to tell!  How?  

  • Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable – it’s the greatest measure of courage – it means you are brave and are showing up and engaging in life

Being vulnerable means that If you are going to put yourself out there and experience life to the fullest — you will experience sadness. Being vulnerable means you are open to taking risks, trying new things, and ready to experience failure.  Being vulnerable means being courageous!  

And guess what?  It’s ok. It’s ok to fall.  When you fall, you get back up, you dust yourself off, learn the most and as Brene Brown says, “rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness in our lives; it’s the process that teaches us the most about who we are.”
After a fall, I don’t know about you but that’s when my best learning happens, when deep reflection happens and a more profound understanding about myself and others happens.  I call these falls “teachable moments.”

So how do you own your story?  I like how Brene Brown nails it down in 3 ways:  

  • Be you – walk into your own story
  • Be all in – write & own your own story
  • Fall. Get up. Write a new ending and change how you engage in the world!

Remember: there is choice in how we tell our stories. There are so many creative ways to tell and share stories on social media nowadays.  Think about it.  You can share your words, images, sound and video. This is powerful. The power of story is everywhere.

A friend of mine, Debbie Donsky, shares her stories openly on her blog and she illustrates how life is a mixture of how we learn, how we create, how we connect and how we reflect connected to the many roles we play.  Her stories inspire, provoke and are real.  You should read them.  

Sharing a story with colleagues.

How do I tell stories? I tell stories visually and sometimes include short text.  Instagram is big for me – professionally and personally. Why? Think of the idiom, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Images tell stories. By adding in text with the image, each post is a short form novel and the series of posts in turn create a meaningful story that is told over time.

I wonder out loud with you as an educator:  

  • How are we providing opportunities for students to tell their stories?  
  • How are we responding to the stories of our students?  
  • How are we ensuring that students engage in many stories?   

Sharing a story is social.  We humans like the social because that how we learn, grow and reflect.

I am always ready for a story. How about you?

Lisa Neale, Principal – HWDSB

Starbucks, College, High School and Tech-Enabled Learning

Initially, I was thinking I might write about global digital citizenship, but I think I would prefer to share a few insights about two outstanding learning communities: one is a plugged in, collaborative post-secondary learning community, the other is continuously striving to build their plugged in collaborative learning community through innovation.

My day began as it often does these days, with me at Starbucks, grabbing a coffee and trying to figure out where my calendar, which has a life of it own, would take me today.  I have, as of late, really been fascinated by the Starbucks phenomenon.

What strikes me?

  • Starbucks is always busy – in fact, it is tough to find a table some evenings
  • It is always busy because there always seems to be people on devices doing work (both students and many professionals)
  • Starbucks, in many cases, is more a hub of learning for students – how you noticed how many kids are there doing homework on any given night? 

In may ways, Starbucks has become the public learning commonds of the 21st Century.

Visit to Humber College

Humber College, North Campus in Etobicoke was my destination for the day.  I was joining colleagues in a meeting where I would, hopefully, get a better grasp of OYAP – the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program.  The drive to Etobicoke was surprisingly uncomplicated, the search for a parking spot a little more circuitous.

As I walked from the parking lot to the main building, my spidey senses on full speed, I began to take note of my surroundings and of the people that breath live into this post-secondary destination.  There were students hopping on an off of public transit, others running from one building to another.  As I entered the building, there were people lined up (always line ups where ever you go), others lounging with their phones and earbuds, and still others sitting clustered in groups around books and laptops and ipads and in laps working on a variety of media and research and essay writing and…

Having gone to university, I didn’t have much experience with the college campus and I can tell you that in terms of portable technology, the best anyone could hope for was going for a run with your Sony “Walkman.”  In terms of computers, I can still remember the big clunky “Wargames” monitor (anyone remember THAT movie?) and the printers that spit out the perforated printer paper.

Two things struck me:

  1. For all intents and purposes, college, it was very much like a university campus.  
  2. Students were uber-plugged in but engaged in the business of learning.

In short, this post secondary destination was very much a plugged in, collaborative 21st Century learning community.

Fast forward to the meeting in the afternoon….

Meeting with a colleague and here team at one of the high schools in our board.  As I walked into the building, the hum of student activity was palpable, and the warm of the staff and admin readily apparent.  The walls adored with inspiring messages and student work.  Again, students engaged in the work of learning.

Purpose of the meeting? While this is a very tech-enabled school, wifi pervasive, BYOD school, the teachers and admin want to great an even more collaborative and plugged in learning environment for their students.

In essence, my colleague wanted to pick my brain around re-imagining her library space.  They wanted to make the space more of a learning commons and quite truthfully, my colleague is an enthusiastic and especially gifted administrator and really, she already had a lot of wonderful ideas for what she and her especially open teacher librarian wanted to do.  All I did was provide them with the sounding board and asked them a few questions that helped (I hope) to frame their thinking.

We talked about rearranging the furniture – feng shui-ing the space so to speak so that clear lines of sights could be created around areas that will eventually house collaborative work stations, soft spots for students to sit and use their own devices, etc.  The conversation eventually made it’s way to putting together an active learning classroom and again, it struck me, that they already had wonderful ideas in mind for what they wanted to do.

The meeting wrapped up with a brief tour of the new google sites (which is uber user friendly – I used “uber” twice in one blog – double points for me).  My colleague wanted to create an online platform/blog for her school community to replace the current newsletter which her secretary typically put together.  It was my colleague, her head secretary and I, talking about what you can do, how you can do and with me reassuring the secretary, that the extensive skill set she has acquired naturally as a part of her position and her work with Microsoft Office, made her more than capable of learning how to use google sites to achieve the goals they wanted to achieve in acquiring information and presenting it online for community consumption.

To summarize, I left them with the thought that learning can happen in a comfortable environment (after all, Starbucks is probably the fastest growing learning commons – more than the public library – that I know) and I helped to validate ideas that they already had themselves.

What struck me?

  • you don’t have to create something new – sometimes, what you want to create is already out there (Starbucks has inadvertently, by being as accommodating as they are with free WIFI, additional wall sockets and yummy treats, has encouraged a whole generation of students to take advantage of the coffee learning commons)
  • sometimes, all a person needs is a sounding board or someone who isn’t afraid to ask those naive, innocent questions challenging a tradition or room layout which makes them see or consider things from a different perspective.

Heading out to the car, I felt good, because they felt good about learning, about moving forward and about seeking out the help to prepare students for the future I described in the first part of this blog – a plugged in, collaborative learning community.

Learning with each other at a Distance on a Sunday Night

Tech-enabled Collaborative Professionalism

By Lisa Neal and Lou Paonessa

Lou: Ok, so Lisa, what I think might be an interesting approach to a blog for the website is for us to have a conversation back and forth about a topic people might be interested in like: Global Digital Citizenship or maybe we can look at the value of blogging as a school leader.

Lisa: Agreed. Good topics. I am wondering if we should start out with sharing about our time together online the other night. You remember?

Lou: Yes, I have been working on a website using Google sites, that I intend to be an agenda/repository for documents and videos and other resources meant to support principals and vice principals in rolling out the Renewed Math Strategy in their schools. I need an objective set of eyes to look at it.

Lisa: You bet. Always here to help! I recall that my first question to you at the time was “How will they know where to go when?”

img_4215-1Lou: And I said that we will walk them through it. I didn’t just want to put together a power-point. I can’t tell you how many power-points I have saved on my drive that I never refer to after the fact. My intention was to create a site that was structured around the 3 part lesson plan: Minds On, Action, Consolidation, that would be interactive. I wanted to be able to draw people further into the topic and allow them latitude to address whatever learning needs that suited them. That’s why I included short video clips from youtube to help explain various ideas and concepts like Hattie’s “visible learning,” and embedded documents on “collaborative professionalism,” for people to dig into on their own time.

Lisa: Yes, I have to say that it is a very comprehensive and compelling site. I recall though that at the time is was one long page. I remember telling you that it might be daunting for some. My feeling was that maybe you need to create something that took people through step by step at a distance.

Lou: I hear you and I have to say that I really took what you had to say to heart. It was great to be working with a colleague from another district, who could provide me with an honest look at what I doing. You provided me with perspective and gave me some very constructive criticism that allowed me to reconsider my intentions and how I was attempting to present the work at the time.

Lisa: I was happy to help. Sometimes, as educators, we can get caught up in the bricks and mortar of our own jurisdictions. Seeking feedback from another with a different lens is so important. Who would have known that our connections from the summer would lead to this collaboration. Let’s call it our digital face to face!

Lou: Well, being open to your feedback helped me on the spot. I went back, took a look at it and realized that I should chunk the information and create separate links for each part. I even created a link to a discussion forum to allow for the discussion to continue and for principals and vice-principals to be able to continue the dialogue and sustain their learning beyond the group learning.

Lisa: What was also great was to be able to see other people’s thinking. I found the site welcoming. It is impressive and it is you sharing how to do learning more openly, collaboratively. So much stronger than modelling. It is doing it with them. Well done. Powerful for them. Being a connected learning leader in the moment.

Lou: Thanks Lisa. Very happy that you were able to help me organize some of that thinking to create a more cohesive tool for principals and vice principals. I have gotten some positive feedback and even since you last saw it, I have gone in and replaced some of the content with other links and information and have really emphasized the idea of growth mindset versus a fixed mindset.

Lisa: That great! Especially since we are talking math – people have a very clear idea of their own comfort level, both adults and students, and quite often a fixed, “I don’t get math” mindset gets in the way of the teaching and the learning. If a student believes that they can’t learn math then odds are they are not going to be too open to learning math.

remember-1Lou: Ok, so listen. Next time we do this together, you are going to have to tell me about your google community. I still have to create my gmail account so you can provide me with access. I really want to see how you pulled things together on your site. Curating and publishing online artifacts for practical use by colleagues is the way to go.

Lisa: Absolutely. I would definitely be open to feedback.

Lou: Hey, do you think that for my blog, writing about the edu-coffee culture phenomenon is a good topic? By the way, I made that up, I really don’t think it is a term, but it sounds good. Cannot believe how many young people hunker down to study and work at Starbucks. I am sure there is a blog post in there somewhere.

Lisa: I am working on a couple of ideas for my next post as well.  Hope you don’t mind chatting it out with me so I can wrap my head around what I want to say.

Lou: I hear you!  By the way, where do you live?  I never asked before.

Lisa: Dundas, Ontario.

Lou: I am in Richmond Hill.  Good thing, with all the Google hangouts and shared docs we used to collaborate on this blog….

Lisa: …it would have been embarrassing if all we had to do is walk next door.

Lisa and I had a great time writing this blog and we are looking forward to sharing more of our thoughts, both individually and together, on tech-enabled learning with you.  If you are interested in what the Renewed Math Strategy site looks like, just click on the link right here.