All posts by Lou paonessa

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.

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.