Category Archives: Managing School Operations and Resources

Somebody, somewhere, is doing the same thing you say you can’t do.

“This doesn’t fit within our infrastructure.”

Have you ever heard that from your IT department? This is a longer way of saying “no”.

Yet in our world today, with shifts happening faster than we can keep up with, this seems to be a response that is no longer acceptable.

For example, let’s say your IT department follows these four questions for making decisions for your organization:

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If we deem this learning as crucial for our students, the “won’t work for infrastructure” comment does not help us move forward. It is a dead end.

The best IT leaders provide options, not obstacles.  Sometimes it will cost you more money, more time, and an adjustment in our thinking and the way we do “business”, but it can always be done.  Again, it is our thinking that will help us move forward, not the technology.

As I always say, somebody, somewhere, is doing the same thing you say you can’t do; they are just finding a way.

Accelerating Great Teaching and Learning

You are a principal and you have amazing access to see teachers teach, all of the time.  Walking in and out of the classroom, seeing what great teachers do, can make you an amazing teacher, even in the role of the principal.  Great principals take advantage of this.

Yet the process that I have seen shared with many administrators is that they will see something awesome happen in a classroom, and then they will ask the teacher share that practice with others at the next staff meetings.  Sometimes these meetings are two weeks away, sometimes a month, sometimes longer.  You may encourage them to share for ten minutes, but then things come up, and ten minutes, becomes five.  They share that great practice, and we move onto the next thing.

Or you could do this…

See that amazing thing happening in a classroom and ask the teacher if they can share it. Tweet it to a school hashtag using words, images, or a 30 second video.

Amazing practice, shared right now, to everyone.

This creates both a transparency and an urgency for others to move forward.  Still talk and share at your staff days, but this idea is a supplement, not a replacement.

How would we ever expect great practice to become “viral” if we only shared it once every 30 days?

Technology has the ability to amplify and accelerate the amazing things that are happening in your schools. Take advantage.

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8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (Interview Questions)

8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset

 

This was an awesome idea from Emily Day Harrison, and I wanted to build upon it.

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As many people are going through the interview process right now, I have drafted some questions that may help display “The Innovator’s Mindset” in potential candidates, or could even be potential blog posts for those not applying for jobs at this point.   Here is the first draft of some of the questions:

 

Characteristic Interview Question Your suggestion for questions?
Empathy Describe your classroom from the viewpoint of a student.  What would they tell me if I was to walk in?
Problem-Finders/Solvers How do you encourage students to make an impact both locally and globally?  

What are some ways that you help tap into their passions for learning?

Risk Takers Share a time that you tried something that didn’t work with students.  What did you learn from the process?
Networked Outside of teachers that you have worked with, who is a “current day” educator (or thinker) that has influenced your teaching? How have you connected with them?
How have you made connections both locally and globally?  What does being “networked” mean to you?
What opportunities will students have in your classroom to make connections outside of it?
Observant Share a time you were inspired by something outside of education and brought it into the classroom.

Where do you find your “best ideas”?

Creators What have you created from your own learning?  What impact did it have on you?
Explain opportunities you have developed, or you would develop, for students to “create” to delve deeper into the curriculum. What about outside of the curriculum?
Resilient Talk about a time that you overcame adversity in your life, either personally or professionally.  What did you learn from the experience?  

How do you model resiliency to students?
How do you develop resiliency in your students with varying levels of learning?

Reflective How do you make time for reflection in your practice?  What impact has “reflection” had on your teaching?
How do you implement reflection time in learning for your students?

 

A few things to consider…

  1. Although these are called “interview questions”, it does not mean you have to do them in a traditional “interview style”.  Candidates could have access to questions before and discuss what they choose, or they could develop their own questions based on the traits and prompts and answer as they choose.  We do not want to promote “innovation” in candidates by necessarily using the same process we have used for years.
  2. These wouldn’t be the only questions that would guide an interview for me.  As an administrator, I need to know how important relationships are for potential candidates (both with colleagues and students), as well as other questions pertaining to the situation of the opening.  It doesn’t matter how smart someone is if they are unable to connect with those they serve. I have seen this time and time again.These are not “set in stone” questions, but just prompts or suggestions.  Consider them in beta.
  3. If you are going to ask these questions, you should be able to answer them as an administrator or educational leader.
  4. “Innovation” is not in lieu of best practice.  The two should be connected. That being said, I think it is important to find people who are problem-finders/solvers, critical thinkers, and have access to ideas and people outside of their organization.  People need to be comfortable with “not-knowing”, but also have an urgency and sense of wanting to find out.

I would love your thoughts, feedback, and sample questions.  All I know is that if we continue to ask the same questions we have always asked, will we get the same output from school?  We need to not only think different, but act different, to get different that is better for our kids.

Standing Still is Falling Behind

You have two teachers in a hiring process and one of them does some amazing things and the other one is doing really good things. At this point, “teacher A” is stronger than “teacher B”. Which one would you take?

Well some people would obviously choose “teacher A” is better, but what they need to realize is that they are better now. What about two years from now?

The question you need to ask before you make the decision is which one is more willing to learn?  If “teacher A” is done learning and believes that what they do now will suffice later, “teacher B” with a mindset that they can continuously grow and develop, will eventually surpass “teacher A”.

This is not just something that is relevant to “individuals”, but also organizations.

As I attended iEngage Berwyn as both a presenter and participant, we spent the first day going around and checking out classrooms, and learning from students.  I have been to conferences like this before, but what I felt was really powerful was that it wasn’t just the community showing the amazing things that were going on in their schools, but they were asking questions on how they can continuously move forward.  It was a learning experience for all those involved, not just the participants.

I have said this before, in a world that constantly moves forward, if we choose to stand still, we will eventually fall behind..  I appreciate these schools and districts similar to Berwyn South, West Vancouver, and so many others, continuously ask questions to get better, even when the spotlight is shone upon them.  If we aren’t open to getting better, we won’t get better. That simple.

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Vision to Action

“If you do a good job of teaching your values and mission to the people at the bottom of your organization, then once you give them control, they will do the right things with it.” (Charlene Li, 2010)

Working with school districts all over the world, one of the things that I have noticed is an abundance of mission and vision statements within one organization.  There could be one at the district level, then at school levels, and even different departments (technology vision, curriculum vision, etc.).  Often people wonder why there is no cohesion within an organization, but don’t realize that the leadership is often inundating people with too much information.

One cohesive vision for an organization is hard enough to make a reality, let alone two or three.

In 2011, Parkland School Division moved away from the “multiple-vision” model, and went to one vision.  It was not implemented with a top down approach, but with input from all levels, and was co-created. Ownership of a vision is more likely to make it become a reality.

The vision is as follows:

“Parkland School Division is a place where exploration, creativity, and imagination make learning exciting and where all learners aspire to reach their dreams.”

Although the vision is compelling, without action it is meaningless.  The focus is not on repeating the vision over and over again (although that does help), but on helping others to make it become a reality.  As one of our superintendents said at the time, the goal is to help every individual realize that they are part of making this vision come to life within the larger purpose of the organization; it is not meant to separate but to bring people together.  How the vision looks in one classroom, can look different in another area.  The autonomy is in the delivery but the vision brings together a shared purpose.

It doesn’t make much sense for educators to move within an organization and faced with a change of “vision” each time they have a new position. Each community is unique but a great vision binds people together for a common goal.

In my opinion, a vision should have some common elements:

  1. Forward thinking.
  2. Inspiring.
  3. Short and succinct.
  4. Flexibility in delivery.
  5. Input from community.

If I asked someone in your organization what the vision was, and they responded with either “I don’t know what it is”, or “which one?”, then those “words” are not worth the paper (or website) they are written on.

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Thinking Deeply About Why We Do What We Do

Yesterday I wrote a post on the “absolutes” in education, and I asked what should every student be able to by the time they leave school. Since it was posted on April 1, some people thought it was maybe a practical joke.  This image shared yesterday seemed extremely relevant.

April Fools

Well the post was serious so obviously I need to work on my writing skills!

Yet the questioning of it was actually in line for what I hoped for.  We often ask questions in hopes for answers, but I am trying to ask more questions to simply get people to think, and hopefully, come up with more questions.

Some of the ideas and questions (there were a lot) that came up in response to the tweet were the following (paraphrased):

  • Can there truly be any “absolutes”?
  • Shouldn’t this be dependent upon the community?
  • Kids need to be able to think
  • Learn, unlearn, and relearn
  • Be happy

Again, the question was a prompt for conversation, not about absolute answers.  I truly think that these are conversations that we should be having with our community, to really think about not only what we are doing, but how and most importantly, why.  I believe in teacher autonomy, but I also believe in a shared purpose.  Do we truly go beyond a “vision” or do we bring that vision to life?

One way that I have seen this done recently is through districts creating a “global graduate profile”. Here is an example of one from Houston ISD (Houston, Texas).

For more information, click the image or go to: http://www.houstonisd.org/globalgraduate

For more information, click the image or go to: http://www.houstonisd.org/globalgraduate

From what I know, this was a shared process to figure this “profile” out, which makes it all the more powerful. This post is not to question the elements you see in the profile from Houston, because each community is different, but to think about the process.  Do we go beyond grades and kids getting jobs or going to post-secondary, or do we go beyond this?  I think these questions and images could help a lot of schools in bringing their community together in thinking about what our students really need and compare it to what we do.

I would love your thoughts on this.

(Check out the image below from Houston ISD. I think this could be a great discussion piece.)

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Crucial “Digital Citizenship” Conversations

An educator in one of my workshops asked me, “I know you are big into Twitter, but it doesn’t seem to be the network of choice for students, so why should I use it?”

My response was that it is not about what kids consider “cool”, but more the ability to learn to network through these social spaces.  I referenced a blog post I wrote on the idea of “3 Things Students Should Have Before They Leave High School“, and here were the ideas that were listed in a shortened form:

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Now, each one of those are not “set” and they can look quite different.  Although about.me has changed in the last little while, I still think it is great to have some type of individual “landing page”, similar to what I would consider a “digital cover letter”.  This post was less about absolutes and more about really thinking how we set our students up for success in the world we live in currently and in the future.  If a student had straight A’s in school but we googled them and their social feeds were filled with inappropriate messages, I know I wouldn’t be comfortable hiring them. Would most employers?

Revisiting the initial question, I listed a “professional social network”. This doesn’t mean Twitter or “LinkedIn for kids”,  but more about how to find others in areas that they are interested in.  For example, if a student would want to be a professional photographer, Instagram or Flickr would probably be the first place they look and share, not necessarily Twitter.  For educators though, Twitter has a huge network of educators that are already opening to collaborate, but it is also not only the network. I am seeing more people share to spaces such as Voxer and even Reddit, to further their learning in education, while also creating networks with others.  It is more the skill of networking and the opportunities provided than it is which space you choose.  It is not about what is “cool” for kids. We do not need to “edufy” each social network because are kids are on it. They also need spaces to be kids.

This all being stated, I was blown away by this post from Jenn Scheffer and her students speaking about “Digital Citizenship”. Here are some of their comments:

“While the general attitude on social media in the high school setting is typically a negative one, plagued by claims that sites such as Twitter are breeding grounds for inappropriate use and bullying, Burlington High School exhibits a much different attitude. Simply writing off the legitimate uses of social media based on archaic beliefs that it is harmful to students just will not do anymore as schools, such as Burlington, are utilizing the many benefits of social networking. The interactions between teachers, students, and administrators on various social media sites create a safe and productive online community. These interactions, which occur inside and outside of school, connect members of the school community in an effective and mutually beneficial way.” Caroline Akerley

“Twitter is one of the most powerful social media tools in the world. According to the company’s fact sheet, there are 320 million monthly active users on Twitter. But how many of them are used in a positive way? Check out my twitter handle HERE to see how I use Twitter in a positive way. When checking out my Twitter account please realize how professional my account really is! In the last year I have turned my social media status around completely. I realized how important it is to my digital profile and that it could effect my future! I have participated in multiple “#techteamMA” Twitter chats that are a great example on how to use Twitter in a positve way. Please view the pictures that I have provided that show clear cut examples on how much potential Twitter has to be used in a positive way!” Josh Boulos

“With the ever expanding world of social media, whether we like it or not, global perceptions are formed based on how we communicate as members of our digital society. These perceptions can be positive or negative and to some degree influenced and shaped by how we are using digital tools. I admit while social media has its share of negative views, I also believe the positives outweigh them. This beliefs stems from using social media tools and more specifically, YouTube. I use YouTube as a means of relaxing, entertainment, and education. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade and haven’t heard about it, YouTube is a multipurpose website that offers many different ideas such as browsing popular videos, listening to music, or uploading and sharing a video. One of the things I love about YouTube are “YouTubers” or the people around the world who use professionally and I enjoy YouTubers who play video games as part of their channel.” Shiv Shukla

A few things…

First of all, these are amazing conversations these students are having about both the positives and negatives of social media (seriously read the whole post because it is amazing). Secondly, I am not saying it is a direct result, but I know a lot about the leadership at these schools and these are conversations that the educators are having with the students.  They are having an impact.  Lastly, do your students talk like this in your schools? Are they even having these conversations with the educators in the building?

One of the things that I ask schools is “who teaches digital citizenship in your schools?” Often, I get a response of a teacher that may specialize in it.  Then I follow up by asking, “Who teaches manners?”  Of course they say that is everyone’s responsibility.  The more we see “digital citizenship” as simply “citizenship” and part of what we do our world, the closer we will get to realizing that this is all of our responsibility as educators.  It is pretty amazing to see when schools focus on this, how much they truly the empower the voice and genius of their own students as shared in the example above.

Finding a Way

I love this little video on how the “desk” has changed over the years:

the evolution of the desk by the harvard innovation lab from designboom on Vimeo.

I was reminded of this when talking to a superintendent in the United States about why so many school districts south of the border are going one-to-one with technology, yet it seems rare in districts in Canada. What many will say is that they do not have the “funds” to make this happen, but is it truly a priority? If the plan is to provide a device for every student AND continue to do what you have always done, then obviously the money won’t be there. Yet, if this becomes priority, we will have to rethink some of the traditional “budget items” that we have had in schools (textbooks, agendas, etc.). As you can see from the video above, all of these things can exist on one device.

If leaders want to truly make this happen, they will find a way.  What I always note to groups that I am working with is that someone, somewhere, is doing the exact thing that many say they can’t do.  When it is priority, people find and figure out a way.

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Learning Environments Are About Space(s) and Time

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Having a panel discussion with the topic of “learning spaces” being one of the topics (check out some awesome spaces on the #LearningSpaces hashtag on Twitter),  one of the ideas that jumped in my mind was the importance of both the “space” and “time.”  What I mean by that is you can develop the coolest “learning spaces” ever, but if the time is not there to really go deep with our learning, how useful is the space?

Here is what I mean…imagine you develop the best space ever, with flexible seating and it started to look more like a “Starbucks” than a traditional classroom, yet the bell rings every 40 minutes or hour for students to go on to the next class.  What does the space matter if you do not have the time to utilize it?  Imagine being in the state of “flow” in these rooms, and moving from one amazing learning space to another, five or six times in the day; does the space really matter if we are in the cattle herding mentality of school?

I know that if I am in an environment which I feel is conducive to my learning, that time is important in this space.  When I plan to write at a coffee shop, I need a minimum of two hours before I will go because I don’t want to REALLY get into something, only to then be kicked out.

As a principal, we needed to meet a minimum amount of instructional minutes for each subject, and teachers would have to hand me a letter identifying the number of minutes and times that they would be teaching each subject for whatever authorities needed them at the time. What I made sure they knew was that if I walked into the classroom and the schedule said “math” that I wouldn’t be upset if they were deep into a social studies project.  I trusted that they would do what they needed and take the time that was crucial to really further the learning opportunities for their students and themselves.

I have talked about Ann Michaelsen and her school before and how they teach English for an entire day, math another day, science another day, etc., instead of teaching each subject a certain amount of time for each day, five times a week.  This goes back to the idea of “innovating inside of the box”; how do we really push the limits of learning while still ensuring that we are meeting the requirements of the “job?”

The space doesn’t really mean that much if you do not have the time to explore, and if I had to pick, time is more important.  Together though, the “space” and “time” are needed to really go deep.  Let’s make sure that is remembered in our focus on innovative learning environments.

I know that a successful workshop day for me is when we have used the entire day and are past time, and nobody seems to notice. Wouldn’t that be the goal for our students?

The Teacher Platter

We often hear about having “too much on our plate”. but I once heard an educator say that teachers don’t have “plates”, but they have “platters”.

Think about it…how often do we add more initiatives to what we do in education compared to how many times do we purposefully pull things off of the plate?

If you want to really do something well, you don’t try to do EVERYTHING. Something has got to give.

Apple, one of the most profitable businesses in the world, doesn’t focus on making a plethora of items, but a select few that are of high quality. Steve Jobs, in an interview with Fortune in 2008, said the following:

“Apple is a $30 billion company, yet we’ve got less than 30 major products. I don’t know if that’s ever been done before. Certainly the great consumer electronics companies of the past had thousands of products. We tend to focus much more. People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.”

It is important to think about not only why we do things or how we do things, but what things we do. If we do too much, what impact could we truly have?

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