Category Archives: innovative leadership

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.

“They have to be part of the solution”

As teachers go back into their classrooms preparing for the new school year, many educators spend an inordinate amount of time decorating their classroom.  The will use terms like “our classroom”, yet they will be the only ones who have had the options of what it looked like.  My first year of teaching a fourth grade class, I remember spending a ton of time making little basketballs and placing every student name on one of them outside of the classroom as a way to welcome them.  Imagine if you were a student in my class that year and you hated sports. You were probably thinking, “A year with this guy?!?!?”

I was reminded of this reading this post, “How Teachers Can See Students’ Identities As Learning Strengths“, and in particular, reading this passage about a teacher trying to better understand his own students:

For example, Sirrakos had spent a lot of time and his own money to decorate his science classroom with posters and quotes he hoped would inspire his science students. In a dialogue, one student told him that his class environment was boring. Sirrakos was confused and pointed out all the decorations on the walls meant to liven up the room. His students explained those images represented him, not them. Sirrakos was still confused, but he asked his students to help him fix the problem.

Students started bringing in their own posters, including things they made. The one rule was it had to be related to science in some way. Immediately students were more cheerful. “They have to be part of the solution,” Sirrakos said. “That’s where we talk about having these co-generative plans of action.” In this example, the solution didn’t require a big shift, it only required that Sirrakos recognize he wasn’t achieving the result he thought he was, and be open to students’ owning their classroom space.

Not only would this save you so much more time, but it is so much more meaningful to the students.  This is not simply about choosing what goes on the walls, but seeing the classroom as a reflection of themselves (the learners), not simply the teacher.

I wrote about this last year as well:

What if you wanted to learn the student’s names, you asked them to create their own art to display it on which represents something they love?

Instead of decorating the room with what you think should be on the walls, ask the students what they would like the room to look like, and plan how you could shape and decorate it, over time.

Instead of planning the entire day, why not create opportunities to talk to them and learn about them, and get a feel for what your year, or even the day could look like?

If I really think about how the year started for me as a teacher, it was more about the students to get to know me, than it was about me getting to know them.  There actually should be a balance.  Trust and respect are reciprocal feelings; they are not earned only from one direction.

These little things show students that they are an essential part of our community.  Their voice is needed to create community, ultimately showing them that they do not have to wait to make a difference; they can be leaders today, in our own classrooms.  Empowering them now, will lead them to be the world changers we hope them to be.



The Beautiful Discomfort of “New”

If you were a new teacher, administrator, or staff member in any field, and you were posed with a new challenge or problem, what would you do?

From my experience, people in newer positions are more likely to try to figure out a solution, or show a willingness to learn something new, as they are new to the organization, and want to show their willingness to grow.

Yet I specifically remember a conversation with an administrator saying that their staff would be reluctant to using something like Google Apps for Education, because there were so accustomed to what they were already using.  My response was that if the people that were reluctant were applying for a new job and the question was, “Are you willing to learn Google Apps for Education?”, their response would likely be, “Yes!”.  Not, “Yes.”, but “Yes!”

As we gain experience, we gain more knowledge, and sometimes our eagerness is tempered by what we know.  Yet, do we become too comfortable in some situations because they are our norm?  Do we become complacent because we are not as worried about disappointing those we are familiar with, as opposed to those that we are not?

Here is a microcosm of this scenario…I rarely answer email from my phone.  Why? Because I am a notorious “one-handed texter”.  My thumbs are large enough to easily reach across a screen, so I only need one.  This is not a problem for tweeting or texting, but for emails, it can take a lot longer.  Two thumbs are better than one :)

But right now, I am starting to explicitly try to answer some emails via my phone, learning to use two thumbs instead of one.  Right now, this method is slower for me, and it almost feels like my right thumb has a worn in point especially made for texting, while my left thumb is flat, and does not have the same ability.  To type with two thumbs on my phone, it feels uncomfortable, it takes longer, and is kind of annoying.  But for me to get to a space that is better, even for this simple process, I have to be comfortable with this discomfort. I have to be okay with going slow to eventually move fast.  Texting on my phone is something that has become new again, and something that I am willing to relearn.

The discomfort we have when we are “new” is something we need to learn to embrace and see it as leading to growth, not stagnation.  There is power in being willing to being new to a situation, feeling uncomfortable, and embracing struggle.  The trick sometimes is doing it to yourself, before someone comes along and does it for you.


“EdTech” is a Leadership Position

Spending a lot of time at technology conferences, one thing is evident; there are a ton of sessions on “stuff”.  As I write this post, people are scurrying around to find ways to connect “Pokemon Go” to the classroom.

Sessions like “100 tech tools in 60 minutes”, often dominate these conferences.  So many choices, yet so little time to implement.  We quickly move from one thing to the next, waiting for the next big thing.

Yet many of the participants in these same conferences have positions that are purposely meant to extend past the classroom.  “Tech leads” or “Director of Innovation”, etc., are common titles.

So when you look at those positions…they are much more than the “stuff”. They are about how to help other people move forward.

For every blog post or book you read on technology, you should (at minimum) read an equivalent amount on leadership.  “Cool tools” stay as “cool tools” if we do not think deeply about “why” we use them, and how others will see meaning in them.

So some quick thoughts on how to help others move forward with educational technology:

  1. Don’t just show people tools…discuss the thinking and learn to make a direct connection to deeper learning.
  2. Ask questions more than you give answers. Great leadership starts from where people are at, not where they want them to go.
  3. If you go to a conference, take time to reflect on any tools that you learn and think about where they fit into the bigger picture of your school’s mission or vision.  If you spend 60 minutes in a session learning about a tool, take 60 minutes in that day to think about how to get others to implement.
  4. Streamline…do less, better.  Don’t turn a teacher’s full plate into a full platter.

This quote is relevant.


If you embrace the above, you will understand this is about a lot more than the “stuff”.


Innovating Inside of the Box

I loved this post from Seth Godin’s blog:

The problem with complaining about the system

…is that the system can’t hear you. Only people can.

And the problem is that people in the system are too often swayed to believe that they have no power over the system, that they are merely victims of it, pawns, cogs in a machine bigger than themselves.

Alas, when the system can’t hear you, and those who can believe they have no power, nothing improves.

Systems don’t mistreat us, misrepresent us, waste our resources, govern poorly, support an unfair status quo and generally screw things up–people do.

If we care enough, we can make it change.

In “The Innovator’s Mindset“, one of the ideas that I have shared is the notion of “innovating inside of the box”:

Let’s not kid ourselves. In education, especially the public sector, schools are not overloaded with funding. Innovating in our schools requires a different type of thinking, one that doesn’t focus on ideas that are “outside of the box” but those that allow us to be innovative despite budgetary constraints. In other words, we need to learn to innovate inside the box.

This is not limited to budgetary constraints.  It is in dealing with bad bosses, traditions that may be past their expiration date, policies that seem to trump common sense, or a myriad of other things.  We have a lot more power to create the solutions we need, than we give ourselves credit for.

This is a pretty powerful image.

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If you want to wait for others to make the changes that you see as necessary in education, you might be waiting forever.  It is crucial to do what we can within the “system” or the “box”, but it takes changing our thinking first.

Side-By-Side Learning

Using 30 second video reflections has become one of my favourite ways to share on Twitter.  There are a few reasons why I see this as powerful:

  1. It forces you to focus on what you are wanting to share because of the 30 second time limit.
  2. You become more conscientious of what you are going to share because you know that anyone in the world can see it.
  3. The ability to hear voices and see faces, brings a certain amount of “humanity” to see who is behind the tweet.

It is a very powerful reflection tool, and this quote resonates through this process:

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This past weekend, I worked with a group of administrators from the “Texas Association of Secondary School Principals”, focusing both on their learning and leadership.  It was a tremendous opportunity for me to not only share my learning, but to learn from them as well.  I truly believe that the more connected we become, the smarter we all are. We can all learn from each other, no matter our experience or expertise.

One of the people who attended, was Dr. Kenneth Gay.  He is just an awesome person, and he shared his own fear of “jumping in”, and that he wanted to learn more.  So trying to help him see the opportunities, while understanding his own reluctance, we did a video reflection together, side-by-side. Check it out below:

Sometimes the best way to model the power of certain learning opportunities, is to do them together. And I appreciated this comment from Cindy Kirby.

What was awesome, was as the weekend went on, Kenneth saw the power of connecting through this medium, and ventured out to share on his own.

Throughout this weekend, as with any learning opportunity, there are people at all different levels in the room. What is important is not that they are learn the same thing, but that they learn. As stated in “The Innovator’s Mindset“,

Effective leadership in education is not about moving everyone from one standardized point to the next but moving individuals from their point “A” to their point ”B.”

What is imperative though is that that movement from point “A” to “B” is always the choice of the learner.  Sometimes standing in front and sharing ideas is one way to create this movement, but as Cindy stated, sometimes the best way to learn, is to do it “side-by-side”.

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.


Successful Adaptation

Have you seen any of these contradictions in schools?

We need to ask our students to become critical thinkers, but educators need to accept the system the way it is.

We want students to challenge ideas, unless they are challenging the ideas of why, how, and what we teach.

The world is constantly changing and we need to teach our learners to be flexible and adaptive, while we are making five and ten year plans.

Kids should be creators, but adults are good with consuming information.

Reflection is crucial to a child’s learning, but it is hard to find time for reflection in practice.

Empowerment is crucial for students, but you need permission to go to the bathroom and use the device that works for the teacher.

We need to do what is best for kids, without asking kids and educators what that even means.

A “growth mindset” is crucial for educators, but unfortunately we have to follow this ten year old policy.

What is important to note, is that this is not in all schools/systems around the world.  Take a look around at so many schools, and the things are doing compared to five years ago, is astounding. Lots of growth has happened.

This is about challenging the system of “what is”, and thinking about the possibilities of “what could be”.  This is going to take courageous leadership from all levels to develop innovative learning opportunities for our students, and an openness to having our current system challenged.

So let’s remix some of these statements, and turn them into questions.

The world is constantly changing and we need to teach our learners to be flexible and adaptive…how we are modelling this in our teaching, learning and leadership?

We want students to challenge ideas, so how do we promote that within our own classrooms?

We need to ask our students to become critical thinker…how are we promoting this practice in the way we look at our schools?

A “growth mindset” is crucial for educators, so how do we become adaptive  and create a system(innovator’s mindset) that is reflective of constant changes?

While the change in the world is mirroring a google document (constant change, revision, adaptation, and collaboration), we cannot be stuck on a static piece of paper.

“All failure is failure to adapt, all success is successful adaptataion.”

6 Ways to Use Twitter To Enhance In-School Professional Learning


Here is a tweet I received from Jamie Sweeney on using Twitter to “enhance professional development”:

Connecting globally is really powerful, but how do we use this medium in a way to enhance professional learning and empower the voice of teachers in our own building.  Sometimes seeing the impact of using Twitter on a global level brings ideas back into our classrooms, but perhaps using Twitter locally could push people to connect others globally.

Just remember that “Twitter” isn’t just for days that you are discussing technology.  It can amplify and accelerate learning in any topic, whether it is on health initiatives, assessment practices, or deep understanding of any topic. It is easy to do, yet can share several mediums, which allows for different types of processing and understanding.

Here are a few ideas below.

  1. Hashtag for professional learning days (and beyond).  This one sets the stage for the other suggestions, as it makes it easy to “pre-filter” information towards a hashtag.  Check for a hashtag before you start using it, and ensure that it is not being used by another group. This gives an opportunity for the “room” to tap into one another, not just learn from any one person.  If you are interested in doing this, I would suggest finding a hashtag that goes beyond any single day; you want to start a movement, not share a moment. (For the purpose of this post, I am going to use #InnovatorSchool as the hashtag.)Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 5.37.08 PM
  2. 20 Minute Summary. Little ideas like this can help further deeper learning.  Stopping every 20 minutes and asking participants to share a 140 character reflection (minus the hashtag), and encourage them to limit it to only one tweet.  Having to summarize and be succinct in a tweet, provides a bit of a challenge, but it is also encouraging “mini-reflection”. It is also a nice assessment of where learners are at during that moment.
  3. Image Sharing. The beautiful thing about Twitter is the opportunity to capture different mediums.  Groups may have to draw some type of summary of learning, but share it to this group.  Here was one suggestion from Bethany Ligon in a book study she was doing with a group on “The Innovator’s Mindset“:

    Using Play Doh, pipe cleaners, and multi-colors of Post It papers, create models to represent a fixed mindset, a growth mindset, and an innovator’s mindset. Take a picture(s) of your structures and insert them into a single Google Drawings. Also insert a text box and write a brief blurb describing your thinking…if any. :)

    This is a great way to capture the visible learning that happens in these days, but also gives people a reference long after the fact.

  4. Group Hashtag Modification. Sometimes I will ask for groups to share a “big idea” together in some type of reflection. I have seen things such as 140 character tweets, captured images of writing, videos, etc., which provides lots of opportunities for learning.  The problem is finding this information the more any hashtag is used.  To do this in a simple way, I always suggest making slight modifications to hashtags for different questions.  So if the original hashtag is #InnovationSchool, then for the first question, I would simply change it to #InnovationSchoolQ1, and so on.  This way, again, you are pre-filtering to find information from any particular question in a simple and succint way.
  5. 30 Second Video Reflections. Twitter has an awesome video function (only on phones that I know of at this point), that allows you to take 30 seconds of video.  What I love about this is the unedited, raw learning that can be shared.  As people are finishing off the day, I think encouraging them to share a 30 second video reflection is a great way for them to process their thinking and can literally be done on a walk out of the building.  If someone does not feel comfortable taking a “video selfie” (#Velfies), I have seen some people turn their camera on an object or screen and discuss what they have learned.  This promotes the importance of “open reflection”, which is beneficial to not only the person doing the reflecting, but the community, as we can learn from one another.
  6. Collect Ideas in a Storify. Storify is one of my favourite sites as it makes it simple to not only capture tweets, but put them into context.  Random tweets might not make much sense to someone outside of the process, but using this site to give further explanation and share media (it is not limited to tweets, but has a wide range of social media services you can pull from), encourages people to share professional learning days from a wide-range of views, not just from what one person said.

Here are some of the benefits from this process.

  1. Assessment of professional learning days. What do the tweets tell you about the takeaways from the day?
  2. Sharing your learning with your community.  Shouldn’t parents know what educators are learning on professional learning days and doesn’t this help dispel the myth that many have about professional learning days that they are just a “day off”?
  3. Positive development of school and personal digital footprint. We can’t teach something we have never learned.
  4. Modelling things that you are able to do in the classroom. Asking at the end of the day how we would use these things in classrooms (because it will differ through K-12) helps create the connection between what was just experienced, and how it applies to learning in the classroom.

As I write this, I think how simple these ideas could be, yet how much of an impact they could have to make great learning go viral.  We have tons of experts in our own buildings, so we need to create these opportunities to shine a light on them and their thinking, for the benefit of each other, as well as our communities, both local and global.

Embracing Meaningful Change at All Levels

One of the conversations that you will here from school districts is the idea that they want people to embrace change.  One of the things that I believe in is that change solely for the sake of change, is not a good idea. It has to be meaningful change. Change does not necessarily equal meaningful change.  For this to happen, you can not only outline the what and how, you need to also clearly articulate the why.

This is crucial.

Yet something that I have seen are many people in these leadership positions, are really open to pushing change, yet struggle mightily when having change thrust upon them. If people in leadership positions are not open to being challenged on ideas that are happening in schools, especially when those ideas impact kids and teachers, why would people be open to embracing change? It needs to be modelled at all levels.

For example, if the initiatives that are pushed from a central office, and often IT departments,  that are not necessarily “what is best for kids”, is the decision that is ultimately made steering your organization into the best direction?  The needs of students and educators should lead how decisions are being made from administrative positions.

If we are to really promote and help others embrace meaningful change, these things are crucial:

  1. We need to start with the question “what is best for learners?”, and work backwards from there.
  2. We need to be open to pushback, and in fact, encourage it.  If we can’t defend and articulate why we are doing what we are doing, it might not be worth doing.
  3. We need to create a vision for education together, not just push our vision onto others.
  4. Understand that when we say people should be “flexible”, that doesn’t really mean people should be “compliant”. Being flexible is about working together, not being open to do exactly what one is told to do.  Shared solutions are the ones that are most often implemented.

The higher we go up in any organization, the more people we serve, not the other way around.  If you are in a leadership position, always remember this.

The need to encourage others to embrace meaningful change, needs to be modelled at all levels, especially from the top.  We expect teachers to not only teach, but to be willing to “learn”. Modelling their willingness to learn is a crucial example for students to learn from. “Leaders” should not only be willing to lead, but to be led.

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