Category Archives: Embodying Visionary Leadership

#AGreatTeacherIs…

I saw a post on Twitter talking about removing the word “teaching” and simply replacing it with “learning”. I have to admit, I cringed at the thought.  That being said, I do believe a great teacher starts from the view point of a learner, not the teacher.  This is something that is a needed shift in the traditional norm of education. Starting from the needs of the learner, not the teacher.

That being said, with all of the change that is being thrust upon us so quickly in the world, great teachers are needed more than ever.  I asked the following question on Twitter:

Here are my thoughts:

A Great Teacher Is…

 

Someone who is a relationships builder.

Someone who shapes minds.

Someone who empowers learners.

Someone who cares about their learners.

Someone who inspires.

Someone who is a leader AND a follower, and knows when to go into each role.

Someone who knows when to stand in front and then knows when to gets out of the way.

Someone who is wise and shares their wisdom with others.

Someone who listens.

Someone who is continuously learning and growing.

Someone who shares what was, but inspires dreams of what could be.

Someone who both embraces and creates change.

Someone who is a constant innovator.

Someone who impacts people long after their time with them.

A great teacher is often all of these things and so much more.

P.S. Nothing here about test scores…

As I said earlier, teachers are needed more now than ever.  Change will be the only constant that we will deal with in our world, and it is happening at a rate faster than ever.  Educators should not only empower the next generation to embrace change, but will develop those who create it, making the world a better place.

Share your blog posts or tweets to share what you think #AGreatTeacherIs.

Fifty years ago

 

3 Obvious Ways Twitter Promotes Literacy

What today's young people know is that knowing who you're writing for and why you're writing might be the most crucial factor of all.

It was an interesting day for me.  I spoke in the same district that I did my first keynote in by myself, and it was an amazing experience to reconnect and think about my journey over the last few years.  The person that asked me to speak over six years ago was still there, and we reminisced about our experiences over this time.

One of the conversations was going back to the idea of Twitter and does it actually promote literacy.  Thinking about, jumping onto Twitter years ago has led to many amazing opportunities for me, but I also think that it has led to tremendous growth in my own learning over time.  Since I first started connecting with others through the medium, I have written over 88,000 tweets, written over 1,100 blog posts, and one book.  I am a firm believer that if you want to become better at writing, the best way to do it is to write more.

Without connecting on Twitter, I truly believe that I would not have written in the other mediums.  I have started blogs before, but never made it past a few posts.  As for a book?  I doubt that was something I would have ever done without Twitter.  I am not the only one; so many educators that have connected through the medium have written and published their own books.  I have seen people criticize that so many educators are writing books now, and I think, “Wow! So many educators are writing books now!”  Educators sharing their wisdom with different audiences all over the world is a pretty powerful thing.

Yet how does Twitter actually promote literacy?  As I thought about it, here are three obvious ways that really stand out to me.

  1. You read more. Many educators start off with the idea that they are “lurkers” on Twitter.  They have access to learning and ideas that they might not get within their own schools or usual circles.  I am a big believer in “created serendipity“; the more connected you are, the more ideas seem to find you, not the other way around.  The amount of blog posts and articles that I have read in the last few years is seemingly more than I ever read in my time as a student.  It should be also noted that none of these articles were pushed upon me but it was an opportunity to read things that I was interested in, not articles that were pushed upon me by someone else.
  2. You write more. I googled, “How many characters are in your average book?”, and according to this site, it is approximately 500,000.  So let’s say that the average tweet has 100 characters, well then 5000 tweets would equate to the length of a book.  Now writing 500,000 characters of tweets versus writing in a book are not equally weighted, but simply put, you are writing more.  Getting on Twitter is not about writing a book though, but how often do students write this much on their own?

    Clive Thompson has an interesting take on this:

    “The first thing she found is that young people today write far more than any generation before them. That’s because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom—life writing, as Lunsford calls it. Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up.

    It’s almost hard to remember how big a paradigm shift this is. Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn’t a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they’d leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.

    But is this explosion of prose good, on a technical level? Yes. Lunsford’s team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.”

    Which leads us into the next point…

  3. You can find your voice.  If you go onto Twitter, there are many educators that are passionate about so many different things, both in and out of the realm of education.  If literacy is about how we communicate our ideas, we have to understand how we connect and share, and how an audience will interpret we are sharing.  This is crucial as it is not only about the message, but how it is delivered.  As I am a big believer in moving from engagement to empowerment, someone that feels empowered to share will most likely tend to share more.

I have long held the belief that we are slowly becoming illiterate if we do not keep up with these modern mediums, but my focus is not about how to keep up, but how to embrace the opportunities these mediums provide us.  If there is something that could get our students not only reading more, but writing more as well, wouldn’t we be crazy not to embrace it?

 

Spoon-Fed Learning

Speaking about the opportunities there are for learning in our world today through technology, I asked educators in the room to do a “Twitter Video Reflection” and share their learning back to the hashtag.  Since many of them were new to Twitter, they didn’t know how to do it, so I decided to not help them.

Not a type…I decided to not help them.

Here’s the thing…they all figured it out. Some took longer than others, and some figured it out after they saw that someone else could.  I actually think it went faster than if I would have shown them step-by-step.

Too often we talk about how we want to develop learners as students, but we still set up too much of our professional development where we will walk people through every element of any type of learning.

The balance of supporting and pressuring needs to be place; we can not spoon-feed learning to the adults in the room, or we model the exact opposite of what we say we want from our kids.

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 10.45.44 AM

Higher Expectations

I asked this question earlier on Twitter:

(Click on the tweet to see the responses as there are a lot!)

First of all, I do not think a sign will significantly prevent bullying, no matter the school. Do we really think a kid will see the sign and say, “I was totally going to bully today but because of that sign, I no longer will!”

I doubt it.

But that being said, it is the the thinking behind putting that sign up in the first place.  Do we seek kids to be complicit to the rules of school, or to empower them to do something amazing? This is not to say that any school that has signs similar to this are looking to stifle kids.  What I am saying is that in a system that has traditionally looked at compliance as a good thing, we have to be very explicit in our thinking in how we empower our students and look at them through the eyes of the positive, as opposed to assuming the negative.

Now people will say that this might be leading to the “babying” of our society, and make our kids soft.  I actually think it the opposite; the expectations are higher.  It is a lot easier to not bully, than it is to lead.

One of my favourite quotes comes from Shelley Wright:

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 8.29.21 PM

Are you asking kids to do something important, or simply not do something?

Higher Expectations

I asked this question earlier on Twitter:

(Click on the tweet to see the responses as there are a lot!)

First of all, I do not think a sign will significantly prevent bullying, no matter the school. Do we really think a kid will see the sign and say, “I was totally going to bully today but because of that sign, I no longer will!”

I doubt it.

But that being said, it is the the thinking behind putting that sign up in the first place.  Do we seek kids to be complicit to the rules of school, or to empower them to do something amazing? This is not to say that any school that has signs similar to this are looking to stifle kids.  What I am saying is that in a system that has traditionally looked at compliance as a good thing, we have to be very explicit in our thinking in how we empower our students and look at them through the eyes of the positive, as opposed to assuming the negative.

Now people will say that this might be leading to the “babying” of our society, and make our kids soft.  I actually think it the opposite; the expectations are higher.  It is a lot easier to not bully, than it is to lead.

One of my favourite quotes comes from Shelley Wright:

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 8.29.21 PM

Are you asking kids to do something important, or simply not do something?

10 Easy Ways To Create an Amazing #ClassroomCulture This Year

Simple things can make a significant difference in our classroom environments, yet we should be intentional about them.  Every year we should strive to make it the best year students have, and if we all did this, school would only progressively get better for our students.

Below are some really simple ideas that can help shape an amazing year for your students.

  1. Greet kids at the door. – There is a massive difference between walking into a room and being welcomed than seeing a teacher sitting at their desk prepping for the day.  This sets the tone for the entire day and reminds kids that we are privileged to have them show up each and every day.
  2. Play music to liven up the day. – This might be something that I am a little biased on, but the environment of a room that I walk into that has lively music playing, as opposed to one that is quiet reminds me of warming up for a game as an athlete.  Music can often bring a smile to people entering the room and is just an awesome way to start the day.
  3. Go out of your way to make your first interactions positive. – At some point, kids make mistakes. As a principal, I would go out of my way to connect with kids, before they were sent my way.  A student that knows they are valued will make the tough conversations a lot easier later on. This time spent is an investment in the child, not an expenditure.
  4. Call parents early…Make sure they know you care about their kid. – I learned this awesome tip from a former secretary at my school.  It is an awesome call (and far too often surprising) when parents hear from their child’s teacher and the conversation is ONLY a positive one.  This is a definite investment in an emotional bank account, and lets parents know that you genuinely care about their child.
  5. Have ideas what you are going to do, but always tailor it to the students in front of you. – Be flexible.  What you did last year might not work this year because these are different kids.  Don’t over-plan; ask questions and learn about your students.
  6. Design the classroom with your students. – We spend so much time decorating the classroom before students show up, and then we call it “our room”.  Something as simple as decorating the classroom together, not only gives students ownership of the space, but it also helps to show that you care about their opinions (while also saving you a ton of time!).
  7. Find out the passions of each student and tap into them. – One of the best way to work with people is by finding out what they love and tapping into it.  The teachers that spent time finding out my passions, made me feel like they had a genuine interest in who I was and what I loved.
  8. Find out their dreams, and try to help them move closer to those goals. – We spend a lot of time thinking about where we want students to be, and not enough time asking where they want to go.  Success is deeply personal and if we know students’ goals and dreams for both in and out of the classroom, and help them work towards achieving them, our impact will last long after their time under our care.
  9. Have them ask questions every single day, and help them find those answers. – As stated in “The Innovator’s Mindset“, if a child leaves schools less curious than when they started, we have failed them.  Let’s ensure that we encourage our students, through different endeavours, find the answers to the questions they pose and are curious about, not just what we are expected to teach.
  10. Love them.- This might sound a little lame, but teaching is a tough job. So is being a kid.  There are so many things that kids deal with while growing up, that they just need to know that someone cares about them.  Go out of your way to show that enthusiasm for them as people, not just who they are as students.

I would love to know the “little things” that you do in your classrooms to make a big impact. No matter when you are starting your year, I hope it is a great one!

#ClassroomCulture

7 Important Questions Before Implementing Digital Portfolios

Image from Bill Ferriter at: http://teacherleaders.typepad.com/the_tempered_radical/2012/12/what-are-you-doing-to-make-sure-your-students-are-well-googled-1.html

Image from Bill Ferriter (@plugusin)

Digital portfolios are something that are really starting to take off in schools.  There are different software programs that will make “portfolios” easy to share, yet do we truly embrace the power that a digital portfolio can bring into our schools?  Since it is “digital”, we need to go beyond a portfolio that only represents one year of learning, but can show the progression over time.

Here are some questions for you to consider as you look into the process.

  1. Is this a learning portfolio, showcase portfolio, or combination of both? – Does this show the student’s progression over time (learning), or just the best stuff (showcase).  There are huge benefits to both for learning and opportunities over time.  A combination of both in my opinion is best.
  2. Who owns the learning? – Is this a portfolio that only shows “school” work, or does the student have the opportunity to display what they are passionate about, or is it simply for items to be displayed based on what the teacher wants?  Is it a combination of both?  If the student feels no ownership over the process and product, the results will not be as powerful as if they do.
  3. How will it be exported after the process? – For starters, see the question above.  Secondly, if there is no plan to ensure that students have the opportunity to put all of this learning into their own space eventually, you are missing another opportunity that digital provides.
  4. How will you make the audience eventually go global? – A lot of parents and educators are worried about the work of a student getting “out there” (for various reasons), but if the portfolio is only available upon request, we are taking a very “paper” mentality, to a “digital” platform.  This does not meant the whole world has to see everything from the beginning, or the student needs to share it with the world if they do not want to, but the progression plan to share it with the world should be there.  Will the audience  be limited long term?
  5. What brings people to the portfolio? – Is there any mechanism that brings people to the portfolio other than telling people to come? Simple things like email help to build an audience.  Is the portfolio more likely to be seen and more valuable to the learning if it goes to people, other than people coming to the portfolio?
  6. What impact will this have on the learner’s digital footprint?Will Richardson suggests that by the time kids graduate grade 12, you should be able to google them and find good stuff about them (see image at the top of the post). Does the portfolio help in this endeavour when every student we work with now will be googled for jobs, university, or a myriad of other things.
  7. What about next year and other classes? – This is a HUGE question.  If the portfolio only lasts for one year, then you are missing a great opportunity. What professional learning is in place for teachers to support a connection of learning over time for the students?  What will the students work look like over time and how will they be able to google or search for their own learning?  If the plan is not in place to grow this over time, we lose so much from the process.

If these questions aren’t considered, I am wondering if we are just doing a digital version of “school”, or rethinking the opportunities digital now provides for learning in school?  This is more than just thinking about the software, but thinking about the potential of what this process can bring to our students and ourselves.

“When your attempt rate is high, each individual failure becomes a lot less significant.”

“When your attempt rate is high, each individual failure
becomes a lot less significant.”
Ron Friedman

For all of the people reading this blog post right now, there are exponentially more that aren’t.  And for every blog post that I write, only a very few seem to stick.  I can’t say that any of them have ever gone “viral”, although many have been shared a lot more than what I have ever expected.  Yet if I don’t share my thinking, the answer to how many times posts have been shared is constant; zero.

First of all, I do my best to write for me and my own thinking, not anyone else.  It helps me to clarify my thoughts and deepen my thinking.  Out of anything that I have done in the last few years, I feel that the consistent practice of blogging has done more for my growth than anything.

I do believe that my thinking helps to push that of others.  Sometimes in the way they agree, and sometimes when people disagree.  Opinions and ideas are often formed in what people read and how they connect to it.

But a lot of people are scared to share their thinking because they don’t know if it is going to make an impact on others.  Some others find it very hard to share after something has really resonated.  How in the world will they follow it up?  Is it possible to follow a grand slam with a single hit? Or even worse, following it up by striking out?

The one thing that I tell about people who want to become better writers, is to write more.  You never know what will stick and  we can often be a bad judge of our own work. 

Not everything is going to work out the way you hope, but the more you do it, the better you become, and the more likely you will find success.

Keep going.

Undertake something that is difficult; it will do you good. Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.—Ronald E. Osborn.

Leading Digital Innovation – A Podcast

This summer, I had the opportunity to speak to Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, and was lucky enough to get to do a podcast with Kerissa Bearce.  Take a listen below:

Here is one of the elements from the podcast that I talked about and hopefully it resonates.  Enjoy the podcast!

Fear

Distracted From School or Learning?

In my last post, I shared an article regarding a Michigan High School that recently banned mobile devices from their classrooms. Here was one of my comments:

These articles used to really bother me, but what I have learned is that I never know the whole story. There is always more to any article or tweet you read online.  That being said, here is one part that bothered me:

The decision regarding the new cell phone policy was made after several discussions with the high school advisory committee, made up of teachers and support staff, and with the parent advisory committee, Bohl said.

Notice anything missing? Me too.

Spiri Howard, an amazing thinker who regularly comments on my blog as well as posts great stuff on her own, left this comment on my last post about her own son and his thoughts on school vs. learning:

How ironic that my son, Gabe (15), and I have been talking about this very school and article. Gabe’s view of school was shocking to me, he said…

“You know mom, school is just a place where teachers teach what they have to, you know, curriculum and test prep. When I want to learn something, something that’s important to me, I know where I can find it and who I can learn from. I build those relationships online, I can make them happen. Kids just go to the source. A lot of the time, well recently, my learning doesn’t come from a school, its not from a teacher or the relationship I have with my teachers. I just think teachers and admin. don’t understand that.”

He’s absolutely right. This generation of learners are an iPoding, texting, Googling, YouTubing and Facebooking. They live during a time of dramatic technological changes. For many of them, texting is the chosen method of communication and YouTube is the chosen method of online learning. Whether you feel this is good or this is bad, is irrelevant. This virtual presense will not go away. When we decide to ignore it, we are saying “think this way, learn this way …only”.

When I’m listening to a speaker, I begin to wonder about what they are saying. I’m questioning and thinking about ideas. Naturally, I want to explore those ideas and find answers to them, hence the use of tech.

What this high school wants from it’s learners, in my opinion, is for them not to wonder or think, but rather just decide between answers that they are given. This is dangerous. When we decide this for our learners, we need to realize we are killing off “possibilities”. This is how we become stagnant. We are killing off ALL possibilities but one (the “correct” answer). If we want learners to think critically and creatively, we need to realize that there isn’t one “right” answer. A good innovational thinker is always exploring the many other possibilities. So by asking students to make decisions and choosing the “right” answer rather than wonder and question the possibilities …we’re fitting students into the box of what we believe to be right or wrong. Where is the questioning, the thinking, the problem solving in that?

This is very powerful comment, but I will have to admit, not all students feel this way.

As I was working with some administrators recently, a former student that graduated recently from their schools really challenged the notion of devices in the classroom, as it often distracted from what was happening in the classroom.  It was an interesting conversation, and there are a lot of students that feel this way and are very anti-devices, but the question that I wonder if are they focusing on being good at school, or focusing on powerful learning? When people are so ingrained into any system, do they challenge it?

Kids become so conditioned to what school looks like, are they as open t challenging it? I believe in the power of student voice, but to also inform it along the process.  If they only know school can look one way, will they really challenge it?  Too often, when educators ask input from students about school, they often ask the ones who have really mastered the system, not necessarily the ones that hate it.

We need to ask questions explicitly “how they learn best”, and ensure that we differentiate that we are not only asking about school, but learning in any circumstance.  I have the feeling you will see more comments similar to the one Spiri’s son has, than what we might be hearing right now.  This is not on the students, but possibly on us for asking the wrong questions.

School vs Learning