Category Archives: Personal Learning

Creating Bridges

bridges

Good professional learning will give you lots of ideas on what you can do with your students on “Monday”. Great professional learning will make you think about how you teach every day.  It should not only provide ideas, but make you feel a little uncomfortable.  There is a fine balance and one of the greatest compliments that I have ever received was from the foreword in my book from Dave Burgess;

Perhaps his greatest gift is how he can simultaneously prod you and pull you, forcing you out of your comfort zone while making you feel as if he is holding your hand and walking with you the whole way.

This is what I strive for.  Some days I get closer to it than other days.

But to do this, I have to be open to challenge my own learning. One of the things I tell participants in my sessions is to not disagree with me after the day, but during. It only helps myself, and the room, to truly grow.

As I threw out this challenge, one woman accepted. She shared that she had “Never had a cell phone, nor  will I ever get one.”  I asked if she would be open to changing her mind, and she said, “nope”.

Now you might be reading this and thinking, fixed mindset!”, but the words do not illustrate the story properly.  Here was a teacher, in July, spending her own time, to learn about what I was sharing.  She didn’t have to be there but she chose to be there.  She nodded her head up and down when I shared many things, and you can see she wanted the best for students, just as I do.  Her honesty was refreshing, but not as refreshing as her enthusiasm for students.  I could have focused on the idea that she would be a “tough sell”, but I genuinely could feel her that she wanted best for kids and just maybe had a different approach.  I saw it because I looked for it.

Earlier in my career, this would have frustrated me.  Now, I am doing my best to see where we connect first, not only where we disagree.  The old adage of “build a bridge instead of walls” (source is unknown), is something that I am trying to adopt more in my thinking, and I found more in common than I did in opposition.

As I write this, I cannot stop thinking of this article, “The ‘Other Side’ is Not Dumb“.  It is a brilliant read (seriously read it), that goes way beyond professional learning, but in many aspects of our lives, especially in relation to how we use social media:

It’s impossible to consider yourself a curious person and participate in social media in this way. We cannot consider ourselves “empathetic” only to turn around and belittle those that don’t agree with us.

We often take disagreement as “being wrong”, instead of embodying that same curiosity we want from our students for someone else’s perspective when it is in disagreement with our own.

But these words especially…

As any debate club veteran knows, if you can’t make your opponent’s point for them, you don’t truly grasp the issue. We can bemoan political gridlock and a divisive media all we want. But we won’t truly progress as individuals until we make an honest effort to understand those that are not like us. And you won’t convince anyone to feel the way you do if you don’t respect their position and opinions.

In life, and learning, these words matter.

Bridges, not walls. We need to look for them, and create them when necessary.

The Innovator’s Mindset (Book Study)

It has almost been one year since I committed to writing “The Innovator’s Mindset”, and decided to go with Shelley and Dave Burgess, and I couldn’t be more grateful. The response has been overwhelming, and my hope of this book starting conversations instead of ending them, has been something that has come to life.  My hope was to make people think differently about the possibilities for education, within the “box” that we work inside.

I was overwhelmed when I saw this tweet just the other day:

Seriously humbling.

People like Mandy Froehlich have been using it for book studies for pre-service teachers, many schools have coordinated group talks, some innovative leaders in Ontario coordinated a book study with it, and many others. Brandon Timm is doing a series sharing his thinking with his wife Jo, and making YouTube channels for each chapter (love it!).  I have done my best to jump into these conversations as much as possible, to use this to connect and learn from others. It has been an awesome experience.

This weekend, Bethany Ligon shared this book study resource that she used with her own district, and has graciously shared it with me for others to use, modify, and remix it, for their own purposes.  This was my hope and it is awesome to see it come to life.

I have also been updating resources on the blog for people to use and modify as well, with links to videos, books, articles, and anything else that I can find, relative to the book.  Please feel free to use it how you see fit.

Heather Campbell shared this picture that she created from the book the other day:

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 1.26.50 PM

As more changes happen in my life, I had to remind myself of this quote above. I just wanted to write this post to acknowledge all of those who have not only supported this work, but have pushed my thinking. The twitter chats, the voxer groups, the “skypes” with schools, and all of the face-to-face conversations,have been awesome.  I am looking forward to the continued journey.

 

Blink of An Eye

You spend a lot of your youth wishing you were an adult, only to become one, only to constantly wish you were young again.

I was reminded of this watching Kobe Bryant in his last game last night…But this isn’t a sports post, and it it’s not a Kobe post; it’s a life post, and a reminder how quickly time flies.

Growing up, I would say that my first passion was basketball, and my favourite team was the Lakers, by far.  I mocked the Kareem “sky hook” as a player, and would copy every Magic Johnson play I would see on the playground.  I remember watching the NBA Finals with my friends in the basement of their house, and the Lakers losing, so I later on refused to watch the games with others because I thought it was bad luck.  That was how deep I was into the team.

I still remember the day that Magic announced that he had contracted the HIV virus, and being devastated at practice, not really understanding what was going on what that meant.  I bled (and still do) purple and gold, and seemingly live and die with this team.

After years of bad teams, the Lakers announced that they had signed free agent Shaquille O’neal, one of the best basketball players in the world, and definitely a team changer.  I was beyond myself with excitement as what this would hold for the future of the team.  This was all happening while I was in university, and there was a professional player named Willie Murdaugh who actually lived in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where I was living at the time, who had a tryout that same year in 1996.  As he was the last cut on the team, I remember him coming back after the experience in Lakers’ attire, and was so thrilled to be able to ask him questions about his experience.  My first question was about Shaq, and how good he was, and I remember him saying something that stunned me. “Shaq is really good, but they just drafted this kid named Kobe Bryant, and he is going to be a pretty amazing player.”  My first reaction was, “Who?”, and I just kind of moved on from there.

I found myself 20 years later, cheering for Kobe as he scored 60 points in his final game of his career, jumping up and down, screaming in a hotel room, and thinking, “this is amazing for such an old player”, soon realizing I am four years older.

As I cheered in my hotel room watching, I remember that day I first heard about Kobe Bryant, along with his first championship with the Lakers, and this moment that was happening right now, and all I could think about was how everything seemed so close together and that it all happened in a blink of an eye.

The first time I heard of Kobe Bryant, I was in university and had to pay for computer use in our lab since this was more of a luxury than a norm.

For his first championship, I lived in a tiny house, and had a computer with a 20gb hard drive (top of the line at that time) and dial up internet while “Napster” was all the rage.

Last night, I watched the game on my MacBook Air in a hotel room, while the Warriors team won their 73rd game on the TV, and I tweeted from my phone.

So much has changed in what seems like such a short time.

 

When someone asks me how long I have been an educator, I have to think about what year it is and count backwards from there.  I hear about people who have taught for 15 years and think, “wow..that’s a long time”, only to realize I have taught longer.  It has all happened so fast and so much has changed.  I have had my ups and downs, lost more people in my life than I like to think about, and am still growing.

As I watched the game, I thought about the day that my dad put up a green backboard, that wasn’t oddly shaped and crooked, so I could practice outside in my driveway.  He would come home after work, and shoot with me underhanded for awhile, and then go inside.  That kid is still there.  That moment is so close, yet so far away.  I would do anything to have one more game of basketball with my dad on that terrible green backboard.

I was reminded last night, watching someone that I basically grew up into adulthood end his career, and just think how things happen seemingly in the blink of an eye.

Even though it is just a game, I have watched so many of the players that I have loved retire, leave the game, even pass away, while a new crop of players comes up and does amazing things.  Last night wasn’t just about watching a basketball game, but it reminded me that life is short, and that I need to continue focus on making every moment count, because those moments are what makes up life, both the highs and lows.  They have all happened in the blink of an eye, and although these moments make up our life, I just wish sometimes they wouldn’t happen so fast.

You Will Be Missed Coach

My former high school basketball coach, Kevin Grieman, passed away this past week.  He was not just a coach to me, but he was like a second dad growing up, and he was affectionately known by my friends as simply “Coach”.  His impact on my learning and leadership at such a young age, has stuck with me for years, and I would venture to say that no other “teacher” had as much of an impact on my life.  I lived and breathed basketball, but Coach was about so much more than that.

Two stories that came to mind…

In my grade 11 year, we had a pretty good team, and we won a coveted tournament for the first time in a long time.  We didn’t just win, but we won easily.  In fact, we really started showboating and got a little mouthy to other players, coaches, and maybe even fans.  After we were handed the trophies and went back to the dressing room, Coach ripped us apart.  Winning was great, but how we carried ourselves meant more than anything, and we had let him down.  I remember being so bothered by getting in trouble after winning, I mean, we won the tournament, right? Isn’t that what we were supposed to do?  But Coach wasn’t developing basketball players, he was focused on developing good people that were basketball players.  Although he could be extremely hard on us, I know that he wanted the best for us, and I think of all my friends that played on those teams (that I am still friends with) and how well they are all doing now.  Coach had a tremendous influence on us today by what he did then.

The second story I remembered was in my last couple of games in high school. We were off to provincials, and I had one MVP of the team that year. It really meant a lot, but my last two games I was off.  This was not the way that I wanted to go out, and no matter how hard I tried, I just was playing the way I usually had.  We lost in the provincial semi-finals, and were now playing for bronze.  Down by 9 points with about 30 seconds to go, we thought we had no chance, but somehow had now come back and were down by 3 with about 15 seconds left.  Coach called a time out and said, “We need to foul them as soon as they get the ball, and hopefully they miss their free throws and we will see what happens.” They threw the ball in and right to a player in front of me, who I immediately fouled.  Since this was my last foul, I watched the last game of my basketball career from the bench and we miraculously one the game by two.  There were so many heroics in this game, in which I didn’t play well, but we won, and we were all so excited.  A few years later, a player on the current team came up to me and told me how Coach always told the story that when I was asked to do something for the team, that would ultimately leave me watching from the side, that I didn’t even think twice about it, and did what was best for the team.  I never thought about it until then, but I realized that the kid who started playing in grade 10 would have done everything to not be out of that game, but Coach taught us that the team was more important than any individual. It was the way we had all thought, not just me.  These lessons stick with me to this day.

All I know is that the world lost a great man who had an impact on so many youth growing up, and the town I grew up in was better off because of him, as well as all of the other places that his influence has spread through the people he has developed.  His last post on Facebook was about the 25th anniversary with his wife Susan (who I have always called “mom” because of her caring nature) and how he proposed at the half time of one of our games to her, and my mom had to calm her down after.  People like Coach do not come around too often, and his impact was immense.

Rest in peace Coach Grieman…you will be deeply missed.

A Small (and Powerful) Gesture

As I am sitting on the plane, I receive the following tweet from one of the best people I know in the world, Mary Jane Burke:

Instant tears.

Although I was unbelievably honoured by her sharing my book with others, there is something else that touched my heart in a tremendously powerful way. If you notice on each book, there is a heart-shaped rock tied to each one. That same heart was similar to the one that Mary Jane placed on a desk as I was talking to my mom in Marin County when my father had passed away suddenly, to try and comfort someone whose world was just destroyed.

A reminder of Dad

MJ knows how much that small gesture meant to me in a time of such unbelievable grief, and I always think how lucky I was to be around someone so caring and relationship focused when the unimaginable happened.

Interestingly enough, I am writing this as I sit in the same airport where I wrote about my dad passing away, and I was trying to get home.  The pain never becomes easier, it just becomes different. That is the only way I know how to explain it.

I just wanted to thank Mary Jane for the constant support she has provided me and the special connection we have had because of what happened and how she has been so supportive. It truly means the world.

If you still don’t think a single tweet can say something meaningful, you might not really be paying attention.

Kids These Days!

I was setting up to speak this morning, and this wonderful young lady came up to me, unable to contain her excitement and said, “Oh! You are George Couros! You are my teacher’s hero!”

I lost my breath and was honoured by her kind words, her not knowing how much she filled my bucket.  I then asked her if it was okay to get a selfie and send it to her teacher.  She said yes, and we then said hi to her teacher:

As a show of my gratitude, I asked her if she was okay to deliver a signed book to her teacher. She was very excited, and sent her teacher the following message:

It made me tear up…what a wonderful student.

Skyler then went on to introduce me to the audience, and was very well spoken, articulate, and just had so much enthusiasm.  I started off by talking about her immediate impact on me, and how if these are the kids that are determining our future, I am pretty happy with that.

After that, I asked her if she would help sell books with me. Not only did she take payments on my phone through square for people, she also was asked to sign a book herself. As a token of my appreciation, I gave a book to her as well.

I arrived to the airport and I received this from Skyler and her teacher:

All I can say is that I am so often amazed by our students, and also by their teachers that do so much for them. Thank you Skyler for totally making my day!

Say Hello To Tony

My friend Tony Sinanis is like a brother to me…I love the guy to pieces and have only met him face to face once.  He has been a good friend for years and I trust him like family. As I was texting him the other day about something we didn’t agree on, I actually said, “Hey! My mom is here and she would love to talk to you and you can drop some Greek on her.” Immediately we FaceTimed and I just handed the phone to my mom, and her and Tony talked like he was one of the kids that I grew up with, not someone I met on Twitter.  I just walked away and did other things while they talked Greek and had no idea what they were saying (obviously both complimenting to no end!).

This isn’t the first time that this has happened with my mom.  My good friend Jimmy Casas, also who I connected with through Twitter, called my mom last year unbeknownst to me, to talk to her and say kind words about me.  She told me and I kept saying, “Who?”  Then I figured it out and was blown away.

Little things like this mean a lot to me and there are people that I have connected with on social media that are not just “friends” to me, but they are family.  Although I am known as a “speaker”, I could go months without talking to people and be fine with it, and we could just pick up one moment and talk like we never skipped a beat.

I know this also means a lot to my mom as well.  The email I received yesterday from my mom (english being her second language) said the following:

Say hello to tony if you Hempen to talk to him same-times. Have a great day.

It was also followed by her signature “emoticon guilt trip” about not calling more:

  Love mom. 😡📞😰😰😰.

 

There is nothing more I could say after this than how grateful I am for so many amazing people that have come into my life because one day I decided to pay a little more attention to Twitter. I know my mom is pretty happy about it as well and with all that she has been through there is no one I know that deserves to smile more than her.

You Will Be Missed Joe

I was saddened to hear about the recent passing of Joe Bower. He was a good friend, amazing educator, and did everything with passion.  Here is the first quote I thought of when thinking about Joe;

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

That statement would not summarize Joe, but it was definitely a part of who he was.  A person who lived his life full of passion and put his heart into everything he did, whether it was politics, education, or his family.

Joe and I had so many conversations, and although we did not agree on everything, he was always open to learning.  We would push each other, and when you have people like that in your life, you can only come out better.  His writing and work on assessment at his blog, “For the Love of Learning“, was known worldwide, and has made a huge impact on many educators.  As I travel all over, many people finding out I was Canadian would ask me quickly, “Do you know Joe Bower?”  I don’t think he fully realized how many people benefitted from his writing.  I was definitely one of them.

If you do not know Joe, here is a page of his work on “Abolishing Grading”.  There is so much great stuff there, and you could not read it without realizing that he didn’t only challenge traditional thinking, you could see how he is ultimately focused on the well being of kids.

Every conversation that I had with Joe made me smile. He had a great sense of humour, and in 2012, when he referenced one of my posts (which was an amazing honour) this is what he wrote about me:

He is suspiciously well dressed and has the healthiest head of hair I’ve ever seen.

No matter how serious our conversations were, he would always make me laugh.

One of the reasons that I am glad I joined social media to connect with educators years ago, was to connect with people like Joe.  Although it really sucks that he is passed, so many people are better because they were able to learn from him.  Alberta Education and education all over the world lost a great advocate for kids.  My condolences to his family, friends, and all of those people around the world who had their lives touched by Joe. He will be deeply missed.

Rest in peace Joe.

Joe

How Far One Can Go

I had just knocked off a bucket list item for my professional career, by keynoting TIES in Minnesota. Having attended the last two years as a featured speaker, I hoped that I would get the chance to keynote the conference because it was such an incredible event, and the moment had arrived. From the moment I found out, I started planning, and to be honest, the event went well for me.  It was an incredible experience and I was so glad to be a part of it.

After the talk, someone had asked me for advice on speaking and they said that although they would never get to keynote a conference, they wanted to be better.  My first response was, “Why wouldn’t you get to keynote?”

Her response?

“That’s not me.”

My response?

“Why not?”

The thing is that sometimes we look at someone doing something we want to do, but we don’t see the journey that got someone there.

About six or seven years ago, after a year of blogging and sharing my ideas through Twitter, I was asked to speak virtually at a conference in New York.  There was no pay involved, and even though it was not an online conference, it was obvious that they wouldn’t even pay for my expenses to attend, so I would be doing this on my own time for free, and to be honest, I was so excited about the opportunity.  After a ton of planning, and a ton of work to go to a location that had the proper videoconferencing equipment, and hours to set that up, the camera fired up so the participants could see me, and I could see the participants.  When I use the word ‘participants”, it is correct since there were two people in the room.  About five minutes in, one of them left.  So there I was doing a “talk” that I had planned for this huge opportunity to one person who was probably staying there out of sympathy. And for that one person (thank you by the way), I gave my million dollar talk.  I did everything I could to make the most out of that situation, even though it was incredibly disheartening.  This was not, in my mind, the first step towards keynoting a conference, but it was an amazing opportunity that I had at the time that I was going to make the most out of.

I have so many stories of conferences and workshops that have me in front of the smallest audience, or parent nights with no parents attending.  And these stories aren’t from when I first started, they happen to me to this day. No matter the opportunity though,  I try my best, because I want to be my best.  The first step is often the hardest, but it is realizing that taking the next step in the journey is often as important as the destination.  It is the willingness to do something you love and putting in the work with no idea where it may land you, that is crucial.  One of my favourite quotes came from legendary coach Jim Valvano sharing some wisdom from his father. He shared the following;

“Hard work is not a guarantee of success but lack of hard work is a guarantee of no success.”

This is something that I try to keep always in the back of my mind.

There are so many areas that I want to grow in and many more “bucket list” items that I want to check off in my life.  They will not be handed to me, because I will have to work for them.  I see so many wonderful people starting off this same journey, and I honestly hope they are willing to do the million dollar talk for the one person in the audience.

So if you want to be a writer, write more.

If you want to be a speaker, speak more.

If you want to be the best teacher in the world, keep honing your craft.

The journey is just as important, if not more so, than the destination.

Just don’t accept that what you dream of is not a possibility.

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3 Images/Quotes To Disuss Paris

It is really hard to think about anything on a day after such a tragedy.  I am really at a loss for words on how to write anything about what has happened.

These three images really resonated with me today.

And this one on how the world can come together in the wake of tragedy.

View post on imgur.com

My thoughts are with Paris and everyone else around the world.