Category Archives: winnipeg school division

Meaningful Change is On All of Us

I truly loved this post from Ira Socol, “Your School’s UX. What is it? And where to start“.  In it, Ira challenges us to think about the messages our schools send to our students:

What do kids see? What do they feel? What do they smell? What do they hear? What is their experience as they move through your school?

One of the things that is clear is that every single thing kids see, hear, feel, smell, taste, sends a message about your school. Every single thing. And many of the messages schools send are as awful as they are unintentional.

As someone who walks into schools often, I notice things right away and they do send messages about the environment. We often become numb to them so we have to be intentional about how we as educators ensure that we are always paying attention to the words on the walls. I even suggested on Twitter that a great professional learning opportunity would be to read Ira’s article as a staff, and then walk around the school and discuss what you see.

But what if you are a teacher and not an administrator? Is this opportunity for you to suggest to the entire staff?

Short answer? Yes.

Every child in your school, whether you teach them or not, are our kids. If we look at our students this way, then we need all people in the building to challenge, suggest, and lead.  It is essential to the growth of schools as true “learning organizations”.

In my book, “The Innovator’s Mindset“, I outline five areas that schools should focus on to help others move forward.  They are listed below:

Innovator's Mindset (Foundations)

The reason I left the last column open was to encourage people to come up with their own solutions, and revisit this space.  It is not very “innovative” if I can prescribe exactly how to make “innovation” happen. Yet this “chart” is not meant for the admin to answer the last column, but it should be a discussion within your community.  How do you bring these questions to reality?  (Please feel free to print off the image above and use for discussion.)

I really appreciated this post from Jeremy Midford, who is part of the ITLL (Innovative Teaching and Learning Leads) project:

I have to remind myself often that you can’t do ten things at once. We all need that reminder sometimes. Designing, planning, and carrying out innovative learning opportunities for with students is the best and most rewarding part of our jobs as teachers. But it’s not the only part. When it starts to feel overwhelming with work on reporting, documenting, communicating, committee planning, etc, I remind myself to focus on one thing that puts students first. One lesson or activity that is innovative, and changes my practice for the better. Then build on it. That is the only way to accomplish the first part of our goal as ITLL leaders in this Winnipeg School Division initiative in innovation. In order to move from the idea of “pockets of innovation” to a “culture of innovation”, you have to put one foot in front of the other, and change one thing at a time.

Despite that fact, I can’t help looking and thinking big picture, and wondering how I can impact the teaching and learning of others in my school. I never really see myself as an “expert”, who might be able to offer insight to another teacher to improve their practice. But then I had that type of light bulb moment when you stop, put your fist to your head and make the sound effect as you simulate the explosion with your hand. My task as an ITLL leader is not necessarily to impart my own pedagogy, technology, or content on other teachers, my job is to bring people together! Connect our school, and the teachers and students in it to the outside world of innovation. It might involve a few Twitter tutorials, or maybe a learning lunch with Google Docs, but mostly my job will be to allow my colleagues to benefit from the same process that I was so lucky to be apart of. Give them a chance to be inspired by new technology. Demonstrate the power of a professional social network. Be a part of the positive change in my school that hopefully results in an environment that reflects a culture of innovation.

It may sound like a tall order. But on the bright side I know exactly how we need to do it. Together, and one step at a time.

Jeremy looks at how he can lead from the position he is in, not one that he is allocated.  He has no admin time allocated nor does he have a formal title; he is just trying to find a way to not only help his students, but more importantly, his school.

The crucial part of his post is that he sees the importance of doing this “together”.  If we expect the “principal” or the “superintendent” to be the only one responsible for moving our organizations forward, meaningful change will either be excruciatingly slow, or not happen at all.

The Experts In the Room


Many educators want to show that they are well read and that they are looking around the world for inspiration and ideas from some of the leading thinkers in the world.  This helps to shape a vision for a more “globally inspired school” than if we are to only look at what we are doing in our own context.

That being said, the notion of “you can’t be a prophet in your own land”, to me, is one that wreaks of insecurity. Acknowledging someone in your own organization seems to make others feel “less than”, as opposed to realizing and celebrating that expertise has been developed within your own culture. That should be worn like a badge of honour, not taken as a slight.

Recently speaking at an event with Winnipeg School Division, the Chief Superintendent, Pauline Clarke, welcomed and celebrated staff before I had the opportunity to speak.  She also shared a compelling vision of what schools can look like, yet when she quoted her references, she did not talk about what she has seen in “Finland” or certain institutions. She referenced, quoted, and connected her vision to what educators had said and done in her own schools.  She acknowledged that the experts were actually in the room, and how her own thinking was inspired by them.

It was a nice reminder and view of “leadership in action”, as she empowered the people she served to continue pushing the envelope of what powerful and innovative learning can look like for their students, and themselves.

It also reminded me that connecting globally doesn’t matter if we can’t connect within our own communities.

Never Losing That “Look”


This is a little clip from one of my favourite videos online, that shows the sheer joy and wonder of a child.


One of the goals of my work is that kids never lose that curiosity, and we fan that flame. To do this, our own love and excitement for learning as educators should look like this:


What I love about this clip is how the excitement becomes contagious. I have watched new parents look at learning through a totally different lens when they have children. They ask questions, point out wonder, and just have an excitement that their own child exudes.

I was fortunate enough to spend the year with Winnipeg School Division, and I end my year with them full of excitement, as we focused on a renewed view on the power of learning for the educator, not just the student. When educators are excited not only about teaching, but more importantly, learning, their passion becomes contagious.

Yesterday, I listened to the awesome George Pearce share that instead of spending his nights aimlessly looking at social media streams, he now spent his time seeing what his colleagues were sharing of their own learning on a shared hashtag.  It was truly inspiring.

This great post from Stephane Gautron last night talking about his own shift in thinking this year really resonated with me:

Having had my head in the sand for so long, it was a steep learning curve but one that has helped me love and get excited about teaching and connecting with students again. One that has allowed me to share, encourage, ask questions, find inspiration and perhaps inspire. One that has allowed me to reconnect with students at a time where I thought humanity was doomed.

…To learn about Twitter was to become more technologically literate at the least. At best, it summed up and made use of the most recent and important developments in social media and technology from the past 10 years. It allowed me to speak and experiment with this new language. It also meant free professional development anytime, anywhere. The upside seemed appetizing, so I dug in. (Read the whole thing.)

Slowing down to go fast is sometimes important, but only if we are focused on deep and powerful learning.  To watch the journey of so many educators over year become really excited about their own learning has been something that has increased my enthusiasm for my own work.

As it says on the side of my blog, “I believe we need to inspire our kids to follow their passions, while letting them inspire us to do the same”.  Kids should read “learners” as I have been moved by the passion of learning of so many through this project.  If we can be excited about teaching that’s great, but if we become excited about our own learning, the differences we can make in schools moving forward will be immeasurable.

Educators as “Guinea Pig” of Learning

Attachment-1 (4)

When new initiatives roll out for education, you may hear some pushback from parents saying, “I do not want my child to be a guinea pig for this new initiative.” In some ways, I agree with this statement.  The “guinea pig” should be the educator, acting as learner first, teacher second.  How do we truly understand any initiative in our classrooms, unless we go from the perspective of  the learner first? Master teacher does not happen without becoming a master learner.

I have worked with Winnipeg School Division this past year, focusing on “Innovative Teaching, Learning and Leadership”, with the focus on the educators as learners first.  The reality is that some will dig deeper into their own learning than others, but I have been amazed by some of their reflections shared through this year and our collaborative blog (I wrote about this process in the post titled, “5 Reasons To Have a Collaborative Blog“), and as I go through some of the educator reflections, I am amazed by what some of them are sharing (emphasis is mine on the following quotes and you click on the teacher’s name for the full post in it’s entirety):

“What stood out to us after reading the book and spending the day with George was how we currently use the technology in our classroom. Based on our reflections and conversations with colleagues, we realized we are using our technology (iPads, computers, digital cameras) primarily for consumption. We would like to begin guiding elementary students towards utilizing technology more creatively. We are trying to find the balance between the practicalities of using technology for consumption while finding ways for students to express themselves creatively.”  Vanessa Madsen & Val Mytopher

“Empowering students “means giving kids the knowledge and skills to pursue their passions, interests, and future”. We need to raise the bar from just settling for engagement through good content and practice, to empowerment. It’s easy to do an inquiry project, or genius hour as a “one-off” empowering activity, but how do you embed this idea mindset into our classroom environment? I do not have the answer yet, but I certainly hope to continue to learn and find out.”  Jeremy Midford 

“I think I am moving in the right direction in terms of the innovator’s mindset.  I want my students to have more than just worksheet experiences in math and sitting at the carpet and me telling them how to solve math facts.  If I go back to decision that made me change my practice, it probably was from my own experience as a new mom, what would I want from my own daughter’s early years teacher?  A teacher who believed in play based learning with hands on experiences or a teacher who was old fashioned in her teaching style?  The first one would appeal to me more as a mom.  I’m excited to see what else I can come up with for my math practice in the classroom.  I’m sure George’s book and the conversations we will have during these sessions will inspire me with more ideas.” Shannon McMurtry

What I love about these reflections is the open struggle that they are having with this process, and to be honest, the need to get better.  Think of the types of questions that are being asked by these teachers going through this process.

What does innovation mean for education?

What type of learning would I want for my own child?

How do we move from consumption to creation?

These questions are being focused on, and as Jeremy mentioned in his post above, he is looking to find out more.  The more we shift our focus to that of being a learner, the better we become as teachers.  The struggle is not only “real” but it is an encouraged part of the process, as it should be.