How Will You Make Your Own Mess? “Creating a Culture Not of Mimics But of Masters”

We have problems.  Big problems.

Our world is warming up at an alarming rate.  Child poverty is still a reality in spite of “promises” to end it.

Who will solve these problems?

What are we doing every day to move toward solutions?

Commander Hadfield asked this question recently as host of the CBC Radio program “The Current”.

Listen to the short clip here:
http://www.cbc.ca/video/swf/UberPlayer.swf?state=shareaudio&clipId=2508270671&width=512&height=126

“It takes individual action…

What can I do to understand this better, and then based on that understanding, what can action can I take to then help improve things for myself, for Canadians and beyond our borders.”

Commander Hadfield wonders what we are doing wrong in teaching science to our children.  Why does their curiosity disappear as they move through the school system?

 

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Shared under a Creative Commons Licence by timuiuc

 

This short clip might shed some light on the issues.

http://swf.tubechop.com/tubechop.swf?vurl=sXpbONjV1Jc&start=431.61&end=492.43&cid=2794897

 

We can ask the very same questions about math.

This short clip addresses part of the problem, but the full video below is well worth your time.
http://swf.tubechop.com/tubechop.swf?vurl=-tFCVa3lCds&start=366.33&end=539.64&cid=3754815

 

 

How will you help our students to make their own mess?

How are you making your own mess?

What strategies take us away from the path to a society of mimics, and down the road to a society of masters, poised to solve our big problems?

 

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We Have a Dream

“I have a dream.”

Millions were inspired by those words.

Now if Martin Luther King had said, “I have a strategic plan” or “I have a set of performance indicators”, do you think the effect would have been the same?

It is a dream, or a vision – a shared vision, that motivates groups of people to rise above expectations.

Andy Hargreaves pointed this out last spring  (May 1, 2014) at the Ontario Leadership Congress in Toronto (also in his TEDx Talk).

In his recent book, Uplifting Leadership, Hargreaves reflects on seven years of global research to list four characteristics of organizations that have risen to the top with seemingly very few resources.

The number one characteristic is the relentless pursuit of a shared dream or vision.

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Dreamcatcher image shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License by Chie.

 

Mary Jean Gallagher tells us that schools must be places where children can realize their “best possible, most richly-imagined future” (Jan. 17, 2014, Toronto)

As we begin this new school year, I wonder…

Do we share those dreams with our students? Are we relentlessly pursuing them together?

 

Featured image shared under a CC attribution license by katerha

Thoughts: Labour Day 2014

I wanted to tell a funny story on this Labour Day.

I will share this entertaining piece instead: Teachers Don’t Sleep on Labour Day by  @albertfong

I have plenty of my own crazy tales, of course, having spent nearly 30 years of Labour Days ignoring my family in spite of it being my daughter’s birthday, our wedding anniversary, a stressful time for my kids heading back to school…

Even though today is the first Labour Day in 25 years where nobody in our household is heading off to school, I don’t feel like being funny.  I have a very heavy heart as I think of the teachers in British Columbia and the conflict they are embroiled in.

I think of the passionate educators that do so much for students in B.C. – educators like Karen Lirenman,  David Truss, and Bryan Jackson.   How do I know what they are doing?  Because they share.

They openly invite everyone to see how they think, what they struggle with, how they learn, and what they are working on.  They do this through blogging, through Twitter (and other social media), and through face-to-face presentations throughout the year.

I know they love what they do, because they openly demonstrate this all year long.

As we once again see teachers as a political target, it is important to ask ourselves why this profession is so often attacked by politicians. Take a moment to read this very thought-provoking essay on the Future of Schooling in Canada by Stephen Murgatroyd.

Here is a short excerpt:

“Teachers need to “take back” their schools, supported by mindful school leaders, if they are not to become the new laboratories for corporate greed….

…The final challenge relates to the conditions of practice which teachers and school leaders face. There is a growing distortion around the importance of class size and composition – classes of 30-35 with up to six students with special needs are seen as “manageable” (they are not) with a single teacher and little if any access to other supports. Custodial services are seen as being only required before and after school – not during the school day, leaving teachers to clean up after sick children or some accident in the chemistry lab. We are neglecting the basic conditions in the name of economy. Attempts to challenge the creeping Fordism which such class sizes force on school systems are seen as “teacher whining”, yet parents and citizens should be appalled at some of the conditions under which we are asking teachers to produce the next generation of imagineers, artists, scientists, engineers and trades persons.”

 

If we really believe that our children are our greatest resource, and if we really believe that teaching is the most important profession for our future, then we need to tell our stories to the world.

“Teaching in isolation is no longer consistent with professionalism.”(Catherine Montreuil, August 2014).

This year, don’t just do great things for kids.

Tell your story.

Tell it loudly, and openly, and show the world what you do every day.

Show the world that every single day, teachers are making a positive difference in the lives of our children.

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Photo credit: venspired via Compfight cc

Who Are You Leaving Out?

 

Why would we want to exclude other educators from our professional learning network?

Stephen Katz, in his book Intentional Interruptions, discusses the problem of confirmation bias when it comes to professional learning.  It is our tendency to “only look for things that confirm rather than challenge our beliefs and practices“.

We need to make sure that we are not looking for our professional learning in echo chambers.  We need to find the people who will challenge our thinking.

When we hear, “Let’s build an online community so we can share our learning”, it sounds like a fantastic idea.  It is a fantastic idea.

But when designing how that community will work, ask who you want to exclude, because as soon as you put your sharing behind a password protected site, you are excluding other thinkers who might contribute to your conversation and challenge your thinking – exactly what professional learning needs to include.

It is easy to share your learning and thinking openly.

Consider, for example, the Inquiry-Based Learning Project in Ontario, and their conversations on Twitter under the #ontsshg hashtag.

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They have discussions, vote on topics, document their learning on a blog, and keep it in the open for anyone else to join in the conversation, make comments, search, read, and remix.

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While the conversations focus on Ontario topics, anyone is welcome to join, to share, to learn.

Similarly, Lakehead Public Schools chose to share their collaborative inquiry work with the world on an open blog rather than excluding readers who might learn from their work.

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Before choosing to participate in an online community that excludes learners, think about what you are able to share openly with other educators.

There is a need for protected spaces to share private information about student learning, but if your purpose is to share your own professional learning and to grow as an educator, why would you exclude others from the conversation?

Why not make your thinking and learning visible to all, and model that learning for our students?

 

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Related: Just Make It Public! by Mark W. Carbone:  http://blog.markwcarbone.ca/2014/08/05/just-make-it-public/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Child’s Best Hope

She hated me.

I didn’t know a lot about her, but I knew this for sure.

She hated me with every stare down as I walked through the halls, with every glare when I entered one of her classes, and with every silent meeting in my office – me talking, and her projecting her hatred  without saying a word, without cooperating in any way.

Once she stood up and punched at my face, expertly grazing my cheekbone so it didn’t cause damage, but it sent the clearest possible message.

I asked the school counselor what I had done wrong, what I had done to deserve such hatred.  She said, “Oh, don’t worry about her.  She hates everyone”.

Don’t worry?  If a 14-year-old hates everyone with that intensity, it is a huge cause for worry.

 

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Recently, while waiting to board a flight, I opened a free copy of the local paper – and there was her face, older but unmistakeable.  It was a selfie she had taken in happier times, her devilish smile betraying the torment that was under the surface.

The words below the photo did not mention suicide, but they didn’t have to. The two babies she adored were now without a mother.

As any educator would, I began to wonder if I could have done more.

 

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Mary Jean Gallagher often says that our job is to teach.  We are not social workers.  Our job is to ensure that children learn.

Catherine Montreuil emphasizes that no child in our classrooms can be stuck.  It is our responsibility to ensure that every child learns.  We don’t have to do it alone, we can get the supports we need to ensure learning happens.

Some of our kids need more than we can give.  It doesn’t mean we stop trying.  The structure of our schools makes it so difficult for some of our children to be successful.

 

I can no longer do anything for her, but I can keep working to make sure her babies enter an environment that embraces all cultures, respects and encourages all learning, and provides all the supports that all children need to be successful.

I owe her that.

 

Image credit:

mgaloseau via Compfight cc

The Loneliness of the First Follower

It’s harder to follow than it is to lead.

Timber and Bailey, June 2014
Image by Kira Fry, used with permission.

 

Leaders have passion for what they do.  They have practiced sticking out their necks, taking risks, trying new things, and failing.

For leaders, being the lone dancer in the crowd is their norm.

Dancing to the music is the right thing to do, even if it is all alone.

But first followers…  Life is very different for them.

Followers are straddling two worlds.  While one foot is firmly planted in their peer group, their team, their home position, they have suddenly taken a step out of their comfort zone.

Perhaps it is because they have heard music they can dance to for the first time.  Perhaps the song has finally come along that they have waited all night for.  Or perhaps they have been dancing with the door closed for a long time.

But first followers have the most to lose.

The leader might sit down again, leaving the follower all alone, dancing to a different tune than everyone else on the hill.

The leader might keep right on dancing to a different tune, ignoring the new partner.

Those sitting on the hill might tell the first follower that he is no longer welcome to sit with them.  He should go off and just keep dancing with his new partner.

Those sitting on the hill might grab the first follower’s legs and try to pull him back down.  They are afraid to try to keep up, and he is making them look slow.

But it is the first follower that other followers emulate.

First followers are critical to the movement.

First followers are catalysts for change.

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Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

As a school or system leader, how will you nurture your first followers this school year?

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(Shared here by Stacey Wallwin @wallwins http://swallwin.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/are-you-nuts-maybe-just-a-little/)

“It takes guts to be a first follower.  You stand out…”

“Being a first follower is an unappreciated form of leadership.”

 

by Donna Miller Fry (@fryed)

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