All posts by Donna Fry

I am a Secondary School Principal in Northwestern Ontario.

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.”

 

Digging Into Collaborative Inquiry

Over the past few weeks, I have been taking some time to dig more deeply into collaborative inquiry.

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 10.39.28 AMI began reading Jenni Donohoo’s book Collaborative Inquiry for Educators: A Facilitator’s Guide to School Improvement, which is a valuable resource for anyone involved in education.  It contains not only clear, research-based information about CI, but also includes excellent examples of how to facilitate learning through CI.

Image shared under a Creative Commons attribution license by ThinkPublic
Image shared under a Creative Commons attribution license by ThinkPublic

After reading through the whole book quickly, I sat down to dig more deeply into some of the ideas, and I was stopped on the very first page.  It’s here that Jenni discusses the two different types of challenges we face as educators.

“Technical” challenges are those we face regularly, and where we have set protocols and solutions to come to the resolution we are looking for.  We have the capacity and will to solve them as part of our daily work.

“Adaptive” challenges, on the other hand, are challenges that require new learning.  They are problems that old solutions don’t work for any more, or new challenges that we don’t know how to address.  In order to tackle these new challenges, we need to rethink what we believe to be true.

Shared through a Creative Commons attribution license by Nick Fletcher
Shared through a Creative Commons attribution license by Nick Fletcher

We have to “adopt new values and beliefs” (p. 1) before we can solve adaptive challenges.

As the world continues to change at an exponential pace, educators face more and more adaptive challenges.  The old models of “school” don’t work in our connected world, and our methods must evolve to support our students to thrive in today’s reality.

Adaptive change is particularly difficult because it requires that we reconstruct our understanding of our work.

As we work together to solve adaptive challenges, our thinking changes, and our way of doing business changes with it.  As we adapt to these new challenges, it changes us.

Image shared through a Creative Commons attribution license by B K
Image shared through a Creative Commons attribution license by B K

For me, one of my greatest personal challenges is engaging leaders in the notion that connecting, sharing, and learning together – modelling the change we want to see in our students’ learning – is important and worthwhile.

This simple explanation of adaptive challenges, and the fundamental change in thinking and acting that must accompany our response, helps me to better understand the difficulties we face in trying to adapt an entire system to the realities of the world today.

How are you adapting to new challenges in education?

 

 

 

What Does a “Lead Learner” Actually Do?

A few weeks back, I was asked to work with some educators who were at the senior management level in their board.  They told me that they wanted everyone in the organization to model the kind of learning they wanted to see at the classroom level.

We were specifically working on ways to make thinking and learning visible to a wide audience, inviting feedback and conversation.

Certainly we want all of our learners to engage with a broad audience and learn with others outside of their immediate classroom.  But if we want to model the kind of learning we expect to see in classrooms, we need a clear picture of what that should look like.

In Ontario, we have several documents to guide our thinking about what classrooms should look like.  I have outlined some of those documents below.

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Achieving Excellence: A Renewed Vision for Education in Ontario:

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/about/excellent.html

Specifically:  To achieve success, Ontario will:

• Invest in the technology, design and infrastructure required for the classrooms of the future to serve the needs of all communities.

• Invest in innovative teaching practices and instructional methods enabled by technology to more precisely engage and address the learning needs of all students.

• Give students more flexibility and ownership in their learning, allowing them, for example, to determine whether they want to spend more time on elearrning or on learning outside of the classroom

• Provide new online learning and professional development opportunities for both teachers and students, particularly those in rural and remote communities, including opportunities for virtual cooperative education placements.

 

A Student’s View of the Future: Learning in Ontario

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/students/speakup/preMSAC.html

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http://www.videodelivery.gov.on.ca/player/download.php?file=http://www.media.gov.on.ca/a0efff64e63ac895/en/pages/text.html

 

“I’m an Ontario student, and my world is constantly changing.

I live in a world where technology is everywhere.

I can connect with a friend in another part of the globe, just as easily as I can with a friend down the street.

When I graduate high school, I will enter a world that is more competitive and connected than ever before.

My education will prepare me for that world.

My school will be a place where my friends and I can be successful, regardless of where we come from.

A place where we are inspired to learn by engaging teachers using new technology.

Our diversity will not be a barrier, but rather a reason for our success.

We will develop the strength of character to overcome obstacles and be resilient, whatever comes our way.

We will feel safe and welcome, and know that our well-being is supported inside and outside of school.

We will be the innovators, community builders, creators, skilled workers, entrepreneurs and leaders of tomorrow.

As an Ontario student, I will achieve excellence.”

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To achieve this in our classrooms, what practices need to be modelled by educators?

A good starting point is the ISTE Standards for students, teachers, coaches (professional learning facilitators) and administrators.

This is a sample of the first two standards for school and system leaders:

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As leaders, what are we modelling?

As leaders, what practices do we need to change to ensure we are modelling the kind of learning we want for our students?  What supports do we need to get there?

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Further: In Ontario, as we consider the ways we ask our students to engage in pedagogical documentation, how are we modelling this practice for our students?  How do we document our own professional learning?

You can find some great thinking on this topic on the Langwitches Blog here:  http://langwitches.org/blog/2014/07/01/documenting-for-learning/

 

Sharing our Passion for Connecting Education Leaders: TEDxKitchenerED

Mark Carbone and I recently took advantage of the opportunity to share our passion for connecting education leaders at the TEDxKitchenerED event.

If you are wondering about #OSSEMOOC, here is the story of how we are working to connect leaders, and helping Ontario learners, to thrive in the complexities of teaching and learning in today’s rapidly changing world.

by Laurie Near http://www.laurienear.com/

Digging Into Curation

There is a vast amount of information online, and digging into it can sometimes feel too overwhelming to even begin.  Yet our students will need to be quite adept at this process as they navigate the new realities of a digitally-connected world.

What best practices do we need to model as leaders to ensure our students are gaining the skills they need to be able to find, organize, create, make meaning, and share?

Sue Waters tackles this questions.

This piece was originally posted on the #OSSEMOOC blog for the June “pic and post” event.

 

Digging Into Curation.