There are over 80 workshops for educators to attend over the next 2 days, and some of those presenters are waking up this morning and asking themselves, “What am I doing here?”.
Presenting can be scary. It can be intimidating. We, as educators, can be evaluative. We all want to do well. It’s our culture.
What are you doing here?
You are modelling best practice. You are sharing your learning.
You are enabling others to learn.
You are connecting learners. You are enriching lives. You are demonstrating courage.
You are walking the talk. You are Leading Learning.
What are the rest of us doing here?
We are here creating a culture of learning – a place where it is safe to share, where sharing is valued, and where the people with the courage to share are encouraged and applauded for putting themselves in that vulnerable position for our benefit.
We are nurturing all learners.
Congratulations, and thank you, to every single educator who has stepped forward today and tomorrow to share learning with the rest of us.
As we have travelled throughout the province this week, we have heard loud and clear that we need an easier entry point for our education leaders to start the connecting process.
Last Tuesday, connected leaders met to discuss how they became connected leaders – the catalyst that got them started. Here are some of the things we learned. Which of these do you need? Which of these can you bring to a leader you know to help them connect?
1. TIME! When can we possibly find the time to connect?
Educators are busy. Nobody disputes that! But could connecting actually make your life easier? YES IT CAN! You can pose a question on Twitter 24/7 and get an answer in minutes. We have heard many stories with this theme.
Learn to make time. Start with 15 minutes each day. Some of us do “Tea and Twitter”, some of us start…
In my province, Ontario, we have just completed a “visioning” exercise, looking at how to move our public education system from “great to excellent“. In the meantime, in what feels like a different country (because we rarely connect and share what we know), the province of Nova Scotia is about to embark on an education review.
Last week, the Province of Nova Scotia launched its urgent call for change.
The report states that a crisis exists that threatens the standard of living of Nova Scotians. It outlines 19 goals and 12 long-term strategies that are needed to turn the economy around and stop the current decline.
Robert Sutton, in his recent publication “Scaling Up Excellence” demonstrates that using logical arguments to spread the need for change are often not effective, and we need an emotional attachment to an idea to really move change forward. The Ivany Report, with the focus on Urgency and Mobilizing Strengths, has created this “hot cause” to “stoke the engine”.
As an educator, I read the report looking for how the education system would be redesigned to meet the goals of “One Nova Scotia: Shaping our Economy Together”. With a quarter of the population under the age of 19, it would seem that transforming an economy would certainly require a transformation in how young people were educated. But there is very little in the report to suggest how this might occur.
A small section entitled “Excellence in Education and Training” (combining those terms is concerning) suggests that a “rigorous curriculum review” and “setting the bar high” will hold Nova Scotians accountable for reaching their goals.
There is essentially no conversation on how a system of schooling, created with an industrial mindset, could now produce young adults who thought like entrepreneurs rather than obedient assembly line employees.
In Ontario, we have learned that public support of public education is critical. In our three priorities, raising the bar, lowering the gap and securing accountability, we have focused on how, as a province, we can believe in what we are doing as being the best for our students.
At the same time, research must be central to learning. So what, then, is the role of public consultation?
Perhaps the real question Nova Scotians need to answer is “What is School for?” How can we possibly determine what is working, and what needs improvement, if we aren’t in agreement on why we have schools in the first place?
The citizens of Nova Scotia, faced with the findings of the Ivany Report, now need to deeply consider their expectations, their beliefs, and their understanding of the purpose of the school buildings in their communities, and the reasons for the hours that young people spend there every day.
What kind of person emerges from the years in the school system, and what kind of province results from that education system?
How to help those teachers, schools and school boards embrace technology-enhanced learning is the topic of much discussion and much interest.
I have said many times, that I don’t believe in 2014, that our kids can possibly go to school and not have access to technology. I won’t go into the arguments why right here – that is another blog post – but technology needs to be there.
When a teacher who is not using technology in his or her class sees this quote, they can use it to justify what they are doing.
“Oh yes, I am a great teacher, so I don’t need technology in my classroom.”
It’s the same as seeing entire schools misuse standardized test scores to justify avoiding change. “We have great test scores so we are doing everything right, we don’t need to change.”
Quotes like this are dangerous.
I would ask the question, “In 2014, can good pedagogy exist without technology?”
I would also ask the question, “Does technology replace poor pedagogy?”
I think we need to be very careful about our choice of words.
When we look at the SAMR model, we see that technology-enhanced learning can be so much more enriching.
If we are not allowing our learners to connect and build learning networks, what exactly is our excuse?
Jenni’s question this week is one that needs more that 140 characters to answer.
I think we have to begin with why we even bother to blog. It begins with a fundamental belief that knowledge is to be shared and that learning comes from conversations. It isn’t enough to just learn any more. We need to learn, connect, reflect and share. We expect our students to do this every day. We need to model that for them.
When we recognize blogging and sharing our learning as a priority, it becomes easier to do it.
Before blogging becomes a habit, though, professional learning needs to be a habit. This was stated nicely in #satchat today.
So how can professional learning become part of your life? Here are a few simple suggestions:
1) Listen to podcasts, all the time. I hate mundane tasks like vacuuming and raking, but plugged into a great podcast makes the chore simply listening and learning time. Suggestions? Get ASCD’s Whole Child Podcast on your iPhone, along with CBC Ideas, HBR Ideacast (great stuff for school and system leaders), Moving at the Speed of Creativity with Wes Fryer (once listened to these every commute – learned a ton from Wes), CBC Spark (I’m a bit partial to Episode 195!). Those are my favourites, but I could go on forever here with other suggestions.
2) Read your notes! How often do you go to PD sessions and take notes. Do you ever read them again? You should! As you learn and grow, some parts of previous learning sessions begin to make more sense.
3) Read great books. Don’t know where to start? Ask your PLN on Twitter. Some recent favourites? Intentional Interruption by Stephen Katz and Lisa Ain Dack, Professional Capital by Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan. I am certain your PLN can suggest many, many more.
If you don’t have time to read a blog, you can always “listen” to one. Check out how Darren Kuropatwa uses his commuting time to work to post to his blog – “while walking“.
5. Enrol in a MOOC! There are so many MOOCs for learning out there. Try Coursera if you can’t find what you want elsewhere.
6. Connect Online. Enable Feedly, use social bookmarking, connect on Twitter. Maximize sharing and connecting to learn from other educators. There are endless ways to do this.
But what to share?
Sometimes just sharing your learning is so worthwhile. I often do this after a particularly valuable session at a conference (Catherine Montreuil, John Malloy).
Sometimes things happen in your day that inspire a post about a topic you are learning about or that you want to explore further.
For example, this past week, I was explaining my new role in promoting digital learning throughout Ontario to my optometrist when he started into a rant on how we had better get Facebook out of schools. It reminded me of how much work we have to do to teach the public about the importance of digital learning – a blog post for another day.
Doug Peterson (@dougpete <– follow him) explains very nicely how he comes up with his blog topics here.
How can you organize your learning, your experiences, your blog ideas, your blog post catalysts? There are many tools available.
Recently, I have started using a free app called Notability.
It allows me to use handwriting or voice to quickly record my thinking.
I can organize it by topic.
When I synch it with my other devices, the documents download to my laptop in pdf format.
I also use my phone to record ideas while walking or hiking. Then, as I start to write the blog, I often switch to Evernote, which is synched across all of my devices and where I store and tag much of my online learning.
And sometimes I even use good old-fashioned paper when I am really trying to sort things out.
Most educators I know are trying to do too much with too little time. Having time to exercise, get outside, relax and heal has to be a priority. Sometimes, this is the best time to reflect and consolidate learning, and as you make connections, why not share those ideas with your colleagues when you get back? We are all learning together.
The recent scandal involving the Mayor of Toronto (Rob Ford) has catalyzed many conversations around the delineation of a person’s professional life vs. their personal life. On the Friday, November 8, 2013 edition of “The Current” on CBC Radio 1, panelists discussed their opinions around whether a public figure like a mayor can still do the job when their personal life is in such disarray.
Mayors are public figures. As leaders in society, do we believe they should be modelling the characteristics of good citizenship we would like to see in everyone? Is it okay for a mayor to admit to illegal activity, yet still act as a leader for a major world city?
In K-12 public education, teachers and principals are subject to similar scrutiny of their public lives. On Friday, an educator said to me, “Oh I would never be on Twitter. I don’t want to get fired”. It was an odd comment for me, because I have gained so, so much on a professional level from my interactions and conversations on Twitter and other social media.
As I looked for more writing on the topic, I came across Brandon Grasley’s recent post on the question, and some work by George Couros on the same topic. It is worth reading both explorations of the topic, and the comments from the many educators who have weighed in.
But the examination of personal and professional lives of School Principals goes beyond considering reputation and public activity. One of the key capacities of a school leader is to build relationships.
Building relationships is critical to the success of a School Leader. It’s also a very tricky role, particularly in communities where a School Leader may wear many other hats outside of the school building. Family members may attend the school. Staff members may be relatives or friends.
It’s even trickier when concerns arise about the performance of a staff member in the school. While we always want to “build the new”, we can’t stand by and watch when the “old” is harming the learning of students.
School leaders are trained in how to keep their professional role of leading the instructional program in a school separate from their personal lives.
Unfortunately, not all people working in a school have had the opportunity to build the capacity to accept constructive criticism of their professional practice and separate it from their personal relationships.
Leadership is not a popularity contest. School leaders are not hired to make friends, but to build relationships that will benefit the students and improve student learning, all student learning.
It takes courage, but school and system leaders must take action even when it might be interpreted as personal. They must model the change they want to see.
Is it too much to ask all of our leaders to lead by example?
There is no doubt that #ECOO13 was an outstanding opportunity for learning and networking. The event was exceptional from beginning to end and I am grateful for the talents and very hard work of all involved.
Of course the learning continues long after the event, as long as we continue to heed the “call to action” so clearly emanating as a theme for the event. Incoming ECOO President, Mark Carbone, summarized it perfectly in his closing remarks (posted here: http://blog.markwcarbone.ca/2013/10/25/ecoo13-call-to-action/).
In one of my presentations on Thursday, I cited the work of Stephen Katz and Lisa Dack, showing that most professional development does not result in a change in classroom practice. Our ECOO13 experience must be different. We must work to change our practice based on our new learning, and we must courageously continue to share our learning by taking the same risks we ask our students to take, and make our thinking visible.
I have never really thought about “nurturing” as a method of effecting change. Nurturing is different from “leading” or “supporting” or even “building relationships”. It is far more personal, far more precise, and, I think, potentially far more effective.
It is empowering to recognize nurturing as an agent of change.
When I think about Andrew’s “new teacher” from Beaverton (where, coincidentally, my husband and I purchased our first home together), I wonder what she is doing now. I hope that someone is there to encourage her through those first difficult years and to connect her to this massive support system of educators.
I hope someone nurtures her so she too can recognize her full potential as a teacher and learner.
It’s a very good look at the need to communicate and respond in many ways to all the stakeholders in the school community.
I would add another item to the list: Blogging
Why should education administrators blog? For the same reasons we want teachers and students to blog.
#1: Make Learning Visible
Through blogging, educational administrators at all levels make their thinking visible to their team. Learning is shared and open. Conversations about learning become widely shared and asynchronous. Anyone can join in. Learning is enhanced for everyone who participates. Introverts who may feel uncomfortable having a conversation with an educational leader face to face, can carefully consider their comments and share them in a way that makes them comfortable.
#2: Encourage Others to Make Learning Visible
When administrators share their learning, they model the practice of making thinking visible, encouraging all members of the school community to do the same. They show that risk-taking is valued, that failing is a catalyst for learning, and that learning is important for everyone in the school environment.
#3: Share the Learning
How often do we hear that Principals are out of the building too often, and that Supervisory Officers are never in the school? Blogging allows administrators to share their learning with others. It is a built-in accountability that their time away is well spent and that the learning can be used to build capacity in the entire system. What personal professional learning are you currently engaged in? What books are you reading? Share your learning with your school community and your PLN. Model personal professional growth while encouraging your staff to do the same.
#4. Organize Your Thinking
A teacher who recently started blogging was preparing for a position of added responsibility this year, and she remarked at how easy it was to organize her thinking. It was already organized on her blog! Education Administrators who are called on to make presentations have easy access to the material they may need as they have already presented their thinking and learning in their blog.
#5. Connect With Other School Leaders
By following the blogs of school leaders around the world, you can engage in conversations and learn from their learning. Be a part of the Professional Learning Network that believes in sharing, in challenging thinking, and in making thinking visible to all.
“Start With Why” by Simon Sinek suggests that great leadership begins with asking the question, “Why do we do this?” as a focal point for our actions. Understanding our purpose, our philosophy, is fundamental for educational leaders. I have written about the importance of this in the past (You Need to Know What You Stand For), and Shelley Wright explains it beautifully in her blog.
Organizations, too, have learned the value in examining their purpose and collaborating to document group beliefs. Over the past year, SGDSB in northwestern Ontario engaged stakeholders in examining their purpose, and writing a new Strategic Plan.
But just knowing the “why” is not enough to succeed in creating the learning opportunities we want for our students. Once the “why” is established, how do we continue to move the school system forward?
Shelley Wright asks this question in a recent blog post:
As individuals, it can be very difficult to try to change our practice in a group setting that is not supportive. I do agree with Shelley that sometimes fear keeps us from teaching how we know we need to teach. The number of comments on my post on “When the Principal Is a Bully” tells me that this is an issue that affects teachers all over the world.
But there is more.
Sometimes the personal answer to “Why?” does not align with the organizational answer.
Not everyone works in public education for the “right” reasons – the “why” that results in the best learning opportunities for our youth. This isn’t referring only to teachers. Administrators can choose that path for personal gain, status, financial reward or other reasons that are not best for students.
And how do we tackle that?
We can start with who we invite into the organization in the first place.
“But if you don’t know why you do what you do, how will you ever get anyone to … be loyal, and want to be a part of what it is that you do?”
Do your education leaders know why they do what they do?
“The goal is not hire people who just need a job. The goal is to hire people who believe what you believe.”
“If you hire people because they need a job, they will work for your money. If you hire people who believe what you believe, they will work for you for blood, and sweat and tears.”
Who we hire to work with our children and to lead our schools is a critical decision that cannot be taken lightly.
We should never settle for someone who will not provide the learning environment in the classroom or the leadership and support in the organization that we know would make our school system the best for our kids.
Whenever someone is presenting on the value of Twitter for teachers and educators, and there is a shout out for “tell us who you are and why you love Twitter for education”, there is always a flurry of people talking about how they love twitter for connecting with other educators, for conversation and for sharing ideas. But how often is that really happening?
The most valuable moment in my growth as a twitter user came several years ago when I posted a math resource. Ira Socal (@irasocal) replied that he didn’t think I was the kind of educator who used resources like that. It caught me completely by surprise. I had not critically judged the resource I shared. It was being used at my school. A teacher had recommended it. I tweeted it. But I had no idea if it was effective.
How often do we share without thinking? How often to we quickly scan something and share? There is so much information out there. How often do we take the time to read, think, reflect, and ask questions of our PLN? How often do we engage our PLN in critical thinking, or in conversations that challenge our beliefs?
Stephen Katz talks about the importance of not trying to cover a “mile”, but to pick the right “inch” and then dig in deep.
There is nothing wrong with sharing. I hope that what I put out there is useful, that it provokes thought and helps kids. But it is worth taking the time to really read something carefully, to reflect on what is being said, and to challenge the thinking of others.
So how do we start digging deeper into what we are learning from our colleagues on Twitter?
Think about taking part in a chat. Everything you need to know to take part in a Twitter chat can be found here: Cybrary Man’s Educational Chats on Twitter. If you want to see samples of chat discussions, check out the #edchat archives here.
Or, just read something that is posted. Blog about it. Ask questions about it. Think more deeply about it. Who would use this? Do you agree with it? Does it align with the Strategic Plan where you work? Do you have experiences to add to it? Can you refer to it in a discussion on another topic?
There are real people with great brains behind those Twitter handles. Let’s make sure Twitter is more than an “echo chamber” and instead, a place where we can challenge each other to think critically about our practice.