I am a Secondary School Principal in Northwestern Ontario, an Education Officer with the Ontario Ministry of Education, a proud member of OSAPAC, co-lead of OSSEMOOC, and a member of the Board of Directors of ECOO.
“In today’s highly connected information age educators have a moral obligation to empower students with the skills and dispositions of lifelong learners, to support and teach them to become creative critical thinkers, collaborative, globally connected problem solvers, and responsible citizens who strive to make the world a better place.”
Please take a moment to listen to this important message from Ontario’s Chief Student Achievement Officer, Mary Jean Gallagher.
The title of this post, “Are Teachers Taught About Creative Commons”, was one of the questions from the group of educators we were learning with. This brings up another issue about who owns the learning when it comes to teacher education, but that question is for another day. For now, it is important to understand why being fluent in using Creative Commons is very important to the maker culture in the classroom.
There are many resources for educators to learn about how to use Creative Commons. We wanted to focus more on the “why“.
Last week, George Couros shared his work on the innovator’s mindset. He suggested that innovative practice requires both networking and remix.
How do we encourage “remix” with our students and educators?
If we are going to encourage copying and remixing, it is essential that teachers understand proper use of licensing.
Teachers need to help students license their work in a way that will encourage properly attributed use, and encourage further creativity.
Modelling the use of Creative Commons Licensing of work provides a structure for thinking in a positive way about creativity, sharing, and remixing.
Have you ever experienced so much learning that your head hurts?
Tonight, amid the beautiful sunset, the lightning show and the Perseid Meteor Shower, many educators are reflecting and thinking about today’s amazing learning at #CATC15.
I started to write some notes about today’s learning, but why should I hide those ideas away in a notebook that nobody may ever look at again?
Besides, the Innovator’s Mindset is about creating something with that learning, right?
I’m thinking a lot tonight about the conversation I had with George Couros and Mark Carbone today about the focus schools have on “student engagement”. “Engagement” has been a buzz word in Ontario for a long time. I remember a similar discussion at Educon in 2014 with David Jakes and Bill Ferriter about how engagement is not enough. It’s a start, but empowerment is a much more important goal for learners.
Last March, Andy Hargreaves explored thinking around student engagement with education leaders at #uLead15. Mark digs into this more here.
As George Couros said today, “engagement” still requires someone or something else to create the learning environment. Without the entertaining venue, the learning stops.
How are we ensuring that our students truly become self-directed curious learners? How do we empower learners to truly own their own learning?
I am taking a little of my own advice today, and rereading Carol Dweck’s 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
I am still working through the first chapters, but I have already found a number of connections to other work.
The most interesting new learning for me comes from exploring the symptoms of a “fixed mindset”.
We have been so focused on the “growth mindset”, that I have not taken time to really consider what a fixed mindset looks like.
What systems and structures encourage a fixed mindset?
A fixed mindset means that you believe that your talents, abilities and intelligence are what they are. You also believe that the talents, abilities and intelligence of others is fixed and won’t change.
The new learning for me is the idea that if this is your belief, you need to prove over and over again that you are smart and talented.
You can’t let the world see that you might not be smart and talented and able.
““Believing that your qualities are carved in stone – the fixed mindset – creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character – well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.”
Dweck, Mindset (2006) p. 6
When young children enter school, they arrive as learners. Does the evaluative nature of the classroom encourage a fixed mindset?
Do our students become afraid to show they don’t know something?
Do they become afraid of challenges, and of learning opportunities where they might fail the first time?
Do they begin to ask, “Will I succeed or fail?Will I look smart of dumb?What will people think of me?” These questions are related to having a fixed mindset about your abilities. (Dweck, p.6)
Does the structure of school create an environment for the entrenchment of fixed mindsets?
Do students begin to choose only those experiences where they will succeed? Do they believe that “kids who are smart don’t do mistakes”? (Dweck, p.16)
Do our “very best students”, those who learn to play school well, get high marks, and “succeed” leave school with the most fixed mindsets of all – needing to prove themselves over and over and over again?
This thinking links to two other ideas I have been exploring recently.
First, Seth Godin’s piece on the meaning of empathy.
Empathy is about wondering why people do what they do.
When we dismiss the actions of others as being the result of their unchangeable characteristics, instead of approaching the behaviour of others with curiosity and wonder, we are displaying the symptoms of a fixed mindset.
If we have a fixed mindset, then we know why people do what they do, because they only have so much intelligence, their personality is “this”, and their abilities are “that”, so obviously the outcome is “this”.
In an environment that promotes a fixed mindset, is it difficult for empathy to flourish?
Do our students who have learned to play school have a difficult time having empathy for others as they develop the belief that abilities are fixed?
When we look closer at it, we see that assessment for learning and assessment as learning are strategies for a growth mindset that believes all people can learn.
Assessment OF learning, in isolation, is a breeding ground for fixed mindset thinking, where intelligence, or being smart, must be proven over and over in an evaluative environment.
Robert Sternberg (on p. 5 of Mindset) is quoted as saying that a major factor in whether people achieve expertise is not fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement. If we really believe that, then assessment for and as learning would be a no-brainer, because learning would be a priority, not marks and evaluation.
Does a pervasive fixed mindset also seep into our professional lives? Are educators afraid to make their thinking visible through blogging because “they might look stupid” and they might “reveal that there are things they don’t know”?
When we think about promotions at the school and system level, does a fixed mindset enter into this process as well? Do we put our colleagues into neat little categories based on past mistakes? Do we forget that their abilities and talents can change?
Perhaps, if me must put people into categories, the most useful categories are learners vs. non-learners. Learners embrace feedback, thrive on challenge, and work to get better.
Often, when discussing digital literacies with leaders, someone will say, “but I have a student achievement lens, and I am focussed on how we improve student achievement“. It is at this point that I know this educator sees “technology” and “digital literacies” as “add-ons” to the student achievement agenda, rather than critical components of it.
So then, what drives student achievement*? (Or, if you prefer, student learning.)
Research suggests that “teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling” (RAND 2012)
The role of the teacher is to ensure that every child in their care moves forward in their learning.
Teachers can’t do this alone. In collaboration with their colleagues, they learn the strategies and practices that work best with each and every individual student in the room.
When a student is stuck in his or her learning (think, for example, in a grade 9 applied math class), the teacher must find a way to help that student learn. This involves looking at what works in other contexts, and adapting it to the needs of a particular learner.
Thinking about what is working now (best practice), and using it as a lens to evaluate and adapt what is working elsewhere to a specific context (next practice), relies on a collaborative professional environment, and the opportunity to learn about a wide array of promising practices.
At one time, teachers closed their doors and taught in isolation.
Now, a much more collaborative approach to professional practice is encouraged. However, no longer should collaboration among educators be confined to a school or even to a single district.
The most capable teacher in the school is the school, unless the teachers are connected learners, and then its the world.
Teachers who know how to self-direct their learning online with their peers from around the world, have access to all the best thinking, the best strategies, and the best conversations about how to help each and every child learn.
How, then, can Principals enable self-directed learning by teachers in their schools? We know now that the most effective leadership practice is to be a visible lead learner.
(*I won’t take the time here to define “student achievement”, but it is always worth asking the question, “What IS student achievement?” whenever engaging in conversations about it. Also, ask how it is being measured in research studies that claim to show an improvement in student achievement. We have vastly different ideas of what “student achievement” really means.)
How can Ontario Leaders become Connected? How do they improve their understanding of digital literacies? OSSEMOOC – free, no password, 24/7 support and learning to become a Lead Learner.
For example, we don’t know how to safely dispose of nuclear waste. We are destroying Arctic coastlines with oil spills. The tar sands have far reaching environmental and health impacts. Our population is aging. Our First Nations, Metis and Inuit citizens are isolated and can’t access the basics we take for granted in the south.
I would argue that our education system must build the capacity and desire in our future generations to solve these problems. As Pak Tee Ng says, if we want our graduates to be creative and curious citizens, consider that’s how they arrive in school, so do no harm!
Yesterday, I was reading about some of the work my cousin, Robert LeRoy, has done in chemical and physical sciences, and I stumbled upon this quote from an interview with him:
Q: Are there any words of wisdom you could pass on to a novice in the world of science?
Finding something which interests you enough that you are willing to work really hard on it, and which challenges you to use your abilities to the fullest, is the key to a fulfilling and enjoyable life. Whether this involves basic or applied science (as in my case) or any other area of human endeavour is immaterial, and whether or not it pays particularly well, is also of no matter. Don’t choose something because it is easy – choose it because it is challenging and worthwhile.
We know there are barriers that keep some of our best thinkers from accessing opportunities to contribute to the solutions to Canada’s problems. How could we collaborate as educators across the country to remove some of these barriers?
Our current system of high grades as a filter for future formal education is one such barrier. In countries like Finland, there is the recognition that high marks are not proven indicators of success in all professional fields. For example, high marks in high school do not predict success as a classroom teacher, so high school marks are not used to select candidates for the Finnish Education Program. In fact, about a quarter of successful applicants to the Teacher Education Program come from the lowest quartile of secondary school grades.
When we look at the number of disengaged secondary school students, we have to see a national tragedy. This, in itself, is a big hairy problem for Canada. How many of these students could be the ones with the ability and desire to find answers to our global and national challenges?
How can we create a system that embraces and enables all learners to reach their full potential, for the common good of all Canadians?
The story of the Genetic Genius, Dr. Lap-Chee Tsui, the man who isolated and identified the gene that causes Cystic Fibrosis, exemplifies some of the barriers faced by brilliant minds. Dr. Tsui was not a good student and he could not score well on tests. Without numerous interventions, he would never have had the opportunity to make this important discovery. The results of his work have changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
As a child, Lap-Chee Tsui lived in China before fleeing to Hong Kong with his family, where frequently, his family was unable to pay his tuition fees for high school. A kind and generous teacher loaned him money for the fees, until the teacher could be repaid by Lap-Chee’s father, so that he would be able to continue to study. His parents stressed the critical importance of a good education, but it was his free time out of school that nurtured his curiosity.
Without many toys, Lap-Chee turned to ponds and tadpoles for entertainment. He loved to draw and build things. He experimented with his sister’s kitchen toys, burning salt and sugar to see the chemical reactions.
Dr. Tsui characterizes himself as a very good learner with a very curious mind, but he could not write tests, the primary form of assessment in school. As a result, he did not get good grades.
Other students could regurgitate class notes, right down to the punctuation errors, and score very high marks. Lap-Chee felt he knew the material well, in fact he still uses some of that learning today, but he could not provide rote memorization of the material on the tests.
His poor grades would have stopped most people from pursuing further education. However, he persisted, and with some luck, found an opportunity to begin laboratory research.
In January, we asked educators, “What’s your ONE WORD for 2015?”. In Ontario, we used #onewordont as a hashtag to collect the ideas, and Julie Balen created a word cloud to share.
So how’s it going? Six months in, is this word still a focus for your work?
Today I am thinking a lot about my word for 2015 – COURAGE.
What does courage look like in practice?
Over the past six months, here are some places I have observed where courage is needed:
The courage to stop and not walk by. If you are a leader and you just walk by, you say by your actions that “this is fine”.
The courage to take a chance on people. I think of hockey players – talented players who flounder on one team, then thrive and lead on another. Take a chance on people who may thrive in your organization while wilting in others. Not all teams are right for all players.
The courage to pick up the phone and call, rather than defaulting to an impersonal email message.
The courage to hire the right person, rather than the person who will make the fewest disruptions.
The courage to let people rise up out of the little categories we put them in – to have a growth mindset about our coworkers and not just our students.
The courage to pick yourself up and dust yourself off again, and again, and again, because kids really do come first.
The courage to give others a chance to be great.
It’s the courage to support failure as a part of learning not just in your words, but in your practice, especially when it comes to those you work with.
The courage to ask for feedback when you fail.
In high scoring PISA nations, the courage and tenacity to stand up for what is best for children is valued and encouraged.
Earlier this year, Ron Canuel reminded us that being a connected leader is not enough. You must also have the courage to use what you learn and move forward with change.
What have you learned by focusing on your #oneword this year?