Tag Archives: leader

Are You Really Willing to be Disturbed?

Today is my day to participate in the #OSSEMOOC Pic and Post, where we encourage learners to pick ONE piece of learning, take a shot of it, and share it with others.

Got something to share? Of course you do!

Here’s how to make your learning visible so others can learn too: http://ossemooc.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/collaborative-blogging-2/

If nobody shares, nobody learns!

Are You Really Willing to be Disturbed?.

Focus on Beginners: What do you Need to Start Connecting?


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…

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My Definition of Good Pedagogy Includes Technology

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Last night during the Learning 2030 rebroadcast, one of the tweets that came across my screen was a statement that said, “Technology does not replace good pedagogy”.

I see this quote quite frequently in my work, and I worry about it a bit.

I worry because in the same way that “good” standardized test scores can be used to keep technology out of classrooms, I think that this quote can be used by educators to justify avoiding change.

Let me explain…

It might surprise people to realize that there are classrooms, and in fact entire schools, where technology is not being used in learning.


Night Owl City via Compfight cc

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?”

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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?

What Will You UnLearn Today?

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What did you learn today?

David Warlick often begins his talks with something new he has learned that day.  He frequently shares these learnings on his blog as well.

Every day I try to follow his example and think carefully about all the new things I have learned.

But sometimes we need to UNlearn before we can really see the need to learn something new.

A very wise AQ instructor once suggested that without even realizing it, we (teachers) often revert to “delivering content” basically the same way day in and day out, regardless of the audience – and often in exactly the same way we were taught in school.

When I started to examine my teaching practice, I realized that this was true.  She challenged me to shake up my routine, to collaborate on ideas with other teachers, to focus on the needs of the learners rather than my perception of how things should be done.

 carnagenyc via Compfight cc

I realized that my teaching style had been influenced more by how I was taught in school than by what I learned when I took my B.Ed.

The foundation of a teacher’s knowledge and competence comes from a teacher education program. But does Ontario’s teacher education system influence prospective teachers’ behaviour and thinking?

Do teacher-candidates change their practice as a result of their teacher education program, or do they default to the methods used during their own education?

Do the years of being part of the education system have more of an effect on practice than the teacher training program?

Student teachers arrive with views of teaching and learning, developed during their own time in school, that can distort their new ideas of learning during teachers’ college.

Research has demonstrated that the effect of teacher education on changing the prior beliefs and learning of student teachers is weak (Tryggvason 2009).

         opensourceway via Compfight cc

But teachers now have to teach in ways that they themselves were not taught. Currently, as we consider 21st Century skills and the pace of change, there are more and more demands on teachers and what society expects them to accomplish.

In Finland,  teacher educators use reflective and critical thinking and the introduction of a variety of new and useful teaching strategies helps new teachers to question their current thinking and adapt new methodologies.

Teacher education in Finland is being moved into research universities, which reflects the understanding that the training of teachers should be done in conjunction with innovation in other areas.  This type of setting also assists Finland in attracting some of the best international minds in teacher education.

I’ve started to think more about what I believe to be true vs. what I know to be true.  How many of my ideas about learning need to be challenged and unlearned? How do we catalyze deep conversations about practice that challenge our default methods?

What is it that I need to unlearn today?

 duane.schoon via Compfight cc

Further reading:

Learning, UnLearning and ReLearning

Hargreaves, A. (2000): Four Ages of Professionalism and Professional Learning, Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 6:2, 151-182

Kosunen, T & A. Mikkola (2002): Building a Science of Teaching: How objectives and reality meet in Finnish teacher education, European Journal of Teacher Education, 25:2-3, 135-150

Tucker, M. (2012). Teacher quality: What’s wrong with U.S. strategy?. Educational Leadership, 69(4), 42-46

Tryggvason, Marja-Terttu (2009). Why is Finnish teacher education successful? Some goals Finnish teacher educators have for their teaching. European Journal of Teacher Education, 32(4), 369-382

Professional vs. Personal – On Two Levels

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.

Citizens show their anger at Toronto City Hall
Citizens show their anger at Toronto City Hall

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.

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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.

Brandon Grasley

George Couros

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.

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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.

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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.

Courageous Conversations

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.

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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?

2013 11 18 Resign you are embarrassing our city

Find the Right Inch

It’s that time of year when almost any outdoor activity during the work week requires an additional accessory – a headlamp.

Last night, when I paused for my beagle to grab a drink at the water’s edge, we could see a ribbon of light on the horizon as the sun faded for the day.

2013 10 29 sliver of light

I live in a part of northern Ontario where every day, something grabs my attention and makes me just stop and gaze in awe at its beauty. As I stared at this sliver of light,  the interplay of colour along it was so complex as the sun set, it captivated me.

My focus on such a tiny, intriguing part of the sky reminded me of the work by Stephen Katz on “finding the right inch”.  He reminds us that thinking ‘big’,  and creating blanket, one-size-fits-all, mile-wide inch-deep school improvement goals is not  the right approach.  Finding the real problem, and going deep with a meaningful solution, is far more effective.  But first you have to find the real problem, the urgent learning need.

Last year I had the opportunity to work with Robert Dunn and Stephen Katz on a Case Management Project.

Student attendance at our school was a huge concern, and school-wide efforts had not been effective.  Instead of trying to solve the problem for everyone at once, we focussed on learning deeply about three truant students, then addressed the reasons why they were not attending.

We learned that the reasons for non-attendance were vastly different for each student.  No blanket school effort would ever work for these adolescents.  It was only by digging deep into individual situations that allowed us to begin to fully understand their needs and respond accordingly.  It helped us to deepen our understanding of the complexities of the issue of non-attendance.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to work with educators who were looking at how we teach math in our schools.  They worked on solving a problem, posed by the presenter, that students in grade 9 might encounter in a math course.  The thinking and reflections were very revealing.

One teacher reverted immediately to the “formula” he memorized when he was in high school.  When that didn’t work well (because the numbers were not “friendly” for calculations without a calculator), he really didn’t have any other strategies to go to – except to hunt for a calculator.

Others in the room used a variety of strategies – proportion tables, lowest term fractions, sharing ideas and working with a partner.  When we debriefed the exercise, I was surprised by how many different strategies people had used, and how sharing their thinking helped us to consider many approaches to the same problem.  Our understanding grew as we spent more time listening to each other.

The teacher who used the formula told me that he was always “good” in math in school, and he continued to believe he was “good at math”.  In reality, he suggested that he was actually good at memorizing formulas and at knowing what numbers to plug into them.

How often do we give people a false sense of competence when we just scratch the surface of topics, and then make them write a test?

How many people get left behind in this system that focuses on teaching (rather than learning) and the length of the semester (to achieve a credit)?

Math is not a performance activity. Focusing on performance (test scores) takes the focus away from what it really is, an opportunity for learning.

Instead, when we take the time to go deep, to focus, to slow down, and to observe carefully, we create the conditions that allow for real learning to happen.

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“Nurture Those Around You”

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.

Andrew Campbell has already started to do that (here: http://acampbell99.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/my-favourite-ecoo13-moment). Andrew’s ECOO13 experience renews our faith in each other and our profession to change the world one student at a time.

As I consider how my own practice will change as a result of #ECOO13, I find that Mark’s last bullet resonates with me: nurture those around you.

 Jsome1 via Compfight cc

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.

nurturing art
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What Are You Thinking?

Photo Credit: jDevaun via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: jDevaun via Compfight cc

Recently, this post was shared with me on Twitter:

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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”, But Then What?

Photo Credit: patrick wilken via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: patrick wilken via Compfight cc

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:

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Shelley Wright: Start With Why – The Power of Student-Driven Learning

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.

Let’s go back to Simon Sinek for a moment.

“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.

Leader, Take a Hike

Recently, I heard a leader in education say,“If you think you are leading, and nobody is following, you are only out taking a walk”.

I really liked this at the time, but the more I think about it, the more value I see in taking a walk.  While we usually want to move forward with our co-workers in education, there are times when you need to go alone, both literally and figuratively.

Walking (running, hiking, skiing, cycling) alone is where I do most of my reflecting and thinking, away from phones, tweets and email.  It is a time that has become more and more important as the principal position becomes busier and more complex in the current Ontario education climate.

But figuratively, taking a walk on my own lets me explore and try first before sharing and leading in my school.  I need my PLN to help me learn what I need to know so that we can accomplish our school goals (explained very well here).

Taking courses, enrolling in MOOCs, speaking at conferences, learning with others, all of these “walks alone” enhance my understanding and build my capacity to meet the needs of the people I teach and learn with every day.

At times, the walks become more of a hike, or even a marathon.  While we work to thrive on the edge of chaos, competing initiatives and expectations pull us in more than one direction.  As a principal, my access to information can be restricted as rules, narrowed mandates,  and chain of command supersede the need for principals to be resourceful, resilient and creative (Hargreaves 2005).  I frequently find myself at the edge of a cliff or the base of a brick wall, choosing to take a risk or climb even higher for a teacher or student whose need to move forward is more important than protocol or politics.2009 17 Hike over T Harbour

Walking alone allows for exploration, personal fulfilment, FAILing without an audience, and rest.  Walking alone makes me better prepared to return to my school, ready to share what is new and lead to new destinations, confident they are worth travelling to.

2009 07 Lupins

Hargreaves, A. (2005). Extending educational change. (pp. 1-14). The Netherlands: Springer.