Tag Archives: student success

Are Digital Portfolios a Disadvantage?

It won’t surprise anyone that I am a strong proponent of digital professional portfolios.  I demonstrate how to create them here, and over the past year, George Couros has worked with Principal Associations in Ontario (CPCO/OPC/ADFO) to help our school leaders become connected learners, including the idea of using a blog as a portfolio.

I’ve bought into this hook, line and sinker.

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I exude visible thinking, open learning, reflective practice, and I promote it in professional practice with every breath.

I know, you’ve heard enough.

So I have to ask, then, if I am wrong?  Is it actually a disadvantage to have a digital portfolio?

Because right now, it really feels like it is.

Let me explain.

Over the past three years, I have sat through a number of professional interviews, on both sides of the table.  I don’t hear any questions about connected learning, open professional practice, or Professional Learning Networks being asked.  Ever.

Never.

I have yet to hear a single question about how an interviewee models the learning we want to see in the classroom.

I have never heard a question about whether the interviewee blogs or sees any value in blogging.

I have not heard a whisper of any competencies around modern learning or 21C practices.

As the person being interviewed, I have watched eyes glaze over at the mention of anything digital.  Anything.

What’s going on here?  I hear everywhere how TELT (Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching) is a priority in this province, how the renewed vision for excellence is all about creating global citizens and digital leaders for this changing world.

And we are doing this – very well in fact.  We have absolutely amazing learning happening in schools.  Teachers in Ontario are world leaders in modern pedagogical practice.  We KNOW what TELT looks like at the level of the student desk because that is what we are doing every single day as we connect and share and challenge each other to keep getting better at it.

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Teachers are flocking to edcamps and Twitter chats, taking charge of their own professional learning and busting out of the model that says learning has to be provided and into the culture where learning is sought.

Educators are flattening the organization.  Principals are not “instructional leaders” any more, they are co-learners, because the real learning at all levels is happening where the students are learning, not in a banquet hall in a Toronto hotel.

This is absolutely the most exciting time to be in education.  The shift is palpable and visible in classrooms.

When we think about spreading excellence and adapting best practices, we need to stop thinking exclusively about horizontal spread.

How do we spread digital leadership, open reflective practice, networked learning and the modelling of 21C (modern learning) competencies vertically in our education system?

Until we can do that, Digital Portfolios will continue to be invisible.

 

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.”

…for Susan

 

Is Linear the Right Approach?

I posted this short piece on the collaborative #OSSEMOOC blog this morning. Throughout June, the OSAPAC team is encouraging educators to share their thinking by taking a screenshot of something that resonated with them, and sharing it with a few comments. It’s a great way to get started, especially if you are thinking about starting your own blog.

Of course I think a lot about online learning, particularly in Ontario. We have to get past the idea that eLearning is a solution to a problem (timetable issues, can’t get the right course, etc.). eLearning is always in a 1:1 environment, and it transcends the structural learning boundaries of place and time. Imagine the possibilities!

OSSEMOOC

Many of our conversations around eLearning in Ontario involve the idea of online course “content”.  As schools make plans for online learning next year, teachers want to know, “Is there a course?”.

Years ago, when I was teaching full time online, my principal often said, “We are not in the business of content delivery, we are in the business of learning!”.

In one conversation about content this year, a teacher said to me, “Well, wouldn’t you just have the students build their own content?”.

This article in my zite feed caught my attention this morning:

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As we think about how our students learn, how does it impact our thinking about what online learning should look like?

Shared by Donna Miller Fry (@fryed)

View original post

And What About High School?

That  “stop smoking” commercial, the one where the woman is at an almost empty high school, talking about how this is where she started smoking, and this is where she is going to quit, shakes me up.

Why in the world do kids start a life-threatening habit in a place of learning? Shouldn’t we expect high schools to be places that promote healthy living and embrace the wonder of learning?

This tweet from Grant Wiggins (@grantwiggins) made me pause and take a look this week.

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As it turns out, Grant Wiggins is working on a series called Fixing the High School (by listening to students). Some of the student responses can be found here. The consistency of the responses is sobering.
But are we listening?

Earlier this month, Ontario Secondary School Principal David Jaremy (@davidjaremy) posted a thoughtful piece on dealing with late students, the endless problem normally tackled by vice principals (where there is a vp), which is never solved through a code of behaviour and a series of discipline measures, even though that is still the “solution” of choice in most high schools.

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So, then, how do we effect change and make our high schools places where our youth can thrive?

Stephen Hurley (@Stephen_Hurley) challenges us to ask not only what needs to be changed in our schools, but what needs to stay.

What do we currently value in our system?

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Earlier this week, a conversation on Twitter swirled around the ideas of what school is for, and what we aspire to in our school system.

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Let’s do our best to continue this conversation.

EdCampWR (part 2) – Everyone Has Something IMPORTANT to Share

This past week, I have been explaining the concept of “EdCamp” to a lot of people.  It’s on a Saturday, it’s free, it’s open to anyone wanting to learn, and “everyone has something to share”.  The program is driven by the learning needs of the people in attendance, and the smartest person in the room is the room.

What I love most is the “hunger to learn”.

Recently I attended #Educon in Philadelphia.  While sessions are determined in advance, it does rest on the principle that “everyone has something IMPORTANT to share”.  This is captured very clearly in this video.

A few of my favourite quotes that capture some of the thinking from #Educon:

David Jakes: “The first step in redesigning a classroom is discarding the notion that it has to be a classroom.” (2:36)

Chris Lehman: “What schools can become, are the places where we come together to learn…” (4:14)

Jose Vilson: “Trying to get education to be more about what kids can do instead of what they can’t do…” (5:30)

Ayla Gavins: “..I would eliminate ACCESS as the reason for not choosing to use technology.” (6:23)

Diana Laufenberg: “The one thing that teachers can do proactively is to share, everywhere possible, the positive things that are happening with our kids…” (7:14)

What is #Educon?  It’s a global tribe of support – 24/7.

It’s what EdCamps can be too.  Passion, learning, sharing, bringing hope for positive change to make our schools places where we support communities of learning.

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.

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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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When Knowledge and Belief Collide

Recently I had a second opportunity to listen to the Director of Education for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, John Malloy, speak at a conference (#NOELonline).

Below are my notes (with personal annotations) from his presentation.

What are our beliefs as educators?

Traditional Classroom
Photomatt28 via Compfight cc

We have beliefs around what classrooms should look like and what should happen in schools.  Parents have beliefs around what they expect for their children.  There is a shared experience of what school is, and the ‘one size fits all’ approach is essentially the universal past experience for adults.

These beliefs have a stronghold on our vision for schools.

We KNOW that the current approach and structure are not adequate.  But shifting our beliefs to align with what we know is very challenging and tough work.  Changing the ‘rules of the game’ is most threatening to those currently winning at the game (just try to remove competition from classrooms and awards ceremonies for ‘top students’).

If we are going to shift, we need to support teachers.  They need to learn to use technology meaningfully to engage students and enhance instruction.  They need training in 21C skills, or should we call them 22C skills now that we are almost 15 years into the 21C?  There can be no easy outs.  We have to do the work and stop making excuses.

Teachers need to deeply know their students.  They need to understand their passions, strengths, and especially their needs.  Teachers need an inquiry stance that asks what they can learn from their students.  It takes a genuine process of integrating student voice into school planning.  How will we authentically know, engage, serve and learn from students?  What has to change to really do this?

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Kerri Lee Smith via Compfight cc

A student-centered approach to teaching and learning is only possible where the culture of the entire system is supportive.  What does this look like?  Focusing at the student level means that classroom decisions are key, learning must be personalized, and teachers need exist in an environment that allows them to do the work.  Classroom work must “bubble-up” and inform work at the system level to support teachers in determining and responding to the greatest needs of their students.

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If we want a culture at all levels that encourages continuous improvement (and we really need to think about that because it means constant change), then the culture needs to  promote and embrace risk-taking.  Educators are a vulnerable group because they have been seen traditionally as those with the knowledge.  Teachers need to understand that they don’t have to (and can’t) know everything.  They need to feel safe learning how we expect students to learn, taking risks, receiving feedback, and growing within that supportive structure.

Does your system work like this?

Teachers care.  They are maxed out on dedication and time they put into their profession.

We need to work differently, to think differently about the type of instruction, the learning conditions, and support teachers in the learning process.

“The only way to provide what our students need, is to collaborate together to learn from one another, to take risks, ask questions, experiment and respond to what our students are saying, creating and doing.  Support each other to be brilliant.”