The New Think Tank


creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by ChrisDag

In my post yesterday, I put forth the idea of educational R&D teams and how they could be an affordable, scaled down way to bring research and development into our educational organizations without the cost and scale of an entire R&D department. In that post I suggested there would be merit in dedicating PD resources to developing knowledge and expertise amongst your own talented educators rather than paying people to come in and direct us with their innovations instead of us developing our own.

George Couros, the Division Principal in my division,  offered this in response:

If you only focus on developing and sharing ideas within, you can quickly see that the same things get done over and over again; it is tough to know any better.

He’s absolutely right, and while I was more speaking about replacing certain types of PD, it is important to keep this idea in mind. Just as important as empowering our own educators and building capacity in our organizations, is being open to the power of learning from others all over the globe.

Last night, I tried to imagine setting up an R&D team and trying to pilot this type of innovation and professional learning, so I started with a topic I am personally interested in learning about – Metacognition. When I thought about assembling a team, I realized that many of the people I would love to work with on this project weren’t in my division, or even living in the area. When I thought about connecting with them a new idea emerged – what about creating virtual think tanks, using all the tools we have available for online connecting now?

I immediately went and typed “virtual think tank” and “online think tank” into google hoping someone had already done this and could provide an easy to follow model. While there were a few similar ideas, I did not find one that involved educators. I think the closest idea I have seen would be the School Admin Virtual Mentor Program (SAVMP) that George ran last year. While that was an online mentorship program, I would see this more as eager, passionate educators who have an area of interest they would like to explore and try to bring to their building or division, connecting in some type of facilitating forum that helps bring together educators with a common interest. From there, using Skype, Google Hangouts, Twitter, Voxer, etc. they could find ways to research, share, develop resources, and push practice forward. A site would have to be set up and maintained, and resources could be curated and uploaded, but it wouldn’t have to be too expansive. Even if it started with just providing a message board or a hashtag on twitter, but doing something to bring the educators together to form these think tanks.

In a lot of ways I feel like I have lived some of this already, as I am sure many of you have. I’ve connected on twitter chats, on hangouts, or organized face to face meetings after first developing a dialogue on twitter. I’ve sought out help from others who have experience in areas I do not, by putting together a blog post or appealing to someone on twitter. I have connected with educators in Denver, Vancouver, Chicago, Philadelphia and London. This really is happening already, but because it feels so informal and easy, no one has named it a “think tank” because it probably felt too pretentious.

In my last post, I talked about how the constraint of a time limit would be important to any project, and when it comes to this idea, I believe even more constraints would need to be there to ensure follow through. Deadlines, scope of the projects, specific windows of time that meetings need to occur within etc. These think tanks would more than likely be projects educators would pursue on their own time and of their own volition, with people from multiple divisions from all over the globe, so some boundaries that pointed us in the right direction would be needed. As the community of innovators grew, accountability to the group and to share ideas would motivate people, but until that culture grew, it would have to start with these constraints in place.

Would people have an interest for this? What kind of support would you assume you would have from your administrator or your division? If the site was developed would you see yourself checking it out? What types of topics would like to see for innovations that should be pursued?

I would love your feedback so please leave a comment with any thoughts on this topic, and whether it is something worth working towards.

 

 

Connections

http://www.flickr.com/photos/biker_jun/6060293142/in/photolist-aewA1N-b7wxWz-ctXmhf-ctXn8f-kg6c21-ctXhEf-bF9Vjx-dYAUZJ-dQua38-9aMprN-9nZAYL-8HNi2J-b7QATp-b8DxYK-cJZYrG-9T8uRz-eJsQ8a-b6mZGz-bopyK3-bBjqmV-8ffSaJ-bBjvt2-bBjuVX-bjPLk6-9gkk24-7Z5PV9-agz2Nn-dTtGYf-dX4d7k-9ptxJn-94LQmQ-fBAYNh-d75BbJ-7MwGjZ-d75j19-7VGXJV-8DjZ9g-ehiZ8H-dX9Uy1-7N3voT-7N2McZ-7HfTHy-7E4Vu1-7HfwNA-9124du-jBTUrc-eUEwbC-9wKbqH-9wNbtd-9wN9Zw-9wN9Wb/

 

I owe so much to the people I have connected with. I am sure you feel the same way. Whether face to face or virtually, I have been able to connect and work with brilliant people who have challenged me and opened my eyes up to so many possibilities and exciting ways to move my practice forward. I wonder sometimes just how different my career, and life for that matter, would have been if I wasn’t able to make those connections.

I have seen blog posts about why we should use twitter, or why we should blog, why we should join google communities or even why we should join/create a PLC. I am pretty sure they all share the same answer when we get down to the root of it – to make connections. I am not telling you anything you don’t already know. Connecting with other educators opens us up to new ideas and perspectives, it gives you a sounding board for your thoughts and often a cheerleader when you are nervous to take a risk.

So we know we should seek out beneficial connections and we know that there are tools to do so, but my question is how many school leaders are looking to facilitate this in their buildings? In their division? We show something is important to us when we dedicate time to it, so if you are in charge of PD for your staff and this is something you deem valuable, then you probably need to be dedicating time to make it happen. So working from your building out, why not take the following steps to help your staff make meaningful connections.

1. Connect in your building: In our building our teachers work on grade level teams and have time embedded into their schedules to work and plan together, but this doesn’t give them time to connect with others in the building and see or hear about all the wonderful work they are doing. So why not book a sub for a day and cover teachers to get them out and about, or maybe cover their class if you have the time. Another great activity we did was Speed Dating (Thanks to Scott Johnston) where we had groups on a PD day move around and connect with every other group in the building to share exciting lessons and activities with each other. Connecting in our own building is something we take for granted and can be a valuable resource.

2. Connect in your division: We have joked in our building about how we are so willing to spend thousands of dollars sending educators to conferences all over the world, but we don’t book a sub and send a teacher down the road to the other middle school. I am so lucky to work in Parkland School Division, there are so many people I have had the chance to learn from (George Couros, Travis McNaughton, Kelli Holden etc.) and with. These connections are key to me and my learning not only because they are brilliant people, but also because they work in the same area and understand our community and our kids better than someone would outside of our area. Being able to bounce ideas off someone who knows the demographic, the perspectives and attitudes in our community is invaluable. Find ways for your staff to get into other buildings in your area, and you will probably see projects and ideas grow between buildings and across the division.

3. Connect with the world: The tools for this are numerous (Twitter, Google +, Facebook), and in your building you have people who work well with these tools. We can talk about how important this is until we are blue in the face but until we model it’s use and provide time for people to learn how to use the tools, we really aren’t backing up our words. An afternoon of PD spent setting up teachers on Twitter or Google + and introducing them to Twitter lists or Google Communities/Hangouts shows that not only is this something we believe is important, but it is so important we will dedicate this time to get the ball rolling.

I am always bothered when we talk about something as “important” but the session to learn about it is after school. We encourage people to connect on their own time, but that makes connecting pretty much optional, or at least that might be how people take it. We want people to believe in the power of connections, and the best way to do this is to bend over backwards to help make it happen for them.

Educator Innovation Day – A Reflection


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Bridget Coila

I have been having a tough time getting going this week. For the first time in my career I haven’t been overly excited to come back to school. After 2 months of steady “Daddy Duty” it has been tough to think that I have to go back to the busy schedule of work and coaching. I usually come back motivated and ready to start a new initiative or try a new project and this year, not so much. As the sun sets on another summer break, I have been in need of a jolt. Today, I had the perfect “jump start” in the form of our Educator’s Innovation Day and it was exactly the jolt I needed.

25 teachers and administrators took part in our Educator Innovation Day today and worked on projects of their choice with the only guidelines being that the project had to improve education. It was very inspiring to see teachers who signed up for this event on a day off, and worked so diligently on their projects. Even more impressive was the amazing quality of work that was produced. Projects on home reading programs, mindfulness in education, leveraging technology, and collaborative planning for student interventions, you couldn’t help but smile at just how much these educators were willing to challenge themselves with.

I had the pleasure of working with Travis McNaughton, assistant principal of Muir Lake School, on a project where we worked to create an option course designed around teaching entrepreneurship. While I am proud of the work we did, and while I am excited to implement our course, I want to talk about the experience.

You see, we love to do projects that provide opportunities for our students to challenge themselves to be innovative. But when we were planning our first Innovation Week it was George Couros who came to me and asked if I thought our staff would be equipped to put on a project like Innovation Week without first experiencing something like that themselves. Long story short, we went ahead with Innovation Week 1 & 2 but it always was in the back of our heads that we needed to ensure that we gave our educators a chance to have the same experience.

Today, I got to feel the excitement and energy of exploring an idea, with someone equally, if not more, passionate about the topic. I got to enjoy that feeling of time flying by as we worked through our plan. I got to experience getting stuck, and working through a difficult stretch. I got to stand in front of the group of participants while Travis and I presented the work we were proud of and eager to share. Take away the time it took to get started, the side conversations, the coffee and muffin breaks and I bet we really only worked for three hours, but it was the most invigorating, challenging and thrilling three hours of work I have done in quite some time.

I was a learner. An engaged and motivated learner.

I think there are many of us who have been trying to re-imagine the staff meeting experience, have been trying to re-invent the PD day process and who have been looking for ways to ensure that professional learning is happening in the most powerful ways possible. Today I experienced powerful professional learning, so much so that I don’t think I can settle for hearing excuses why we CAN’T change the way we learn anymore. I know the excuses – PD days are too valuable, money is too tight, we can’t ask people to give up their own time – but after today they just don’t seem so compelling anymore.

We are trying to re-imagine the educational experience for our students, and things are moving relatively quickly, so why aren’t they moving when it comes to our professional learning? We have to start thinking of ourselves as learners too, and create our experiences with the same ideas and goals we would have for the learners we are serving each day.

Why am I so passionate about this? You would be too if you had a day like we had today. I know we are going to work to find ways to put more of these days on for our school staff, and hopefully our division staff. I challenge you to find ways to have this experience for yourself, your school or your division. The sun is setting on “sit-and-get” meetings and “stand and deliver” PD and I think its about time.

Why I Am An Educator


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Jeff Sandquist

I am very excited to be part of the School Admin Virtual Mentor Program, and this post marks my first participation in the program. I have been lucky enough to be connected with a great mentor, Jason Markey, who I have been a follower of for some time and recently started to connect with. I have appreciated every interaction we have had, and I look forward to having more frequent and more in-depth interactions with Jason. I also look forward to connecting with my two fellow “mentees” Rebecca Kelly and Sue Tonnesen, and I know I will learn a lot from all three of these educators, along with many other participants in the #SAVMP.

We were challenged to write a post with one of two themes: “Why do I lead?” or “Why am I an Educator?”. I kind of feel like I am still developing an answer to the first question so I decided on the second, maybe this program will help me with that.

Why am I an Educator? To put it simply, it is what I am passionate about, and I found that out on the driving range…

I was still in high school, and our local golf club was without someone to run our junior golf program. Along with the help of one of our senior members, I was helping to make sure the program kept running, which meant once in a while I worked with some of our younger members on the driving range. While working with a young golfer, I helped with a fairly simple change he could make to his swing. He was frustrated that the ball was traveling along the ground, and wanted desperately to see the ball fly through the air, the way others were doing all around him. After a hand full of balls, it happened. The ball flew off his club and soared through the air, but it wasn’t that sight I remember, it was the look on his face as he turned to see my reaction.     

It was in that look, and in numerous moments since then that my decision to be an educator has been reinforced. It started with sports, as I coached numerous teams, camps and activities, and then as my teaching career began, it continued with math problems, science labs and daily interactions with my students. I have a passion for helping people discover and learn, and I am a junkie for those looks – those moments where they are surprised by what they are capable of and they can’t wait to see your reaction as well.

In this SAVMP program, myself and all of the other “mentees” get the opportunity to be on that other end, we get to be the ones finding what we are capable of.  We all have our mentors in our schools and divisions, but its so great to get to have the opportunity to connect with others who will bring a different set of experiences and great advice as we develop as school leaders. Many thanks to George Couros for making this happen, another one of his great ideas and a wonderful opportunity for Rebecca, Sue, myself and all of the other “mentees”.

  


Let The Learning Boil Over

potnolid

 

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” T.S. Eliot

I know, its a very eye-catching and thought provoking image to open up this post with isn’t it?

It all started with a conversation I was part of at ConnectEd Canada in Calgary with George Couros, and a small group of people as we prepared for a session. We were talking about rubrics, and George brought up that he wasn’t a fan as they can put limits on the learning, innovation and creativity. He talked about how the top end/side of a rubric puts a stop to where the learning could go. The more I thought about it, the more I thought he was right. While I am not a big rubric user, I am not against them either. Some people there were big supporters of rubrics, and as George’s session took place, the topic came up organically again, and some people really defended the use of rubrics.

That was more than a month ago, yet the conversation stuck with me. I started discussing rubrics with a few teachers at my school, and the more we talked the more the conversation kept coming back to a pot. Yes, a pot. The kind you cook things in. The metaphor that seemed to work best, when talking with my co-workers, was that of a pot on a stove:

potwlidWhen we think of a rubric that has an end point for learning, we are talking about a pot with lid on it. The learning is contained, and limited to the “pot” that it exists in. It doesn’t matter if the rubric is co-created with students, or comes directly from the teacher, if it has an endpoint, it can limit the learning. Maybe this picture would help:

Rubric Pot

Our final area on our rubric, marked here in green ends up being as far as most students will aspire to go with their learning. Unless some very deliberate teaching has been done, or the student is keen to push themselves further, the rubric says “This is far enough”. We know this happens all the time, we have all heard students ask “Is this good enough?”, and this has to be what we try to avoid.

So what if we take away that last line of our rubric? The one that puts a “lid” on “Excellence” or “Mastery” or whatever is at the top of your rubric. What if we take the lid off the pot and ensure that our students don’t ever feel like we are putting limits on where their learning could go?

Rubric Pot 2Maybe they take their mastery of writing persuasive essays to convince their local politician to stand up for the rights of child workers in another country. Maybe they take their excellence in understanding aerodynamics and build their own hovercraft. Wherever their learning, creativity and innovation might take them, I don’t know, but I do know one thing is certain, we don’t want to be the ones limiting where that might be.

“Good Enough” is learning for someone else, and we don’t want our students to simply aim for something that is not going to challenge them, or has no meaning to them. Thanks to George for this, and the first quote, as they seem to be right on the mark:

“Most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit.” Les Brown

So let’s continue to do everything we can to let the learning boil over, even it is simply ensuring our message is clear by making a simple change to the rubrics we use for assessment.

 

Novel not Novelty, Innovation not Gimmicks

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by darranl

Call me old school, but my razor has 2 blades. It has always driven me crazy with the incessant adding of blades, parodied of course numerous times on numerous comedies, because we all see what they are doing – trying to get our money with a gimmick.

I am re-reading “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek and while I wasn’t reading it as a resource on Innovation, he brought up a great point about confusing Novelty with Innovation. His example came from the business of Cell Phones, with the example of Novelty being the Motorola Razr and the example of Innovation being the iPhone. His point was that Motorola created a product with a bunch of great features and made it the latest shiny new gadget but there wasn’t any real innovation there. He said the innovation of the iPhone was in telling the carriers what the phone would do and not the other way around. It was timely as the topic had come up just earlier today.

I love talking with other educators about Innovation, what it is, how you define it, how you provide our classrooms an opportunity to explore it, and how do we foster it in our students. Today, I was discussing the definition of Innovation with George Couros (over twitter) and we talked about the idea of a novel creation or an improvement on an existing creation. Reading Simon Sinek’s book makes me think that we have to teach students the difference between novel and novelty. Not everything new is innovative and not every improvement is innovative either. We are bombarded every day with advertisements exclaiming that the product is “New and Improved”, and Sinek talks about this being more about manipulating the customer than actual innovation.

It got me thinking about our next Innovation Week (#iweek2) and how the planning is going for our students. We have some really great conversations developing around the guiding question that each student is developing for their projects, as well as who their expert will be (Theme for iWeek 2 is “Connecting with Experts”). As they fill out their applications, their homeroom teacher is there to help them if they get stuck at any point in the process, and some are having trouble creating a deep guiding question based around their area of interest. I see some of our students looking more for a gimmick or novelty then actual innovation. We have students excited about their projects, but with a real focus on learning that lacks any depth. Some of the key questions our application asks to hopefully guide the students to some deeper thinking or hunt out any issues are:

  • What is your guiding question? What new learning/discoveries will you be exploring?
  • Process required to answer my guiding question:
  • What will you create as a final product?
  • What skills will you develop?
  • Who is your audience and how will you present your learning?

I hope the conversations with our students as they work through the application process, and of course through the learning process, will help students see past the gimmick and novelty and find ways to explore meaningful innovation. We will of course need to be very mindful with our assistance to help students get there without controlling to much of the experience.

We will need to explore this issue again when we our theme becomes “Entrepreneurial Spirit“, which is one of our planned themes for next school year’s Innovation Weeks. When our students turn to creating a project that would be marketed and sold to customers, the idea of gimmicks and novelty will become even more important.  We want our students to have a successful experience when they explore the world of business, but we don’t want to empower students to manipulate their customers and learn tricks that dance dangerously close to being dishonest. Sinek talks about creating “Loyalty” rather than just “Repeat Business” and that comes from inspiring your customers, not tricking them.

What I find more and more as I explore themes of Innovation and Creativity, is that in developing projects and lessons that focus on Innovation, we are able to tackle some really important themes in some engaging, authentic and powerful ways. With each Innovation Week and each theme we explore, we can really help our students create a better understanding of their learning and their interactions with their world. Maybe we’ll even have some of our boys grow up and buy a razor with two blades instead of seven.

 

Give Someone A Push


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by SlikSvelte

 

Wow. Just spent an engaging and energizing weekend at the ConnectEd Conference at the Calgary Science School. What a fantastic experience, connecting with so many amazing educators and learning so much. It was so great to put so many faces to names, or twitter handles for that matter. People I have learned so much from for the past few years, connected  with so often on Twitter, and there they were to share great face to face conversations. It was a great conference and an awesome experience.

 

It brought me back to the meeting I had with George Couros three years ago, in his office at Forest Green Elementary. Over the course of the hour, we signed me up for Twitter, created a Skype account and he introduced me to WordPress. George tried to explain to me the importance and power of being connected, and while I thought I got it, it took a year or so before it all really sunk in. That day changed the course of my career, and I am so thankful for that push that George gave me.

 

I try to honor that push George gave me by helping others get connected. While I met many connected educators at the conference, I met a handful who were not so connected. Either they weren’t on twitter or they hadn’t started to share much yet. Talking with those educators, I was amazed at the work they were doing in their schools and dumbfounded when they told me they had never thought of sharing their stories. I want to tell you about a couple in particular.

 

Skinner

Mike Skinner is a Principal from Burns Lake, BC who I had the chance to have multiple conversations with over the course of the weekend. Mike is a passionate guy who wants to push education forward in his school. He told me about a project that his school does called the Alternative Arts Festival (See highlights here at their Facebook Page), a day of school dedicated to students sharing work they had produced. I was amazed that Mike hadn’t been sharing this with others, as I am sure so many would feel the same way I did when he told me about it – What a great idea! Mike is on Twitter, but I tried to urge him to get into blogging, as his Alternative Arts Festival is an idea that needs to be shared.

 

sashaSasha Wise is a Gr. 1/2 Teacher in Richmond, BC who I had the chance to speak with during breakfast at ConnectEd Canada. It didn’t take long talking to Sasha to know she was a teacher who really enjoyed bringing great learning experiences to her young students. She was telling me about this project she worked on with her students where they researched an animal, recorded their presentations on the Explain Everything app on iPads and created a life size drawing of their animal. She told me about how a student who before had been shy and quiet came out of his shell during the project. The entire story was inspiring and the activity sounded like such an amazing experience for students in Gr. 1 & 2.

 

Mike and Sasha are two bright Educators with so much to share. As they told me their stories, I thought of all the different people who would appreciate being able to hear them. I found I couldn’t help myself and I let both know how important it was that they find a way to let others hear about the amazing work they were doing. Sometimes being connected is a start, but in Sasha and Mike’s situation, sharing was just as important a message to send. Whether they wanted it or not, I tried to give them a little push.

 

The conference provided an opportunity for me to meet Sasha and Mike, but we all interact with educators daily in our halls and around our divisions. Is there someone that you know that hasn’t really jumped in to the world of Twitter or Social Media and seen the potential of a Professional Learning Network that stretches far beyond the walls of their school? Is there someone that could use a little push to share the great work they do? Give someone a little push the next time the opportunity presents itself, especially if there was someone that pushed you.