Workplace Resolutions


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by robertmpratt

The sun will come up tomorrow and many of us will have one or more New Year’s Resolutions that we plan to pursue to improve our lives. Lose weight, save money, less junk food, or quit smoking are many of the usual suspects. I know I will be making a couple myself, and have made them in the past, some successful and some not so much.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife shared with me an interview she had heard on CBC radio with an executive coach named Margot Ross-Graham who spoke about the idea of Workplace Resolutions (Link to the Interview HERE). The idea itself wasn’t overly profound, but it was in her examples of these resolutions that I was intrigued. She spoke about four resolutions that she thought fit the business world, but I see great value in them for the education world.

 

1) To Not Be Afraid This Year

Margot speaks to the idea of not being afraid to make a mistake, to take on a new project or to be yelled at by your boss (yikes!), which for the most part are things we want to see in our classrooms. Teachers who are risk takers are usually trying to make the learning in their classroom the most valuable they can for their students and aren’t afraid of a lesson falling flat once in a while if they can find innovative new ways to provide learning experiences. If you are a teacher, what a great resolution for you to take on for the next 6 months. If you are an administrator or division executive, you too can take risks, or you could ask yourself what you could do to foster this type of environment in your building or division.

 

2) To Make A Difference In Someone Else’s Life At Work

I love this one. Margot talks about mentorship of a young colleague, our profession relies so heavily on the development of our young teachers. She also talks about helping a co-worker who is struggling. I am sure that there is someone in your building that could use a little assistance with a project, with coaching a team or simply with their busy day-to-day schedule. What a great professional goal for the rest of this school year, to make sure you make one person’s day easier, in turn making your school a better place.

 

3) To Make A “Breakthrough” At Work

Here Margot talks about breaking old habits and pushing through with something you have wanted to change in your career. Her comment is “if we do what we’ve always done, we’ll be what we’ve always been”, and being the teacher or administrator you want to be may require a breakthrough. Getting more comfortable with technology, creating a more student-centered approach or maybe a change in your classroom environment, whatever it is you could make a work resolution to do it.

 

4) To Not Say “But” At Work

“Imagine how different we would be if every idea we had wasn’t followed by someone telling us ‘but we can’t do that because…’ ” here Margot talks about how the Sara Lee company handed out buttons to their employees with the word “But” crossed out with a red line. I like this from the standpoint of colleague to colleague but also from teacher to student. I wonder how our schools would be if we could strive to tell our kids “But” less often. As a staff in a building or division, how can we strive to be supporters of the big dreamers rather than skeptics? Maybe this workplace resolution is a start?

 

Sure Workplace Resolution in itself is no groundbreaking idea, but change is always difficult and what ever trick it takes to improve ourselves, our schools, our teaching or our relationships with our colleagues and students, we should jump at the chance. I like the workplace resolution of finding one person in my building that could use my assistance every day and helping them. Which one do you like? Are you going to make a workplace resolution? Add it in a comment or keep us posted on how it goes.

Happy New Year everyone, I hope it is everything you could hope for.

 

Innovation Week Day 5 – Taking Flight


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Andy.Schultz

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
― Leonardo da Vinci

I have always loved this quote. In conversation with George Couros at our Innovation Week wrap up he talked about the scene in the Matrix with the Red and Blue pill. Both are fitting, I find mine a little more eloquent though.

But I’ll come back to that…

Yesterday was our final day of our Innovation Week. We finished the week with an Open House, with each individual or group set up at tables to show case their work to the rest of the school and to the parents and members of the community that attended. It was a really great couple of hours with students proudly displaying their projects, walking each passer by through each component, and eagerly explaining the step-by-step processes that took place to complete them. For these students, they became the star of the show, as the people walked around to see just what they had done. It felt great to see that our project was able to make celebrities out of learners.

After the Open House we finished with an assembly just for the students involved in Innovation Week. We rode our Principal in on a hovercraft built by three Gr. 9 students (trust me, there will be a post about these three young men and their project). We had a selected number of groups come up and show their projects, and gave them the microphone to talk about their experiences during the week. There were many cheers and a great deal of excitement, especially when our Principal let them know that there would be another Innovation Week coming sometime this school year.

While there are things we will do differently, we were very pleased with the event (see post from our happy Principal here). I think a lot of great learning came out of this week for us as a staff and we have a lot of sharing and reflecting to do when we return from the break.

Which brings me back to my conversation with George…

As we walked around the Open House, we talked about the impact the event would have on our students. George talked about how after an event like this, any type of “old school” lesson just wasn’t going to cut it for these kids anymore. I have to agree, and I believe our next step is to pursue ways for us to implement Innovation-style activities into our day to day teaching. Whether it is in a one hour class, over the course of a unit or in a week long project, ensuring that students have a chance to choose what they study, how they do their work, or what they produce, will foster the innovative learning we are hoping for.

I would hope that if you are reading this and you have an Innovation activity that you have used or read about that you would share it here, or if you have ideas or tips for our next Innovation Week those would be great as well. Josh Stumpenhorst, the creator of Innovation Day, and Matt Bebbington, who ran his own Innovation Day in England, both helped me a great deal in bringing Innovation Week to our staff and students, and we would love to help anyone else looking to run a similar event. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any of the details further. There will be more Innovation Week posts to come, as there is so much more to reflect on and discuss, but as for the week recaps, that’s a wrap.

 

Innovation Week Day 3 & 4

Wow. What an amazing four days it has been. New learning experiences for students that are bound to be ones they won’t soon forget. Novel opportunities for students to be successful, and proud of their accomplishments. Positive, growth-provoking interactions between student – teacher, student – student and student – community where learning was the end goal and motivation was never in question.

I believe the biggest reason why this week has been so successful is because it has provided so many of the goals that we strive for in our teaching throughout the year, only those goals have happened almost completely without a great deal of teacher involvement, input or design. So often we strive for a learning experience that will provide our students with choice, challenge and curiosity. We try to provide opportunities for all of our students to enjoy success. We work so hard to meet our students at their level, and then do our best to help them improve and grow. Innovation Week has done some or all of these things for a number of our students.

As I said in the previous post, I will try to write about all of these topics and more in the coming weeks, as we break down the week and reflect on all aspects of the project. For now I want to continue along the lines of providing ideas on how this could be done in other buildings, and discuss some of the issues we dealt with during the week.

Flexibility

As the week progressed, some students finished their projects earlier then they had planned. Other students had difficulty with staying focused and on task for such a lengthy period of time. In a couple instances, groups decided to scrap their projects. The way we decided to tackle this was by being flexible with individual student needs. Students were able to go back to their classes for a short period of time, for the entire morning or afternoon or even for the rest of the day and then allowed to return to their project at a later time. Some students left their Innovation Week projects and helped other groups, attended their gym classes, or wrote tests their classes were having. Doing a project for the first time with 260 students ranging from Grades 5 to 9, we expected there would be some of these challenges. The key of course was having flexible staff who were able to handle the flow of students in and out of their classes while still maintaining a positive learning environment for those students who were not taking part in Innovation Week.

Lack of Assistance in Certain Areas

Specifically technology. We have a pretty dynamic staff, and while we are lucky to have a few teachers who excel in the arts, a couple teachers who are great with hands-on type mechanical work, and a number of staff who know their way around a computer and an iPad, we were still short with help a lot of the time. It didn’t take long for us to realize that in many cases, the best helpers were the students themselves. We quickly identified who was good with certain devices or software, who had recorded music before, who had built and launched rockes before, and those students were enlisted to help other students. They did it willingly, and certainly drew a sense of pride from being the “expert”. I think if any school were to do an Innovation Week style event, identifying “In-house Experts” would be a good way to bolster your assistant numbers and to give those students a chance to be the teacher to others.

Opportunity to Connect with Community

We didn’t do enough when it came to this… really, I didn’t do enough. A colleague, who also happens to be one of our Learning Coaches in the building, suggested this project would have been a good opportunity to connect with “Experts” in our community, even if it meant taking the students TO THEM. In a couple instances we did that, with a group heading to a bakery to learn and ask questions for their baking project, and other groups that had people come into the building to help them. What we should have done was make “Outside Experts” a component of the proposal process. With enough time, every student could find someone to meet with, either at their place of work, in our school, over Skype or at worst over the phone. Connecting our students to resources outside of their day to day lives would be a valuable learning experience for when they encounter issues in adulthood, either at their job or at home.

 

Tomorrow we have the students present their projects in an Open House-style setting, and we will see how many of them were able to create projects they are proud of. Day 5 will be a big day, and one I’m sure I’ll have lots to write about when its over.

If you are reading this and you have any questions or comments, please leave them. While we would love to help other schools do this, we are also already starting to plan Innovation Week #2 and we would love input on how to make the next one even better for our students.

Innovation Week Day 1 & 2

Photo 12

Well two days are in the books. I’m tired, but it’s a good tired. We started the week off strong and the wave of energy and enthusiasm continues. We can only hope that the kids and the staff can keep it rolling.

When it comes to writing about our Innovation Week project its one of those rare times when I have an overly abundant number of ideas I could write about. I could tell you about the way the staff of our school have done such an amazing job of inspiring and motivating our students’ learning regardless of the certain mental and physical fatigue all us educators feel in the last week before the holiday. I could tell you about the amazing engagement and excitement coming from our students, the outstanding depth and magnitude of their projects and the way they are pulling together, helping each other out and working as one large and effective learning community. I could also write about how initiatives like Innovation Week, and so many others like it, are the antidote to the status quo and the way forward if we are truly going to help our system break free from the old model of prescribed curriculum and standardized tests. I could write about all of those wonderful topics (and probably will at some time) but in these posts I really just want to give you an idea of how we are making Innovation Week work, and how you might improve on it and run your own in your building.

Managing The Space

When all was said and done we had nearly 260 of our 540 students involved in Innovation Week, which meant we needed half the classrooms as well as the use of some of our more specific work spaces (Gymnasium, Foods Room, Flex Lab). We also needed to ensure we had adequate work spaces for the students who did not take part in the week. Because our staff was so behind the project, they were very flexible with giving up their spaces and sharing the responsibilities of supervising students. We decided to group the students by the theme of their projects and to a limited degree by grade level. We have Building Rooms, Performing Arts Rooms, a Writing Room, a Cooking Room, Tech Rooms, a Display Room, a Sewing/Craft Room, a Research Area, as well as a few other targeted work spaces. Students start their days in this room (following a daily opening assembly) but are not limited to working in these spaces. They are, however, responsible to the supervising teacher in their workspace and keep that teacher informed on where they are choosing to work. There have been some difficulties to overcome including creating a supervising schedule of teachers (we made sure everyone was a part of Innovation Week for at least one day) and creating a gym schedule (to create prep time for teachers and provide physical activity for the students in regular classes) but so far it has seemed to work. I think the keys to making this work in a building are obviously the support and flexibility of the staff, as well as being comfortable with the learning becoming a bit geographically messy.

Photo 6

Sewing Room

Photo 7

Writing Room

Photo 9

Display Room

Photo 10

Display Room

Optimizing The Impact

It is important to us that the students are getting the most out of this learning experience, so to try to ensure we were having them capture part of their own learning process we purchased everyone of them an Innovation Week Journal. In this journal, students will reflect throughout the day on what went well, what was difficult, and how the learning process evolved throughout the week. Because the supervising teachers in each Innovation Work Space, we are also having the teachers provide constructive feedback and thought provoking questions in the student journals. This gives the teacher coming into the room the next day an idea of what feedback has been given so far and how they can help the students with their projects. On Day 1 we found the reflections to be a little on the light side in some instances, so we provided some writing prompts at the end of the day to better provide direction for our students on what they could be reflecting on.

Opening Assemblies/Community Focus

Each day, we are starting with an assembly to get the ball rolling. We have shared videos on innovation and creativity to inspire our students for the day. We have gone over house keeping issues such as break times, safety and shared use of technology. We have talked about how Innovation Day began, and what the idea behind it was all about. These assemblies have been very useful in our first two days for a couple reasons. One being that this is our first Innovation Week and issues have been popping up throughout the first two days, and this gives us the ability to talk about these issues with all 260 students at once rather than trying to do PA announcements or spreading the word room to room. The other reason is that we have been able to get a bit of a community feel to develop. The students in the assembly are all there for Innovation Week and there seems to be a shared pride in that. When we started the first day, they cheered at being told it was “time to get started”. Today when we asked everyone to think about their fellow Innovation Week participants and share the technology in our building, we noticed a much smoother day when it came to sharing the Laptops, Desktops and iPads.

 

I haven’t had as much time as I had hoped to get into classrooms and see the projects, speak to the students and teachers and really get a feel for how each persons experience was going. I am going to try to get to more classrooms tomorrow, and document more of the week. When this is done I hope we will have a great deal of video to share as well.

For now, I will leave you with a plea to please disregard any typos, spelling mistakes or poor writing in this post, I am going to go ahead with it without the usual proofreading and re-writing. More will come, hopefully separate reflections from Days 3, 4 and 5 and hopefully with a bit more care and attention. Its 11:30pm and my wonderful experiences of the past two days have worn me ragged. I need sleep.

 

Ok, They’re Excited…


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Nagyman

255 approved applications. 255 excited kids ready to start working on projects they chose, on topics they care about, and under their own direction. They are excited. Excited about learning. How great is that!? Really, if that was our goal, we’d be done! And it wouldn’t have been a bad goal, to get nearly half of our students excited to learn. We could probably have let the project run its course and slept well when it was over.

But the truth is, there is a loftier goal. We have to aspire to more than just excitement about learning. We want Innovation Week to be more than a week of excited kids. We want Innovation Week to be some of the best learning these kids have ever experienced. We want Innovation Week to be some of the best learning that has ever taken place inside the walls of Greystone Centennial Middle School. You see, if we want education to move forward, its projects like this that can help that happen. We need to show the public that amazing things can happen when we break free from the old routines and tired practices. If we ever want to get away from prescribed curriculum and standardized tests, its not enough to complain, we have to provide alternatives. Projects like Innovation Week and others like it, (see here and here) help us build our case for change and for a better way.

So this coming week, even though our students have been given the chance to choose their project, plan their learning and direct their own activities, it will be us, their teachers, that will guide them towards deeper learning. We will push them to get the most out of the week, challenge them to take their projects further and help them find the real learning that exists in the week.

Imagine! Students choosing to learn about what they are interested in, and teachers there to guide them to quality learning experiences. Maybe we might be on to something…