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Ignite-The-Fire-Within

The idea of affiliation in education is shifting.  While we still connect to traditional structures by role (unions, associations, etc.) and by where we work (schools, districts, etc.) the digital world is challenging these traditional associations as being paramount and this may be necessary to build the coalition to bring about the shifts many are looking for in our education system.  I am convinced that we need a third point of reference to bring about education transformation.

In the BC context, transformation will never take hold if it is seen to belong to the Ministry of Education, the BC Teachers Federation, the BC Superintendents, BC Principals, or any one district.  We do need another space where people from all groups can come together and work together.  What does this look like?  For a couple of decades we have seen the power of how the Network of Performance Based Schools in BC has been an amazing influence over what happens in classrooms.  The group is not seen as being owned by anyone or any group — the group belongs to the group and it is guided by the work.  Somehow, we need something similar given the larger shifts currently happening in education in BC.

And, I am thinking about this idea of affiliation because of my participation this past week in Ignite Your Passion for Discovery — the brain child of Dean Shareski. Last Wednesday night about eighty-five people, passionate about education, gathered at Relish GastroPub & Bar from 7 to 10 pm to talk about passion in education. There were 14 presenters who had exactly five minutes (20 slides/15 seconds each ) to share their passion.  In between presentations there were exchanges for great networking.  You could walk around the room, and it had a greater sense of community and was more connected than any staff meeting I have ever been a part of.  Almost everyone knew each other from Twitter  — some had met in person, but for many it was a first meeting.  This is the new world of affiliation — people connected not by role, not by location, but by passion.  It is these types of coalitions that are going to bring about shifts and change in education.  People were inspired and also reminded they are not alone — others are trying to do similar things.  The digital space is still so young, but what I saw were people picking up their digital relationships face-to-face and then were almost eager to get home and continue digitally; the digital and the face-to-face interactions had each enhanced the quality, depth and care of the connections.

Our profession will not be mandated into meeting the needs of modern learners but the power of networks and new thinking around affiliation can help diffuse the work.

I had the real pleasure of being one of the speakers last Wednesday.  I have shared by slides and the video of my presentation below.  This will give you a sense of the event.  My presentation is based on a blog post that I wrote a couple of years ago about swimming.

Slides (thanks to Bob Frid who took many of the amazing photos I used):

 

Video (thanks Craig Cantlie for videoing the event):

I had recently attended a conference – the kind where a ballroom of people listen to a keynote for an hour – and do that over and over.  Comparing the two events I know which was more influential in moving the conversation forward.  We need to find new ways to affiliate – more Ignites, more TEDx Events, more EdCamps.  The future of changing education is through networks.

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blogging

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern would be impressed — this post is somewhat a blog post about a blog post about blogging.

I had a recent email exchange with Janet Steffenhagen (Janet is the former Education Reporter with the Vancouver Sun and currently blogs for the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (BCCPAC)) about the state of educational blogging. She had been planning to highlight BC Superintendents blogging and noticed there seemed to be fewer blogging today than three years ago. I offered some of my thoughts in her post, Blogging Challenges for Superintendents, and listed below:

- Blogging is hard. You have to dedicate time on a regular basis to writing and it is not part of a traditional pattern for most people. It is also just hard to “put yourself out there”.
- There is uncertainty about what to write. Some Superintendents use it as a journal (like Monica Pamer in Richmond) to tell stories; others use it more for district news (like John Lewis in North Vancouver). There is no one right answer, but it is hard to determine “what” the Superintendent should write about. I have always tried to be broad – some of what I write is what I see in our district, some is what I think about education trends and some is future-focused in areas that may not be directly linked to education.
- If you don’t have an audience, it can be discouraging. With so many people joining the blogging community, it can be hard to gain an audience. While the role of Superintendent will immediately get some traffic, the numbers may be small to start. One has to see blogging as at least as much about the personal reflection to find it fulfilling.
- If you blog and don’t participate in the digital community, you likely won’t stick around. I would see some people blog but would not follow this up by engaging via Twitter or even responding (or soliciting) comments on the blog. The community is part of the power. Some who blog are really just writing newsletters online.
- The job action. I think it was hard to figure out just what to say during the strike, and very few district leaders blogged. The few who were engaged in social media often got targeted as the face of BCPSEA (B.C. Public School Employers’ Association) and at times the government, so may have thought there was no need to put themselves through that unnecessary backlash. For those new to the community – even in senior district roles – this can be intimidating. Nobody likes to be publicly criticized.

Shortly after this email exchange, I read a new article from Will Richardson, Eight New Attributes of Modern Educational Leaders. Will argues, “A new breed of educational leader is emerging from all parts of the globe. It’s a leader that fully understands the fundamental challenges to traditional teaching and learning that the new interconnected, networked world is creating. It’s a leader that also sees the amazing opportunities that abundant access to information, people, and technologies is bringing to all of our learning lives.”  Will sees the eight attributes of modern educational leaders as being:

1. They are connected to and engaged in online networks.
2. They are makers with (and without) technology.
3. They are innovators and support innovation.
4. They are models for learning both online and off.
5. They see curriculum as strategy.
6. They facilitate an “ever-evolving” vision for teaching and learning in their schools, with (or without) technology.
7. They are literate in modern contexts.
8. They know “learning is the work.”

It was a timely reminder from Will, and as much as I was giving Janet a series of reasons why leaders might not engage in modern learning, Will reminds us that it is our responsibility to be engaged — so I think it is not about any particular role like a superintendent, principal or teacher — we all need to be modern learners. No excuses.

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keep-calm-i-m-a-history-teacher-16

Despite the speed at which our system and profession is changing, some aspects haven’t changed at all. I do think there have been major shifts over the last several years in West Vancouver, particularly with the proliferation of digital access and commitment to inquiry, among other factors.

Listening to Will Richardson at Computer Using Educators of British Columbia(CUEBC) during the last couple of weeks had me thinking and revisiting some of my early blog posts. Will has been someone I have been learning from for more than a decade. Before the Culture of Yes, I was blogging as a school principal in Coquitlam and also teaching AP European History. One of the early pieces I wrote (early fall 2006) was Teaching History in a Time of Change and reprinted below:

Teaching History in a Time of Change by title alone implies that there may be a time of stability around the corner. There isn’t.  And it is not the change that is frightening, challenging, and exhilarating – it is the speed with which this change is occurring that is frightening, challenging, exhilarating, and, more importantly, remaking our profession.  The advancements in technology and the exponential speed at which they are happening may make our current times the most dramatic for teaching and learning history since the invention of the printing press.

There are some givens that go along with the change:  within the next few years every one of our students will arrive with a laptop or similar gizmo, all information will be on the internet, and all of our students will be connected everywhere, all the time, to the entire world. These changes are not up for debate – they are already becoming a reality in some jurisdictions. The only thing that can be debated now is how quickly they will happen and just how they will redefine the teaching of history everywhere.

I know it is risky to say this too loudly, but in short, these changes mean that teaching history the old way, whatever that has been or still is for each of us, is dead.  Everyone can now get all the facts, whenever they need them, from wherever the source of information resides.

Within just hours after the shooting last month at Dawson College in Montreal, hundreds of Wikipedians were creating the story of the event as it occurred. From first hand accounts to summaries of news stories – in the hours and days following the shooting the entry at wikipedia.org was updated thousands of times. History is being reported, clarified, analyzed, summarized, interpreted and reinterpreted in real time. In addition to the upheaval of traditional timelines for these activities, the hierarchies of historians are gone and everyone can now be an expert or, at the least, a verifiable eyewitness and commentator to events as they occur.

Canadian Idol crowned its latest winner last month. In the voting, close to four million Canadians, mostly younger technologically literate Canadians, mostly using cell phones, mostly using text messaging, voted for their favourite candidate in the final two show-down that crowned Eva Avila the winner.

Wikipedia and Canadian Idol are not isolated – they are products of the new ways in which young people interact.  The new technology tools are making learning more personal – you can read first-hand blogs from around the world. The tools are also making learning more communal – young people are active contributors in the online world, finding their voice through participation in often very complex online and digital communities.  Today’s students live in a world of convergence and collective intelligence, living in a participatory culture in which learning is no longer an individualistic endeavor.

During the recent conflict in the Middle East, young men and women from Israel and Palestine were trying to understand what was really happening in their countries.  Instead of turning to traditional news sources, they turned to one another for firsthand perspectives (link no longer active).  Who should we be teaching students to believe, the bloggers or the news establishment?  More importantly, how do we ensure students take a critical and analytical view to all sources?

So not only are the tools changing, but the students we are teaching are changing too.  As Marc Prensky so nicely describes, our students are the digital natives and we are the digital immigrants. There was great comfort when we controlled the information. Now the students are better with the tools used to access the information than we are.  The traditional teaching / learning continuum is gone and it is time for the new teaching to begin.  The challenge for all of us is to take the tools that our students are using and find ways to use them in our daily teaching.

What are 10 things we can all go back to our classes Monday and do to start meeting the challenge?

  • have students share information through social bookmarking such as del.icio.us
  • create instant messenger class lists on MSN or a similar chat service
  • have students build a wiki (collaborative website) for your class / school
  • assign students to post an assignment to the web so they don’t just get feedback from their teacher but their peers and even complete strangers
  • download Skype (a service that allows your computer to act as a phone) – have a conversation with a student across the country for free
  • read a blog created by a student in another community
  • begin to podcast lectures (audio recording files posted to the internet) or listen to others who have already done so
  • stop banning websites and start educating students on how to use them
  • put everything on the Internet – and share it with as many people as possible
  • ask the digital natives to help the digital immigrants

Embracing the new tools is not about technology, it is about reality, our students’ reality. So, what are the key challenges for History teachers in this time of rapid change?

  • continue to embrace high standards, while vehemently rejecting standardization – tests are less important than ever
  • recognize that the role of the teacher is being redesigned – no longer are we the ones with the answers at the front of the room
  • drop our protectionist tendencies as we continue to work to meet students where they are instead of asking them to come to us

In this time of rapid change teachers are more important than ever, but only if we change at the same speed as the world in which our students are living.  We have a duty to teach students the power of the new tools and how to use them – we need to lead them into the world of learning History 2.0.

Rereading this post, I laugh at some of the tools mentioned – so many have come and gone. Of course, it is not about the tools.  The conclusions and the key challenges I have identified, do largely still remain.  It was also so exciting to recently learn about the amazing work happening in our classrooms in West Vancouver and across the country, and recognized through the 2014 Government of Canada History Awards.  For the same reasons I found it so exciting to be a teacher and a learner in 2006, I find it even more so true today.

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Calling all bloggers  – Leadership Day 2014   Dangerously Irrelevant

When Scott McLeod asks you to do something, it’s difficult to say “No”.  He is one of those connecting leaders in education.  The following tweet showed up in my feed this week:

Scott M

So, this is my first time participating in #LeadershipDay14 discussing leadership with digital technologies in education. It has been, and continues to be, a journey that takes me to different places on many levels. The following is a list of 10 things I have and continue to learn as a teacher, principal and now superintendent:

1)  More and more it is not digital leadership, it is just leadership. Just as digital literacy is giving way to literacy and digital citizenship is becoming simply citizenship, digital leadership is really just leadership. We live in a digital world, so it would be virtually impossible for educational leadership to not embrace the role technology is playing in our learning, teaching and in our schools today.

2)  You are never done.  There are many leaders, schools and districts that mistakenly embrace technology plans with the belief that one can implement technology like it is a thing — some sort of program.  Digital is a journey — the educational tools we use on that journey continue to evolve.  So, there will always be something else or new to learn.

3)  Digital doesn’t make things easier. I have said this before in different contexts, but there is still a belief digital technologies make teaching easier, or learning easier. They don’t — they make it different. However, when everything connects, digital tools allow learners to do things that could not be possible without digital tools.

4)  Listen carefully to the skeptics.  Those who question and challenge are an important part of the process. Yes, some will challenge for strictly political reasons, while others enjoy being the dissenting voice. My experience with those most closely involved in education, particularly teachers, is they will do amazing things if they think they are the right things for kids.  The culture needs to be developmental not judgmental.   If you have many skeptics — come back to why the effort is good for kids.

5)  Always start with learning goals.  Please don’t set out to have an iPad in the hand of every student as your ultimate goal. We want students to be connected learners. Now, let’s figure out how to make that happen.  And while you are doing this — also be sure you have a plan for equity. If digital tools are the answer for the learners who can afford them, we better figure out how we can put them in the hands of all learners.

6)  Make sure teachers have the tools.  I think almost all districts across North America are at least thinking about a plan to include personal devices in the classroom. This is great news.  But, before students walk into classrooms with devices, make sure you have a plan for teachers to have devices as well. We have the responsibility to ensure our staff have the tools they need to go where the kids are.

7)  You can’t microwave change.  All teachers, all schools, and all districts must go through the process. Yes, it can be frustrating that change is not happening as fast as a leader might hope for, or that the digital transition is lagging.  There are ways to support and encourage it, but trying to force the change will ruin it.

8)  Embrace the uncertainty.  I never trust people who speak with certainty about what schools will be like in five years, or what role technology will play. Same, with those in education who self-gloss themselves as technology or social media gurus.  I think we can be pretty sure about the skills our kids will need, but the rest is really uncertain and that is okay. Technology will not ensure our kids are prepared for the future, but we can be sure that in five years technology will play a greater role, not a lesser one, in our schools and in our world.

9)  Whatever you do — model it. If you want kids to blog, then the leaders need to be blogging. If you want schools to go paperless, then the district office needs to go paperless. And, if you want classes to be more learner-centred, the same should be true for staff meetings.

10)  For leaders — surround yourself with people who will push you and make you uncomfortable. There is nothing worse than being satisfied with status quo. Finding leaders who will take risks is not easy, but they are out there. We need them in our district offices and in our schools.

Community is the greatest part of the educational journey. From those who I work with everyday, to the amazing digital community, there are so many of us trying to figure out the way forward — part of that is doing our best for all of our kids in this digital world.

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002

This past weekend I participated in my first virtual conference.  The Discovery Education Spring Virtual Conference was a free professional learning event for educators.  Of course, virtual conferences are nothing new, they happen in many professions and there are numerous opportunities like the Global Education Conference and the Learning Revolution Conference.  They are still new for many educators and, while I had heard of these events before, this was new learning for me.

A collection of observations:

  • It was the first time that I gave a keynote presentation from my dining room table.  It was wonderfully convenient but I also felt quite disconnected.  Trying to passionately share my material speaking into my computer without any feedback from a live audience was challenging.

 

  • The technology is good, but not perfect.  Livestream, which hosted all of the presentations worked well, but there were some hiccups during the day making logging-in challenging.  I also owe a huge thanks to Steve Dembo who assisted with setting me up for my presentation and was troubleshooting before and during the event.  I found myself far more stressed about the technology than the content for the presentation.

 

  • I was first up in the morning (6:00 a.m. on the west coast) and did ‘attend’ a variety of sessions throughout the day.  I liked being able to start in one and if it wasn’t quite for me to leave and find another that was.  There were a number of concurrent, live sessions participants could choose from at the event.

 

  • I found that even though the sessions are archived immediately, I do like to see the live presentation.  There is something about the shared experience of people, even if not face-to-face, all participating at the same time.

 

  • The social elements make these events very powerful.  Through an online chat on the host website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, there were amazingly rich conversations and sharing throughout the sessions.  It was great to be able to connect over the #DENVirtCon  hashtag.

 

  • While it was somewhat of a lonely experience for me, I think part of the power of the event for many participants was the ability to conference across schools, districts, communities and North America to learn and engage with educators, and taking what they were learning online and processing it face-to-face. There were sessions being hosted in many locations.  I think finding a way to make the online experience a blended experience (a mix of online and face-to-face)  is key in making online learning experiences “sticky”.

 

And some conclusions:

  • There are definitely some new models interfacing with professional learning. From Edcamps to TEDx events, to online conferences, these events are challenging the traditional conference format.  I actually don’t know how long the traditional conference can survive.  There is a place for events built on networking and connections, but those built around expert presentations where educators spend hundreds of dollars to sit in a large hotel events room may find it difficult  to survive.

 

  • I am blown away by how many passionate teachers will give up a Saturday for their own learning.  I saw it this past weekend, also at EdCamp and a variety of other events.

 

  • DENVirtCon featured presentations from across North America and largely, we are trying to do similar things.  This may be a sweeping generalization, but the efforts we are making and the system we are aspiring to does appear to be similar in many areas — particularly, with an uber-engaged group of educators.

 

  • I found DENVirtCon to be inspiring and I learned some things I can use this week — can’t ask for much more!

 

 

Here is a link to a video archive of my presentation and below are my slides:

 

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dennis sparks

I started my teaching career in the infancy of the Internet information age. At the time, information on how to improve one’s practice was scarce.  I relied heavily on books, monthly magazines, face-to-face professional development opportunities and the advice and mentorship of colleagues. Over the first several years of my career a few individuals became key influencers. I am sure it is similar in other professions, but I would look to several educational leaders with great awe and admiration — they were the “rock stars” of education in my books.  The list was quite short. There was Barrie Bennett (he is responsible for me using and overusing the place mat activity); Richard DuFour (Mr. Professional Learning Communities); Bruce Wellman and Laura Lipton (when I stand away from the item I am talking about to separate myself from the data, they are responsible) and Dennis Sparks (his regular articles for the National Staff Development Council were a source of information and inspiration).  If I were building a Mount Rushmore for my education gurus, they would definitely be the leading candidates.

I have had the chance to interact with each of them in recent years, and it was with nervous anticipation when I responded to a recent interview request from Dennis Sparks.  In the Internet age, many education authors who have made their living off of books and presentations have struggled to figure out a new model. Why I love Dennis (and others like Bruce Wellman and Grant Wiggins) is they have embraced the blogosphere where they share information for free knowing that it will actually increase their credibility and ability to secure presentations, or sell books.

Dennis has a great blog here and he “gets” it; as on his blog and on Twitter he is fully engaged with his audience. I shared some of my thinking with Dennis, which he published in a recent post.  You can read the full post here.  Below, I have reprinted some of his questions and my answers:

What are the two or three most important things you’ve learned about school change from participating in it, observing it, or studying it?

I have learned that every school needs to go through its own process.  It can’t be speeded up because we need to have the conversations. We can’t microwave school growth and evolution.

Context really matters – from where schools are located, who is on the staff to what the history is of a school.  In particular, we need to honour a school’s history.

I would also say that every little encounter matters.  As a school leader a meeting might be a low priority for you, but it may be the most important meeting for the person you are with.  You build credibility with the little things.

What would you say to a principal or teacher leader in his or her first year on the job?

Smile and listen.  As nervous as you might be in the new role, others are also anxious about what it will be like to work with you.  The first thing you need to do is reach out and build relationships.

From your perspective what seem to be the qualities of leaders who thrive in their work? 

They are continually curious and comfortable with ambiguity. They understand that doing things differently is not a sign of weakness, nor does it mean that we were doing things “wrong” in the past. Instead, it’s part of the rapid change we are seeing in education and our society.

What thoughts do you have about how leaders might develop those qualities?

I think leaders need to step back and consciously let go of control. This can be terribly difficult, but something that can be practiced.  Leaders need to consciously give up control – even over small things to start – and to be curious rather than focused on trying to be right.

There seems to be agreement that experimentation and risk-taking on the part of leaders is desirable. In what ways were you encouraged to step out of your comfort zone, and what was it like for you to do so?

Risk-taking and experimentation are absolutely part of what we need in our leaders.

I have been fortunate to be surrounded by people who encouraged a culture of risk taking.  As a new teacher I was encouraged to take on new courses and teacher leadership, then encouraged to take on new roles. In turn, I have tried to do this for others and model it through my “Culture of Yes” blog.

It is terribly scary to take risks. I tell leaders to remember how risk makes us feel as we encourage our students and those we work with to take risks.

A common concern expressed by both new and experienced principals and teacher leaders has to do with teachers who are reluctant to engage in new practices. What ideas or practices would you offer to those leaders?

I think teachers are willing to engage in new practices if they believe the practices will make a difference for students.  I don’t know of any teachers who do not want to improve the life chances of their students, and teachers are willing to go above and beyond when they believe doing things differently will be better for those they work with.

I think we need to keep the focus on students. How will using technology in the classroom benefit students?  How will an inquiry-based approach better engage those in our classrooms?  How will a commitment to self-regulation better prepare students to be ready to learn?  We can get caught up in bigger conversations around new practices, but we should always come back to students.

From your experience, what are the most important things a leader can do to influence teaching and learning?

School leaders should focus on being learning leaders themselves. They should position themselves as the lead-learner in the school.  Principals and teacher leaders should model learning and be continually focused on improving learning for students.

It sounds obvious and simple, but we often become distracted. That’s why I encourage school leaders to focus on a small number of things that resonate with teachers across subject areas, such as using inquiry.  It doesn’t mean this is all that is important, but it is crucial to have a focus.

I am also curious about what you regard as the areas of greatest leverage in your own work as a system leader.

I think the greatest power I have is as a connector and a storyteller. I have the amazing benefit  of being in all of our schools and talking with students, teachers, administrators, trustees, parents and the community.

Sometimes, teachers and schools feel like they are on their own – I can help connect them and remind them they are part of something bigger. As we move in the same direction with a fair bit of flexibility and autonomy, we are far more than independent contractors who share a geographic region.

My thanks to Dennis for inspiring me early on in my career and for continuing to be someone who pushes my thinking to this day. Having leaders like him engaged in professional learning in our digital world brings depth and credibility to it.

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Photo Credit - Tara Zielinski
Photo Credit – Tara Zielinski

Really?  Twitter with Kindergarten students?  That was my first reaction.  While I think Twitter is a great way to connect and share ideas, I didn’t really see it as a tool for our youngest learners.

So, I have learned something.

I first learned about the project via Twitter (of course) last Friday. From the Hollyburn Elementary School Twitter account came:

First Tweet

This tweet is a great example of why all superintendents need to be on Twitter.  It is such a great way to see a sampling of the work going on in the district.  It is such a wonderful way to ‘drop in’ on the learning in various classrooms and schools across the district.  It was this tweet that led me to be in the class three days later — a great way to take advantage of our connected world.

So, back to my reservations.  When I first heard a kindergarten class was tweeting, my mind jumped to all that could go wrong instead of all that could go right. In a controlled environment, guided by the teacher, these young students are learning about digital literacy. Their parents, many who are also new to social media, engage with them in the class and the students can connect to the world!

When I visited the class earlier this week, I learned of parents that were now following the class, and a great home  / school connection.  It was wonderful to learn with the K students about their Happiness Project and how they were sharing it through Twitter with the world.  On day two of the project, the lessons were already very impressive.

why what

So, what do K students tweet about? They are tweeting because they are happy; to spread happiness around the world and to communicate and connect with people outside their classroom.  And, they have adopted a simple rule when deciding to tweet, one everyone can learn from: “if it is helpful, tweet it; if it is hurtful, don’t tweet it.”

The students were completely engaged in their Happiness Project, and the use of Twitter was part of the hook and a great introduction to social media.  If we want students to engage ethically with social tools, we need to teach and model and that is just what I saw happening in the classroom.

Makes Happy

 

I look forward to virtually following the Hollyburn Happiness Project and the many other classes and schools sharing their learning beyond the classroom walls through Twitter with a range of other social tools.

The Hollyburn story is another fine example of a teacher taking a risk and being a learner herself!

It is always great to see what is happening in our classrooms.

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