Archive for August, 2011


Held in the last days of August, the administrators’ meeting and conference is a key event for many districts across North America, and it is no different in West Vancouver.

So, last week we made our first effort at taking some of the aspects of an unconference to create a more participant-driven event for district principals and vice-principals. While the unconferencing allowed for more unstructured time, it also gave everyone the opportunity to make their own sense of session content.

Three videos (embedded below) were shown for morning discussions, and served as a spring-board when groups pulled their learning together for PechaKucha presentations in the afternoon.

And just what is a PechaKucha?

It is a series of 20 presentation slides, each displayed on the screen for 20 seconds (we modified it to 10 slides, for 20 seconds because of time constraints).

Along with my district colleagues, we did a run-through the day before based on these videos that were shared by Edna Sackson on her blog:

Our group found the process valuable in creating their presentations because it forced debate on the key aspects of learning.  If we debrief videos during a professional learning experience, we are rarely pushed to come up with key messages or takeaways. Definitely, the process built-in some accountability for us.  The PechaKucha format (20×20) also impressed upon us  to be succinct in our presentations.  If we went over the 20 seconds with one of our slides, we were cutting into the time of one of our own group members.

In selecting the videos, principals and vice-principals wanted material that challenged our assumptions and that linked to a number of themes we have been discussing:  inquiry, motivation, assessment and technology.

The first video we selected was the RSA Animate based on Daniel Pink’s book Drive:

The second video was the popular, and somewhat controversial Salman Khan TED Talks:

The final video was a segment from Nightline, that focussed on some of the findings from the Daniel Coyle book The Talent Code:

Thirty to 45 minutes of unstructured discussion followed each video and participants could discuss any aspect of the video with anyone. We also created a learning wall where each person wrote one key finding or idea from the video or conversation. Then, after lunch, participant groups of four to eight people put together and tried their hand at PechaKucha.

It turned out to be a very powerful way to synthesize and share our learning, and created a takeaway product that can be used for other purposes — more valuable than the binders of notes I have taken at events and have never looked at again.

As we continue to look for ways to change how we share information, and particularly how we use Powerpoint, PechaKucha is another strategy that has possibilities for both student and adult learning.

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During last week’s BCSSA conference, when I presented on Social Media:  How District Leaders Can Build Community, I shared some of my personal thoughts about blog comments and some of the rules I have around them. Some tweets about this got some traction, so I want to revisit the topic in more detail.

One of the greatest fears teachers and administrators have who are looking to enter the blog world, is what people might say in a public space and how they might respond.  We are not accustomed to being so ‘public’, and the technology and the openness are both very new.  For many, the blogs that are most familiar are those which allow people to post anonymously, or who adopt difficult-to-track pseudonyms.  One only need visit some news site blogs to see the nasty comments that can develop there.

In the education world,  we need to model how we expect students to behave and engage, and this has led to some of my guidelines:

1)  I do not allow anonymous comments on my blog.  People identify themselves by name, or by an easily trackable identity.  I realize there may be some issues people do not want to be identified with for fear of repercussions — so, a blog  may not be the right venue to put their views out there.

2)  I will also not engage in blogs that allow anonymous comments.  There are some very interesting educational blogs that are okay with this and, as much as I want to contribute to the discussion, I don’t. It’s my way of protesting against, and not condoning, some of the nastiness that can develop in these spaces.

3)  I allow more than 95 per cent of the comments on my blog to go through.  I think there have been two, maybe three comments that have not been posted over the last year.  It IS okay to disagree on an issue, but it’s not okay to use inappropriate language, or to make it personal.  If one wants to make personal attacks — again, blogs are not the venue.

4)  If someone is going to take the time to read my post and respond — and I do appreciate the time and thoughtfulness of all who do comment — I need to take the time to return a thoughtful comment.  It is often said, the comments and discussions that ensue are the best part of a blog — they are what makes them so rich.  Whether it is a compliment, question, or a challenge to an assumption, it is about the public conversation, and I make it a point to try to engage everyone who leaves a comment within 24-48 hours of the blog.

I always come back to what we want our students to do; how we want them to engage, be critical thinkers, but we also want them to be respectful, thoughtful citizens. A number of our principals are stepping into the blogosphere, and it is a great professional network, largely encouraging and supportive. So, as we all go forward into digital space and become part of that network, we will also be modelling for those who follow.

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This Friday, I am presenting at the British Columbia School Superintendents Association (BCSSA) Summer Academy on how district leaders can use social media to build community.  I have embedded the slides below but, as always, they only tell part of the story.

This presentation is a departure from the one I gave two years ago at the same event (linked here) which focussed on Student Engagement in an Age of Distraction.  It focussed on the changes taking place inside and outside of education, while the new presentation is more about how we can use the new technology as part of how we can lead the change. In fact, if we want to have an influence and presence as education leaders, our participation in digital space is no longer optional.

There are always risks as we expose ourselves more publicly, but social media allows us to tell our own stories in our own words, to connect to new people and new ideas across roles and geography, and to model for others in our system — students, staff and parents — continuous learning.

I am closing with the quote: “don’t talk about it . . . be about it”. This is a call to all of us who lead in education because we need to model the way.

There is more content about social media, education and building community in this presentation, and in the coming weeks I will  devote a number of separate posts to share this information.

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