OTRK12 and Google Summit Learning

My friends Donna Fry and Mark Carbone, co-creators of the #ossemooc  have put out a call for us to share our learning during this month of April and, as always, it takes me a little while to get my posts onto the blog!  Luckily for me, I had two great experiences last week,  one at the #otrk12 conference and one at the #gafesummit in Waterloo.   Starting with Stephen Hurley’s examples of passion-based learning at OTRK12 was wonderful and I enjoyed presenting to the e-learning teachers about creating dynamic virtual discussions and seeing Jaclyn Calder’s presentation about the Grader App for D2L with awesome options for providing differentiated and timely feedback to learners.   It’s wonderful to see what an amazing teacher like Jaclyn does with technology!

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Mark Carbone Opening the #GAFESummit in Waterloo

While I could share all the tips and tricks that I learned at #otrk12 and the #gafesummit,  I think I’d rather share a few observations that I have mulling around and arising from these 2 great learning events.

A principal from my school board approached me at the Google Summit a little distraught that she had perhaps purchased the wrong technology this year. She has provided her teachers and students with a variety of tools like  ipads, laptops, desktops and Chromebooks.  She seemed a little worried that she had made a wrong choice and should have bought more Chromebooks.  I reminded her, that regardless of how ‘feel good and for the cause of all children and teachers everywhere’ this event undoubtedly was, it was also a Google event after all,  and their mission was to make her feel as though Google products were the bomb. Obviously – they succeeded!

I assured her that an effective technology ecology in her school would also include some higher-end media creation tools like her computers and her ipads, and that she’d want to remember that the ability to do some computing with computers is also a really important skill for our students today.  I remember when Nicholas Negroponte from MIT started to predict that ubiquity would be a game changer in our adoption of technology but that rather than getting simpler, as they should over time,  there was this interesting phenomenon with computers called ‘featuritis’ whereby software developers keep the software getting more complex and complicated (bloated and expensive) rather than cheaper.  Google seems to have figured that out.  Make the browser do most of the work, and the machine could remain inexpensive,  although not as robust.   Maybe robust is not what we are looking for in education anyway.  Easy (for teachers)  seems to be the preferred approach when it comes to technology.   I’m not in complete agreement with this, but I’m learning to accept it.   It is what it is.

People often ask me if I think things are suddenly changing, and while I’m hopeful,  I’m still cautious because I’m not sure it’s the technology that has been holding us back.   We’ve been able to connect our students around the world with blogs since about 2005 and with global projects using forums and list serves since the 1980s.  How many of us jumped on board?  We’ve had extremely rich sites sharing how-to’s of authentic learning and Project Based Learning for more than two decades.   Were we on board then?  We have had Ministry Licensed products that allow multimedia creation and assistive technology for our students for another decade or so.  Were we all making use of these?  When I tell people that my students and I were blogging with other classrooms across the world almost 10 years ago now, and we did this by taking turns all throughout the day on two desktop computers,  they sometimes look at me strangely – like they couldn’t imagine doing that without the Chromebook cart rolled down to the classroom or students 1:1 on their own devices.   They complain that there isn’t enough technology, and yet their classroom computer is often sitting silently in the corner reserved for teacher email.  What’s up with that?

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Katina Papulkas’ excellent session on Google for Administrators

Despite my observations, and my confusion about slow progress in educational technology, I refuse to become cynical.  Instead, I’m telling myself that it’s the ubiquity and access that will make the difference this time around.  Now that educators can leap ahead with their own learning through connected networks, they are not bound any longer by the limits of their own school building or in-services for learning…they can connect with and  support each other and learn not only how to use these tools, but what effective use looks like.

I’m reminded that early adopters will always be willing to put in the countless hours that lead them to mastery of technology tools (and other things) if they feel that will  transform their classrooms – that hasn’t changed much since computers were first introduced into classrooms.

Now that we can share our success stories and connect more widely through social media and through networks like the #ossemooc there is no reason to ‘wait for the learning’ – we can just go out and get it!  It was exciting to see so many educators at OTRK12 and GAFE Summit finding their community and learning together!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trusting in Student Awesomeness

For quite some time now I’ve been questioning our desire to have students who are critical thinkers.  Do we really want that?

What happens when these students that we’ve empowered to have wonderfully evaluative thinking skills decide that they need to make improvements to their learning environment?  Will you stand beside them and support them?  Will you empower them to seek and facilitate change?

Or, will you explain the rules of the ‘game’,  bogging them down with all the ‘ya but’ explanations that let them know you really weren’t serious about the development of their critical thinking skills.  Maybe you were okay with it during the the contrived classroom scenario but when it comes to something they really care about in ‘real life’ can you embrace this as part of your curriculum?

I worry that we need to get real with students and empower their dreams about taking action, while supporting them to think critically about how they might do that in order to have a real impact on their world, their future, and of course, ours as well.   I love the following video, where Scott McLeod challenges us to make the extra-curricular the curricular…to make taking action and personal passion a part of becoming a concerned citizen and a life long learner, and be more trusting of our awesome students!

Digital Footprints

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Online CVs are available from Visual CV

After completing my Principal’s courses this December, I’m now putting together a package that will serve me when an opening might come up in my school district.   I’m connected to a lot of teachers and administrators online, so being very public about how I learn and teach has never been an issue for me – in order to understand being ‘out there’ I had to get out there.   My CV is online, my blog chronicles my personal and professional learning along with my digital footprint, and sharing with social media is just a part of how I go about learning and connecting with others.  Of course, this will be the way that I do business in school leadership, should I be lucky enough to get a chance to do that, but some folks have suggested that they would never put their CV online for all to see.  What about you?

Given all the speaking dates that @gcouros is having these days in Ontario, it sounds like more and more administrators will be joining those of us who are Ontario Connected Learners!  Hurray!  I sure hope so, because although I have many connections online with my PLN, I don’t get the same sense that many administrators in my school district use their connections in quite the same way.  It’s a bit daunting to think that perhaps this might not be viewed as appropriate for administrators from within my school district, but I will stay the course, be brave and find folks like @LeBlancPeter @lisaneale @shannoninottawa and @julie1gast to learn with!  If the role of a vice-principal is to build community, focus on student learning and engagement and nurture a positive 21st century learning environment, I can’t imagine not leveraging the benefits of technology to amplify the possibilities!

Getting At Work/Life Balance

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Photo courtesy of chrisinplymouth on flickr

I remember hearing this famous story about a management professor talking about goals, vision, and the effective management of time. The professor told the story while starting to fill a jar with several large rocks, asking if it were full (to which the audience replied ‘yes’)  and then continuing to fill the jar first with pebbles, then sand, and then water.  Just as the audience thinks the jar is full each time, he continues to add more of the smaller items, letting them fall between the cracks.    What has stayed with me about this story is the idea that we must think about what represents the larger rocks in our lives and get them into the jar first…otherwise we run the risk of filling up our jars with less important albeit time consuming activities.

Easier said than done!

I’ve tried to remember this story when thinking about the balance between work and personal time.   Most of us have to make very conscious choices about maintaining a work/family/personal balance and school leadership is no exception.   There will be daily pressures to lose track of the ‘big rocks’ as other items compete for attention or time.  Taking to heart the ‘people before paper’ recommendation that we’ve heard from several authors and from some of our guests in our course, would be a way that I could set relationship building as one of my larger ‘rocks’.  Using my network of experienced vice-principals and principals will be crucial in gathering advice about setting priorities and creating structures to help with organization.  Networking and professional learning are both a balance challenge for me because I have access to a rich and generous personal learning network online as well as f2f.  This is a wonderful addition to my working and learning life, and with the opportunity to learn 24/7 in both f2f and virtual spaces,  comes the responsibility to make decisions about how much time to devote to learning and how to incorporate fitness, wellness and fun into the mix as well!  Students are also working and learning in virtual as well as f2f spaces and need some awareness of their need to make healthy and balanced choices.

I have to admit that when my sons went off to University, I may have busied myself with getting a new puppy and doing a little too much work —  it was fulfilling and valuable — and therefore a good distraction.  Other Moms or Dads probably take up a new hobby or run a marathon.  I’ve made some conscious choices in the last 6 months to be a little bit more selective in what I’m taking on this next year.  I’ve taken a break from the ECOO Board of Directors and ECOO Conference work  after six years, and I’m making time for some travel as well as getting to the gym more regularly.   It is important to encourage staff to consider their own situations and priorities and make time to talk about the challenges of family, work and personal time.

These final thoughts come to mind as important to remember as a school administrator:

  • Noticing people,  listening, and being visible can be powerful ways to get a sense of how staff are coping with the demands of the job.
  • We are all at different places in our family and personal lives.   Having young families, caring for elders,  or helping friends and/or family are big commitments that might mean contributions to the work place in varied ways at certain times.
  • Staff will be different in their need/desire to socialize and that’s perfectly okay. Providing a variety of options will encourage authentic relationships.
  • There is an ebb and flow to the busy school year that needs to be respected by administrators. Know when to add on, and when to take away.
  • Teachers are nurturers and need reminders to make sure to look after themselves too.
  • Work can be lots of fun!

Connecting with kids in new ways

I’m always looking for ways we can use technology to amplify current practices to make them more powerful or to become more innovative – to do things we couldn’t do before.   While working on a PD session for some teachers last week, I came across this video of a first year teacher who used Google Forms to connect with her students on a personal level – and from where they were most comfortable – using their digital tools.

Many people are critical of the role technology plays in keeping us disconnected from others, but this is a powerful example of how technology can support those f2f relationships.

Can Administrators Be Instructional Leaders?

PicCollageMy interest in building exciting learning communities that benefit all children is what motivates me to be thinking about taking the plunge into school leadership, so I often reflect on the challenges and rewards of being an instructional leader in a school.

For the past two years, I have been privileged to take part in the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program’s Summits, where teachers share their amazing learning projects that result from a year long, job-embedded, teacher-directed professional learning.   This event attracts the attention of researchers like the Ministry of Education (Minister Liz Sandals and Paul Anthony), Ann Lieberman and Carol Campbell (Stanford University) and People for Education‘s Annie Kidder who all spoke to teachers about the profound impact of their learning and leadership on the students of the province.

My experience of being at TLLP got me thinking about some of the challenges and rewards of being an administrator with a focus on instructional leadership as supported by the Ontario Leadership Framework and these thoughts came to mind:

  1. Know that the smartest person in the room, is the room.   One person can’t know it all.  Creating a learning community where people feel comfortable sharing what they know, and what they don’t know, is essential to moving forward and starts with modeling a growth mindset from the administrators at the school.
  2. We need to change our traditional mindset about where, when and how teacher learning happens.  Options abound for valuable learning anytime, anyplace, and administrators can help meet diverse needs by offering options.
  3. Deep learning is messy, non-linear, and sometimes needs time to simmer.   Be supportive and helpful through the discord that often happens in the most productively collaborative groups.
  4. Time is a big challenge and administrators need to help find creative ways to make teacher learning a priority during the school day if possible.
  5. Structures can be put in place to help teachers develop their craft through a lens of relevant, student-centred learning goals (not to be confused with top-down, micro-managing strategies).
  6. Helping teachers tell their success stories and articulate and share their knowledge is part of how the administrator can help improve the whole school.
  7. Find the right balance between amplifying the expertise already in the building and bringing in some diverse or motivating voices from outside.
  8. Fan the fire before watering the stones, but never give up on finding what motivates a teacher who might seem disengaged.
  9. Be clear that the business of ‘school’ is about nurturing a joy of learning in our students (and teachers) and we don’t have to be sick to get better.
  10. Find ways to collect meaningful data that keeps us focused on what students need right now.

School Improvement Plans – Not too pretty and that’s a good thing!

I’ve spent the last week or so thinking deeply about something in which all schools in Ontario take part; the drafting of the School Improvement Plan (SIP). This is the direction that a school sets for itself, based on what we know about the needs of our students, the directions of our School Board, and the focus of our Ministry of Education, which provides us with excellent curriculum and supporting documents (as well as personnel), to make schools as successful as possible.

I have to be honest.  I’ve had a variety of experiences with the SIP and often it’s been something we did at the beginning of the year with/for the principal, presumably to be handed in to the superintendent — never to be referred to again.

I’m glad to see that those days are over!  I’m learning that the SIP is now a central focus of the school and there is a lot of freedom in how it might be approached and co-constructed with the voices of all of the school community involved.   It will be an organic document that will become the focus of my work as an administrator and therefore it might look a bit messy at times.  I’m okay with this, as real learning is often a messy process.   The SIP allows the principal to help staff define student needs, and as a result, collaboratively decide on some needs for teacher learning as well.   As a working document, it allows the principal to engage staff in a process of taking manageable, cumulative steps towards school improvement in the following areas:

  1. Enhancing the way curriculum is ‘presented’  to students (I prefer to use the word presented rather than ‘delivered’)
  2. Creating a positive school environment
  3. Increasing the involvement of parents

There is a lot of support from the Ministry and from our own Board staff to help me implement this process with staff,  including some of the following recommendations:

  • surveying staff, students and parents about school climate
  • collecting data from a variety of sources
  • involving staff in setting directions
  • collaboratively deciding where we want to go and how we will get there

Since an effective SIP is a 3-year plan that is iterative and involving collaborative inquiry on the part of teachers, I will probably be inheriting a SIP that is in progress. I will need to embrace this direction positively and respectfully and yet figure out my role as a change agent within that school by listening to, and getting to know, staff and students.   I believe that effective administrators embrace and nurture change through their involvement in helping teachers see and understand how they are making a huge difference to students through their focus on school wide improvement.  Helping to set clear and realistic goals, providing conditions that provide teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to do their jobs well, removing distracting obstacles, and helping to monitor progress and celebrate successes will be an exciting part of making my school a better place to learn!