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!


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?


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!

Getting At Work/Life Balance


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.

Revisiting a Philosophy of Education

Do you wonder how your philosophy of education might change over the years?  Symbol_of_Faculty_of_Philosophy_SPbGUIs this something you think about much?  I hadn’t thought about it for a long while until recently in my Principal’s Qualification Course-Part 1

Here is my most recent go at it!   I stand on the shoulders of giants like John Dewey, Seymour Papert, Jean Piaget, Deborah Meier, Linda Darling-Hammond and Andy Hargreaves who continue to influence my thinking about schools and school leadership.

Public education holds a special place in a democratic society because it is defined by a moral purpose to educate all learners.   This suggests an extension to teachers, parents, the local community, and, in this 21st century, quite possibly to the global community.   As I begin to view the important job of nurturing a school through the lens of the school administrator, my scope widens; there are many stakeholders to think about.   Fundamentally, my beliefs remain the same: the purpose of school is to create a moral, democratic citizenry that thinks well, and that school leaders, along with society, play a huge part in shaping this shared future that we have with our children.  I believe that by cultivating and nurturing habits of mind that foster good thinking and inclusive learning environments, and by developing relationships, people and programs, school administrators can make a huge contribution to the growth of a community.

What makes an effective school?

I believe that all children can learn, given the right conditions, and that we must focus on the whole child.   A school administrator will often be the advocate for a child or a parent who might not be able to advocate for themselves.   A principal may be the one to ask the difficult questions about whether a student’s social, emotional and/or academic needs are being met in the classroom, and, if not, work together with school staff to make sure that improvements are made.   I recall Superintendent Persaud’s mention of the basic concerns “Are they safe, are they happy, are they learning?”  Social, emotional and intellectual aspects of children are a focus in an effective school and the school administrator must be willing to be accountable for guiding the direction of the school and leading the instructional program.

I believe that learning is a life-long pursuit and requires active, not passive participation.  We learn by observing others, and by trying things out for ourselves. While curriculum and content are important, knowing how to ask good questions, examine evidence, think critically, make reasoned judgments, and be responsible for one’s actions are important results of learning how to think well, whether it be in the pursuit of the arts, science, literature or craftsmanship.  To be observant, to be curious, to be respectful of evidence, to communicate clearly, and to understand how others feel, are all habits of mind that will benefit a whole community and can change how we might define being an ‘educated’ person.  Everyone in the school building should be modeling a ‘growth mindset’ for lifelong learning.

I believe that students and teachers learn best in an environment of mutual respect, safety and trust.    A principal needs to carefully cultivate relationships and encourage the community partnerships that will sustain excellent programs and effective academic results in the school.    Learning in teams is important to both teachers and students, and therefore an administrator should be confident to set goals, facilitate learning and provide time for personal and group reflection that will build collective knowledge of best practices.    Learning needs to be celebrated and shared both within the school and beyond.

Finally, I believe that the kind of school culture we desire for our students is the kind of learning culture that we need to live for ourselves.    Modeling our willingness to co-learn, to compromise, to uphold high standards for ourselves and for others, will be the best lessons taught and learned.    School administrators need to care enough to have both the wonderful celebrations of success and the powerful conversations about school improvement in order to keep schools growing to serve the needs of our children, parents, and global community.

Student Voice and Student Agency

I’m always looking for project topics that I can bring into schools that I work with in my role as a technology coach.  I recently came across this little project in Larry Ferlazzo’s blog that, while simple, has deeper elements that I love: student voice, inclusive schools, working from student strength and passion, as well as the added bonus of using technology to enrich the message.

The idea originates from author Daniel Pink and his book Drive where he suggests that students are motivated by a sense of purpose and want to contribute to bigger issues, and that connections within the community can help students understand their value, further motivating a learning stance and the idea of taking purposeful action to make the world a better place.

Here is a description of Dan Pink describing the idea:

Here is a video that outlines the “One Sentence Project” which could be used with students:

Here is an example of how one teacher used this in the classroom:

How could you see using this project in your context?  With students? With teachers/school leaders?

What other ideas do you have that focus on student voice and student passion?   I’d be very grateful for some examples and ideas from our community here that could push my thinking about this.

Thanking our Minds on Media Presenters!

Thanks to Facilitators for Excellent Minds On Media at ECOO12

We want to thank, and to celebrate, the facilitators at Educational Computing Organization of Ontario’s Minds On Media event held on Wednesday, October 24th.

This year we had a full house of 120 participants and 9 centres! It was a hive of activity and the energy was phenomenal.

We heard many wonderful comments throughout the day, but one we overheard was a teacher saying to her colleague, “I have learned more in the last three hours than I’ve learned in years!”

Another teacher was seen to be leaving the event after an hour, laptop in hand, and we were discouraged! But, she said to us, “Wow! I’ve learned so much I am going to find a quiet spot to put it into practice. I’ll be back!” And she did return – hungry for more!

What is Minds On Media?

Minds On Media (MOM) is a model of professional learning that respects the learner’s ‘desire to know’. Teachers come to learn and we respect their choices in how they wish to do that. We want them to take a ‘minds on’ approach.

Our Core Beliefs

We believe that:

    • the locus of control for learning should be in the hands of the learner
    • the facilitator must be aware of, and respond to, the learner’s desires, needs and expertise
    • the learner should leave empowered to learn further – beyond the MOM event
    • there are always experts among us

Facilitators at MOM sessions look forward to, not only teaching but, learning with others. They respect the knowledge and expertise that each person brings to the table.

2012 Facilitators and Their Resources:


Pedagogistas are there to ensure that we don’t get lost in the mechanics of the tools – but rather remind and support us to think deeply about the role of technology in learning and teaching.

Most sincerely,
Brenda Sherry
Peter Skillen

Starting Day 1: Happy Classrooms – Successful Kids

I’ve always been a teacher who wants students to be happy in the classroom.  I want them to like coming to school and to like learning for the pleasure of learning itself.  As a result, a lot of my energy went into creating engaging, personally enjoyable learning environments for students.  Don’t get me wrong, I feel the pressures of accountability, assessment and ‘covering the curriculum’ – all important – but in my mind, not more important than how a learner felt about their own learning.

As we start into a new school year, students and teachers alike enjoy that ‘fresh start’ kind of feeling.  A fresh chance to start again, try new things, refocus ourselves.

What if your focus this year was to have a class full of happy learners?  What would you do differently?  How would you explain that primary goal to parents, colleagues and your administrators?  Would a little information from a cognitive psychologist be helpful?

If you can find 12 minutes this first week of school to listen to Shawn Achor’s Tedx Talk: happy secret to better work  I think you’ll be glad that you did! Think about your happiness and fulfillment as an educator in addition to that of your students as you watch it.

One big takeaway for me was the following, related to how positivity affects learning:

“The lens through which your brain views the world shapes your reality.”

What was yours?

First Days of School – A Collaborative Activity

I’m participating in Connected Educator Month where educators from the US (and beyond) are gathering online to share best practices, hear  wonderful keynote speakers and participate in online sessions both asynchronously and synchronously.  For many, this is a chance to check out what becoming a connected educator is all about and if that’s you, there is a great Starter Kit to help you on your way.    For me, it’s a way to make new learning connections and both share and receive practical ideas for teaching and learning.

One session, called The First Six Weeks, was a panel discussion kick-off, followed by a forum where folks are sharing their ideas about ways to make the first six weeks of school really sensational!   If you’d like to join in, you can hear the initial panel discussion recording here and participate in the forum now: http://connectededucators.org/forum-kick-off-connected-education-and-the-first-six-weeks/

I shared an idea in the forum that I’ve used in the past and @snbeach, co-author of The Connected Educator, asked for a little example of how it works so I thought I’d share it here and include a graphic.   You might like to try it in your classroom, and I’d love to hear about  how it worked and how you tweaked it for class!

This activity gives students a chance to get to know each other and to find out what they have in common with some of their classmates.  It begins with students in a group of 3 and using a 3-circled venn diagram – one circle for each student.   They  record information about themselves and what they have in common with the other 2 in their group.   Students can share facts about themselves, their passions, their summer, their family etc., using sketches or words/phrases.  If 2 of the 3 like soccer, for example, they sketch a little picture or word about soccer in the section that overlaps their two circles.  If they have an interest or experience that is unique to their group, then they put that into their own circle, with no overlaps, and if something is common to all three it goes into the centre space – you get the idea!

It’s neat to see a visual representation of what they have in common and what is unique about them.  This also gives me a chance to see them interact to get a job done by talking together and asking lots of questions of each other –not to mention making observations about group dynamics.   I get to observe what modes students prefer when recording their ideas – text, images, phrases or a combination.  They also look great to display teamwork on the first day and to lay the foundation for that culture of collaboration and co-construction that is important in my classroom.

I’ve also done this on return from a school break – works well then too!  I’d love to hear your feedback on this idea – either how it worked for you, or what you would change!

Day 1 at ISTE12


On Thursday my ISTE12 connections started at Pearson International Airport before the trip to the conference even started. On the same flight were @peterskillen @rgrignon and @janesmith! We got caught up and were enthusiastically talking about teacher stuff, when we discovered we were sitting with Sarah Dwyer and 2 of her colleagues from Bishop Strachan School in Toronto. Those folks were not heading to ISTE12 but were instead going to visit High Tech High in California! I was so envious! Lucky them! Check out some videos about High Tech High on my pbl page if you are interested.

These teachers from BSS are involved with Science Education and global collaboration with teachers who are implementing pbl so I suggested that Sarah connect with @neilstephenson and the folks from Calgary Science School. I’ll follow up with her and share those connections via email later on.

On the street after dinner, I bumped into @angelamaiers and @teachakid as we were watching a little dog drive a toy car (you had to be there!) It’s amazing how twitter keeps us connected to people all year long and we can meet up once a year and reconnect. That’s what this conference is about – there will be incredible learning, but the connections that I make will only be the tip of the iceberg – the learning and connections will last well beyond this conference!