Appreciative Leadership – Chapter 1

I’m an eternal optimist.  Was I born this way?  I don’t know… all I know is that I’ve always viewed the cup as half-full and have an easy time finding silver linings somehow.  This must be what draws me to the Appreciative Inquiry approach that I began to learn about in my time as a Community Leader with Powerful Learning Practice.  And I do mean ‘began to learn’ because I feel like I need a lot of years to develop skill in this area.

Imagine my delight to have attended my first Family of Schools meeting at my Board this fall and to be presented with an article to read about all different kinds of leaders.  As I often do, I flipped directly to the back of the article to check out the resources, and found a 9780071743204recommended resource called Appreciative Leadership by Appreciative Inquiry gurus Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom and Kae Rader!   I promptly bought the book and began to read about their definition of AL:

Appreciative Leadership is the relational capacity to mobilize creative potential and turn it into positive power — to set in motion positive ripples of confidence, energy, enthusiasm, and performance — to make a positive difference in the world (P. 3)

I love this positive worldview and the focus on what IS needed, what IS possible and what CAN be done.  Super stuff for an optimist like me!

In devouring the first part of the book, the authors outline the 5 core strategies of AL and I find that they resonate with me.  In fact, these are exactly the things upon which I am focusing as a school administrator:

  1. Inquiry – Ask powerful questions
  2. Illumination – Bring out the best of people and situations
  3. Inclusions – Engage with people to coauthor the future
  4. Inspiration – Awaken the creative spirit
  5. Integrity – Make choices for the good of the whole

I want to get better at asking those powerful questions and as a beginning the authors suggest observing yourself to determine your ask-to-tell ratio.  They recommend that we ask questions about 3 times more than we tell information.  I have no clue what my ratio is, but I’m going to spend a week or two watching that more closely.

Do you know your ask-to-tell ratio?


QR Code Adventures

I always find it exciting when I come across someone who is willing to take a chance and try something new they don’t know much about.  Jen Apgar (@jenapgar) and I did some working together last      year when her class was getting ready for Digifest 2011.  We got chatting about some new things we were hearing about – and QR codes kind of came up.

Did we know much about them?  Nope.
Did we know much about how they worked? Nope.
Did we have some ideas about how we might use them with kids? Yep.

After a bit of chatting we decided that since we were both the kind of teachers who liked to struggle and learn along with the kids we’d jump in with both feet on a project for this year.

And so began the diigo-ing of links and resources, collecting what we could find, photographing QR codes wherever we could find them,  and reading up on what my network was sharing on twitter and on blogs.   I began to collect the resources here on Tech2Learn if you’d like to check it out.

Jen teaches a congregated gifted class of Grade 4’s who recently made a transition to a new school.   New students transition into this program every year, and this involves a school visit and info day during their Grade 3 year.  Jen’s class this year has decided to make some documentaries about what it was like to transition to the gifted program and to a new school and then to lead the visiting students through a QR scavenger hunt in May.

The kids are asking this question, “What will kids who are coming in new to the program, want to know?  How can we get them excited about coming to their new school?”

They’ll be learning lots about documentary film making and the art of creating media to convey a message to a particular audience.  Then they’ll plan a scavenger hunt about the most important elements of school life.  Lots of critical thinking in decision-making about what stays in and what gets cut out.  Lots of teamwork in pre-production planning, production and post-production.   Lots of hard work planning clues and uploading clips, audio, images to the web to be linked as QR codes.  Lastly, they’ll create the QR codes and post them around the school.   They’ll test it out and get things ready for the younger students.   A complex project for an authentic audience!

I can’t wait…this is going to be fun!

Fotobabble Fun!

It’s hard to build community in an online network.  When people gather from around the world to share, collaborate and co-create, there needs to be an element of fun, trust and getting to know one another.   In our Canada & New England PLP Network, we’ve been spending the first little while having conversations around our beliefs and experiences in education, but also doing some fun stuff!

I’m excited about this new tool I’ve learned about called Fotobabble.  We are playing a little game where folks choose something that is a passion – something that others might not know about them.   They upload a picture and then create three clues about that passion, hobby or interest.   We embed these in a discussion and have a go at guessing!  It’s good fun and really easy to do!

We’ll try it tonight in my AQ Course IICTI – Part 1 because I think this has good potential as a tool in the classroom.  Many of the teachers in the class are looking for ways to provide alternate ways for students to demonstrate their thinking.   Imagine quickly snapping a picture of art, a science experiment, or a math solution, and then having students create a fotobabble!

Check it out below…and then perhaps share an idea with us…how could you use this in your classroom?

What is your passion?

Looking deeper into creativity

It’s been a great journey with the PLP ConnectU group from Australia so far.  We are developing a unit in order to explore “What is Creativity” with students. Kynan Robinson, who has been studying creativity for some time now,  shared some readings with us recently and I’ve finally had a chance to do some reading and thinking.

Some of the things that have jumped out at me from the readings he shared are:

To foster creativity, children should possess a specialised knowledge of the relevant area, think divergently as well as convergently, have the capacity to analyse and synthesise the problem, and be able to enact self-planning and evaluation strategies (Cropley & Urban 2000).

The following was from a study around problem-solving with technology construction:

It is important that students have sufficient background in the topic and also in the methods of construction. Preliminary classes that deal with an investigation of the topic and allow students to use a variety of construction techniques are crucial for full development of the task. Specific teaching may be required. After the introduction to the task, the students need an incubation period so that their ideas can be fully developed. (ALISTAIR WEBSTER ET AL., 2006)

Useful tips for teachers:  (from John Munro)

  • Teachers can use tasks and challenges that can be processed in multiple ways and that are open-ended, that foster a questioning attitude, that stimulate broad and open perceptions. Conditions that foster a high level of autonomy, self initiative, spontaneity and experimentation during learning and that reduce the pressure for formal achievement are useful.
  • Students need to be encouraged to think about the topic in more divergent oriented ways. Subject area knowledge needs to be taught in ways that allow more open-ended thinking. The teaching can include use questioning to explore topics and problem solving.
  • Creative thinking is much more likely when there is the opportunity for aspects of self directed and managed learning.
  • Encouraging an attitude towards learning to modify one’s thinking during learning and learning how to use the errors made during learning
  • Valuing intuitive, ‘non conformist’ and original interpretations of ideas is useful. Students need to see that their original ideas are accepted and valued, even if they assist only in leading to other ideas.

I think our group is on the right track in that we’ve discussed trying to include higher level thinking skills such as analysis and synthesis.  I’m wondering how can we provide the incubation time necessary and also ensure that students have  good deal of background knowledge about the topic?  I can see how Kynan and Kristen will be doing that with their gaming unit, but I’m wondering how we’ll do that we our very broad question, “What is creativity?” How can our learning activities focus on gathering some of that background knowledge? What background knowledge is necessary to have?

There’s No ‘I’ In Coach

I’m a few months into the realm of connected coaching with the PLP Network!  We are officially doing a little bit of real-life coaching in starting to get to know our groups,  but we are also enjoying the continued discussion and practice of our new skills in the online Ning space. It’s been a real treat getting to know this team of coaches and following the amazing modeling of our mentors Lani Ritter-Hall and Dean Shareski.

When we first began, I thought that my biggest challenge would be in developing my questioning skills in order to deepen the thinking of the coachees.  That is still huge, but since that time, I’ve come to realize the need to first understand the complexity of other elements of coaching such as:

  • trusting one another
  • attentive listening
  • affirmation
  • paraphrasing
  • working from a strengths based approach

In unpacking these things,  it’s given me time to go deeper in my communication skills for the first time in my 24 years of teaching! I find it pretty shocking that it’s taken all that time in a profession that relies so much on effective communication…something is definitely wrong with that picture! Every teacher should have this opportunity.

It’s so easy to fall into the pattern of sharing OUR experiences and OUR stories in kind of a show and tell, back and forth kind of format.  I wrote about this in an earlier blog post when our curriculum leaders were exploring networked learning communities.   Granted, connection is important, and we must connect with our colleagues on a personal level to build a relationship,  but I’m trying to remember that coaching is not about us so much…it’s about those whom we coach.  I’ve been thinking about how many times I go into classrooms to help a teacher learn something new about technology and my visit turns into me doing the modeling, showing, doing, talking.  This is fine, but I think of the times when people have challenged me to think of something differently, to ask questions that get me thinking, or shake me up (in a good way!) with a little dissonance.  I’m not sure I’ve been leaving that kind of residue behind, and I’d like to work on that.

Another a-ha moment for me is the fact that networks and communities might not be synonymous as I once thought they were – I used to use these two words interchangeably.   Through the PLP Network,  I’m learning that perhaps places like my Twitter network are just that – a network for sharing information among a diverse group of people.

Community, on the other hand,  is a place of collaborative action that requires a different kind of relationship – one that makes us feel safe and our ideas valued,  while encouraging the risk-taking and sharing of diverse opinions that will, in the end, make our collaborative ventures deeper and more meaningful.

I’m loving this chance to get to know people and to connect with what they all bring to the team:  their strengths, their experiences and their plans for themselves as they continue to learn.

Taking the Plunge – Online Learning Communities

I’m enjoying getting started as a connected coach with a PLP ConnectU group from Australia this month. After listening to a wonderful Elluminate session as group leaders Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Will Richardson and Susan Carter Morgan got talking to folks about getting started on the Ning and on Twitter, I was reminded about that steep, but very gratifying, learning curve when I first began to participate in social media. I’m hoping to follow up on what they were saying with my top 3 tips for getting going in networked communities of educators.

Get on there!

Educators are the kind of people that value risk taking and shifts in thinking – especially those educators that you’ll find online. This is a supportive community that will teach you – don’t worry about making some mistakes! If you can try to make it a regular part of every day or so to check in online, you’ll soon realize that this is a place where you can ask questions, find resources, and get rich professional learning, virtually for free! You may find the people you are learning from will lead you in places you’d never dreamed you’d go – in a good way! You can find people who share similar interests and then bring back that knowledge to enrich your f2f school community.

Don’t worry about seeing everything!

Teachers are thorough. Teachers like to follow through on commitments. If they say they’ll do something it bothers them if they don’t do it. Being a member of a community like twitter or a Ning is a little different – and I’m recommending right now that you cut yourself some slack in this area. You needn’t worry about reading and responding to each and every piece that is posted. Instead, explore where your interests lie and let your passion for those topics enrich the community as a whole. Dive in when you need it, and contribute when you can! A quick check of the recently posted items will let you know if there is something that catches your attention.

Share your thinking online!

Tacit understanding is that unspoken knowledge that we acquire as teachers and boy, do we ever have a lot of it! So much of what we do is not made explicit in our daily work because it’s so complex and difficult to describe. Try asking a colleague what teaching strategies they used today and see how they answer! One of the amazing by-products of participating online, where you start to make thinking about your teaching practice explicit by writing or talking about it with others, is how much it helps you understand and increase the conviction and confidence in your own teaching practice and beliefs about learning. I think that’s been one of the most valuable parts of my relationships with people online – it’s like having a global staffroom of people who are interested in the best for students!

Connected Coaching – Week 1

Many educators in Ontario have had the wonderful opportunity for professional learning with Sheryl Nussbaum- Beach and Will Richardson in their PLP Network and I’m fortunate to be helping as a connected coach in one of their projects with Australian teachers.

With the help of Lani Ritter-Hall and Dean Shareski,  the connected coaching team is going deeper with coaching and I’m also exploring my interest in building effective networked learning communities, both on and off-line. We are reading about Instructional Coaching, Evocative Coaching, Cognitive Coaching and Appreciative Inquiry to develop a coaching lens that fits with the PLP Project.

This week I’m wondering how asking good questions might help teachers shift their thinking to a strengths-based approach that involves personal learning, passion-based pursuits and growth.   In doing that, I’ve been thinking about being more intentional about the kind of language I use and thoughtful about the kinds of questions that coaches might be asking.

I’ll be adding/revising this list during the project:

  • tell me more about….
  • do you have anything more to ask?
  • why do you think that?
  • what is the worst that might happen?
  • what makes you think that?
  • what are the possibilities?
  • if everything was working perfectly in your classroom, what might that look like?
  • I hear you saying….
  • can you remember a time when something worked really well?
  • can you tell us about someone you look up to for their…..

It’s definitely a work in progress, but that’s what makes the learning so darn fun! 🙂

Looking Ahead With Project Ideas for 2010

In starting my third year of Technology Coaching at UGDSB  I’ve just loved helping teachers build capacity with tech tools, try some new things outside of their comfort zone, and then watch their students improve and become more independent learners, especially with the help of assistive technologies.

In an attempt to keep the focus on technology that is closely focused on student learning goals, rather than one-off software training sessions,  I’m recommending that teachers who are interested in working with me choose a project that might fit their classroom, their students, and their comfort level with technology, making the coaching experience more impactful for their own professional learning.

The projects listed below will hopefully provide a natural way to embed most, if not all, of these components:

  • literacy expectations
  • media/technology integration
  • media literacy curriculum
  • assistive technology, differentiated instruction and differentiated learning
  • social media and our new Acceptable Use Policy
  • critical thinking

Digital Storytelling

Teachers will learn how to extend the traditional writing process and create multimedia stories with students, especially with:

  • personal narrative
  • persuasive writing pieces

Multiple Representations of Knowledge
(‘reading’ and ‘writing’)

Teachers will learn to use technology to provide an opportunity for students to differentiate the products they create in order to demonstrate their learning.

  • formative or summative assessments
  • note-taking
  • presentations
  • collaborative documents
  • using assistive technology such as audio recordings and digital graphic organizers

Global Projects

Using a Global network like or, teachers can choose a cross-curricular project and connect their students with other classrooms around the world.

Media Literacy

Teachers will learn how students can deconstruct and analyze media messages and construct their own media in a variety of forms.  Students will become more critical of the overt and implied messages that are embedded in the media they view and in what they create.

Web 2.0 Tools

Social Media tools are generally free and can increase collaboration, reflection and engagement, as well as promote a global classroom.   Teachers will learn how to find the right tools (e.g., wikis, blogs, voicethread, collaborative documents) to enhance collaboration in their classroom, and find an authentic audience for student work.

What makes a good instructional coach?

My colleague Christina and I were fortunate to be able to take part in a 2-day Coaching Institute with an informative and entertaining Jim Knight, brought to the London area by SDCO.  It was great timing for me to explore my roll as a technology coach! I’ve not had any professional learning in this area since starting my job as a tech coach so this was a welcome opportunity for learning and reflection.  Thanks to the Literacy Gains project for making this happen!  You might want to join the The Big Four Ning for more materials and information about Jim Knight and his coaching projects.

Knight defines coaching as:

A coach is an on-site professional developer who partners with educators to identify and assist with implementation of proven teaching methods.

I loved his respectful approach to honoring our teachers as learners, not trying to do things ‘to’ them, but to learn along ‘with’ them. Understanding that change doesn’t always stick the first time, coaches can help teachers understand why they may need to change an instructional practice and then be there for the really important support as they take action to make changes.

Knight shared Prochaska’s theories from Changing for Good whereby we move through stages of change, from pre-contemplative (not even thinking about a change)  to taking action.   This reminded me a lot of the CBAM (Concerns Based Adoption Model).

What makes change stick? Our group decided change was influenced by these things:

  • do we want it?
  • can we see progress?
  • can we persevere to follow through?
  • is there support during the action phase?
  • do we see value in the change?
  • have we unlearned previous behaviours?

Coaching is like good teaching, it’s about Informed Adaptive Response to what is going on in the classroom.  We are informed by our experience and expertise in developing effective classroom instruction and learning environments, and this combines with our adaptive response that differentiates our approaches.   We differentiate these approaches based on the teacher’s desire to learn, their learning style, teaching experience, and personality.
Not surprisingly, the research shows that it usually takes several attempts before change will stick.  People actually go back and forth in creating a lasting change.  Anyone who has ever tried to improve their eating habits or maintain an exercise program probably already knows this to be the case!

Many practical suggestions were shared to help coaches improve their coaching sessions including ways to provide options for teachers to help them define an area they’d like to work on, video taping coaching interactions to help improve a coach’s own skills and high leverage communication strategies and case studies.  All in all, it was a very valuable day for me on my coaching journey!