Practice and Publicity

Much is said these days about “digital footprints”. If people Google you (and they probably do), what do they find and what does it say about you? Who controls that?


Image by We Are Social Media

I am motivated to write this post by a question I heard one Principal ask another of a particular staff member who was a prolific tweeter, blogger, and social media extraordinaire. The one Principal asked, “Gosh, is Steve (not the teacher’s real name) really as good as he seems on Twitter?” The other Principal simply gave a look. The look spoke volumes! There was an obvious disconnect between what this teacher did and what this teacher said.

I’ve also had many people share with me that it drives them crazy when some administrators and teachers seem to use social media to “toot their own horn”.

While the reality is that not everything an educator shares via social media “matches” their practice, I believe that it is healthy to share. Teachers need to share what they are experimenting with in their classrooms. Principals need to share what they are experimenting with in their schools. This sharing helps others learn because it encourages them to reflect on their own beliefs and practice. Most people are apprehensive to share because they fear how this sharing will be perceived or that they don’t have anything significant to share. Sharing takes courage because you open yourself up to the world and to the possibility that someone may disagree with your ideas or views. But, whenever I speak to anyone about the possibility of tweeting or blogging about something, I simply share the message from Derek Sivers’ awesome video, Obvious to you. Amazing to others:

“We’re clearly a bad judge of our own creations. We should just put it out and let the world decide.”

In this sharing though, I think it’s important to be as honest as possible and to not only share what goes really well, but also that which does not go as planned. I screw up a lot – ask anyone! What comes to mind as I sit here typing:

  • I remember my very first MysterySkype with a class from Missouri. I really wanted students to do well so of all things … we talked about Missouri; where is was in the U.S., that it was land-locked… Uh, this is a MYSTERY Skype – students aren’t supposed to know where the other class is from!!! Embarrassing, but I learned. I’ve since done many MysterySkype sessions and helped others with them as well.
  • I remember participating in the WikiSeat project and designing and building my own chair. Once I was done, it was hideous. I wrote a blog about going through this process and having to start all over again: Read that blog here. It’s not always easy to publicly talk about mistakes, but in the end I was happy that I didn’t settle for my first attempt; it clearly wasn’t the best I could do.
  • During a recent Year-End assembly, the video I worked on for hours froze halfway through because I rendered it at the highest possible resolution, resulting in a file over 2 GB that my computer could not handle. This was not a private failure. There were over 700 students, staff, and parents, watching as I tried in vain to get this movie to run. I later rendered the movie at a lower resolution that played fine on my computer. I invited anyone interested to come down to the gym and watch the whole movie. Again, my first attempt was unsuccessful, but in persevering I succeeded.

Many people talk about mistakes and failure and how we should embrace these experiences because they lead to new learning and understanding. We expect it from our students, but do we “put ourselves out there” in a similar way? Do we make ourselves vulnerable? Do we really embrace failure as a vehicle for learning?

FullSizeRender 4While it’s true that practice does not always match publicity, it’s also true that it’s up to the world as an audience to take from digital footprints what they deem true and valuable, and to enter into respectful, dialogue when they disagree with someone’s view. Sharing, however, should always be encouraged because risk leads to growth, we all have something of value to share, and we are better collectively than we are on our own.

Innovation Week – Unchartered Territory


gvInnovationWeekTo me, being innovative doesn’t just mean making things different, but making things better! Given this,  I think our first Innovation Week at Georges Vanier Elementary would meet the criteria for being innovative. Our Innovation Week took place from December 9 – 13, 2013, and was inspired first by witnessing Genius Hour in many classrooms in our school, then by hearing about Jesse McLean‘s experience with his own Innovation Week at Greystone Centennial Middle School in Parkland School Division in Spruce Grove, Alberta. What prompted us further was hearing about Innovation Week over at Fraser Heights Secondary in Surrey.

Discussions started with staff members who embraced the idea, then we began to advertise to students. I have to say that as much as we tried to explain what Innovation Week was (though not really being too sure ourselves), I’m not certain students actually understood what they were signing up for or what they were missing. Some took their application, filled it out as best as they could, while others opted out and decided to wait and see what Innovation Week would look like.

We had a total of 75 students from Grade 3-7 participate. I was neither surprised or disappointed by that number as I didn’t really know how the event would evolve. What I do know is that since there were not enough students participating to collapse other classes to thereby free up teachers, I was alone with the group much of the time. Special thanks for our EA staff who came in to assist and to the many teachers who stopped in to look and ask questions, all on their free time. I even had a teacher who retired last year, Liane Jagger, come and assist for three days. What a great help!

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Innovation Week projects included:

  • Developing an app.
  • Website development.
  • Remote control car modification.
  • Creating a document camera.
  • Building a Minecraft server.
  • A jewelry holder.
  • Christmas crafts.
  • A new and improved chair.
  • A rolling storage container with built-in iPod charger.
  • Modifying a Snickers Bar.
  • A new breakfast cereal.
  • (Just to name a few).

So how was learning improved? Over the course of the week, students:

  • Were engaged in personally relevant learning.
  • Adjusted their initial plans based on the challenges they were having.
  • Became increasingly independent.
  • Confirmed that they made good choices regarding learning partners or realized that the choices they made regarding partners did not help them in their learning.
  • Reflected on the competencies they were developing and demonstrating.
  • Were inspired daily by videos about creativity and innovation. One favourite was Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From below.
  • Were on-task and continued to work without direct adult supervision.
  • Developed ideas for future Innovation Week Events.
  • Were extremely proud on of their learning on presentation day, sharing their projects with peers, teachers, and parents.

Most impressive to me was the curiosity of students who chose not to participate in our initial Innovation Week. These students were often out in the hallway, peering inquisitively at the work begin done inside the gym, asking to come in and see what was happening. But most rewarding to me was the response I received when I asked the group involved in Innovation Week, “Would you participate again?” They emphatically said, “YES!”

As an aside, other innovative ideas that were popping up around the school while Innovation Week took place in the gym.  In Ashley Henderson and Matt White’s classes, students participated in Learn a New Skill week and, like the students participating in Innovation Week, were initially taken aback when given the opportunity to make their own decisions about their learning, but later embraced the freedom of the experience. Skills students decided to focus on included:  juggling, learning card, magic and coin tricks, stop motion animation, duct tape purses, and optical illusions. While in Francoise Rempel and Hugh McDonald‘s classes, students spent time everyday working to create Rube-Goldberg Machines.  I had the chance to visit on the last day and were students ever challenged and engaged!

2013 ended in a very positive way at our school and I look forward to working with our wonderful staff  and community to further explore ways to innovate in order to further engage our learners and bring genuine enthusiasm to the work they do.

What innovative ideas are swirling around in your head?  Are you ready to share them and put them into action?

What’s Different Now?

photo-116Colleagues from my school and I are days away from a sharing session at which we will share our Innovation Learning Designs (ILD) journey with other schools. It has been a journey, but like most journeys, I don’t foresee an actual final destination. How can I? One of my greatest realizations now is that two short years ago we could not have foreseen where we are today, nor can we foresee where we will be in another two years. I often joke about the fact that when our initial ILD proposal was written, no one on our team had ever touched an iPad, let alone worked in a wireless environment. How could we possibly predict where we would go. That’s why it was fascinating to meet with members of our team and answer a question like:

What’s Different Now?

You’d think the place to start would be to discuss the obvious things we are seeing our students doing. What’s different now? Students are:

  • Documenting and reflecting on their learning via ePorfolios
  • Following passions and determining what and how they learn during Genius Hour
  • Writing in and out of the classroom, in and out of class time,  for authentic purposes through their eBooks and blogs
  • Developing questioning skills and learning about the world around them during MysterySkype sessions
  • Bringing their own devices so that research and publishing resources are at their fingertips
  • Fulfilling their need to socially connect with peers around the world through projects such as Global Read-aloud, Postcard Exchange, and blog commenting
  • Creating, building, and sharing furniture as part of the WikiSeat project

Yes, things have changed for students. No, I could not have predicted these changes just two short years ago.

But, something surprising happened along the way. Many of our teachers transformed – as did their practice. Before technology impacted students, it first opened doors to our teachers. What came through the doors forced many on staff to think critically about what they were doing, encouraged them to share the already great things going on in their classes, and exposed them to what I consider to be the only source of high quality, on-going professional development. Quite frankly, none of the rich activities listed above were taking place prior to the floodgates opening. When I say floodgates, what I really mean is the combination of…

Wireless + iPads + Twitter +Connection

…and I attribute all of this to the ILD process. Historically, hardware replacement was based on the premise of having so many machines for so many students and replacing it every so many years. Frankly, this method was flawed. Successful implementation (which was present only in pockets around the District prior to ILD) was dependent on who your admin was and who was on staff. Mostly, hardware was given to schools with most asking the question, “Now what?” ILD forced schools to come together, work collaboratively, and develop a plan based on learning that could be supported with technology. It had never been done this way! The fact that teams committed to professional development and sharing further strengthens the process. So has ILD been successful? I dare anyone to say it has not. There is a tremendous amount of evidence to support this:

Part of the Surrey contingent at #ConnectEDca
Part of the Surrey contingent at #ConnectEDca
  • Over 30 educators from Surrey attended the recent #ConnectEDca conference in Calgary. That’s over 10% of attendees. There is an obvious thirst for learning and sharing.
  • I have NEVER been connected to more administrators and educators as I am today. These people both validate and make me question what I do.
  • Home-School Communication has been enhanced. Parents are reading the school blog and following our school Twitter feed. At a recent parent event I shared the Vanier News (our school blog) and asked how many parents had visited the site. I was amazed when probably 75% of parents put their hands up!
  • Teachers are venturing off (virtually and physically) to other schools and bringing back innovative practice. There is definitely a “cross-pollination” of ideas taking place.
  • Teachers are increasingly open to change and new ideas now that the world of teaching and learning has been opened to them.
  • Teachers are becoming increasingly reflective via blogging. It is now cool to reflect, blog, and share.
  • Teachers are CONNECTED!
  • Since there is technology in each room, it has become “invisible” with the focus being on authentic learning experiences.

photo-115So as I look back and look ahead, I am amazed and excited. Amazed at the growth that has taken place in our students. They are excited about learning. Many arrive early most mornings. A teacher who recently had her students start blogging (which was a HUGE leap for this teacher) shared excitedly with me one morning that many of her students wrote a blog the previous evening, even though it was not assigned. Students writing?  Because they want to? How could this be? It’s happening!

I am excited because teachers are now not only excited about their student’s learning, but their own learning as well. The most significant aspect of our ILD journey has been, and will continue to be, the growth in the adults in our building. For truly when teachers become co-learners with students and are open to risk-take with opportunities that promote innovation, creativity, and doing authentic work, then the journey will be a grand one for all.

I look forward to the continuation of this learning trek…

I would like to personally thank Elisa Carlson for her drive, determination, and support in moving so many educators forward in the Surrey School District. She was the first one to give me the confidence to share my views, learning, and understanding.

Elisa, thank you for valuing those around you and for asking the difficult questions that needed to be asked!

CUE in Review: Charting A Course Forward

“Our kids will spend the rest of their lives in the future.
Are we getting them ready?”

-Kevin Honeycutt

Blog co-written by John Horstead, Don Chila, and Antonio Vendramin.

Sir Ken Robinson

Attending the CUE conference this year was a valuable experience in many ways, beginning with Sir Ken Robinson’s keynote “Out of our Minds: Learning to be Creative”.  Together with close to 4000 educators, we applauded, laughed, and were inspired by his blend of personal experience and transformative thinking.   One of his quotes particularly resonated with us: “Human talents are very much like natural resources in the ground…and they don’t always manifest themselves without the right conditions.” Throughout the rest of the sessions we kept coming back to the question of whether schools are providing the necessary conditions for authentic learning and creativity to flourish.

Technology doesn’t have a separate role in the transformation of education; it is central and inseparable. Journeying through airports, hotel environments, and the conference, it was impossible to ignore the connectedness of our society.   The access to information, the ability to communicate anywhere with virtually anyone, and multiple ways to share were all prominent observations. Instinctively, we believe that thoughtful integration of technology into teaching and learning can serve to not only motivate and engage students, but to allow students to do REAL learning doing work that matters. To go further, we may be able to address Chris Lehmann’s (@chrislehmann) question from a recent visit to Surrey Schools: “Why does school stink for so many kids?”

Screen shot 2013-03-29 at 11.49.06 AM

As we traveled from session to session, many thoughts and questions crept into our consciousness.

Screen shot 2013-03-21 at 7.22.21 PMHow do we separate the NOISE from what is truly important? These are the questions, factors, opportunities, roadblocks, challenges that educational leaders grapple with as we work with staff to move students forward in a time of change that is unprecedented in its accelerated pace.

What implications does a  ‘Bring your own device’ (BYOD) policy have for a school in terms of bandwidth, equity, privacy, acceptable use, and impact on student learning?  It’s interesting to note here that it was very evident at a premier conference like CUE, the bandwidth was not sufficient to support the number of learners present.  Beyond this, are the adults in our schools, as a team, committed to safely and effectively guiding learners in information and technology-rich environments?

Screen shot 2013-03-29 at 11.46.44 AMWhat practices do we see evident in the classrooms at our schools and are these practices innovative and transformative?  Are teachers and students actually doing work that matters to them, and are we simply calling practice “innovative” because technology is involved?

It was encouraging to interact with numerous educators from across North America and engage in conversations that reaffirmed that the direction we are heading in is both necessary and rewarding… Or as our BC Ed plan states “The World has changed…the way we educate our children should too.”

We must keep pace with the revolution.  Analysis-paralysis has been a limiting factor for too long.  Ignorance on fire is better than knowledge on ice.  Modeling best practice and innovation, supporting and encouraging risk-taking, and being lead learners will be a good place to start. Learners, and the world they live in, are changing and so must we.   Relationships, together with high quality, personalized instruction will always be at the heart of optimal learning.  The challenge now is leveraging technology to make learning personally relevant to students.

Screen shot 2013-03-29 at 11.45.48 AM

Kevin Honeycutt

Like Sir Ken Robinson’s opening, Kevin Honeycutt’s closing keynote was both stirring and inspirational. He cut to our true purpose and that is the job of forming meaningful relationships with those at the centre of all we do – students!

Immigrants and Natives (Of the Digital Variety)

Image: A. Vendramin

Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) recently visited the Surrey School District and I had the chance to both chat with and listen to him. During his session and in a blog he subsequently wrote, he expressed his distain for the terms digital native and digital immigrant. I hadn’t given the terms much consideration until he shared his thoughts. The term digital native, he argued, gives kids today way too much credit when it comes to the use of technology, whereas the term digital immigrant not only sells educators short but also underestimates their role in technology integration in schools. Bill adds that, “…we hang our students out to dry every time that we make blanket assumptions about their ability to grow without us simply because they don’t need owner’s manuals to figure out how to use the new gadgets flooding the marketplace every year.”

In his blog titled Is Embracing Digital Learning a Moral Issue for Educators?, Wesley Fryer (@wfryer) grapples with the issue of the teacher’s role in the use of social media and digital tools in classrooms. He suggested that, “The teachers who teach my own children TODAY who aren’t embracing the uses of digital media in various forms are doing them a disservice, because they are inadequately preparing them for today as well as the world of tomorrow.” He also wondered out loud if the following passage should be excluded from his next eBook:

While there have been and will continue to inevitably be older teachers who will retire from education rather than learn “new ways” of teaching and learning in the digital information landscape, that choice is not a moral one for those of us who choose to remain twenty-first century educators.

Recalling the many times over the past few years I have worked with students on issues involving the use (and more often misuse) of technology and social media, I too have started to question the role adults, both educators and parents, play in guiding students through the rich, but complex world of social media. If the students of today were truly digital natives, they would not only use technology appropriately and in innovate ways, but they would also more consistently demonstrate the same social skills online that they do face to face. The reality is, many kids don’t do either of these!

Even further, I would suggest that as educators, steering clear of, or avoiding social media and digital tools altogether because of the fears or insecurities we may have, essentially amounts to negligence. If a child reported abuse, would we not make the necessary phone call? If a child showed up at school hungry every day and never brought a lunch, would we not find a way to feed them? And if a student were experiencing serious learning challenges, would we not do everything possible to provide them with support?

Despite our personal opinions about whether or not students should be utilizing technology and social media, the truth is THEY ARE. While many of our students make wise choices about their use of social media, inappropriate use can and does lead to difficult and sometimes dangerous situations. I feel strongly that it’s our responsibility as educators to provide them with not only appropriate and authentic ways to integrate social media and technology into learning, but to share the vast knowledge we have regarding responsible and thoughtful decision-making and social interaction.

Truly, there is much we can learn from students and much students can learn from us. Surrey Schools Deputy Superintendent Jordan Tinney (@jordantinney) succinctly tweeted, “Teachers build a bridge between what students know about the tools & what we know about good teaching.” The key certainly is capitalizing on the strengths of all learners – both teachers AND students.

Picture 8As educators and parents, we have the opportunity before us to leverage the power of connectedness via social media. In doing so, we will more effectively engage learners who are becoming increasingly difficult to engage.

What are your thoughts regarding students, education, and the use of social media and digital tools?