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?

wersm-Your-Digital-Footprint-Online-Reputation-Breakdown

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.

The Principal’s Office

FullSizeRender 3I have been an Elementary Principal for 6 years and I love my job! Many views in education run deep and one such view is the role of the Principal. As I think back to my own schooling and how I viewed the Principals I had, it is clear to me that many students and parents still view Principals as I did. To me, Principals were scary, distant figures. You didn’t go “see” the Principal unless there was big trouble. The Principal stayed in the office and it was rare if you saw him/her outside or in your classroom. And, you most definitely didn’t want the Principal to phone your parents because you’d have consequences at school and even worse consequences at home. Does any of this resonate with you?

When I first became a Principal, I remember being outside at recess and a young student coming up to me and saying, “Shouldn’t you be in your office?” More recently, a parent came up to me in some distress asking, “Is everything OK? I heard James (not the student’s real name) was in your office today?” As a new Principal, I remember everything coming to a halt in a classroom when I walked in, with the teacher stopping whatever was happening to either have the class greet me or explain what the class was learning. The view of Principal, it seems, runs deep…even though much has changed in education since the time I was in elementary school.

Each day, I try to transform this view of a Principal’s role because I don’t want students, parents, and teachers to view me the way I viewed my Principals. To me, Principals need to model the learning they expect to see from others. Principals need to experiment and take risks, reflect and learn from mistakes, help others with their learning, and share their learning with others. Principals need to be people that ALL students, parents, and teachers trust and feel comfortable speaking to. Principals CAN’T be figures that people are afraid to approach and talk to.

What I do, I do because I believe relationships are central to the work Principals do in schools. I believe Principals should:

  • Go to school everyday with what I once heard called a “servant heart”. Effective Principals serve others, which in turn, encourages people to do the same.
  • Try to be outside before and after school greeting families and making sure they feel welcomed.
  • Also go outside at recess, play, and connect with as many students as possible.
  • Get out of their offices when they can and get into classrooms because that’s where the magic happens.
  • Do everything possible to not be “scary”, and that often means being a little bit silly.
  • Invite groups of students to work or have lunch together in their office.
  • Allow themselves to be vulnerable because that let’s everyone know Principals are human too!

Sure, sometimes Principals have to deal with difficult situations, upset parents, students who need reminders about expectations, and a myriad of other scenarios, but these tasks are made much easier when Principals are viewed as the caring, involved, professionals they are, rather than the scary monsters some people think still lurk behind the door to the Principal’s office.

Layers

“Layers… Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers… 
You get it? We both have layers!”

-Shrek

IMG_7264I’m a lucky person!

I consider myself lucky for many reasons. Among these reasons are my health, the family I am part of, and the work I do in schools that allows me to make a positive difference every day. What more could I ask?

Most people who know me would also say that I am fairly laid back and that not too much bothers me. For the most part, I think that’s true.

I’ve been sitting on this blog topic for some time and it’s only until quite recently that my wonderful admin partner, Kelli Vogstad (@KelliVogstad), encouraged me to express my thoughts. So, here I go.

I sometimes feel misunderstood and it bothers me! There, I said it.

You see, I have been with the same school district for over 20 years and I have come to be quite “typecast” in that time. In case you didn’t know, many consider me to be a “techie”, as in I like to use computers, iPads, sound equipment, and so on. While I can’t argue this, it bothers me to be considered so one-dimensional. Don’t get me wrong, I think if leveraged properly and integrated thoughtfully, technology can most definitely have a positive impact on student learning.

But, here’s where I reveal a layer of myself most people wouldn’t expect…

I also believe that technology is not THE answer. Using technology to simply replicate what we’ve always done in classrooms, is a waste of valuable funding and doesn’t significantly move student learning forward. Technology cannot save bad teaching or poorly designed learning experiences!
IMG_7949
Obviously, issues in education have layers too!

The fact is, my love of technology is just one aspect of who I am. Like Ogres and everyone else in this world, I do have layers. That’s what makes us all special and unique.

As I write this, I wonder if we sometimes overlook the uniqueness of those we work and learn with everyday.  Do we look at people and issues through a narrow lens and generalize? Are we blind to the layers below the surface? What thoughts come to mind when you consider the following statements:

Male vs. Females students?

Primary vs. Intermediate teachers?

Novice vs. Experienced teachers?

Loud vs. Quiet classrooms?

Siblings of a student you’ve had in your class before?

A student’s socioeconomic background?

Appearance?

This list could go on and on. The point is, many of us have become so busy, we often don’t spend the time needed to do important things well. In schools, we feel pressure to “cover curriculum” so we hop from lesson to lesson and unit to unit without digging deep into meaningful learning.  In working with students, do we follow Dr. Gabor Mate’s advice and “collect” students before we direct them?

We can only do this if we are truly committed to teaching kids first… and subjects second!

How do we welcome students each day?

How do we welcome students who arrive late?

How much do we know about each of our students and do we care?

Do we work hard enough to uncover and appreciate the layers in those we work and learn with everyday?

What I Notice…

IMG_7571The best part of the work I do in schools is visiting classrooms and participating in the learning taking place. I have previously written about my passion and belief about the kind of work students in schools should be engaged in. You can read more about this HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Something that has become evident to me is that students are just like adults: they thrive when doing work that is interesting and meaningful. As adults, we value our time and consider it precious. We don’t tolerate requests to do tasks that are irrelevant to us. We demand to know WHY we are doing what we are doing. BUT…

Do we treat students’ time the same way?

Do we ensure that students see the relevance of the work we ask them to do?

Is the work we ask students to do in fact relevant?

How do we react to students who express (in various ways) that the work they do in class is not personally meaningful?

Do we pay attention to these reactions and what do they mean?

When I speak to others about school, I always say that if I ever went back to classroom teaching, I would be far more effective than I ever was before I became an administrator. Why? Years of visiting classrooms and witnessing what does (and doesn’t) work has given me valuable perspective. Where I used to focus on the teaching, I now focus on the learning. Teachers jokingly  say that they get nervous when I visit their class. Of course, that is never my intention. I visit to experience the learning from a student perspective. I ask questions:

What are you learning?

Why are you doing this?

How will you know you’re done and that you’ve learned what you were supposed to learn?

Most of the time, students respond by explaining what they are DOING, rather than what they are LEARNING. Students always find it challenging to  articulate WHY they are learning something. Most of the time, there is value and a good rationale for the work teachers ask students to do. The missing link is that we often don’t share this information with students. What we are talking about is “Learning Intentions“: sharing with students WHAT we expect them to learn and WHY. Learning intentions are most effective when they are clear, visible , and in language students can understand.

This past week during class visits, I noticed students in several classes engaged in hands-on, meaningful, and interesting learning experiences.

My first learning story comes from a grade 5/6 class that participated in a hands-on activity whereby they learned to frame a wall – a REAL wall, with lumber, nails, screws, and carpentry tools. This activity was part of a larger project in which students design an actual home. The why of this work is obvious:  our students will one day be homeowners, they will be required to design and build, they will measure constantly throughout their life…

Before constructing their walls with power drills and hammers, the Learning Intention for this activity was made explicit for students:  they were doing this work because eventually, they will have to use tools to perform tasks in their own home. If we are skilled in taking care of small tasks on our own, we can be independent and not rely on others all the time. We also shared that there will be a huge demand for skilled trades people in the future and for students to consider trades the next time someone asks, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” The following images show students excited, engaged, proud, and fully understanding not only the WHAT of learning, by the WHY.

My second learning story comes from a Grade 3 class I visited. When I arrived, I was intrigued by what I saw: black tarp on a table, and four eggs standing lengthwise in bottle caps. This I had to stay for! Students were going to test the strength of these eggs by slowly stacking heavy textbooks on top of them.  All of this was part of a structures unit where students were learning how structures could be built to maximize their strength. As each textbook was placed on the egg, suspense grew. 25, 26, 27, 28 textbooks. Then the 29th textbook was placed on the stack and there was a slight movement. A moment later, the eggs began to crack and the stack toppled:

IMG_8120The students in this class were riveted, and so was I. Because we decided to record the event in slow motion, we had the opportunity to view the eggs cracking over and over again. Eventually, students identified the egg that cracked first, second, third, and last. They noticed that they cracked in sequence and in a clockwise direction.  The “wheels were turning” and the questions started.  What if we did this demonstration again? Would the eggs crack in a similar way? This is evidence that learning isn’t always about coming up with answers, but rather promoting curiosity and igniting passion!

1356452B-7D39-4CA0-A827-9A872EE9BE1E-2562-000002FAD15746F5My third learning story is about how we do our morning announcements. Students have ownership over this activity and take it very seriously. Very often, students arrive early to school to prepare, even though we don’t do announcements until 10:15 a.m. When it is time to do announcements, students arrive on time and prepared.  I think a large part of this ownership comes from the fact that not only do the 650+ students and staff hear what is said, but that the announcements are recorded, tweeted, and published on our school website and blog in real-time. In other words, their audience is the world. Listen to our morning announcements HERE. Students know they are doing real work!

IMG_0321My final learning story comes from Kindergarten. I love to visit Kindergarten classrooms because of how creative, carefree, and risk-taking our youngest learners are. I can witness students experimenting with language and developing an understand that language can be powerful and used to communicate their thoughts and feelings. During a recent visit, I received a detailed drawing so I asked the student to tell me about it. I had my iPad with me so I asked if the student wanted to send his story to someone. He said “Yes” and that he wanted the story to be sent to his teacher, our music teacher, and our teacher-librarian. Using the ShowMe app, I recorded the story. Hear Keaton’s story here. Once others knew they could record their stories and send it to others to hear, I soon had a line of students ready with pictures in hand. Again, I think this goes back to the inherit need students have to do work that is meaningful. The audience in this example made the learning meaningful!  Listen to a few other stories HERE and HERE.

All of these stories took place in the last week and all have a common thread: students actively engaged in interesting, hands-on, and meaningful learning experiences. As educators, it isn’t always possible to prepare “home-run” lessons that wow students. What is important is to ask good questions during planning:

Would I want to do this task?

Why are students learning this and how will I let them know?

How will I engage students? 

What do the learning stories in your school reveal about what people believe about the work we expect students to engage in?

My TOP 10 Video List

To This Day Project – Shane Koyczan

Terry Fox – ESPN

Obvious to you. Amazing to others. Derek Sivers

Leading by Lollipops. “Drew Dudley”

Leave your Legacy. What will your name leave behind?

The Most Astounding Fact

The Encounter Collection

The time you have (In Jellybeans)

Do Schools Kill Creativity? Sir Ken Robinson

Tied for 10th…

See Something, Say Something.

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

The Story of Dick and Rick Hoyt

Change Is Not a Dirty Word

My IGNITE presentation at Surrey School’s “Engaging the Digital Learner” series, April 9, 2014.

Tonight I’ll be talking about WHY change isn’t a dirty word, the CHALLENGES to change, and some EXAMPLES of change at my own school. Mostly, I’d like YOU to consider the role you all play in being change agents in YOUR school.
Tonight I’ll be talking about WHY change isn’t a dirty word, the CHALLENGES to change, and some EXAMPLES of change at my own school. Mostly, I’d like YOU to consider the role you all play in being change agents in YOUR school.
I’m INSPIRED by change! Much of this INSPIRATION comes from my Dad. This is a picture of him in Naples in 1960 on his way to Canada. He came by HIMSELF, with NOTHING, and not a word of English. When I am afraid of risk, I think of him!
I’m INSPIRED by change! Much of this INSPIRATION comes from my Dad.
This is a picture of him in Naples in 1960 on his way to Canada. He came by HIMSELF, with NOTHING, and not a word of English.
When I am afraid of risk, I think of him!
My parents continue to INSPIRE me everyday. Here they are SKYPING with their friends. Their connection to family and friends remains strong, and THAT’S why they have changed, adapted, taken risks.
My parents continue to INSPIRE me everyday. Here they are SKYPING with their friends. Their connection to family and friends remains strong, and THAT’S why they have changed, adapted, taken risks.
I believe in the power of change and that kids are depending on our EVOLUTION to stay relevant. Signs are everywhere that we need to change. When the Twitter hashtag “THINGS I HATE ABOUT SCHOOL” trends, what are kids really trying to tell us?
I believe in the power of change and that kids are depending on our EVOLUTION to stay relevant. Signs are everywhere that we need to change. When the Twitter hashtag “THINGS I HATE ABOUT SCHOOL” trends, what are kids really trying to tell us?
If we resist change in favour of the STATUS QUO, we need to ask if we are OK with only about HALF of our learners actually being engaged in school?  The better QUESTION to ask is:  Why is CHANGE HARD for some?
If we resist change in favour of the STATUS QUO, we need to ask if we are OK with only about HALF of our learners actually being engaged in school? The better QUESTION to ask is: Why is CHANGE HARD for some?
I think that MINDSETS have much to do with it. For those with FIXED MINDSETS, change and risk create the possibility for failure and failure reflects on intellect and ability. A FIXED MINDSET does not allow people the luxury of becoming. They already have TO BE!
I think that MINDSETS have much to do with it. For those with FIXED MINDSETS, change and risk create the possibility for failure and failure reflects on intellect and ability. A FIXED MINDSET does not allow people the luxury of becoming. They already have TO BE!
As Reddit’s co-founder poetically stated, “SUCKING IS THE FIRST STEP TO  BEING SORTA GOOD AT SOMETHING.” Those with a GROWTH MINDSET believe in progression and that taking risks and making mistakes aren’t signs of weakness, but part of learning and continually getting better.
As Reddit’s co-founder poetically stated,
“SUCKING IS THE FIRST STEP TO
BEING SORTA GOOD AT SOMETHING.”
Those with a GROWTH MINDSET believe in progression and that taking risks and making mistakes aren’t signs of weakness, but part of learning and continually getting better.
Another challenge to change is SAFETY…a basic human need. Change pushes us outside our comfort zone. That’s why relationships, teams, and the support of our colleagues and administrators are crucial.
Another challenge to change is SAFETY…a basic human need. Change pushes us outside our comfort zone. That’s why relationships, teams, and the support of our colleagues and administrators are crucial.
And if you are dipping your toe into the water, getting help from someone like this – “Mr. Awesome” - can be the most intimidating thing. What I think people want to hear is: just take the first step and I’ll take it with you!
And if you are dipping your toe into the water, getting help from someone like this – “Mr. Awesome” – can be the most intimidating thing. What I think people want to hear is: just take the first step and I’ll take it with you!
Here is a picture of a group of teachers from Vanier learning about FreshGrade. Laura is the one with the purple iPad - she’s a first year teacher and she was facilitating this session. She helped her colleagues feel safe in facing change.
Here is a picture of a group of teachers from Vanier learning about FreshGrade. Laura is the one with the purple iPad – she’s a first year teacher and she was facilitating this session. She helped her colleagues feel safe in facing change.
I think the final challenge to change is making the PURPOSE for change CLEAR. I love this QUOTE: “He who has a WHY to live for can bear almost any HOW.” I believe, people will go to great lengths and embrace change when they have a strong sense of purpose.
I think the final challenge to change is making the PURPOSE for change CLEAR. I love this QUOTE:
“He who has a WHY to live for
can bear almost any HOW.”
I believe, people will go to great lengths and embrace change when they have a strong sense of purpose.
This is what desks looked like at our school. The deeper the holes drilled into desks the deeper the level of disengagement. What were kids telling us? I’d like to talk about 3 changes I’ve seen since many of our teachers began to connect with each other and the world.
This is what desks looked like at our school. The deeper the holes drilled into desks the deeper the level of disengagement. What were kids telling us?
I’d like to talk about 3 changes I’ve seen since many of our teachers began to connect with each other and the world.
We have started to focus on CREATION over CONSUMPTION And teachers are SAYING YES TO STUDENT INTERESTS and allowing them to do work that is personally meaningful. Here are some examples you can try at YOUR school:
We have started to focus on CREATION over CONSUMPTION
And teachers are SAYING YES TO STUDENT INTERESTS and allowing them to do work that is personally meaningful.
Here are some examples you can try at YOUR school:
•WIKISEAT -Yes, students used power tools and created their own furniture.   • INNOVATION WEEK-Yes, students spent a whole week learning about whatever they were interested in.   •And YES, we are KIVA NINJAS too! – 53 loans worth over $1300 so far!
• WIKISEAT -Yes, students used power tools and created their own furniture.
• INNOVATION WEEK-Yes, students spent a whole week learning about whatever they were interested in.
• And YES, we are KIVA NINJAS too! – 53 loans worth over $1300 so far!
Our LEARNING COMMONS is supported by a gifted Teacher-Librarian, and it's a place where teachers collaborate, and students create and connect with the world. Genius Hour says YES to student interests. A student told us “You don’t want to learn your teacher’s passion, you want to learn your passion.”
Our LEARNING COMMONS is supported by a gifted Teacher-Librarian, and it’s a place where teachers collaborate, and students create and connect with the world. Genius Hour says YES to student interests. A student told us “You don’t want to learn your teacher’s passion, you want to learn your passion.”
Students participate in INQUIRY. Students dig into deep questions that interest them. These boys actually got lost in learning while, believe it or not, everyone else was lined up to go to P.E.
Students participate in INQUIRY. Students dig into deep questions that interest them. These boys actually got lost in learning while, believe it or not, everyone else was lined up to go to P.E.
Communicating Student Learning. We asked:  •Isn’t ongoing descriptive feedback more valuable to student learning than letter grades?  • Can we do a better job of communicating learning with students and parents?   YES WE CAN!
Communicating Student Learning. We asked:
• Isn’t ongoing descriptive feedback more valuable to student learning than letter grades?
• Can we do a better job of communicating learning with students and parents?
YES WE CAN!

Be like the terrified girl in this video who goes through a carwash for the first time. With her cozy blanket and reassuring words from her parents, she makes it through and says “Car Wash…All done!”

Imagine if we changed what we did in schools and that changed the student narrative. Instead of THINGS I HATE ABOUT SCHOOL trending, students would tweet that they LOVE to create, do work that matters, and follow their passions. Imagine!
Imagine if we changed what we did in schools and that changed the student narrative.
Instead of THINGS I HATE ABOUT SCHOOL trending, students would tweet that they LOVE to create, do work that matters, and follow their passions.
Imagine!
Do it! Take the risk! Be the change and most importantly, take your students and those you work and learn with everyday along for the ride! Our KIDS depend on it!   Thank you!
Do it!
Take the risk!
Be the change and most importantly, take your students and those you work and learn with everyday along for the ride!
Our KIDS depend on it! Thank you!

Slide23Slide22

What Makes A School “Great”?

“And then parents, you’d walk into the front office and the people
don’t even look up at them, let alone see them as who we’re serving.”

Steve Barr, Green Dot Charter School Network

Source: Fraser Institute
Source: Fraser Institute
This past week, I had an interesting chat with a parent. Her family had just moved into the area and she wanted an opportunity to speak with me about the school and to have a look around. She also said something that really interested me. She shared that according to the Fraser Institute, our’s was a “good” school and was trending in a positive direction. While I am obviously pleased that public perception of our school is good and that this parent was doing the leg work to gather information about our school,  I am disappointed that the Fraser Institute’s Report Card on British Columbia’s Elementary Schools is one of the few tools parents have to determine the quality of a school. Even more, when parents realize that the Fraser Institute’s Report is based almost completely on a standardized text taken once per year by Grade 4 and 7 students, they realize that this is one very narrow measure of school quality.

Formula used to determine overall school rating. Source: Fraser Institute
Formula used to determine overall school rating. Source: Fraser Institute

But, schools are like organisms and are therefore complex in nature. Schools are alive and dynamic and can’t be reduced to a mathematical formula or a letter grade, as some jurisdictions are now doing. In the video below, Steve Barr of the Green Dot Charter School Network talks about his view of what makes a great school. Qualities he includes are:

  • Quality teachers
  • A welcoming environment
  • Students are treated with care and respect
  • Teachers are empowered
  • High expectations exist for all
  • There is a sense of family
  • Quality resources are available for teachers and students
  • Parents are viewed as partners
  • Schools are accountable to parents
  • There is a belief that all kids are worth it and that they can all learn

So much of what Barr talks about is relationship-based. Relationships are central to the work we do in schools. Students not only need see the value in the work they do at school, they need to feel a sense of care, inclusion, and safety. This is essential work that forms the foundation of quality learning.  Teachers also need to be able to engage learners. With all the competition that exists (peers, television, social media), this is no easy task. But from my experience, kids are like adults and therefore thrive on doing work that is interesting and meaningful. I am proud of the many examples of such efforts from staff at our school:  Innovation Week, technology integration, the WikiSeat project,  30-Hour Famine, Genius Hour, KIVA, and promoting creativity. I am further buoyed when I see that our efforts are not isolated, but are evident throughout Surrey Schools and beyond.

So, what would you add to this list of qualities that makes  a great school?

Do you think your school is great?  How do you know?

Innovation Week – Unchartered Territory

IMG_3899

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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?

When Building The Team Is Not Enough

“Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.”

-Henry Ford

Photo: A. Vendramin
Photo: A. Vendramin

Almost eight years into my school administration journey, I continue to understand that the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know. This realization was no more profound than one day in early May 2013, while I listened to a keynote address by Elise Foster, co-author with Liz Wiseman and Lois Allen, of a wonderful book called The Multiplier Effect. To summarize, Elise’s keynote was about ways in which leaders can bring the best (and most) out of those around them. She also shared that sometimes, leaders can intentionally or accidentally do the opposite and shut down the genius in their organizations in various ways, including:

  • Ruling by fear.
  • Not having trust in those they work with.
  • Needing to feel they have all the answers.
  • Making rapid or unilateral decisions.
  • Micromanaging.

She called such leaders, Diminishers. As I listened, I realized that in taking pride in my own work ethic and feeling the need to lead and be involved in every initiative, I was being an accidental diminisher and in doing so was communicating something very clearly to those around me: to get things done, I had to get them done myself.  While my admin partners and I have been working extremely hard for many years to build the hardest working, talented, and caring team possible (which for the record I think we have done at Georges Vanier Elementary), my over-involvement, though well-intentioned, has held back these skilled people.   I’m embarrassed to say this because this isn’t really how I feel. I DO have confidence in the team I work with: confidence to plan and carry out initiatives and confidence to make morally sound decisions. My actions however, were contradicting my beliefs!

As Wiseman, Allen, and Foster state:

“Becoming a Multiplier often starts with becoming less of a Diminisher. And this often means doing less: less talking, less responding, less convincing, and less rescuing of others who need to struggle and learn for themselves. By doing less, we can become more of a Multiplier.”

So what’s changed?

Most importantly, since hearing Elise’s keynote, I have been conscious and intentional about not only identifying genius at our school, but utilizing it. Mostly, this has looked like me “tapping the shoulder” of the right people to lead initiatives and playing more of a support role. But transformation does not occur in isolation.  Trust, fostered through strong relationships, must exist. A culture of innovation and risk-taking must also be present. I believe that people are willing to take on challenges and operate outside their comfort zone when they feel that taking risks is celebrated and encouraged, and that their experimentation will be supported.

The changes I have seen since this personal shift in thinking has been dramatic! I am so impressed by the initiative and leadership so many staff members have shown, from coaching to committee work to organizing school events. And all of this because I finally realized that building the team is not enough – you need to not only get out of the way and let great people do great work, but trust the team you have put together.

Effective leaders bring the best out of their team by working in the background, continuing to uncover and utilize people’s native genius, asking provocative questions, laying down challenges, building community, and providing ongoing support and guidance.

Glad I finally came to realize this!

#betterlatethannever