Looking Back…Finding Bright Spots

looking back

Photo credit: Egidijus Mika

As 2013 winds down, I want to take some time to look back and reflect on my journey over the past year. A year ago, I made a commitment to myself to take time to stop, reflect, and share my learning and thinking with others through my blog. I decided to shift from being primarily a consumer of the insights of other educators to being an active contributor to the conversation. Along the way, I struggled with the usual doubts — What would I have to say? Would anyone really care? Where do I find the time? And, I stuck with it. I wondered how I could apply what I learned in the process to other areas in my personal and professional life.

Anyone who has ever made a New Year’s resolution knows that sticking with it is the hardest the part. Yesterday, a timely e-mail newsletter arrived in my inbox from Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the book Switch. The subject line read simply: “4 Research-Backed Tips for Sticking to Your New Years Resolution.” I could not resist.

The Heath brothers started by pointing out our dismal record for keeping resolutions: “The research on resolutions is damning: A study of 3,000 people led by Richard Wiseman, of the University of Hertfordshire, found that 88% broke their resolutions. (Even people who resolved merely to “enjoy life more” failed 68% of the time.).”

So, how can we improve our odds of actually keeping our resolutions? One of their tips really stood out for me. They suggest shifting our focus from what is not working (“what is the problem and how do I fix it?”) to looking at our “bright spots” — “What’s working and how can I do more of it?” Continue reading

A gentle nudge…slowing down #SAVMP

slow downphoto credit: Loozrboy via photopin cc

Sometimes inspiration comes at just the right moment. Lately, I have been moving at warp speed.  At times, I get so caught up in the “doing” that it is difficult to slow down and reflect.

Earlier this school year, I signed up to participate in an innovative program launched by George Couros (@gcouros), the School Administrator Virtual Mentor Program (#SAVMP). I have been fortunate to connect and learn with committed educators who are sorting through how to lead the way forward to innovative learning in our schools and communities. And, I have had a tough time juggling the competing demands of doing the work and reflecting on the work. I tend to lean more in the direction of the “doing” part (the slowing down part, not so much).

So, this week when George provided a “gentle nudge” to program participants to take time to stop and reflect and share our learning through blogging and tweeting, I was inspired to take stock. In his blog post, You can Close the Door (Sometimes), George offers a timely reminder that it is “high priority work” for educational leaders to stop and reflect and share as a key component of creating an open culture of learning among educators.

At first his post struck me as an interesting counterpoint to my recent post on the power of connections by “opening our doors” by sharing our professional practices.  The juxtaposition of open and closed doors made me think — both are necessary to our continued growth and learning.

It is only by closing our door (sometimes) that we are able to truly reflect on not only what we’re doing, but why it is important to our larger purpose. Running on empty does not really promote deep thinking or learning. Without our best thinking, it is virtually impossible to focus our energy on taking the next right steps to move forward. Taking the time to reflect enhances our ability to engage more meaningfully with others. It seems to me that both are essential to building a collaborative culture that promotes deeper learning and purposeful action toward our common goal.

What are your thoughts on how to slow down and take time for deeper reflection?

Getting Started: Connected Educator Month #CE13

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photo credit: pobre.ch via photopin cc

Meaningful change ain’t gonna happen for our kids if we’re not willing to invest in it for ourselves first. At the heart, it’s not about schools…it’s about us.” — Will Richardson

Many educators see Twitter, in particular, and social media, in general, as frivolous wastes of time. I mean, who really cares what Honey Boo Boo is up to? Who cares what J.T. had for breakfast? Or any other celebrity gossip, really? But, being connected isn’t about Justin, or Kim, or any of the residents of the Jersey Shore. It is about investing in our own learning to make meaningful change for our students.

This week I had the opportunity to talk with educational leaders in Sonoma County about how we can use Twitter to connect and learn and lead in the 21st Century (#scoe21c). During the session, we explored why being connected is important and how it can help us invest in our learning and growth. I shared my own journey from my initial trepidation, to piqued curiosity, to active seeking, to a deeper understanding of the significance of sharing with other educators. It was my hope to provide a little nudge and inspiration for other educators to “get connected” and pursue their own passions and learning.

With Connected Educator Month right around the corner, it seems like the perfect time to stop and reflect on the “why” — “why connect”? and how to get started. Continue reading

Why I Lead… #SAVMP

Lead and learn photo credit: AnsonLu

I am excited about the opportunity to participate in an innovative program launched by George Couros  (@gcouros), The School Administrators Virtual Mentorship Program (#SAVMP). The idea behind the program is “to help develop administrators to lead innovative school environments that meet the needs of students today.” Leading innovation begins with our own learning.

As a starting point for thinking about our own practices, George has asked us to reflect on our “why” — why we lead. I have to admit that when I began my career as an educator, I never envisioned myself as a leader. Early on, I saw myself as a learner and a teacher, guiding and facilitating the learning of my students. Inspired by my own teachers who saw me — as a person and a learner — I wanted to follow in their footsteps and give back the life-changing gift that they gave me.

As a teacher, the connections I made with students — getting to know their strengths, their passions, their challenges and their dreams — gave me a genuine sense of purpose and meaning. Seeing the spark in a student as they discovered new skills, talents and capabilities inspired me to continue to learn and grow to be a better teacher. Empowering students to step boldly onto their own path, in turn, inspired me to seek out and pursue my own learning.

At that time, I associated “leadership” with “administration” — as something embodied by a single individual, separate from the essential connection between learning and teaching. As my path has meandered, however, my understanding of leadership has profoundly changed. Continue reading

A time for change…

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I recently came across Tom Whitby’s insightful blog post, “Educator Fear and Discomfort.” His post provided me with some important perspective on how we approach integrating technology and learning.

Whitby highlights two counterproductive beliefs that stand in the way of fully integrating digital tools into the classroom: 1) that all kids are digital natives who know everything about technology and 2) that teachers cannot make mistakes in front of students. These beliefs coupled by a misguided notion that before a teachers can use technology with students they must know everything about the technology and all applications. Whitby correctly points out that this is simply impossible given the incredible pace of change.

The constant in education should be the learning and not the status quo. If society is moving to change at a rapid pace, then we need to develop in our children the skills and abilities to change as well, and that requires the same abilities in the educators who are charged with teaching our children.

Integrating digital tools into the learning process shifts “the learning dynamic for teachers and for students.” As he notes,”It requires a commitment to life long learning which goes beyond just the words.” In short, we must practice what preach.

He concludes by emphasizing that: “…we can better educate our students if we better educate their educators. We should never hold up our past as our children’s model for their future.”

Whitby’s post serves as an excellent reminder to educators who are focused on preparing children for their future, not our past.  Our work toward this goal needs to be focused on the learning first, not the devices. And, more importantly, bringing new digital tools into the classroom must be guided by a commitment to creating the conditions that make it possible through training, support, collaboration and encouragement for educators.

What are some ways that we can create the conditions that make this kind of transformation in teaching and learning a reality for students and educators?

“Learning by heart”

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I believe that schools can become much more than places where there are big people who are learned and little people who are learners. They can become cultures where youngsters are discovering the joy, the difficulty, and the excitement of learning and where adults are continually rediscovering the joy, the difficulty and excitement of learning. Places where we are all in it together — learning by heart. — Roland S. Barth, Learning By Heart (2004), page 29

I first encountered Roland Barth’s book, Learning by Heart, as part of the required reading for my administrative credential program in the days B.T. (Before Twitter). In his book, Barth warned about the tendency among school leaders to become so focused on the “more important matters” of the job that they miss the truly critical work of “lead learning.” Instead, he urged educational leaders to work as co-creators of a “community of learners” committed to lifelong learning, discovering new knowledge, and making their learning visible by sharing openly with colleagues. Throughout my career, I have taken his words to heart.

And, I find that Barth’s wise words still ring true for me as I try to sort out how to apply their meaning for my work today. Recently, I have started to participate an online interactive course, “Educational Leadership in the Digital Age”, facilitated by Lyn Hilt (@l_hilt) of the PLP Network (Powerful Learning Practice). Last week, one of our topics for exploration was what does it mean to be a “lead learner” in a “time of rapid change with ever-evolving digital technologies.” Continue reading