Growing a culture of innovation #SAVMP

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Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a round table discussion with George Couros, the Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning for Parkland School Division, at the Marin County Office of Education (@MCOEPD). George has been inspirational to me. He’s challenged me to take risks in my own professional learning and provided gentle nudges to stick with the process. I was delighted to be able to meet him in person and talk about his ideas about how to grow a culture of innovation.

With his personable style and passion, George focused our attention on a key question for educational leaders: How do we move from pockets of innovation to a culture of innovation?  He provide much food for thought that is summarized very well by Eric Saibel, Assistant Principal at Sir Francis Drake High School, in his post, Stepping Beyond the Cage of the Unknown. George has also outlined these ideas in the Leading Innovative Change series on his blog, The Principal of Change.

While I came away from the discussion and presentation with my head spinning — lots to think about — I’d like to focus on a few of the key ideas that resonate with my work. 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?

On the moral obligation of sharing

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I’ve been developing a personal learning network (PLN) through Twitter and online forums for the past few years. I found my initial forays into social media to be a bit disorienting. The flow of information was overwhelming. It was difficult to get my bearings. But, I stuck with it — dipping in, then stepping away, and then returning. I found it to be a process — at first I mainly “lurked”, viewing the contributions of others, then gradually I began to share and engage with others.

Through this process, I have discovered what Lyn Hilt (@L_Hilt) has referred to as “Effort In = Reward Out.” Along the way, I have benefited in real ways from the ideas, practices and insights shared by the amazing and thoughtful educators who are part of my PLN. Engaging with the work of others has nudged me to take risks, pushed me to think more deeply, and opened up new ideas for empowering students in their learning.

In the (tongue-in-cheek) words of George Siemens, these powerful learning experiences led me to conclude that “My Personal Learning Network is the most awesomest thing ever!” Siemens’s piece challenged my thinking about PLN’s, in general, and helped me to think differently about the importance of my network and my place within it. Continue reading

Can the key to educational change be found “below the green line”?

My work as an educator has been guided by a firm belief in the power of the collective wisdom of groups to engage in their own professional learning and work collaboratively to improve learning for all students. Richard and Becky DuFour, Michael Fullan and others have promoted this idea as a key to educational change.

Yet, this simple idea has remained elusive. Working together is tougher than it would seem. Educators struggle with how to make their collaborative work with colleagues productive, engaging and transformative. Throughout my own career, I have had two kinds of experiences. I have participated in lively discussions with colleagues, asking tough questions and really pushing to make our classrooms engaging places for students to learn. I have also been a part of other group or team efforts that are nothing more than an exercise of going through the motions — filling out a meeting log, following a perfunctory protocol, and having stilted conversations. I have wondered what makes the difference between these two very different team processes.  Continue reading