Everything I know about Ed Leadership, I learned from Netflix.

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, is BAD ASS. First he fronted the attack that took down Blockbuster and its clones, now he has network television firmly in his sights. On its debut weekend, 670 000 people “binge-watched” all 13 episodes of “House of Cards” Season 2. That represents 2% of all Netflix subscribers. In another coup, Hastings signed a deal with Marvel Entertainment in late 2013 to air three new original shows based on Marvel characters on Netflix.  He has led the creation of a streaming platform that mixes Netflix original content and studio features.

Netflix has created the ultimate win – win – win. Viewers get to choose both when and what to watch, studios get royalties as well as audience and Netflix gets paid. A content platform also leaves room for growth and innovation. Educational leaders could learn a thing or two from the Netflix story.

Professional development in education is broken. Caught in “activity traps”, PD sessions that reach a miniscule percentage of the system rule the day. Any other industry that behaved in such a manner would be ripe for disruption. Instead of trying to improve current processes, we need to ask new questions and investigate new possibilities. What if the central level of a school board served as a platform a la Netflix? Imagine if the goal was to find excellence in the field and support its scaling? Rather than pushing PD out to the system, ideas from the field would be solicited through targeted design questions and openness to on-going projects.

The goal is to create a network that is simultaneously tight and loose. The values of the board represent the tight portion of the network. The loose part stems from the fact that specific areas or hubs are empowered to generate ideas. Central would use its resources to support the scaling of proven ideas. Prototype and test ideas that have contextual value and then work to make them repeatable. People are now empowered to be agents of change within their system.

Netflix is successful because it has a vision. It has created a platform for content, and has left the content creation to those who do it best. It has offered people choice and a measure of self-determination. Netflix is constantly evolving and has proven to be a truly disruptive innovation.

A Healthy Disregard for the Impossible

Wired UK editor delivers this powerful talk at INK 2012 which highlights the power of disregarding “impossible”. Examples include Elon Musk and his private enterprise SPACEX; the traditional locus of control is rapidly disappearing. People now have the opportunity to push a change agenda by leveraging connective tech. Public educators are you listening???

An “Army of Davids”

I love educators. I am the product of two educators. I married an educator. Most of my closest friends are educators. I don’t like formal education though. It’s really complicated and I really like simplicity. Please allow me to explain. Picture it, a homeowner needs to move a piano from a main floor living room to his newly redecorated second floor study. The piano has wheels so it is easily slid over to the staircase by our eager participant. After this early success, the homeowner is full of eagerness and begins to problem solve when faced with the staircase. Undaunted by the gravity of trying to move a piano up the staircase by himself, the homeowner measures, sketches and plots out ideas. On paper, these plans seem like they might work but in practice they all fail.  The homeowner tries out dozens of methods to get that piano up the stairs and is frustrated by the lack of success. Eventually, the homeowner gives up and decides to leave the piano in the living room. He tries to justify his decision and eventually convinces himself that it probably belonged in the living room in the first place. Hopefully at this point, you are asking the same questions that I have. Why didn’t he just ask for help? Wouldn’t a team of people have had a greater chance of success? Well, duh?!? Of course they would.

Not the most subtle of metaphors, I recognize, but you get the gist. Formal education too often acts like our hapless homeowner. Individuals or very small teams seek to tackle system level problems without engaging the wider community of educators within their respective system. System leaders are often left frustrated when PD plans do not take root or when a new program quickly stalls. In their book “Decisive”, Chip and Dan Heath describe major enemies to good decision making. Chief amoung these enemies is what they call “Narrow-Framing” which is limiting the number of possibilities when making a decision. Our homeowner is guilty of narrow-framing because he never considered the possibility of involving others in his efforts to move the piano. Education leaders are WONDERFUL people who care deeply about kids BUT they are notorious narrow-framers. Decisions are made a by small group of people and the status quo (with a few minor tweaks) rules the day. We want co-construction at the classroom level but it often doesn’t transfer to a system level. Rather than giving up in frustration like our homeowner who chose to go it alone, education leaders must make greater use of the genius in the system to create meaningful change.

In his book, “Citizenville” Gavin Newson (current Lt. Governor of California) equates government to a vending machine. Taxpayers put money into the machine and the machine dishes out services. The relationship is one of transaction and not participation. He argues that government should serve as platform for participation in order to progress. He uses examples from his previous administration as Mayor of San Francisco and that of Michael Bloomberg in New York as examples. These two mayors allowed for the creation open API’s for developers to use city data to create web apps to  support citizen needs. Recognizing the inherent deficits of knowledge within their own teams, they created a platform for others to supply the necessary ideas and know-how. This is a winning proposition for everyone. The civic leaders get the services that they need, citizens get an opportunity to participate and shine a light on their particular skills and the larger population benefits from faster and more efficient innovative practice. Newsom describes it in the video below:

This kind of stakeholder participation is happening in the private sector as well. “My Starbucks Idea” is site where Starbucks customers are able to suggest product or service ideas for system wide adoption. Once an idea reaches a certain threshold of user support, it gets considered for adoption by Starbucks. The infographic below highlights the success of this platform:

static-starbucks-final-withstar

If organizations as large as Starbucks, San Francisco and New York (to name just three from a long list) can find create participatory platforms, why couldn’t a school board? The actual teaching and learning side of our education system can most certainly be turned into a participatory platform as well. Why not open up wicked education problems to crowdsourced solutions? Ask design or inquiry questions and allow the field to suggest solutions ala OPENIdeo.  We can’t keep trying to push that piano up the stairs by ourselves, its exhausting, wasteful and quite silly. Even if only a handful of people participate in the early rounds of this open system, that’s still more than we would have had. My Starbucks idea has seen the amount of adopted ideas rise from 25 to 75 in five years. This success is not just limited to the actual ideas, it also extends to those who voted to support them. Over 2 million people have voted on the site since it was created. These voters might not offer ideas BUT they are engaged in a platform that genuinely values their input. Regardless of the number of workable ideas that we might get from the education equivalent, we begin to interact with our system in new ways. It moves from a expert to novice or transactional relationship to one of co-learning and co-construction. Newsom calls this an “Army of Davids”. Engaging many people in solving problems can create avenues that were previously never considered or even conceived.  It operationalizes the adage, “many hands make light work”. Rather than acting the hapless homeowner, we need to follow the lead of our young leader in this “Lead India” video:

In a connected world, there is no excuse for the lack of wider participation in decision-making. There are countless FREE tools that we can use to foster this participatory platform. We have expertise in the field that we haven’t even come close to utilizing. It is the ultimate win-win. New ideas are generated and people feel valued. We create powerful and virtuous feedback loops. It’s not about thinking outside of the box, its really about creating new ones. We can plan and plot all we want about moving a piano up the stairs on our own but it will only move once we approach it from a brand new perspective.

 

Coding: The 5th C?

Code.org is a movement aimed at bringing coding to everyone. Demystifying coding is key to enticing a new cohort of coders. Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication and now a 5th C of coding? Coding presents the ultimate real world problem solving format whereby students get timely and regular feedback. Stay tuned as #tcdsb21c continues to investigate methods for integration.

Look deep into the crystal ball…

Innovation is an overplayed word. It has been misused, overused and misunderstood. True innovation though is sexy, smart and seductive. I know that it should go without saying, but real innovation is also truly forward looking. It can be frustratingly incremental at times while at other times it seems to leap forward in the blink of an eye. The incremental piece gets overlooked and we forget that great products are often paradoxically “overnight sensations that were years in the making.” When a truly brilliant idea finally comes to fruition as a usable product, it is the result of some carefully placed and forward thinking early bets by the creators.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both approached an important fork in the tech road; Jobs moved down the path of the “post PC” movement while Gates took the PC path. In the words of Frost (kinda), “(Jobs) took the path less travelled by and that has made all the difference.” Jobs looked into the crystal ball and began to position Apple towards eventual explosive growth. Incremental choices were made  that would ultimately converge into true disruption. Apple’s unveiling of the 5s and the 5c iPhones was an underwhelming event for some. I see it a bit differently. Two things really standout: the Fingerprint Security Ring and the 64Bit chip. The fingerprint security potentially could open up all kinds of integration. Think about the options for purchasing that come from the security of fingerprint level security. The 64bit chip also creates crazy speed and multi-tasking options for the phone. The shift towards mobile moves even faster now. The other key piece to consider is iOS7. It seems to me that the devices are being designed to showcase the operating system. The tech is the peripheral while the operating system takes on even greater importance. These seemingly incremental additions have to potential to eventually to lead to Apple’s next big thing.

Innovation is dependent on an overarching vision that is supported by smaller, integrated and forward thinking bets about the future. It is all about positioning hunches.  The vision of the future might be a bit fuzzy but there is a gut feeling about the correct direction.  At the outset of the creative process, rarely is the final product conceptualized or clearly pictured. Instead there is an understanding of needs, trends and possibilities for change. I have always been a proponent of the coaching adage, “practice makes permanent.” Just like the muscle memory that comes from repeated physical action, there is also institutional memory. This type of memory can be powerful or highly corrosive. In the right environment, the repeated practice creates powerful innovation and productivity. P&G, Apple, Google, Facebook, and numerous other companies are so successful because of the reflective positioning that creates the right institutional memory. Repeatedly bad positioning leads to the type of institutional memory that creates companies like ENRON! Each and every decision that an organization makes adds fuel to a feedback loop (picture the old cartoon image of the snowball rolling down a snowy hill).

In education, we are very much rooted in the now. Decisions are made based on test scores and other accumulated data. Analyzing this data is obviously important BUT it must be used wisely. Test scores are trailing indicators, good glimpses into “what was” that really need to be rethought before trying to use them to project what might be. We need to start being bolder with our interpretations of the data.  We need to use that data to start making important small bets now with an eye towards reaching a grander vision. Just like Steve Jobs aligned Apple with an eye towards the post-PC world, we need to start aligning all decisions towards a post-SCHOOL version of education. Instead of perpetuating and propping up the status quo of bureaucratic education, we have to start positioning our system to handle an “anytime and anyplace” version of education. Decentralization of education is underway and no one has a perfect vision of what the final product will look like. Our goal is to start making the decisions now that allow the learning to bloom. If we don’t, we risk irrelevance and obsolescence.

We have to take a glimpse into the crystal ball and try to make sense of the blurry future staring back at us. Let’s start the positioning of those small bets and hunches in order to create something powerful and self-perpetuating.

Got Purpose?

Before this school year, I knew Montessori but not Reggio. As part of an inquiry group, my school team made  visits to Bishop Strachan ( a private girls’ school), The Dr. Eric Jackman U of T Lab School and St. Anthony C.S (part of the TCDSB). Each of these schools had Reggio Emilio inspired early learning programs.  Conversations with the teachers, administrators and early learning educators from these schools revealed a common denominator for success: INTENTIONALITY. Every action, item and routine is done for a specific purpose from the obviously important to the seemingly insignificant. No busy work, no black-line masters, and no dust collectors in any of these learning spaces. The learning from these purposeful environments has been powerful.

This was my first year as an administrator after 13 years in the classroom. No matter what was happening in the school, I made sure that I toured all three floors of our school right after morning announcements and after lunch recess. You LEARN a lot about your space through these informal walkabouts. After doing these tours, visiting classes daily and meeting regularly with staff, some impediments to change really became obvious. People really get caught up in the “flow” of school. Traditions and entrenched cultures can really become an anchor. The established ways of doing things become hard to break for people and we get caught up with maintaining our concepts of “school” rather than on learning. This negative feedback loop is not unique to schools. We see the same dangers in politics, sports and family life. We spend too much time propping up a lot of tired systems and conventions rather than doing what we should be doing. We lose sight of the forest for the trees (pretty sure that’s how that idiom is supposed to be used!). I believe that this happens because we lose sight of purpose and our actions become scattershot rather than intentional.

I LOVE this video. The ultimate case for design thinking. Intentions are not shaped by existing circumstances or settings. Instead, everything becomes built around intention and purpose. This philosophy gets us away from “doing school” and streamlines our processes to a razor sharp focus. Identify core values in order to shape clear mission and then relentlessly pursue implementation. Resource expenditures, classroom design, guest speakers, methods of communication et al must be consistent with mission. Look at the best sports franchises. There is a reason why they are consistently great. They have organizational values and they intentionally put them into action. When they deviate, they evaluate and refocus. The means to operationalize the values will most definitely change as time goes on but the values remain the same.

How many classrooms, schools or boards operate that way?

I am neither naive nor stupid. I recognize that the competing interests of the various stakeholders in the education machine make this focus difficult ( notice that I use the word difficult and not impossible), not to mention the sheer size of some boards. This difficulty becomes more daunting when we view the system from a bird’s eye view. A slumping batter in baseball will most assuredly become stuck deeper if he tries too hard to get it all back at once. The most likely way back to success is through razor sharp focus on each pitch. We can’t reorient a whole system from the top. Impossible in days past and even more so in our ever connected and flattened modern landscape.  School and system leaders have a huge role in uncovering values and mission. They also have the responsibility to create the structures that will allow mission and values to take flight. This is done through empowering rather than imposing.

Sandy Lima is a Grade 1 teacher at my school. She is passionate and completely kid focussed. She was a reluctant participant in our collaborative inquiry project. As we continued to meet as a group and visit schools, she began to radically change her practice. She let go of her traditional view of the role of teacher and opened herself up to a more emerging curriculum stance. This was powerful and people noticed. The more she talked, the more people at our school listened. More teachers began to become intrigued by inquiry to the point where three new teachers joined our group and our Grade 8 team began to adopt Project Based Learning. Her actions impacted our school. Because of her passion, she was asked to be a presenter at our board’s Ministry of Education Review. The culminating exhibition for the Grade 8 PBL work was a Food Symposium at our school. Our Associate Director of Education, Superintendent of 21C, three AICT teachers and a SWS teacher were kind enough to attend and interact with our team. This event was transformative for the kids, the educators and our school. It all came about from a passionate teacher and a system that decided that it was important for a light to be shone upon her.

Every part of this anecdote was kid centred and mission specific. Our school staked out a mission of “Empowering life-long learning and faith-inspired global outlook.” As a school leader, I had a role in shaping this mission but there is NO way that I could put it into action without collaborative support. Belief and buy-in come from successful action. We cut away the nonsense of school and get intensely focussed on the learning. Mistakes were made by all along the way but that’s OK. We learned and we grew, not just in capacity but in numbers supporting the mission.

We must be more intentional in our actions. Sport is a wonderful distraction but it is far from paramount importance. If a sports franchise can effectively deploy purposeful action, we must do the same in education where the stakes are infinitely higher. Our kids deserve our best. No more scattershot approaches to learning. It’s OK to change  course if that’s what the learning and evidence tell us but it is not OK to keep changing course based on whim or bureaucratic dictates. It is not OK to let the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” approach fester. Intentional action is not the same as imposed action. As leaders, we must have a sense of mission and find the people who are doing the best job of putting mission into action.

We need to simplify, we need to perfect and we need to start over again when necessary. We just can’t lose focus on the why of it all.

Kid President

Love this kid and I love the messaging of Soul Pancake overall. Let’s get up and “stop being boring”. No excuses for not making a difference because in the words of Kid President, “you’re gooder than that!” Kid President for president!

Planning the improbable

The human brain is wired to interpret events in a narrative fashion. Events unfold and the brain seeks patterns and pieces things together to make meaning. In his book, “The Black Swan”, Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out that this property of the brain leads us to believe that history unfolds linearly. If “a” is a currently the accepted mode of thinking, we will likely go along believing that “a” will continue with its dominance. We see this in sports when a team looks a dynasty in the making and all prognosticators will groupthink and pick that team to win before the season starts.

Taleb’s book contends that life is largely shaped by black swan events rather than by straight lines or consistent timelines.  As Taleb says, “History does not crawl, it jumps.”  A black swan is an event, positive or negative, that is deemed improbable yet causes massive consequences. For example, the Chicago Bulls were a seemingly unstoppable dynasty with no end in sight until out of the blue, Michael Jordan decided to retire (for the first time) in the prime of his career to play baseball in the Chicago White Sox system. In his absence, a mini-dynasty for the Houston Rockets sprung up, only to be curtailed by the return of Jordan almost two seasons later. In both cases, an improbable act radically altered the NBA landscape.

There are countless examples from countless disciplines and aspects of life highlighting the power of black swans. We don’t see these highly improbable events coming because of the manner in which our brain is hardwired. We place way too much emphasis on past events as a predictor of things to come. After the Cold War was officially dead and buried during the Clinton era, Francis Fukuyama famously stated that: “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” Great line for selling books but the rapid rise of China and 9/11 radically undermined his sweeping statement.

Black swans don’t necessarily have to be improbable or unforeseen. I believe that we can manufacture them (kinda). Predicting the unpredictable is a tautology but we can set the framework and create the circumstances that might create educational black swans. Any successful organization, be it business, sports, technology or any other sort is able to create the conditions for success. These conditions allow for flexibility, rapid iteration, disruptive innovation, systems learning and creative resource management. While Steve Jobs was most definitely an unmatched visionary, he was not a psychic. There was no way that he could have predicted the iPod or the iPad back in the day but he was able to design the conditions that would allow for such a disruptive device to happen.

In education, we need to start doing a better job of creating the conditions that will foster black swans from our students, teachers, administrators and system leaders. Connective technology will help us to extend our reach and aid in greater knowledge creation. Approaching professional and student learning from an inquiry stance creates a mindset that is open to possibilities. We need to start thinking less about definitive outcomes and a lot more about positive structures.

The educational landscape will most definitely not remain status quo in the coming years. Do we know exactly what it will look like in the near or distant future? Not really to the first and no to the second. We need to stop trying to create packaged or canned views of the future and start fostering a love of learning and a desire to be life-long learners. This will allow our students and us as educators to be adaptive and flexible enough to meet whatever conditions we are to face. That’s why I love the quote in the feature image to this post. When we build connections and look to share more regularly, we impact others and the ripples keep growing.

I can, not I’m told.

Change be scary. It can be so scary because of the potential for extremes. A plan could be an extreme failure or an extreme success. Both realities can be equally scary. Education change is scary because it will require many of us to “let go”. This is concerning for some because they worry about students not learning in a non-traditional model while others are concerned because it is SO hard to let go and give up control. I can empathize with both camps and with  those who lie somewhere in between.

We are a “wild west” period right now where change is scattershot and seemingly a moving target. Acceptable one day and repudiated the next. Some ideas seem to be enacted or considered simply for the sake of change rather than for the benefits of student learning; making change all the scarier. Change is worth the trouble if helps the kids. “Help” means many things to many people. I believe that “help” happens when we make changes or enact programs that empower students to take charge of their learning. Figuring out how to do this kind of change can be confounding.

I consider myself to be an “ideas guy” who is learning to get better on the operations side. I am a massive media consumer who pays attention to EVERYTHING which can lead to me paying attention to nothing! I crave frameworks and mental maps to help me coordinate ideas and make meaning. Those serendipitous moments when the right idea hits you at just the right moment are magic. At Connect 2013, I attended Chris Kennedy’s (@chrkennedy) session where he presented the three pillars that the West Vancouver School District is building programming around. Their focus is on 1) Inquiry 2) Self-Regulation  and 3) Digital Access. EXACTLY the simplification  that needed the focus our team at St. John. Empowering students to become life-long learners above all else is an identified priority but how do we operationalize such a broad concept? Thanks to Mr. Kennedy and WVSB, we have that foundation to put ideas into action.

Lightning struck again quickly when I came across Kiran Bir Sethi’s TEDed talk regarding student empowerment. Through the mantra of  “I can”, her Riverside school in India designed a program for students to blur the lines between school and the real world. Students were given the chance to enact real change through a Project Based Learning on steroids kind of program.  The goal was to turn learning over to the students through a three part plan:

1) AWARENESS: see the change  2) ENABLE: be changed and 2) EMPOWER: lead the change. The end goal is to create a student body that is more competent and less scared. As Marianne Williamson  so timelessly and beautifully stated “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond Measure….And as we let our own light shine, We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, Our presences automatically liberate other.” Empowering students to take charge of their learning, one student, one class or one school at a time has that ability to liberate others.

When our students start taking action because “they can” and not because “they are told”, good change has taken root.

Open-sourcing Education

 

IDEO is a leading design firm that has entered into the field of social innovation. They are using design principles to solve MAJOR global issues, for example How might we restore vibrancy in cities and regions facing economic decline? The site aggregates ideas from participants and follows a process leading to action. This open-source approach uses technology as a vehicle to CONNECT. Check out the video below for a quick overview:

We need a forum to connect these ideas. Its time to value the knowledge within the system and use technology to connect educators in a revolutionary and solutions based manner. What would the educational version look like?

TCDSB Project Next

This summer I was part of an amazing team charged with developing a 21st century learning articulation for the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Under the name of Project Next, we set out to create a multimedia document that focused on developing a new mindset for educators.

The TCDSB is aligning resources with priorities in an exciting way. We now have a superintendent of 21st Century Learning who is leading our board forward with the full support of the Director and Associate Director of the board.

I will be sharing information about Project Next on this blog over the upcoming months and I would really appreciate feedback to help shape our board’s direction.

The video in the header is the Project Next perspective on Professional Learning. Enjoy and PLEASE offer suggestions.

Forget the “what” and focus on the “why”.

Education Week posted an article today entitled, “It’s Not What Natives Do, It’s Why They Do It” by Ian Quillen. The article focuses on ISTE speaker David Warlick of the Landmark Project. Warlick suggests that educators should be less concerned with the type of media that digital natives use and focus more on why they use it. The “gamification” (I HATE THAT WORD!) of the classroom is a popular buzz phrase recently in the world of student engagement. Warlick rightly points out that simply including more education based games is not a silver bullet. Instead, researchers should be trying to identify the particular aspects of games that the students really enjoy. Warlick contends,

 “If we could identify some of those elements and integrate those … if we could crack the code … and then use that to hack the activities we’re doing in our classrooms, then maybe we could create more learning activities that are relevant to today’s children,” Warlick said.

 In “Stratosphere”, Fullan makes a similar argument. The technology alone does not improve student learning. Technology must be a tool for engagement and making learning easier. Good pedagogy and strong teaching must be coupled with technology for it to be truly effective. Quite frankly, gaming alone in the classroom is a cop-out. If we crack the code and apply the “hook” to different lesson activities, we have the potential to really affect student outcomes.

If we simply push more games we risk two potential problems. First, we began pandering to our students. Games simply for the sake of engagement pacifies but does not necessarily teach. Secondly, we provide a market for the big ed companies to swoop in with prepackaged platforms that do not involve any form of local feedback or input.

Educational leaders must cognizant of Warlick’s suggestions as they formulate  working plans for 21st Century Learning. The tools alone will not do the job. Tech should engage and make learning easier but it cannot substitute for teachers. Games have many lessons to teach and we should look to apply those ideas to our teaching practices. The focus should not just be on what tools they like to use but why they like to use them.


			

Stratosphere – Michael Fullan

Michael Fullan’s new book “Stratosphere” takes a critical look at 21st Century Learning. Specific attention is paid to the relationship between technology and pedagogy. The book title “Stratosphere” refers to the relationship of technology, pedagogy and change knowledge. This book provides and very nuanced perspective of 21st Century Learning. Far from advocating the independent learning power of platforms like Khan Academy as a panacea for education, Fullan presents the dangers that students face without the guiding hand of a teacher.

I really appreciate Fullan’s framework for effective ed tech. If schools are going to reap the benefit of what technology has to offer, the tech needs to be:

  1. Irresistibly engaging for students and teachers.
  2. Elegantly efficient and easy to use.
  3. Technologically ubiquitous 24/7/
  4. Steeped in real-life problem solving.

The goal is to move away from marvelling at tech specifications towards reliable and real integration of technology. Tech with a focus and not simply tech for tech’s sake. It must help students to link curriculum to real life problem solving situations.

Most importantly, Fullan deals with the new role of teachers in the 21st Century. Rather than being pushers of content, teachers must form partnerships with students. Teachers have a huge role to play in this new era of education as change agents. Technology and independent learning alone cannot provide these change conditions. Fullan quotes John Hattie when discussing the fundamental role of teachers, “to evaluate the effect of their teaching on students’ learning and achievement.” A partnership rather than the sage on the stage.

This is a powerful book that anyone involved in education must read. It comes in at roughly 80 pages. I purchased my copy from Pearson online. It is a critical, nuanced and valuable perspective on this new era of learning.

Being a tourist in your own Education System

Last summer my wife’s aunt and uncle visited us from Cape Town, South Africa. Her uncle wanted to visit all of the major Toronto landmarks. We took the red double-decker sightseeing bus all around the city. I saw parts of my own city that I had never really paid attention to before. Being a tourist in your own city can be  a very enlightening experience.

Taking that tourist approach to your own education system can be equally enlightening. I found this video on Edutopia from the OECD Education Everywhere series about education in Ontario. The video focused on Unionville High School (part of the northern Toronto suburb of Markham ).  Markham is an extremely diverse city with a very large Chinese and south Asian population.

The video paid specific attention to the role of the “Student Success” teacher and the larger Student Success team. The team meets weekly and focuses on coordinating supports for the transition of new Canadian students. The goal is to provide supports for the whole child and not only the academic side.

Additional information and perspectives can be found in this OECD document:

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B7X-Dkl-q6IfdWZDVFVRNnVHamM/preview

Storify – My Favourite Digital Tool!

As much as I love Ed Tech, I am an English teacher at heart. Bringing the real world into the classroom was always a priority. The richness and complexity of news items really helped to develop core literacy skills. The absolute best tool for bringing the real world to your Language Arts class is Storify. This web based digital tool allows you to use social media to aggregate information about a given topic.

Features and Functions:

  • Storify allows users to search for news items on Twitter, Facebook, Google, Instagram,YouTube and a variety of other sources. Users can customize their choice of sources as well.
  • Drag the text or video onto the Storify board. Users can rearrange the order of the media items by dragging and dropping.
  • Users are able to add their own text as well.
  • Stories can be published with the option of being public or private. Public stories are available for viewing on the Storify site. Stories can also be shared on a variety of platforms.

Below is a an example created by some of my students regarding the recent Toronto ban on plastic bags:

[View the story “A Ban on plastic bags: For better or for worse” on Storify]

Developing the Net Generation through Coaching

I have several daily must-reads.  Fast Company is my favourite from  that list. For those unfamiliar with the magazine and its website, this excerpt from their “about us” section encapsulates its purpose well,

Fast Company is the world’s leading progressive business media brand, with a unique editorial focus on innovation in technology, ethonomics (ethical economics), leadership, and design. Written for, by, and about the most progressive business leaders, Fast Company and FastCompany.com inspire readers and users to think beyond traditional boundaries, lead conversations, and create the future of business.

While pulling the early shift with my 9 month old, I found an article on FastCompany.com entitled, “To Bring Out the Best in Millennials, Put on Your Coaching Hat”.  The article was written by Tony Wagner , the first Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard. While the article may be aimed at corporations, the ideas presented prove helpful for schools as well. Wagner points out that this generation has a passion for creation like no other generation but this passion is sometimes misunderstood or under-appreciated. The gap between millennials and older generations lies in their approach to work, tradition and definitions of success.

Millennial Observations:

  • more interested in making a contribution than making money
  • they see work as an adult form of play
  • they seek experiences that are engaging in the moment, that excite them both intellectually and emotionally
  • they are looking for opportunities to give back and seek change
  • feel stifled by the 9 to 5 routine – want to be held accountable for more than following simple protocol
  • engaged in passion, play and purpose

I am quite sure that this list of observations would neatly overlap with those of any teacher in any classroom from  grade 7  to 12. Rather than being excited about the possibilities of the millennial mindset, many educators and corporate managers have their reservations. Instead of castigating them for a different mindset, we should recognize that it has the power to fuel innovation and generate social equity. One of the chief complaints that I hear regularly is that this generation lacks respect for authority. I agree with that perspective to a point. Students have lost respect for the traditional authority based on position and hierarchy. I suppose that every generation says the same about the next.

Wagner argues that the authority that matters is that of expertise, modelling of good values, the enabling of innovation, and authority that enables teams to come up with better solutions. In other words, authority is an earned construct rather a simple function of position on the pyramid.

Wagner suggests that the best way to develop this generation is with a coaching mindset. Manager, teacher, principal, or any other position needs to focus on developing strengths and guiding students rather than constraining them. In an era where access to information is ubiquitous, content knowledge is no longer king. We must develop the skills in our students that will allow them to be innovators and to create social change. Innovation flows from an open environment.

Below is one of Wagner’s presentations about developing an innovators mindset:

What the heck is Digital Literacy anyways?

One of my TCDSB colleagues tweeted an article from the NY Times this morning about the new digital gap. Rather than it being an issue of access to technology, it has now become an issue of use. Kids from homes on the lower-end of the socio-economic scale are spending more time using technology for games, social networking and video viewing. The implication is that kids on the higher end of the scale receive more supervision from parents when it comes to use of technology. The article mentioned the need for “digital literacy skills” to be taught in order to help combat this problem.

This got me thinking about what “digital literacy” really means. Is digital literacy a universal term? Are their cultural nuances? How is digital literacy best imparted to students? Like any good digital citizen would, I started searching for answers online. I went to Slideshare first because I love the concise nature of slideshows. The work of Doug Belshaw popped out at me immediately. Belshaw is an Englishman and Ph.D. who wrote his doctoral thesis on Digital Literacy. I have included his TEDx Warwickshire talk about digital literacy and the slideshow that accompanied his talk. I have also included another presentation of his about digital literacy that can stand on its own. The TEDx slides only make sense within the context of the talk.

I would be interested in seeing people’s viewpoints and personal definitions of digital literacy and also best practice in regards to teaching to our students.

TEDx SLIDES:

The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies Presentation:

The Evolution of Education Tools

Interesting infographic found on Pinterest displaying the growth of education tools over the years.

Education Collaboration II – Connecting Ideas

I was really happy to see the response to the Education Collaboration post from yesterday. The goal is to continue these posts and solicit suggestions for bringing educators and their ideas together to foster student success.

Before we discuss tech platforms for collaboration, the genesis of ideas should be examined. One of the foremost experts in this field is Steven Johnson, who funnily enough penned the book, “Where good ideas come from”. An RSA summary narrated by Johnson himself can be found in the header of this post. Johnson points out that many great ideas develop slowly and manifest themselves more as a hunch in one’s mind. Often these hunches are pieces of a bigger puzzle that only really take off once they are combined with the hunches of another. A good example would be Jobs and Wozniak – each held a piece of the Apple puzzle.

Johnson points out that the coffee houses of the enlightenment were so important because they brought great thinkers together under the same roof, helping to connect hunches to form great ideas. What platforms will serve to connect people for an educational enlightenment? Statistics show that face to face collaboration is the most effective, but how often do we have face time at school?

The ideas that will move education in the desired direction will come from the connected hunches and intuitions of teachers dispersed around the world. How do we connect them? There are so many social media platforms that will facilitate the connections but how do we stoke the flames to get people interested in mass collaboration?

Share here or at:

#educationcrowdsource

I found an interesting article on Edutopia about a group of teachers leading such a collaboration movement under the name “The Educator’s Village”. It is a very good read and it provides you an opportunity to collaborate immediately via a Google Form. Click on the picture to read the article.


Education Innovation

We live in a time of rapid innovation in the private sector. This innovation is being fuelled by connecting people through social technology. The walls between creators and consumers are disappearing with the paradigm shifting towards co-creation. The video in the header of this post defines innovation as the culmination of the tri-part process of IDEATE, CREATE, and VALIDATE. If private sector giants like Coke, IBM and P&G can shift course towards a more innovative, social oriented business model, don’t tell me that public education cannot follow suit.

It’s one thing to call for innovative change and define the process but it is an entirely different proposition to create that change. So my fellow educators how do we do it? How do we generate ideas, create innovations, and validate those ideas in an educational context?

It certainly won’t be through accumulating tech toys without purpose behind the acquisitions. It will come from an attitudinal shift that runs throughout the whole system. We must focus on building stronger networks of ideas and people. Secondly, we need to make organizational openness accepted practice.

Kevin Kelly, original executive editor of Wired Magazine, is renowned for his writing about the power of networks. Kelly wrote a piece called the “New Rules for the New Economy”. Amoung Kelly’s ideas include similar calls for more openness and connectivity.

Kelly places tremendous emphasis on the power of connected individuals with shared interests and goals as agents of change. He calls these networks “virtuous circles”. These circles are powerful feedback loops that can increase the rapidity of change through networked interactions. One good idea connects with another individual and that idea begets another and so on and so on. This loop builds on acquired knowledge at an exciting pace.

Key to innovation is also a philosophy of openness. Two of the biggest Tech titans in the world, Google and IBM have embraced open source technology because they have an eye on longer term prosperity. Open source like Linux is not really what I talking about though. A philosophy of idea sharing, with no concept of proprietary professional information, is more akin to the openness of which I speak. Ideas and information must be shared freely throughout a school, a superintendency, and even a board. If the end result of education is student success, then we must leverage every trick in the book.

As educators, we can take advantage of social media to become social organizations and create larger inter-school and inter-board, hell even inter-provincial “virtuous circles” of connected educators. There is no need to wait for a top down solution. Let’s take advantage of resources like Ning, Facebook, Google Groups and the like to connect teachers.

One of the real benefits of networked interactions and a philosophy of openness is nimbleness. It becomes must easier to change direction and deal with emergent problems quickly and effectively, when everyone is apprised of the problem. Networked solutions are also more comprehensive. Rather than allowing macro-educational problems to fester, openness can create a more rapid response. Openness also creates a more engaged work culture because people being to perceive themselves as members of a team rather than as a disconnected employee.

I think that an evaluation of openness should take place in every school. How often are ideas shared? Is information proprietary in your school? Do you have idea “hoarders” and “hermits”? If so, Why? How can we change their mindset? How do we build the trust that is so vital for openness?

I would love to hear from all of the educators out there. What successes have you been witness to regarding openness and networks? What are the challenges? Where do we go next? What tech tools can we use to support this growth?

Over the next few days, I will be sharing some more videos and ideas regarding networked and open innovation. Share your ideas on this post or on Twitter #educationcrowdsource.