Saturday, November 11, 2017

Less is more

For the past 3 weeks I have been with my mother in England.  Readers of my blog will know that my mother suffers from dementia and needs a lot of support.  She doesn't have wifi at home, and even the telephone connection is quite sporadic as she lives out in the country.  Apart from looking after her,  I've done very little "work",  though I've had lots of time to think and read.  As I'm interested in moving forward into more of an innovation position, I've been reading George's Couros's book The Innovator's Mindset, and reflecting on this and how it relates to my life and the schools where I have worked.  Every day, sometimes twice a day, I have taken a break to walk around the grounds where my mother lives.  I've been enjoying the autumn sun, wind and colours.  The photos and questions in this post are all from my daily "thinking walks", and the quotes are all from George's book.

How can we focus on and support deep learning?

Less is More

  • More so than ever before, educational organizations need to focus more on depth than breadth.  Quality should always override quantity.  But that isn't what happens in schools where teachers feel inundated by new initiatives and a myriad of organizational objectives.
  • As leaders we must recognize, as we're adding what's important and removing what's unnecessary from our staff members' "plates" that every single person's plate size is different.
  • How would your staff members and students respond if someone asked, "What are the 3 big things your school is exploring?"  Would they all say the same 3 things, or would you have double-digit objectives being shared?
  • As a school, when we limit our initiatives, we give ourselves time to discover what deep learning can really look and feel like.  Focusing on a few key things promotes innovation in teaching and learning.
How far away is our "horizon"?  What will we need to learn for the next 4 years and for the next 40?

The tyranny of choice
  • When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable ... but as the number of choices keeps growing negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to escalate until we become overloaded.  At this point choice no longer liberates but debilitates.  It might even be said to tyrannize.
  • Although offering too many choices can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, it is imperative that leaders are careful not to constrain those we serve by only allowing them to explore designated tools or resources.  If you do not model constant exploration, teaching practices can become stagnant.  Trial and error, even if they are messy, is where powerful learning happens.
How can we get out of our educational silos and connect with others?

Creativity and innovation
  • Creativity is where we start to think differently and innovation is where creativity comes to life.
  • A focus on doing less allows us the time to go beyond surface level learning and to really explore so we can build a knowledge that enables us to move forward and innovate.  Time to explore is paramount in being successful at creating something new.
  • True innovation in education will only happen when a new structure is created: one that nurtures critical thinkers, supports risk-takers and encourages ongoing transformation, and that places a high value on creative and insightful learning.
  • We can think more creatively if we open our minds to the many connected environments that make creativity possible.  As educational leaders we must promote and capitalize on open, connected learning.  If we want to accelerate our own growth we must actively participate in the sharing of ideas.
What is the best way to create and support an "innovation ripple"?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Knowing enough to know what you don't know

I came across this TedEd video on Facebook today, which deals with inaccurate self-perception and the "invisible holes in our competence".  It was such an interesting video that I really wanted to share it.  The key to knowing how good you really are:
  • ask for feedback from others
  • keep learning

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Tough questions for tech departments

Back in September I wrote a post entitled Is the role of tech director dead?  It's interesting that today I've been reading on in George Couros's book The Innovator's Mindset, and I've come across a section that refers to the role of a school district technology director as obsolete because it inhibits learning.  George asks 4 questions that can frame the work of IT departments:

  1. What's best for kids?  Should we block social media sites or should we educate students to navigate these as we give them the skills to understand how to stay safe online, digital citizenship and the impact of their digital footprint?
  2. How does this improve learning?  Is the software that the school subscribes to designed for learning, or is it simply a business application that comes with a site licence?
  3. What is the balance of risk -v- reward?  Many tech departments want to work in a low or zero risk environment, hence various websites are blocked.  Can the message that we trust students bring its own reward?  Teachers need to be able to articulate the rewards of technology.
  4. Is this serving the few or the majority?  When we decide on a policy, is this for the many who use technology wisely, or for the few who may misuse the technology?
Photo Credit: Scott Beale Flickr via Compfight cc

Teaching -v- learning

I've often used the expression "teachers need to be the biggest learners" but only today did I consider how this relates to curriculum.  When I read the following quote from Seymour Papert it really made me think:
We don't allow the kids to have the experience of learning with the teacher because that's incompatible with the concept of the curriculum where what is being taught is what's already known.
The important word here for me is the word "with".  Many teachers don't see themselves as learners, they are delivering a body of knowledge, a set of standards, therefore their students are simply receiving the knowledge that is already there.  Once we reframe teachers as learners, alongside the students, it not only gives more agency to the students, it also gives more agency to the teachers, and it encourages the sort of shifts in thinking that can promote innovation.

Photo Credit: Kathy Cassidy Flickr via Compfight cc

Moving from engaged to empowered: learning first, technology second

As regular readers will know,  I've been reading and blogging about innovation for a couple of months now, spurred on by reading The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros.  This week I've been focusing on the transformative power of technology.  Like George, I often get irritated when I hear the words "technology is just a tool" and like George I believe that the power of technology should go way beyond engagement and enhancement - however for this to happen teachers need to be providing the opportunities for students to create, not just consume.  As George writes,
Throwing a bunch of high-tech devices into a classroom, with no shift in mindset on teaching and learning, is cosmetic.  There's no depth, no real change.
 In order for technology to be transformational (and basically this was the entire reason I started a blog called Tech Transformation back in 2009), it needs to provide opportunities that didn't exist before.  I have written a lot about the SAMR model and how technology can be used to redefine learning.  Back in 2011, when considering the "top" 2 levels of the SAMR model I wrote:
Modification involves giving a different kind of assignment - for example using multimedia - adding sound, video etc. The question to be asked is does the media enhance the message?
Redefinition - doing something that was inconceivable without technology, giving students a stage for example posting on the web so that the audience is the world and there is a feedback loop.
These 2 levels lead to TRANSFORMATION.
I think that the other thing that is important to consider here is that technology provides different opportunities for each individual.  George writes,
Technology should personalize, not standardize.
 What this means in terms of SAMR is that students should have agency in the way that they express their understanding.  Some students are very happy to speak up in class, but for those who are not, technology can provide a different medium for them as they can use videos, blogs or podcasts to express themselves.  Other students who don't feel comfortable creating things such as models with their hands, can create online and make animations, 3D models and so on.  Basically what I'm saying here is put the learning first, and then decide what technology can be used to make this happen, or as George writes, "If educators can't answer "Why?" then they will never get to the "How?" and "What?".

Photo Credit: flickingerbrad Flickr via Compfight cc

Friday, November 3, 2017

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Assessments, testing and grading

Over the years I've read a lot about grades, including various books and articles by Alfie Kohn who sees all grades (even the high ones) as being ultimately demotivating for students.  I have lots of ideas about grading myself, so I was curious to read the chapter Assessment for a Growth Mindset, in Jo Boaler's book Mathematical Mindsets.  Obviously Jo is focused on testing and grading in maths, but what she writes can be applied across all subjects:  grading leads students to identify and define themselves in terms to letters and numbers.  She writes,
In the United States, students are over-tested to a degree that is nothing short of remarkable particularly in mathematics.  For many years students have been judged by narrow, procedural mathematics questions presented with multiple-choice answers.  The knowledge needed for success on such tests is so far from the adaptable, critical, and analytical thinking needed by students in the modern world that leading employers such as Google have declared they are no longer interested in students' test performance, as it in no way predicts success in the workplace.
 She argues that maths is over-tested because it's so easy to test - and because of this teachers are also limited to teaching narrow procedural mathematics and to giving lots of practice tests in class in order to prepare students for later success - and this generally starts with a beginning of year test.  What sort of message is this sending to our students?  And what sort of feedback to do they get?  Mostly they will get a percentage or a grade, which Jo argues is damaging to learning (because half of the students find out that they are not as good as the others).  She writes, "study after study shows that grading reduces the achievement of students".

The result of all this - that students who are graded become less motivated - can be reversed when students are given diagnostic comments instead of grades.  Jo advocates less assessments, but that the occasional assessments that are given should be accompanied with growth comments, because what we want is for students to be excited and interested about learning and when this happens they will be motivated and their achievements will increase.  She writes,
[Grades] do motivate some students - those who would probably achieve at high levels anyway - but they de-motivate the rest.  Unfortunately, the extrinsic motivation that the high-achieving students develop is not helpful in the long term ... students who develop intrinsic motivation achieve at higher levels and stay in subjects rather than drop out.
So how can we assess students that encourages a growth mindset and shows them a positive pathway towards success?  I'll be blogging about this tomorrow.

Photo Credit: edokhan Flickr via Compfight cc

Making the connections: innovation, coaching and strengths

Four years ago, at the start of the introduction of tech coaching at ASB, I completed an online StrengthFinder survey by Gallup.  This identified five strengths:

  • Learner - constantly wanting to learn and improve myself, being excited by the process of learning rather than the outcome, and giving intense effort to projects.
  • Input - a craving to collect and archive all kinds of information, welcoming the opportunities to think out loud about ideas and to keep abreast of anything new.
  • Achiever - I have a great deal of stamina and work hard.  I like to complete work on schedule, enjoy launching new initiatives and pursue goals until they are reached.
  • Intellection - I read avidly and like to ponder what I have read.  I acquire knowledge more easily when I can talk with others about ideas.
  • Connectedness - being able to welcome a wide array of people into my life.
The reason I took this survey was because my school recognised that people who focus on their strengths are more engaged, more productive and happier; and people who are given the opportunities to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and to be more productive both individually and in teams.  Introducing coaching - a change of culture - would only be successful if I could build on my strengths.  In my new role I was definitely a learner, I learned and continue to learn about coaching, and it has been great to work with the coaches, discussing ideas about how best to integrate technology into the curriculum.

The opposite is also true.  Today as I was reading on in The Innovator's Mindset, George Couros shares a table about disengagement in the workplace.  Here are the figures:
If your manager ignores you ..... your chances of being actively disengaged are 40%
If your manager focuses on your weaknesses ..... your chances of being disengaged are 22%
If your manager focuses on your strengths ..... your chances of being disengaged are 1%
Interesting isn't it - that in fact being ignored (which can happen when leaders decide to stay out of your way and give you autonomy) can have a more negative impact than having a leader who focuses on your weaknesses.  I thought hard about this and about times when I have been motivated at work (and also about times when I haven't been) and I had to agree that this really is true for me.  It also explains why I was so productive in my first years at ASB - it was because I was mentored by someone who focused on giving me tasks that would build my strengths.

George writes, "Great leaders practice balancing trust and autonomy while providing strong mentorship.  Leading does not necessarily mean telling people what to do or how to do it.  Rather it often requires pushing others' thinking and abilities by asking questions and challenging perceptions without micro-managing."  Although George doesn't mention this term, what he is referring to is the cognitive coach's skill in asking mediative questions - because coaches know that you cannot bring about change without first tapping into deep thinking - it's only a change in thinking that will bring about a change in behaviour.

George also writes about innovation not being a command but something that you are willing to do with your team.  He writes, "It starts by changing ourselves.  To help move others forward, we must first look in the mirror at our actions and, sometimes, inaction."  Four years ago, being able to identify my strengths and being able to leverage those, was certainly very influential in the success of our technology integration coaching.

STEAM Maker Saturday - October

Here's our latest STEAM Maker Saturday video.  Enjoy!