Are you ready for Change, Leaders? A Community invitation.

Photo by William White via Unsplash

For the past several weeks, I’ve been working with one of the finest teams in educational leadership and innovative teaching & learning, and I’m pretty darn excited about it.

That team is Modern Learners.

If you’re not familiar with the work of Will Richardson, Bruce Dixon, and Missy Emler, be sure to visit Modern Learners now and listen to their podcasts, read the Shifting Conversations content, and get to know the lenses through which school leaders should seek to bring together shifts in beliefs and changes in practice, all influenced by the context of the world we’re living in today.

So what have we been up to? Will, Bruce, and Missy have ignited a spark in educational leaders through their work in Change.School, “a powerful 8-week online experience for educational leaders who are serious about designing and creating relevant, sustainable change in their schools and districts.” Change.School participants are serious, dedicated, innovative leaders who are looking to move their schools forward in powerful ways. As a result of the work in those cohorts, the need became apparent for a space where fellow administrative colleagues, building-level leaders, and teacher leaders could come together and delve into issues and ideas relevant for today’s school leaders.

Enter ChangeLeaders Community: 

“Where courageous educational leaders get real about learning and schooling.”

Networks are really important to me. I’m not the educator I was ten years ago, and connected learning is one of the reasons why. The ideals of connectivism really resonate with me, and I don’t think you can be a successful leader without a formidable, knowledgeable, supportive network. That being said, many educators have, in recent years, embraced the idea of developing a Personal Learning Network aka PLN, and using the connections made via social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Google+ to name a few), to support their learning and professional development. (If you are new to connected learning, be sure to read Why do I need to reinvent my PLN? and My Personal Learning Network is the most awesomest thing ever! to ground yourself as you continue navigating these waters.)

For the past two years or so, I’ve felt kind of meh about PLN-ing. Interactions from typical social spaces haven’t done much to influence my thinking and learning. There has to be more. It’s been hard for me to get excited about what I read, see, and experience in Twitter and on Facebook, even in groups dedicated to educational chit-chat.

And why is that?

Because networks are not communities, and well-crafted communities better support learning.

Networks are important, of course, because with every connection made, collective knowledge can emerge. In Network vs. Community by Clint LaLonde (2010), he shares a remark by George Siemens who attempts to distinguish between networks and communities. In short, there are more explicit norms and expectations for participation in communities. And in ChangeLeaders, we expect participation from our members and know that our community will thrive on member contributions!

Will our ChangeLeaders Community develop into a true community of practice? Our hope is, yes. A community of practice as defined by Wenger: “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” As Downes (2007) states, “Learning, in other words, occurs in communities, where the practice of learning is the participation in the community. A learning activity is, in essence, a conversation undertaken between the learner and other members of the community.”

CLC is about conversations, learning, and change.


So, here’s the thing. ChangeLeaders Community is something you subscribe to, and after your 30-day free trial ends, there’s a cost. That immediately turns some people off, and it causes others to shy away who, in my opinion, don’t stop to consider that the small expense is actually a huge investment in one’s own professional growth and learning. I use a number of free digital tools in my work and learning, but I have no problem paying for others that add value to my life. Good (usually) ain’t free.

The ChangeLeaders Facebook group was not a true learning community. It lacked versatile tools and capabilities to propel learning forward for its members. And, it seems as though every day, I see one or more of my Facebook friends jumping ship. Because Facebook. Through the ever-changing feeds and advertisements and algorithms, learning gets lost. And you’re bombarded with distractions.

CLC is a space that eliminates the clutter and allows its members to focus on the task at hand: How do I grow as a learner so I can ignite change in my organization? That can happen through the use of Mighty Networks and the continuing contributions of its members (over 300 members thus far!)

A CLC subscription is far less than a few Starbucks visits each month or a magazine subscription or the purchase of one of the latest educational fad/innovation books or a membership to a professional learning organization that you may or may not get any actual benefit from. We’re confident that through your willingness to engage in our community, you’re going to be challenged in your thinking and make real strides towards change, far more so than you could ever achieve in “free” spaces like Twitter or Facebook groups.

What will we explore in ChangeLeaders Community?

  • What learning is and what it isn’t, and the gap between what we know and believe about how we learn best and what we actually do in schools.
  • The trends, technologies, and changes happening in the world that really matter to our work in schools and that we need to understand in depth.
  • How educational leaders are building their own capacities to lead change in their communities.
  • What reimagined, modern practice in schools looks and feels like.

ChangeLeaders Community offers

  • a space where you can find signal among the noise – carefully curated content in a dynamic interface that fully engages participants and acknowledges the importance of their contributions in this space
  • jargon-free, buzzword-free, platitude-free discussions focused on change
  • critical friends who will challenge your thinking and support your change efforts
  • contributions not only by community members, but also by Will Richardson & Bruce Dixon in their Shifting Conversations posts
  • frequent, live collaborative sessions via Zoom, during which members can come together, build relationships, and tackle difficult change issues (Monday, October 23, 8 PM ET- you won’t want to miss “ChangeLeadership: Laying the Foundations for Creating Relevant, Sustainable Change in Schools” led by Will & Bruce!
  • the opportunity to reflect on practice, set goals and develop artifacts demonstrating professional growth, all while supported by a group of critical friends and colleagues
  • perhaps even a bit of fun!?

We hope you will courageously join us, we really do. But if you don’t, no matter which networks you frequent and spaces you visit, be sure to participate. Give back. Often. Because as Siemens says,

Being connected, without creating and contributing, is a self-focused, self-centered state. I’ve ranted about this before, but there is never a good time to be a lurker. Lurking=taking. The concept of legitimate peripheral participation sounds very nice, but is actually negative. Even when we are newcomers in a network or community, we should be creating and sharing our growing understanding.

Welcome to Change, Leaders! Let’s create some change.

-Lyn Hilt, ChangeLeaders Community Manager

How will you say Yes! this year? (And what are you listening to?)

Lee Campbell

On work days, I typically find myself commuting in the car for hours at a time. Driving is not my favoritest thing. Podcasts have proven to save my sanity on many occasion. It seems as though anyone can create a podcast nowadays, but it’s tough to maintain a listener’s attention if the content is weak and the delivery is mundane, so I find myself dipping my toes in the various podcast waters until I find something that’s both informative and entertaining. Back in 2007, as the K-5 “computer lab” teacher, I helped our second graders use Garageband to record and share podcasts, and it was really cool to see 7 and 8-yr olds developing the skills to articulate their ideas and share what they learned via this platform.

This week I tuned into from the inspiring team at Modern Learners, and of course I couldn’t wait to hear the wisdom shared by superintendent Pam Moran, someone whom I’ve admired since our beginning days of connected learning and enjoy learning from time and time again.

In the episode Developing a Culture of Yes with Pam Moran, Will Richardson and Pam discuss the integral role of school leaders in cultivating a school climate and culture where taking risks, suggesting changes and promoting unconventional ideas are not only tolerated, but supported through to completion. Pam shares her early experiences as a connected leader and learner, reliving the story of how a teacher came to her and told her about the world of Twitter (quite a difference educational space back then than it is today) and how teachers were learning in new and different ways, and shouldn’t she try it out for herself? Not only did Pam find the value in building those connections and relationships as a leader, but she realized that if her teachers were reaching out and looking to use their newly acquired skills and information to innovate, she’d have to step up as a leader and support the changes in practice that resulted. And how could traditional PD continue to be as effective knowing teachers were crafting their own learning networks and learning anytime, anywhere?

A new school year is upon us. And as Pam reminded school leaders, it’s easy to say no. When I was an elementary school teacher, one of my fifth grade students, an incredibly talented, creative, intelligent, inspiring student, came to me and asked if she could orchestrate a production of The Point to perform for the class. I knew nothing of Harry Nilsson’s work or the storyline of The Point. But this student passionately convinced me that she and her classmates could perform the script she wrote and even I could play a role and we could teach so many life lessons through this performance. She was right. When I examined our daily schedule, I thought, We honestly have no time for this. We don’t have time to rehearse, to obtain props and to set up the stage and oh my goodness what have we done? But I knew, that she knew, that this proposed project was vitally important to her and her learning. So we found the time. We did it. She “did” Genius Hour before Genius Hour was a thing. She led her class through rehearsals, she worked closely with peers, she acquired collaborative, organizational, and social-emotional skills through that process that she would never have learned from whatever I was planning to teach from the curriculum that month. We performed for the school, parents attended, and it continues to be one of my favorite memories of my time as a teacher.

How will you say yes this year? 

P.S. Here are a few other podcasts on my must-listen lineup. What are you listening to?

The Longest Shortest Time

Contrafabulists 

The Creative Classroom

ReLearning

Elise Gets Crafty

Google Teacher Tribe

The 10-Minute Teacher Show

IDEO Futures

 

P.S.S. I drafted this post to almost-completion before this NYT article about edupreneurs and edtech was published. I’m currently trying to wrap my head around it all. I’ll be sharing my thoughts in a future post.

Thoughts on professional learning.

Philadelphia School District Headquarters via Flicker by It’s Our City cc-by-2.0

I’ve written about professional learning aka “PD” more often than not in this space. It’s something I truly enjoy facilitating and I’ve created and shared professional learning opportunities through my role as principal, instructional coach, and now as consultant. Some were great, and some not so great.

This post is going to be short and sweet (I say that, and then 10,000 words later, TLDR), but I just wanted to take the time to commend the current group of School District of Philadelphia teachers who are working towards earning their Google for Education Certified Educator Level 1 status. We have spent six hours a day for the past three days together, (one more to go!) in a room with no windows, exploring G Suite for Education. The teachers who are attending our “bootcamp” offered through Kiker Learning are spending their summer vacation days learning and learning some more. They’re not getting paid, but through their time and dedication, could possibly earn Level 1 certification at the end of the bootcamp with a successful exam performance.

I can tell that this week has been the first tried-and-true experience with G Suite for many of the teachers in my group. I know others are already proficient with the basics and could have probably passed the Level 1 exam on day 1 or 2.

Here’s the great thing about this group that I noticed almost immediately – they’re willing to do the work. 

I tell my workshop participants at the start that I have provided a variety of digital materials (tutorials, examples of the apps in action, etc.) and that if I am reviewing or demoing something they already know how to do, they should take it upon themselves to explore what matters most to them. 

I say that every time, to every group.  But this group has been more self-directed than most.

If we are practicing formulas and sorting and chart creation in Google Sheets, when I glance around the room, I can tell which teachers are already proficient spreadsheet users, because they’re doing something else. They’re not on Facebook. They’re not online shopping. They’re browsing through the digital resources provided, looking for a challenge, previewing content and apps they haven’t yet explored in depth.

They’re owning their learning. They’re tinkering. They’re creating.

There’s no consequence for these teachers if they don’t pass the exam. They can take it again 14 days later, and hopefully, with additional preparation, earn a passing score. But if they don’t, it won’t impact their job status. It might hurt their ego, but in the end, no Google Educator label is going to make a difference in the day-to-day work they do with their kids.

Even if every single one of the teachers in my group doesn’t pass the exam (that will never happen!), I wanted to share how much of an impact this group made on me.

For their willingness to ask questions. To ask me to slow down. To ask me to repeat concepts. To ask me to demonstrate.

To sit side-by-side with peers, to teach! To lead! For the very best kind of busy conversations that as a teacher, I hate to interrupt because “we have to cover the content!” Knife to the heart.

To laugh. We laugh and we find joy in our work. Teachers are developing relationships with one another, with peers who they’ve never met before this week. They’re thinking through the work they’re doing, and how it applies to their roles in the classroom, and theyre getting excited about the possibilities.

Sometimes, we encounter an app or service whose features have been limited by district constraints. This isn’t unusual in a school setting. This group simply rolls with it. They think about how they can embrace constraints and still do the work. They rarely complain, or badmouth kids, or colleagues, or administration.

They do the work.

I am compelled to blog about this group because I have worked with many many teacher and admin groups throughout my tenure as “connected educator” and consultant, but for some reason, this group is magical. It makes me smile. These teachers make the commute into the city a mere annoyance, and the consecutive days away from my kiddos more bearable,  and I look forward to my continued work with them.

If you are in my bootcamp class, and you are reading this post, I am very proud of you! You inspired me to be a better teacher. I hope that through our work together, you can achieve much success in whatever area of Google for Education you choose to focus. An exam score doesn’t define you. Your actions, your relationships with students, and your attitudes shape you into the exceptional educators you are.

It has been an honor and a pleasure working with you.

Blogging with buddies! #ETCoaches

Earlier this year I participated in a few #EdublogsClub blogging challenges to help make writing in this space more of a consistent habit.  I’ve also recently signed on to be part of #ETCoaches Blogging Buddies. What I love about this initiative is that willing edubloggers have been placed in groups with other bloggers looking to form collegial relationships around their blogging efforts.

What I remember most about blogging “back in the day” is that there were many readers: educators of all kind, including classroom teachers, technology specialists, and principals, who flocked to Twitter each week to share and comment on one another’s thoughts. Most of this was shared via the #cpchat and #edchat hashtags. Comment threads were a mile long. We faithfully organized and checked our Google Reader feeds and reading and commenting was part of our daily routines.

Why blog? Cory Doctorow, 2002:

Blogging begets blogging. I blog because I’m in the business of locating and connecting interesting things. Operating a popular blog gives people an incentive to approach me with interesting things of their own devising or discovery, for inclusion on Boing Boing. The more I blog, the more of these things I get, as other infovores toss choice morsels over my transom. The feedback loop continues on Boing Boing’s message boards, where experts and amateurs debate and discuss the stories I’ve posted, providing depth and context for free, fixing the most interesting aspects of the most interesting subjects even more prominently in my foremind.

Over time those to read lists of RSS feeds became long and tangled and messy and we didn’t pay enough attention to what was being shared, how it was applicable to our roles and schools, and it became more and more difficult to keep up.

The digital spaces that educators flock to today are very different than those from the early days of “connected educators.” There are so many more voices, and diverse perspectives present that were not well-represented before. This is good. But what it requires is a consistent and pervasive effort to think critically, time manage, publish, and give back in order to read and use what’s being shared in digital spaces in constructive ways.

This is easier said than done. Depending on your role, your life, and responsibilities outside of education, you perhaps don’t have time to compose and post to a blog regularly, let alone dedicate time to reading and commenting. My blogging life is very different now than it was before I had kids. Priorities shift and time spent online diminishes (for good reason!) and I consider myself lucky when I stumble upon a gem of a blog post that is worth sharing via Twitter or when I read one that truly moves me enough to sit down and concentrate and compose and share a comment.

The Blogging Buddies guidelines are simple:

  • Blog at least once per month.
  • Offer feedback in the form of blog comments to all others in your group on at least one of their posts per month.
  • Practice best digital citizenship. Discourse is encouraged, rudeness is not allowed. It is okay to disagree with one another (how else will we grow?), but this should ultimately be an encouraging experience. If you find yourself getting heated on any particular topic, remember the LARA method- Listen (or read, in our case), Affirm, Respond, Add.

Check out the links below to visit the blogs of the buddies in my group! I’m sure they’d love to hear from you. Also be sure to follow the blogging buddies list on Twitter to read the latest and greatest from a dedicated group of blogging professionals.

Robin – Pence Passion

Susan – Susan Zanti’s Blog

Rachel – Tech from the Trenches

Erin – Reflections in Tech

What have you been reading? What have you been writing? It’s not too late to join #ETCoaches Blogging Buddies!

I see teachers who…

In my consulting role I have the opportunity to work with teams of teachers, administrators, and on occasion push into classrooms to work with students. Recently I’ve been working with K-2 teachers and students who are learning to craft digital stories on the iPad, using apps such as Book Creator, Scribble Press, GarageBand and iMovie. This initiative came about as the result of an eventual shift in curriculum away from an adopted (textbook/series-based) literacy program to one that is more project-based and technology-infused. A grant was written to obtain the iPads and to fulfill the grant, teachers are working with students to publish a variety of digital storytelling projects that demonstrate their creativity and ideas learned.

Each class has achieved a different level of proficiency using the apps and story publication. This is due to the varying age level and developmental level of students, for sure, but it’s also due to the mindset and willingness of the teacher to embrace this initiative and the resources she has been given.

So what did I see, and what have I seen through both my district coaching and principal roles,  in classrooms where technology use has been embraced?

I see teachers as learners. I see teachers who:

  • Make the time. They examine what they’re currently doing: the books they’re reading, the activities and projects students are completing, and they think: how can technology enhance and transform these projects? How can we change what we’re doing instead of add on one more thing? 
  • Have routines and procedures in place, especially for collaborative projects and times when teamwork is expected. Student roles are established and clearly defined. Management is evident, which in turn leads to students being able to lead, learn, resolve conflicts, and create in an environment with fewer distractions.
  • Plan. Anyone who has ever tried to incorporate technology meaningfully into the classroom and who has tried to “wing it” knows it can be less than successful. Know the purpose. Use with intent. (And perhaps your students will unveil a purpose you perhaps never before considered…)
  • Model. These teachers get hands on. They create! They’re not afraid to tinker, not only during their own professional learning sessions, but in front of a student audience, allowing them to observe what it’s like to try something new.
  • Have high expectations for project performance. In my digital storytelling workshops I emphasize the importance of students making meaning, not just making media. Bernajean Porter is a key resource for anyone looking to ensure meaningful content and idea development through digital project work!
  • Learn alongside students. It’s so encouraging as a coach to see a teacher who sits down with a student or a group of students and taps, swipes, creates, questions, and troubleshoots alongside his little learners.
  • Showcase student work. One teacher in particular was so enthused with her students’ creations and couldn’t wait to have them share their projects with me. These teachers find a way to make sure their student voices are heard. Publishing to an authentic audience is a great way to do so. In addition, they utilized the sharing features from each app to publish to Google Drive and share with parents and families via links. Another group’s publications will be shared with local pediatricians’ offices as waiting room reading material!
  • Embrace the noise. Learning is messy. Collaboration can be loud. Conflict resolution is a pretty intense process that rarely involves whispering. Movement to different learning spaces throughout the day is not the quietest of activities. Find ways to help your students thrive in the busiest of environments.
  • Ask for help and actively seek out resources to learn more. Not every teacher I’ve worked with in a coaching capacity is comfortable asking for help. They’re very fixed in their methods and they have a very narrow focus: teach the written curriculum, the way it has traditionally been taught. When a teacher (or principal or coach) asks for help and embarks on a journey to learn more, see more, do more, think differently… kids win.

What am I missing? What do you see when working with innovative teachers and learners?

 

The Spaces Where I Learn and Work

This week’s #EdublogsClub prompt asks us to share insights about our learning spaces and processes, including tours of our classrooms, offices, and work spaces.

I smiled when I read it, because I planned to share a bit of news this week via my blog, and that news fortuitously intertwines with this week’s prompt.

I remember my first years of teaching…. “decorating” my classroom was one of my favorite school year preparation activities. I loved sharing inspirational posters, bright colors, inventive bulletin boards, and creating spaces where my students could post and share their own work. Desks were in groups or in pairs or we used tables, and my earliest years of teaching sixth and fifth grades are among my favorites in my career! My classrooms were beyond colorful, beyond cluttered, and if I had the chance to do it over today, I’m sure I’d make some changes.

My 2001 Classroom!

I inherited the principal’s office from my predecessor and it served as a functional workspace. In my second year I decided to move my office to a more central location in the intermediate hallway and this larger space afforded me the chance to personalize it and make it an enjoyable space for kids. The putting green, basketball net, bookshelves filled with kid lit, and beanbag chairs were put to good use! I loved being out of the “main office” area and in the heart of the school.

As an instructional technology coach, I used a desk/counter space/table in the hallway in each of the elementary buildings I served, and my classrooms were the teachers’ classrooms!

Well, the time has come where I no longer have an office in a school, or a classroom space that is my own. For the past year I’ve been on leave from my school district after the birth of our daughter, and last week I submitted my resignation.

While on leave I’ve had the great privilege of developing my skills as a consultant, most notably with Kiker Learning offering Google for Education trainings on a variety of instructional topics to a broad range of participant audiences. Professional development is truly my passion. I absolutely loved that aspect of the principalship: designing… facilitating… watching teachers learn and grow…. and before I moved into administration I enjoyed learning alongside my teaching colleagues.

As anyone who has raised two young children knows, these moments are fleeting. I can’t thank my husband enough for supporting my work in this way and affording me the opportunity to stay home with our babies. Serving as a consultant allows me the flexibility to do so while also continuing to learn and serve schools. It is truly an honor to work with so many dedicated teachers, administrators, students, and staff members across the Northeast. I’m thrilled about what’s next and can’t wait to see where future opportunities take me!

My home has now become a place that needs to support my creativity and productivity, whether it’s at my office desk, in the family room, or at the kitchen bar island. I can say that working from home is one of the most difficult challenges I’ve faced in my career! It’s even more incredible trying to find a home-work balance when your work is often done in your home!

I can’t wait to see the variety of different spaces where I’ll work and learn this year. Every school, classroom, teacher, principal, and student I have the chance to interact with strengthens Maybe it will be in your classroom, school, or district?! 🙂

To learn more about opportunities to learn with me, visit the Hilt Consultants, LLC website or the Work with Me page of my blog.

Thanks for reading!

What’s a PLN, and why do I need one?

Photo by Daria Shevtsova via Unsplash

 

In January at FETC I’ll be sharing all about the power of personal/professional learning networks, and I hope you’ll join me! (Thursday, 1/26, at 4:20 PM) From the session description:

What’s a PLN, and why do I need one? This session will explore the power of networked learning for educators and administrators and how, through the use of digital technologies, there are numerous opportunities for educators to engage in professional learning with colleagues from around the world. Teachers and administrators congregate in powerful learning communities using tools such as Twitter, Google+, Instagram, and more to share resources, support and inspire, and challenge thinking to help us move forward as professionals. This session will explore the power of connected learning, how to begin establishing practices that will help you connect, and the ways in which connected educators transform teaching and learning for themselves and their students.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk with educators about the value in developing their own learning networks on several occasions. At Educon a few years ago Andy Marcinek and I delved deep into the topic of making sure your PLN is as relevant as possible and the need to reinvent your network. And on the local level, I’ve been advocating for (wait, begging) my fellow administrators to start connecting to surround themselves with supportive resources and colleagues around the world. I’ve written about how easy connecting can be and how it looks different for each educator. I’ve shared how my PLN has evolved over the years and how connecting isn’t the same now as it was “back then.”

Sometimes in our quest to get more educators connected we neglect to delve into the fundamentals of network development and learning, which I share throughout the chapter I authored in Learning Forward’s Powerful Designs for Professional Learning on the use of social media and educator learning. Read my chapter here. If you’re new to the ideas of connectivism and personal learning networks, I encourage you to read the works of George Siemens (also very much enjoyed My personal learning network is the awesomest thing ever!!), Stephen Downes (I especially appreciate his distinction between personal and personalized learning), and Dave Cormier (get to know and love and/or become extremely uncomfortable with rhizomatic learning), who I referenced in addition to other connected learning pioneers throughout my chapter.

It’s been important for me to share my process, how I started, the tools that helped me connect, and the challenges I’ve faced. When I work with educators who are new to networking in the digital age, I make sure to tell them that it takes time and it takes effort to build a quality network.  I share this post (I still use some of the tools mentioned, others have been replaced) and explain why online communities such as our instructional technology coaches’ community on Google+ can be powerful places of learning. I also share the ideas of Harold Jarche through his personal knowledge mastery framework.

I’ve been a “connected educator” since 2009, when I first started my blog and sharing via Twitter. The spaces have evolved over the years, the conversations have shifted. The voices have become more prevalent, and my network has become more diverse. My participation in these spaces has changed as well. This is a good thing, for the most part. The echo chamber is a very real and concerning effect of surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals, and it’s for that reason that educators in these spaces need to celebrate differences and promote equity. Don’t add to the noise. Share something that will help others make meaning and the world a better place. Make it a priority to think about what you’re sharing, who it might impact and how, and why you’re sharing it.

What advice do you have to those looking to establish a viable network to promote learning? Share in the comments here or send me a tweet. Hope to see you at FETC!


Sidenote: This blog has been hosted for many years using Bluehost. Due to its outrageous comparative costs and frequent outages, I’ve made the switch to Reclaim Hosting and couldn’t be happier. The transition was seamless and personal communication and support unrivaled.  If you’re a blogger, you should check it out. Like now.

So you want to be innovative?

Image via Unsplash
Image via Unsplash

Excuse me while I take a break from all the things (in case you’re wondering, work-from-home-mom is one exhilarating and exhausting ride) to share some recent wonderings and things I’ve noticed about leadership and educational innovation. Would love to hear your thoughts.

  1. You can lead an administrator to water but cannot make him drink the Kool-Aid.  You can nod your heads in agreement. Yes, we need to be innovative. Yes, project-based learning is good. Yes, let’s give our students more agency. Yes, innovative professional development. Yes, Chromebooks. But what you DO matters more than anything you say. You read a book about innovative leadership and disruptive education? Great. You participated in an online course where you learned the importance of shifting your thinking in terms of what modern learners need? Awesome. Now what? Are you going model for your teachers what it means to be a digital age learner and leader? Or are you going to revert to traditional practices and use the “I don’t have time for this” and “I’m buried under too much administrivia” and “I just can’t figure out Google Drive” excuses for why you continue to use stagnant leadership practices? These are challenging questions because they require really hard work and effort to address. I have worked with school districts whose principals range from uncomfortable to highly fluent , not only in the use of technology, but in mindset. (Buzzword alert). Seriously, though, forward-thinking administrators hold in high regard the need to constantly reinvent, change, take risks, and choose to do so on a daily basis. Teachers can see it. Students notice. Yes, sometimes you have to move out of the way and allow your people to innovate. But you have to do it, too.
  2. One-size-fits-all is bad. Do you like how I used a black & white statement to address this point? Statements like, We are moving to a paperless environment. You are no longer allowed to use paper in your classrooms, causes teachers to force uses of technology that almost always end up in lost instructional time and annotated PDFs. In recent G Suite for Education trainings with teachers I have had many a teacher wonder how they can “digitize” their worksheets. A worksheet on the computer or tablet is still a worksheet, my friends. How can you ask students to demonstrate their learning or apply those worksheeted concepts in another format? In a more collaborative or creative way? Ask me then how to integrate the technology into that practice. MacBooks for all! Chromebooks for all! iPads for all! Hopefully technology leaders have figured out by now that no one device can do it all. Of course you need to have purchasing and implementation plans and it wouldn’t be wise or manageable to allow every teacher or student to have his choice of a preferred device. Consistency is good, but it’s important to acknowledge that certain devices and platforms may support certain programs (i.e. special education, the arts, English Language Learning) better than others. How will you give teachers and students a voice in the decision-making process?
  3. Failure to be willing to veer from an established plan is almost as dangerous as not having a plan. You’re the leader of some team or group or school or district. Someone comes with you with an idea that is a bit unorthodox and certainly isn’t part of the established plan for <insert process here>. How do you respond? Do you feel one-upped? Are you embarrassed you didn’t think of it in the first place? Or are you invigorated, knowing you surrounded yourself with the smartest and most talented people possible in order to grow as an organization? Do you allow off-the-cuff, experimental, beyond the box thinking? Or do you stifle any and all attempts at innovation? Leaders, whether innovation happens or not starts and ends with you.
  4. Abiding to the “we need to prepare kids for X” mentality. When I was a classroom teacher, statements like this could be heard at every level, from K through 12. We need to teach this curriculum and do these activities and make kids rotate teachers and organize note-taking this way and teach them how to write down their assignments in an agenda book because OMG they’re going to move to the next grade level eventually and they will have to do those things in that grade!!!!! Can you believe it?! Do we need to help create conditions in which students are motivated and driven to complete assignments and projects in a quality manner and stay organized throughout project work and cooperate with teammates and communicate about deadlines? Sure. We can create conditions for that. Should we maybe focus on fostering an environment of respect and rapport and delight and curiosity and making sure we prepare our children for LOVING TO LEARN? Yes.
  5. It’s okay to admit that you don’t know it all and you probably exist in a silo. Me: Born and raised in rural Pennsylvania. Taught in rural Pennsylvania. Principal in rural Pennsylvania. Sheltered much? Not cognizant of my own white privilege? Not even remotely. In recent years I’ve been interacting with so many people, from so many parts of the world, teaching and learning and leading in many different environments. They brilliantly lead and learn and advocate and address situations that I would never in a million years have to address in my life. I have been learning a lot, but I continue to have a need to read, research, reflect. I can’t help schools and teachers and teams innovate and help us progress forward if I exist in my world and my world alone.
  6. Take advantage of the time you’re given. There are not many opportunities for professional learning embedded into a school’s yearly calendar. So when you’re afforded time, take advantage of it. Workshop? Get hands on. Try some of the tools and techniques you’re shown. Collaborative team time? Make it productive. Produce. Not thrilled with the PD options you’re given? Tell someone. Advocate for yourselves as learners! Promote the #edcamp concept and other innovative methods of professional learning. Tell them what you need to be better. For kids.
  7. You need support? You can find it. You are not alone. Leadership can be an isolating gig. I remember those early days as a new principal. It seems like an eternity ago! This was before #leadupnow and #satchat and #momsasprincipals. (That’s a thing). It was just #edchat and Connected Principals. Look how far we’ve come as a connected group of educators! Spaces to share voices, spaces to ask for help, spaces to challenge conventional thinking. Spaces to share the good and address the bad.

It feels good to reflect. I’m looking forward to a year of continued conversations, learning and leading, and connecting with you.

Constructive conversations

7554741094I recently had the opportunity to use World Cafe for supporting conversation and action with a fine group of educators at the Bucks-Lehigh Edusummit. Ross Cooper was my co-host. Our goal? To discuss how to break from traditional professional development practices to more meaningfully engage teachers in their learning.

I know. We talk about PD and how it doesn’t meet teachers’ needs. We talk about it a lot.

But do we listen? Do we act?

A single conference session is not enough time to fully engage in the World Cafe method, but by modeling its use, we hoped administrators and teacher leaders would leave the session inspired to try the process in their own schools and better engage teacher voices in planning professional learning opportunities.

World Cafe was born in the United States through the work of Juanita Brown and David Isaacs in the early 1990s. From World Cafe’s About Us page:

The World Café (TWC)
Using seven design principles and a simple method, the World Café is a powerful social technology for engaging people in conversations that matter, offering an effective antidote to the fast-paced fragmentation and lack of connection in today’s world. Based on the understanding that conversation is the core process that drives personal, business, and organizational life, the World Café is more than a method, a process, or technique – it’s a way of thinking and being together sourced in a philosophy of conversational leadership.”

The essential elements hosts should include in a World Cafe experience include:

principles
Image via www.theworldcafe.com

After a brief introduction to World Cafe, it was time to identify a question. Defining a “question that matters” is an essential element of World Cafe. A good question has no right or wrong response, evokes emotion, invites inquiry, opens up new possibilities, and perhaps even makes people feel a bit uncomfortable.

Our question for the day:

How do we break from traditional methods of professional development to engage teachers in more passion-based, purposeful professional learning?

We divided into three groups. Each table identified a “table host” who would remain at the table throughout all rotations and inform the next set of participants what the previous group discussed. Timer went up, and the conversations started.

Documentation of learning is important in World Cafe. In our abbreviated version we used digital means to document. One table started a set of Google Slides to share their reflections and others contributed to a shared Google Doc. Given more time in a more formal World Cafe, I would cover the tables in chart or drawing paper and provide markers and other types of artistic media for those who wished to document their learning through doodling or other creative means. Each table’s documentation is then shared out at the end of the cafe in a process known as the Harvest.

Conversations emerged quickly and passionately. Ideas emerge organically from community voices using World Cafe. World Cafe hosts do not facilitate or provide protocols for discussions. World Cafe operates under “recognition of conversation as a core meaning-making process”. I noticed nearly every participant in the room sharing openly in their table groups. It took some longer than others to open up and be comfortable with the format. As I introduced World Cafe, I definitely got a few incredulous looks from teachers who showed up to the session and were perhaps annoyed I wasn’t going to be providing any concrete materials or ideas.

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Some of the conversations included stories about negative experiences with PD, and while I would have preferred things were framed in a more constructive light, I think when we ask people to share their experiences and speak from the heart, they aren’t going to censor out the difficult experiences they’ve had. From one such conversation, a teacher expressed her frustration with being asked to implement initiatives that were hastily rolled out, without teacher input or consideration of whether the new initiatives were really worth teachers’ and students’ time. During the Harvest, she very passionately stated that traditional methods of professional development “do not allow teachers to be creative risk-takers”, and yet that is a quality we seek to instill in our students every day.

Tony Sinanis, my friend and the conference’s keynote, addressed the group as we wrapped and said that he heard everyone discussing the importance of involving teachers in the professional learning process, and in his school, he actually involved students and parents in the process too. Could you imagine if more schools asked children what types of learning experiences they should design for their teachers?

Overall I felt this was a successful session thanks to the willingness of participants to contribute. We received positive feedback from many participants. A middle school principal said he was looking forward to using the technique in his school and another participant said it was the best session she attended thus far. Sometimes our teachers need more than “150 tech tips and tricks” to help them think constructively and innovatively about teaching and learning.

“Talk is cheap”? Perhaps, but if you truly listen to what your constituents need and then you devise a plan of action to address it, that combination of acknowledgment of needs and a willingness to act will help organizations grow.

Resources shared with session participants can be found here.

If you plan professional development opportunities for your organization, consider involving more voices in the process using World Cafe. Have you used World Cafe? Would love for you to share your experiences in the comments!