41

The Problem With Black & White Statements in Education

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by the BCth: http://flickr.com/photos/bcii/4499830063/

I continue to hear how certain educational practices are harmful to kids. Things like homework, desks in rows,  multiple choice questions, worksheets, and tests are stated as being “toxic” and “educational malpractice”.  I think as educators we need to be careful when we make dichotomous statements like these as they tend to end the chance for any productive dialogue.

I have made this mistake before… many times.  I have my areas of passion and there are mindsets and ideas that I have strong opinions about but I have learned (and continue to learn) that when we make statements that polarize people, you leave very little opportunity to engage.

I saw this tweet today by a few educators whom I truly respect:

I believe this came from a statement from Alfie Kohn and people were just sharing his message but I am not sure. Now, I have big concerns about homework (see here for our staff conversation) but this statement about homework leads me to a response of: REALLY? Of all the things we do during the 7 hours kids are at school, homework is THE biggest killer of curiosity?  How are we defining homework? What if we move to an inquiry-driven system in which school is real life and they continue their learning at home?  How do we even start the conversation about questioning homework when the statement says that teachers who assign homework (again, not defining what it is) are killing curiosity more than anything else in school.  Do we really think someone who believes in giving  homework will discuss this after a statement like this?

Tom Schimmer once said to me, “Be careful of the tone of your message as it can alienate those you are trying to reach”.  When we use powerful polar statements, they often “sell” and get retweeted… but do they do anything to move the dialogue and create educational change?  It is no secret that I am a fan of Alfie Kohn’s ideas… but I struggle with the tone that is used.  Compare Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” with the writing that Kohn has been doing for years.  They both have similar messages (and cite similar research) but Pink provides a gentle nudge while Kohn makes us feel like we should lose our teaching licenses if we give homework, use worksheets, or have desks in rows.  Kohn has done very well with the language he uses (and again, love his ideas, personally enjoy his books, and the research he shares) but so many are alienated by his tone and the dichotomous statements he makes. As educational leaders, is this the tone we want to use to create the conditions for change?

We have some fantastic teachers at our school.  Sometimes we have desks in rows, sometimes we give worksheets, and sometimes we use multiple choice.  As my buddy Cale Birk mentioned to me: “Maybe we should be questioning the learning tasks (activities) that students are doing?”.  I would add – maybe we should be less concerned about some instructions/questions written on sheets of paper (or a screen) and the location in which students are sitting and instead focus our attention on student learning and level of engagement.  Is there NEVER a time when kids prefer to work alone?  Is there NEVER a time when some learning should be done away from school? Black and white statements make it seem like this is the case… and, unfortunately, often end the chance for any professional dialogue on the issue.

The few examples stated are important conversations we need to have as educators.  We need to question our assessment practices as well as our learning activities and what we expect of kids away from school; but in order to effectively engage in conversations around these topics, we need to move away from the dichotomous, or black and white, statements of education.

Education is full of grey areas – some darker and some lighter.  If it was easy we would have figured it out long ago.  The vast majority of educators do not intend to harm students with their practices… it is important we listen and attempt to view through the lenses of others.  Only then can we start powerful conversations about educational change.

 

11

“Be More Interested Than Interesting”

Be more interested: Listen.
cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Bindaas Madhavi: http://flickr.com/photos/mkuram/5961100771/

At some point in the past year (for a variety of reasons) the how, the why, and the when of social media slightly changed for me.  I have been reflecting a ton on the purpose of social media to me – both professionally and personally (see Social Media in Education: Who Is It Really About?).  I have been thinking about HOW I read online (unfortunately, often just scan) and HOW I interact with others. I have been thinking about the purpose of social media as it pertains to my learning and my life.  I have altered the amount of time I spend learning from and with others online.

Over the holidays, one of the books I read was Mark Goulston’s “Just Listen: Discovering the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone”.  Among the many things that resonated with me in this great read was that I realized in the past few years, I have spent too much time trying to be interesting online and less time being interested offline (and online).  I have spent so much time communicating, learning and connecting that it has distracted me from the DOING both in my school and in my life outside of school.  I also know this is all a part of my continuous learning journey to be a better leader, educator, and person… to me, this is growth.

“The measure of self-assurance is how deeply and sincerely interested you are in others; the measure of insecurity is how much you try to impress them with you.” — Mark Goulston

Some people have asked me which single word defines my goals for 2013.  Although I do not generally make new year’s resolutions, I believe that the word that has driven me to be better in the past year and into this year is: FOCUS.  In addition to spending more focused time with my family and in my school, as well as in my personal and professional learning, I need to focus more on LISTENING and being INTERESTED.  I will continue to share interesting things that I read and the successes we are having at Kent School but I will work harder on being more interested in those around me.

“If you want to have an interesting dinner conversation, be interested. If you want to have interesting things to write, be interested. If you want to meet interesting people, be interested in the people you meet—their lives, their history, their story.”  — Jim Collins

Related post: Listen With Your Eyes

56

Social Media in Education: Who is it REALLY About?

Who is it all about?
CC Image from camknows http://flic.kr/p/bmXv1d

Number of followers. Klout scores. Lists of “top” people to follow. Twitter grades. Likes. Branding. Edublog Awards. Bammy Awards. Blog hits.

Social media is filled with passionate educators that are trying to learn and grow together in a way that benefits their districts, schools, classrooms and students. My worry is that I am seeing some things that make me question if some people have altered their social media strategy to be less about sharing and learning stories of OTHERS to being more about sharing stories and ideas about THEM.  Getting attention feels good and can often distract from purpose so when you look at the list above, who are these scores/lists/ideas really about?

As someone who has used social media in education for almost 4 years (long time for some, not long for others), I have built up my personal learning network to a point in which truly makes my learning personal.  I have blogs in my reader that support and challenge my philosophies and I am always looking for new voices from whom I can learn.  I admire those that share stories of their staff and students and the impact that this is having on their education.  I admire those who take risks and share stories of vulnerability in order to help them grow.  I am, though, concerned about the sharing of only MY messages and the “I am right, you are wrong” discourse that I sometimes see in my feeds.  I have  been caught up in these zero-sum style debates and also learned from this; I have made many mistakes and continue to learn from my actions.  I am also concerned that we are having the same conversations over and over again through social media, conferences and unconferences but not really changing much in our practices.

I wonder the point at which social media becomes more about marketing the user than about the learning that can result from using it to connect with others..  We often hide behind the idea that “the intent is good and we are sharing good stories of education” when we participate and promote education and social media awards and “top” Twitter lists.  Do we really need these awards to share stories if social media is already about sharing good stories?  How many great narratives are missed and lost because people are only following the “top” tweeters and only using apps like Zite and Flipboard to read the “top” stories in education?  Do these edu-awards ceremonies create more of an echo chamber and an imbalance of power as those with large number of followers get more followers and a louder voice and those with fewer followers become more silenced? Most of us believe that collaboration is the key to driving education forward so when we set up these arbitrary competitions, what does this do to collaboration?  I see so many tweets and post questioning school/student grades, rankings, and awards and student grades, rankings, and awards… yet we also see people promoting these very same things about educators and stating that this is “good for education”.  How can it be bad when it is about students but good when it is about educators?

I worry about the edu-celebrities that have been created and the branding of people that results.  Tweets like “OMG, sitting next to ________ at ____EduConference – looking forward to great conversation” concern me.  I worry that we seek out those who are popular on Twitter rather than engaging those right beside us.  As Andrew Marcinek said to me:

…we can do great things with these social mediums, but instead, we’re competing against each other for some arbitrary glory.

I realize Andrew often says it like it is but his statement makes me reflect on my social media learning strategy.  I do not believe people intend to be competing with others for messages but if you watch with a critical eye, you can see examples of this on many occasions.

U understand the message is easier to spread with a high number of followers and viewers… but what if getting followers becomes the primary goal?  Much like how grades can take away from the focus on learning, number values on people using social media can take away from the meaningful professional learning dialogue that can occur.

Lately I have seen some people whom I respect start to “weed out” their networks by unfollowing 1000’s of people.  I understand the purpose of this as people want deeper connections with fewer people… but can you not have deeper connections without shutting out those who you once wanted to connect with? I rely on lists in Twitter as my home feed moves awfully quickly to keep up; having said this, I do check in on the home feed once in a while for new perspectives and stories. George Couros recently wrote about this trend and he threw out a great challenge to those unfollowing people in a comment,

If you really want to start fresh, why not just start a brand new twitter account? Those relationships you talk about are important and obviously a two way street so if they were important on the other end, wouldn’t they find you as well? If it not about followers and about connections only, would you be willing to start truly from scratch?

Some of my learning conversations happen through Direct Messages as I need  that one-on-one conversation.  I recently tried to do this with an individual but he/she had unfollowed me so I was not able to tap into his/her insights.  If stories and connections are truly important for education and learning, what message do we send when we shut out people from our networks?  You never know who will reach out or who you will learn from so it is important to keep these connections open.

While at a workshop on professional learning through social media, a fellow educator recently asked me – do you think people who use social media are too much about themselves? My initial response was “no” but upon further reflection and as our conversation continued we began to agree that there are some people that use social media to promote primarily themselves – THEIR blog, THEIR ideas, THEIR “brand” (and some make a great living doing this; their social media strategy is clear – to sell their message).  This conversation made me step back and look at how I am using social media. There is power in humility.  There are many people whom I follow that have grown to have a huge network but maintained humility while sharing important stories about ideas, students, parents, and educators. Here are some key questions I am asking myself:

  • Am I sharing ideas that keep students at the centre… or am I sharing MY ideas that keep ME at the centre?
  • Am I more drawn to those with high profiles or those with powerful stories to share?
  • How often do I get caught up in the attention that social media can bring?
  • Do my education philosophies align with my social media presence?  Do I walk the talk?
  • Am I taking what I learn through connecting with others and applying it to our school and students?

This post is not meant to be critical of any individuals but more to encourage more of us to use a critical eye on how we use social media in education.  We need to question the events and initiatives that may hinder the meaningful dialogue that can occur through social media.  As Alec Couros wrote:

Education needs role models who demonstrate that complex problems are solved by cooperative networks of creative & passionate individuals

Are we REALLY working to use these cooperative networks to solve problems that benefit students… or is it about something else?  I have been caught up in the attention before; I have been caught up in the numbers – but I continue to learn from these mistakes.  For me, social media is about professional relationships that connect and share stories from many different voices; then applying these stories/ideas to enhance my professional/personal life as to ultimately benefit our students.  We need to be careful not to get caught up in the awards, lists, and numbers so we do not contribute to the hierarchy of connected voices in education.  If we focus only on the strong voices in social media, we may unintentionally marginalize people and risk missing so many important stories.

7

From Followers to Friendships

Fist bump – from http://flic.kr/p/7XiTUz

Many of us have written about how our PLN (personal learning network) has helped us get through challenging times.  I wanted to share some experiences of how people I have met through social media have impacted me in my day to day life and even moved from followers to friends.  I am not a fan of lists of people and this is not meant to include or exclude but more to share some recent positive experiences resulting from social media.

As I head back to work and reflect on the summer, some key moments with friends stand out… moments that would not have occurred had I not been using social media as a tool for professional learning.

People who do not use Twitter and Social Media often state that “real relationships” cannot be formed through these avenues.  This summer was a clear example of how friendships CAN result from relationships formed through social media.

At the beginning of the summer, George Couros, division principal in Alberta, planned a few days stop over in Vancouver on his way to a speaking tour in Australia.  We planned to hang out for a day and then meet up with a few others that evening.  I picked him up at the airport (I was a bit late… although I did a drive by and he was too busy tweeting out that I was late to notice me driving by) and we spent the day chatting about all things life, education, and social media.  In the evening, we met up with a few other amazing educators (whom I have also met through Twitter) for some dinner and in depth chats about technology, education, and professional learning.   The weird thing is that this was only the third time I had ever met George face to face.  We have ‘spoken’ through Twitter, Facebook, email, SMS, Skype, etc for a few years but because he lives in Alberta, we rarely get to meet.  George and I hung out like we were university buddies… often it felt like we were catching up by sharing old experiences and bouncing ideas off each other.

Brian Kuhn, the technology leader in Coquitlam, is someone whom I met through Twitter and blogging a few years back.  I originally went for breakfast with Brian to pick his brain about developing a tech vision for our district.  What resulted has been regular (EARLY!) breakfast meetings throughout the year that include dialogue not only about technology and education but also about family and life in general.  We often meet up at conferences or events and I follow his travels around Europe and mountain biking trails via Facebook and he follows the growth of my young daughters.  Today we attended an Edcamp together and he made a comment “It is so cool to see photos of your daughter growing up… feel like I am watching family”.   Brian is a bit of mentor to me but also has moved to a trustworthy buddy that I can chat with about anything.

Another connection with Kuhn.

A few weeks ago, I was heading up to a family reunion in Salmon Arm and the route to there took me through Kamloops.  Cale Birk, a principal in Kamloops, invited me to stop by his place on the way back.  His house was a perfect pit stop for my family (you cannot get very far with two 20-month-old daughters in the car) so we popped in for a few hours.  Again, hanging out with Cale was like being with a buddy that I played hockey or basketball with.  We chatted about everything until finally my wife gave me the signal that we had to head out.  The crazy part of this is that our wives had actually connected through Facebook a few weeks prior as they are both dance teachers.  Further, Cale has 2 beautiful daughters (2 and 4) who immediately connected with our daughters.  The best part of this meeting was the fact that I had never met Cale face to face before.  We had also used a variety of tech to communicate with each other so we knew each other quite well but meeting face to face created that friendship.  Cale, Lori, Paige, and Kate stopped by our place for lunch the following week, en route to Victoria, and we are planning some more gatherings in the near future.

 

Meeting the Birks


The last example I want to share does not involve a face to face meeting but more of someone whom I keep in touch with on a regular basis.  Darcy Mullin, a principal in Summerland, and I have been Skyping once a month for the past year.  In addition, we chat via Twitter, Facebook, email, and text messaging.  Although our attempt to meet up this summer (which would add up to a whopping 3 times) did not work out, Darcy and I kept in touch by Skyping a few times and texting throughout the summer.  The best thing about our conversations this summer is that the focus was not just on education but mostly on our families.  Darcy has twins as well so the stories of my daughters really bring him back; too, I enjoy his narratives of his family outings throughout BC and Western USA – the excitement in his voice when he speaks about his wife, son, and daughter is truly contagious.

Meeting with Mullin

To me, the learning that results from the connections we have with people is obvious.  This post is by no means meant to be a cheesy shout out to George, Brian, Cale, and Darcy nor is it to exclude the many other people and friends I have met through social media; it is to share and highlight the potential deeper relationships that can arise from the effective use of social media.

Connecting through social media is not about the quantity of followers or ‘friends’ that a person has but it IS about the deeper, trusting relationships that can result if you take the time to make these relationships happen.  These guys have had a huge impact on me – and I probably would never have met them without social media.  I look forward to deepening the relationships and learning with a few more folks in the near future. Thank you to all those that have taken the time to connect with me to help me both as an educator and as a person.

For another example of how followers can turn into friends, please check out Stacey Garrioch’s wonderful post on #edcampkinder.

 

7

Catching Moments

Moments at the park with my kids.

I recently took a few weeks off Twitter, Blogs, and Facebook.

As I did this, there were a few thoughts that I had but this one stood out:

You can always catch up on the tweets and posts… you can never catch up on the moments.

My kids are growing up so quickly… moments with my family are what I live for.

I love being so connected and forming amazing professional and personal relationships with so many great people.  It is difficult to even put in words how social media has affected my career and life. The challenge for me is to continue to work toward a more balanced life that includes being connected.  I don’t plan on spending less time using social media but I will be spending time differently.

I may be a bit behind reading tweets and blog posts but I know I will be there more often to catch the moments right in front of me.

Thanks to Dwight Carter for our phone conversation and his post that caused me to reflect.  Thanks also to my wonderful wife for the reminders and the push.

19

Power of a Positive Digital Footprint – A Personal Story

Adapted From http://flic.kr/p/7uNd7J

I am one that is constantly sharing with others the importance of a positive digital footprint.  This became so important to me yesterday as my Facebook account was hacked and someone acted as me and tried to get my friends to click on very inappropriate links. Now that I have had time to calm down and discuss this with a mentor of mine, I can think back and reflect upon lessons learned during this trying experience.

Lesson 1: Stay Calm.  When I saw that someone had posted sketchy links on my page (saying I “liked” the links), I did not respond in the most effective manner.  To be honest, I freaked out.  I even commented on the posts – so basically commented on my own posts which made it seem like I completely lost my mind.  All I could think about is the staff members, family, and friends that would think that I “liked” these links.  I frantically removed the items (or so I thought) and then filled my page with posts begging people to understand that my account had been hacked.  In times of stress, it is so important to realize that we cannot change what has happened but we can change how we respond.  If I could rewind, I would be more calm and work with some of the amazing people around me to develop a strategy that would turn this negative into a positive.

Lesson 2: If you have created a positive digital footprint, trust your reputation.  I have worked hard to post tweets, blogs, links, etc in a transparent (and sometimes vulnerable) manner that reveals who I am and what I stand for.  People I connect with through apps like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram know that I would never promote sites of this nature.  Looking back, it is quite comical to think that I was worried that people would think that I was posting this.  I should have trusted the fact that people knew me and had enough respect to understand what had happened.

Lesson 3: Rely on coaches and mentors.  I received a few messages today that the links were still in their feed.  People continue to look out for me and that is such a huge benefit of being part of an online community.  One message I received was from a long-time friend and social media mentor (who actually got me started on Twitter and blogging).  He wrote:

No doubt it is stressful and you are right to be concerned about perception as a result of the posts. At the same time this is your chance to shine and be stoic about it. Have a bit of humour about it. Fret on the inside, but stand tall on the outside… This is a reality of SM, you are a leader re SM in Edu. Act like it.  

It was a virtual smack upside the head to snap out of this poor me approach and use this as an opportunity.  After chatting on the phone with him, it became clear that I should have tapped into people like him from the start, someone from the outside that can offer some respectful guidance.

I can just hear some people that are on the fence of using social media saying “see, this is why I don’t get involved”.  My response would be that yes, you may miss out on a day in which someone posts something negative on your page… but you are also missing out on so many opportunities to learn and connect with old and new friends, colleagues, and family.  You are also missing out on the chance to share and steal ideas to not only make you better but also all those around you.  Most importantly you may be missing out on the opportunity to form key relationships with people that share the good times and help you through difficult ones in a way that actually make your life that much more enjoyable.

Was yesterday difficult and stressful? Absolutely.  There were, however, some moments in which I could laugh at what happened – thanks to people in my network like this:

Someone once said, “If one day you will look back and laugh, why not laugh right now?”.

I can now reflect on the day and be reminded of staying calm in times of challenge as well as the importance of having a positive digital footprint and a community of positive people around you.   #lessonlearned

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.          – Martin Luther King

1

Twitter Chat With Ed Minister George Abbott – Thurs, Jan 19

Join us on Thursday for a chat on #bcedplan

“What would curriculum look like in a personalized learning system?”

 

This is a question that has been on many of our minds since the Ministry of Education released the BC Education Plan and began promoting the movement toward personalized learning.

On Thursday, January 19 at 4:30 pm PST, Education Minister George Abbott will be chatting with interested people on Twitter.  The topic will be the aforementioned question regarding curriculum and personalized learning and the hashtag #bcedplan will be used.

Cale Birk (@birklearns), Johnny Bevacqua (@johnnybevacqua) and I will be moderating the discussion and although @GeorgeAbbottBC will not be able to answer every question, he will try to respond to as many as he can.  Side chats always happen during these chats so feel free to engage in dialogue with others but please be sure to use the hashtag #bcedplan.  Also, you do not need to be on Twitter, you can follow along by clicking here and refreshing the site during the chat.

As this is the second time the Minister has engaged in a Twitter chat, I will repeat what David Wees (who is unfortunately unable to moderate this one) stated in his blog promoting the first one:

We are considering this an open dialogue so that anyone with an interest in education in British Columbia is welcome to participate. This includes, but is not limited to, teachers, administrators, school support staff, parents, school trustees, media personnel, and students. We welcome both participants from the private and public sectors of education, since George Abbott is the minister of all education in BC. We are even happy to have participants from outside of British Columbia participate.

Please be aware that the chat will be very fast, and George Abbott will not be able to respond to every reply sent his way. However, it will still be an opportunity to express our opinion, and potentially shape the vision of education in British Columbia.

I do believe that we are having some very powerful conversations in BC Education; the challenge is to put those conversations into action.  I am hoping that the dialogue with @georgeabbottbc will give us a better picture what curriculum will look like in a personalized learning model of BC Education.  Hope you can join us.

29

How Social Media is Changing Education

CC Image from http://kexino.com

The title of this post is a bit misleading.  It is not social media that is changing education, it is the people involved in education who are collaborating by sharing great ideas and challenging others to continue to grow as learners.

Before social media, there were pockets of brilliance in every school, district, and education system but very few people knew about them.  In some countries education was (and still is) viewed as a “race to the top” in which you do not share ideas, you hoard them and hope that your ideas are better than others’.  Schools competing with each other do not share ideas and, as a result, they do not grow as effectively.  What social media has done is allowed the spreading of great ideas in more efficient manner.  Educators in British Columbia can connect and learn from practices taking place anywhere in the world; in addition, they can receive feedback on ideas from any people interested in education.   Good ideas not only become viral but these same ideas also grow to become even better.  I love stealing ideas (and giving credit) from other educators.  George Couros told me one time, “the more people I connect with on Twitter, the more ideas I can steal to make our school better.”

Yes, we still have rankings of schools and countries and these do create much harm and stress; however, as Chris Kennedy said, we can now connect with educators in the other countries to find out what they are doing well and how we can work together to bring those ideas into our own systems.  Let’s be honest, do we want ONLY our students to do well or do we want ALL students to do well?  Can we help create a better society if we are only helping students within our walls to be great?  We don’t hope to be the best by knocking everyone else down… we hope to be GREAT alongside those who we work and grow with.

On Saturday, I had another great edcamp experience at Edcamp Fraser Valley.  The Edcamp experience is highly promoted through Twitter and blogs and the actual day can almost be like a microcosm for Social Media.  We had sessions facilitated and participated by parents, teachers, professors, admin, and students (from elementary through university) and it was all about sharing great ideas and making them better.  People left the edcamp reflecting on how they are going to bring these to their school or learning community… and they left with connections to people that can help them to do this.  We meet people who have like interests that inspire us and we meet people who respectfully disagree and cause us to look at things through a different lens (in my opinion, this is what we need to see more of in social media – those intellectual collisions that help us grow). Edcamps and social media are driven by passionate participants who want to share a voice in education.

Social Media is a place  in which there is less hierarchy (I realize it still exists).  Prior to social media, the idea of me connecting with the author of the book I just read or the keynote speaker I just heard would have been absurd; now, I almost expect to be able to continue the discussions with others, including the speaker or author, through social media.  Also, when conversations are occurring on Twitter, I rarely know the formal position of the person I am chatting with as it is about the dialogue, not the position.  We purposely did not include position or affiliation on our name tags at EdcampFV for this reason… it is not about where you work or what you do but more about what ideas you bring to the discussion.

Gone are the days when we believed we should be trying to be the best by outdoing the school or country next door.  In today’s world we are starting to realize that in order to become great, we need to collaborate and help each other grow by sharing ideas and challenging mindsets.  Yes, policy changes need to take place but the people that can drive system change are those who work within the system; educators, including everyone that impacts education, can affect change by modeling and sharing great practices.

So, how is social media changing education?  It is not… but the people using it to continually connect are directly and indirectly affecting those ‘around’ them and thus, changing what we call education.

 Thank you to George for the chats that have inspired this post.  Just realized that George has already written on this topic so have added it here.