Branching Out

Updated April 1, 2013 @ 6:58pm

I hope you had a fantastic April Fool’s Day.

Yesterday my editor, who is my biggest supporter and probably my harshest critic (trust me you should see the number of posts sitting in the Draft box) – my wife Angela- asked my why I keep a Blog. I’ve written many times about how the process pushes me to reflect on my practice and my thinking – so she suggested I branch out on the posts and try to reach a broader audience.

Taking this into account after listening to the “other” JT’s latest release “The 20/20 Experience” I have been inspired to take this challenge up. Rather than weekly posts, I will release weekly singles. Here is a sample of what you might hear. “Branching Out

Tell your friends – I hope to reach more people with this new approach to reflections.

 

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Creativity Experience

Vanity would have me believe that I’m a creative person who looks for creative solutions when problems or challenges arise. Recently I had an experience that challenged my thinking about this.

This past fall a reminder came to my inbox with a link to the application package for the Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2013. Seeing the email, I recalled my excitement and interest in this program when I had first encountered it. Reading through the application I quickly completed the initial information confirming my interest in the program. Then it got tough; the most difficult piece of the application involved 4 questions:

  • How have you as an educator transformed your learning environment?
  • Illustrate how Apple technologies have helped in this transformation.
  • What successes have you seen with your learners?
  • How do you share these successes to influence the broader education community?

The requirement was to address these points in written form and then transform those answers into a 2 minute video. Now the thinking really began. Those questions felt like a job interview, and in a way they were. How would I succinctly and creatively answer these key directives? Would my work stand out from others who applied? Fortunately some close friends with experience in both the film and photography business were able to provide some excellent guidance and advice. First steps were to write a “script” and then film my scenes. First take was over 3 minutes and I discovered that I am NOT comfortable in front of the camera! 7 takes and an couple hours later, we felt like there was enough “footage” to put something together.  I’ve made a few videos, but certainly not to this level of detail and constraints that resulted in a lot of cutting and editing. Feeling like I had to make every word and idea stand out, I had to really learn how to edit and be creative with the micro details.

Do we begin to lose our creative side as we age? Or is it that daily tasks, routines, and habits bury our creativity to some extent, making us feel rusty when we need to really challenge ourselves here?  This project had no limits or specifications other than a 2 minute time limit and the broad challenge of making my written story “come to life”. By far the most challenging aspect of this project that stood out to me was the creative component. My initial instinct was to summarize some of my work. But after doing that, I realized that it wasn’t enough to really stand out in a forum that I feel quite passionately about; the advancement of education through technology. At first I had a lot of ideas that I needed to synthesize. Then the difficulty was narrowing in on a way to succinctly bring these ideas forward. As I worked through the process I realized that even though I like to believe that I am creative, that when pushed to do so I am somewhat out of my comfort zone. That maybe I’m not a “creative” person after all.

I’m very pleased with the final version of my submission. I think particularly so because this was by far one of the more challenging projects I’ve tackled for sometime.This experience challenged me to push ahead and try to get across some of the thoughts that I get when I second guess myself and don’t follow through with ideas that others might view as “outside the box”.

The Final version can be seen here:

A few weeks ago I received an email welcoming me to the Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2013. I am humbled to be included in a group of innovative and diverse Educators and I am definitely looking forward to the connections and collaboration of this year’s institute. I have no doubt that I’ll be surrounded by innovative thinking and leadership. And although I had doubted my own creativity in the midst of this project, I’m feeling pretty pumped about using this skill with who I feel is one of the more creative companies on the planet today. Now that’s a reward for working through a challenge!

 

Back to Blogging

I haven’t posted in a few months. We welcomed our new daughter back in October, then life took over.

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Once I did have time (and energy!) to focus on my   learning  I turned my attention to participating in MOOC‘s   exploring what that form of collaborative learning had to offer. Overall, those experiences have been great but I find myself missing the process of Blogging.

I recently read a post from a colleague wondering how to get more people to comment on his Blog. I definitely find that comments are invaluable but for me what I really miss is the process of writing my posts. In our daily work we have so many interactions and different scenarios that I sometimes find myself  struggling to unpack the day’s events. What I find useful in Blogging is that it forces me to more carefully reflect about a specific topic, issue or event.

So with that in mind I am excited to renew my commitment to regular posts. Taking recommendations from others, I am setting a specific deadline for future posts.

Defining Instructional Leadership

I have been thinking about the term Instructional Leadership a lot lately.  Specifically, I am interested in ways in which Principals and Vice-Principals can actively engage in this type of leadership at a scale that influences the entire school. Recently, I viewed a conversation on Twitter that has prompted me to reflect on this more deeply (just another reason I have a PLN and value it so much!).

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This conversation highlighted one way in which Administrators could display Instructional Leadership. The examples revolved around Principals and VP’s guest teaching and also teaching enrolling blocks of classes regularly. I don’t argue that this is definitely one way in which we can work to provide Instructional Leadership. What I question is whether this practice would allow us to influence instructional growth throughout the entire school?

Please do not mistake this as me no longer wanting to go into classes. I value every opportunity I have to join classes and observe many of the fantastic things that are happening every day.  As we look for new and better ways to optimize learning within our buildings, I believe we also need to explore new and innovative ways to lead instruction beyond joining a “traditional” class structure.

I do not have an enrolling class, yet I teach everyday.  Whether I am collaborating with a teacher or supporting a student, I am guiding a learner forward from a place in their personal growth. Nor am I  suggesting that there is one specific solution as to how we provide Instructional Leadership on a scale that will impact an entire building, but I do believe we need to explore new and different ways to this end.

As I am still exploring this, I ask you: How do you define Instructional Leadership?

Make Things Happen

Today, all across British Columbia, educators will participate in Professional Development activities. People will be engaged, inspired and many will move to make things happen as a result.

On a day like today, the workshops, presentations, discussion groups and collaborations can move educators deeply, igniting a sense of passion and commitment often reminding us of the great things that led us to the field in the first place. And then in the coming days and weeks the marking begins to add up, or the emails flow in and too many times we lose that focus that seems so clear after an inspiring Professional Development Day. I have seen this happen to many and I have fallen victim to this roller coaster of emotions myself.

With this in mind, I encourage you to make a commitment to yourself. Grab a hold of one idea, one task, one initiative – no matter how big or small and promise yourself that you will see it through to the end, whatever or wherever that may be.

Enjoy your day, as you continue on your continuum of life-long learning.

Happy New Year

Over the past two weeks as I prepared for the start of a new school year, at a new school, I could feel the sense of excitement building inside me.  On Friday, as were putting the final plans in place for “Opening Day”, it struck me that I see Labour Day weekend as my practical New Year’s Eve.

Having spent the majority of my life either in school as a student, or working at school’s, this time of year is filled with so much optimism.  It can be a time for a fresh start for some; others will come to our building tomorrow with an opportunity to build on successes they realized last year.  And there are others coming through our doors with no expectations because they have never attended a school in Canada before.

I think that one of the things that makes tonight so much better than the traditional calendar’s New Year is that beginning tomorrow, people can literally see the new opportunities in front of them.  Students will likely be in classes with at least some new classmates, not to mention new teachers.  Teachers and staff will in turn have new students and see first hand, how former students have grown and matured over the summer. As an Administrator we see the excitement (and yes sometimes trepidation) of this new year on the faces of everyone in our building.

Whatever tomorrow brings you, I hope that you can take a moment to watch and enjoy the energy that this New Year’s brings.

Happy New Year!

Failure, Something to Ponder

Earlier today I Tweeted this:

For contextual purposes I include a dictionary.com definition of failure:

“fail·ure [feyl-yer]

1. an act or instance of failing  or proving unsuccessful; lack of success.
2. non-performance of something due, required, or expected.
3. a subnormal quantity or quality; an insufficiency.”

This tweet led to an exchange of messages that centred around my choice of the word “failure”.  Most of the responses agreed with the sentiment as defined above, that in education, in order for us to learn, we need to experience setbacks en route to achieving greater success.  In fact, some have even retweeted my original message (even with my missing word error!).

However, even when people agreed with the sentiment, several messages challenged  whether we should use the word “failure” in Education.  There were a lot of compelling arguments for why we shouldn’t use this word and many of them were rooted in what the connotation meant to the responder.  For many the concern with using this word is the fact that it can evoke a sense of completion, an end point (and not a positive one).

A consistent theme evident in the arguments against using the word failure is a concern that those who are not actively engaged in discussions about education won’t have the experiences to make the connection of the word with the sentiment intended when it is used today.  I certainly agree that this is a valid concern.  I also agree that we need to be careful which words we choose.

There is a lot of dialogue around the evolution of education. This growth is not limited to what is happening in schools but extends to our conversations about school.  If the concern is that some, even many, people may misconstrue the sentiment of a word like failure based on their past experiences, then I see this as an opportunity for those people to learn.

In our attempts to move education forward, we need to challenge the thinking of those rooted in the past. In education we know what we mean when we use the word fail.  It is commonly accepted that we fail all the time, in fact I recently wrote a Blog about a failure  of my own. When I re-read it (you can read it here), I never used the term – probably because at the time of writing it was easier to use softer language but the reality is I fell short, I failed and just as I wrote, that was okay.

I am happy to see the dialogue that my Tweet has inspired.  In our attempts to evolve the way people think about and view education, we also need to address how people speak about education.  To do this, we can’t avoid words that carry connotations from the past, we need to use them – when appropriate – and teach to them.