Tuesday, January 30, 2018

I won't should on you if you don't should on me!

Jim Collins famously states: "Good is the enemy of great" and "Few people attain great lives, in large parts as it is just so easy to settle for a good life". In this blog post I would like to explore that it might not be just 'good' that is the enemy here, but that 'should' is equally capable of getting in the way of great. Let me explain...

On Saturday night my husband and I saw "The Darkest Hour' - a brilliant movie and one I wholeheartedly recommend. Being careful not to spoil the film for those who have yet to see it, it is safe to say that it tells the story of the time between Churchill becoming Prime Minister and his famous 'we shall fight them on the beaches' speech. What occurred in this space was the battle in the war cabinet about whether the right thing to do was to enter into peace talks with Hitler, (we should do this to save the lives of our men trapped at Dunkirk) or continuing to fight to save Britain's nationhood, (we could fight Hitler and think of a different way to save the troops). Interestingly Churchill only decided on his course of action when he stopped listening to the loud and demanding voices of his war cabinet and sought the voice of the people whom he served.

As the credits rolled I began to think about the place of 'should' and 'could' in our society today.

Looking back over education's recent past I see times when 'should' has definitely overshadowed the 'could'. When NCEA was first conceived I don't think it was ever the intent of the creators that the assessment tasks would become the prescription for what teachers should teach. My secondary colleagues have told me that the assessment tasks were originally conceived to support the many things that students could learn. But the reality of accountability measures left most schools too afraid to do anything but to use the assessment tasks as the dictate of what they should teach.

I also don't believe that those who introduced National Standards set out to remove the joy and wonder of teaching and learning; however in shifting the expectation of the system to one where teachers should focus heavily on numeracy and literacy for our at-risk learners, instead of what teachers could do to engage these students in meaningful learning experiences they did just that.

I am guessing that bowing down to 'should' doesn't just happens in education. Why is it that humans find following other people's 'shoulds' so much easier than advocating for their own 'coulds'? In my experience it is the fear of what might happen if I don't follow the loud and commanding voices of 'should' that motivates me to ignore my internal voice of possibility and come into line with the 'should' majority. Our society has become a place where 'should' is way easier to do than could. But is that what we really want?

Obviously there are aspects of our lives when we should come into line' - there is a reason for traffic laws, and for keeping food in the fridge; but the 'shoulds' that I am talking about are to do with the things that get in the way of the passions each of us hold. We are given passion for a reason and it is my belief that when you live out your passion you discover your purpose in life; and more often than not your passion and purpose are the very reason that you should not settle for anything less than what you could do.

Coming back to The Darkest Hour, Churchill found his 'could' when he went back to the people he served. How often do we go back to those whom we serve and find out what it is that they want or in many cases need us to be? As teachers how often do we go back to our students, as nurses to our patients, as retailers to our customers, as consultants to our clients? Our 'coulds' are fuelled by truly understanding the needs of those we serve.

Someone once said to me: "I won't should on you if you don't should me"! As we begin our new working year let's not should on each other nor on ourselves; instead let's take the time to explore each other's 'coulds' as well as bravely standing up for our own, and in doing so create a much better world in which we all live. As Collins reminds us it is 'just so easy to settle for a good life'; I'm not sure about you but I want to settle for nothing less than great!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Making 2018 the best year yet

As the 2018 working year begins to gather momentum it is the opportune time to think about what it is we can do to make sure that 2018 is the best year yet. Late last year, as I reflected on how I might make this happen, I read two articles which I found both challenging and insightful.

The first article was How to think like Leonardo da Vinci to unlock your creative potential. It detailed seven da Vincian (I bet you didn't even know that word existed!) principles which are essential elements of a genius. Now while I don't aspire nor claim to be a genius I am always on the lookout for things that might improve who I am and what I achieve. The principle that stood out to me was Arte/Scienza.
"Developing the balance between science and art, logic and imagination. Balancing apparent opposites gives us a more complete view of the world and allows us to think with our whole mind rather than just a portion of it."
The article went on to explain that Nobel laureates are 2.8 times more likely to have an artistic pursuit that the average person. So what are my artistic pursuits?

I use to have 'artistic pursuits' - that was before I became pre-occupied with education, technology, the future, social media and Netflix. Visitors to our home look at the intricate embroideries that adorn our walls and enquire as to where they came from. My husband delights in telling them "Carolyn did them in a former life". 

So here is one of my resolutions for 2018 - that I will make space for my artistic self.

First resolution is also the first challenge - how do you make a resolution stick? This brings me to the second article.

I have been a follower of the Conscious Leadership Group for quite a few years now. I love that their posts are both affirming yet challenging. Their December post Find your What and Maximise Your Impact in 2018  provided me with my second challenging insight:
"To maximise impact, you need to shift your attention from making resolutions to being the resolution" 
So my resolution is not about making space for my artistic self, it is about me being the educational leader who makes room for her artistic self.

What are your resolutions for 2018 and what do they look like when you transition from making resolutions to becoming the resolution? From "This year I am going to go to the gym four times a week" to "I am the leader who invests in her health by going to the gym four times a week"; from "I will listen more and speak less" to "I am the colleague who delights more in listening to others than having their opinion heard."

Now is the time to set up 2018 to be the best year yet. Join me in thinking about what we need to do differently in order to let our genius flow and to become everything that our lives allow us to be.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

When magic happens

Tuesday at ISTE started with a wonderful keynote from Jennie Mageria, chief innovation officer at Des Plaines School District and author of the book Courageous Edventures - navigating obstacles to discover classroom innovation. She spoke about education's untold stories of self-image, identity, our inner selves, the road to innovation and shattering the single story. Jennie reminded us that being a teacher isn't something you do, it is who you are.

Jennie works at the district level supporting schools' use of digital technology. She advised us that when someone is pushing back against you stand back and listen to their problems and be KIND - this will turn them from a fierce dragon into a friendly one.

Of most interest to me was Jennie's narrative around the danger of the single story. She told the story behind This isn't Chiraq, a YouTube created by some students in a neighbourhood that had been nicknamed 'Terror Town' because of all the murders and violence that were occurring, Media ever only portrayed the 'single story' of this town and so the students decided to fix this. They created the video This isn't Chiraq to tell their story of living in that neighbourhood. They sent it to news media outlets and it created a positive news sensation. Jennie believes that technology should enhance our connection to each other and that students can be empowered by telling their stories through video.

Jeannie's keynote was magic. At the end the audience gave her a standing ovation and she wept. I have to confess that there were quite a few of us shedding tears at the sheer passion and reminder of who we are as teachers.

The other bit of magic that happened to me yesterday started unexpectedly with a notification from the ISTE organisers that there was a fire at the adjacent mall. The ripple effect of this was 21,000 people trying to find lunch when the majority of restaurants had been evacuated! San Antonio has this stunning river walk with restaurants on either side. Like most I headed away from the mall and down the river walk. As you passed each restaurant you were told the wait-time for a table which ranged from 60 to 90 minutes. I was just about to give up on the idea of lunch when this lovely group of educators from Ipswich Public Schools in Ipswich Massachusetts called out to me to join them at their table. We had a wonderful lunch over stimulating conversation and I was so grateful that they were so inclusive and kind to a fellow educator from the other side of the world.

I started my foray into the Expo Hall and five hours and 16,000 steps later there is still more to explore. Tuesday finished with a workshop about VR and AR. It was the most future focussed experience I have had at ISTE. And in my bag I now have some Google cardboard...

Monday, June 26, 2017

The things we share

ISTE is huge. 19,000 educators, 3,000 exhibitors, and an Expo Hall the size of eight football fields.

I sat in the auditorium for the opening keynote last night with around 6,500 others and then there were the thousands seated in the overflow areas above the main auditorium. It is really difficult to communicate the hugeness of this event.

This morning I attended an 'invite-only' event with the ISTE board members and it was wonderful to connect with people from the ISTE professional learning networks that up until today I had only known by thread post. The ISTE board are keen to strengthen the 'I for International' part of their name and I talked with some people about how we could get a greater ISTE presence on the ground in New Zealand. Watch this space...

And yet amidst the hugeness of ISTE it would seem that educators across the planet are all grappling with the same wicked problems.

This afternoon I participated in a workshop exploring what are the shifts, leaders in the 21st century needed to make. On my left sat a young science teacher from the Bronx in New York, who was just beginning to explore using problem-based learning with his senior chemistry students. On my right a teacher coach from Columbia. Both had come to the workshop to get ideas to try to shift the thinking of the administrators at their school. In front of me and behind were two highly experienced, wise, and pragmatic principals. They had come to explore new strategies for their leadership.

Central to the conversations seemed to be an over-riding theme of trying to navigate the path between system expectations, externally imposed change strategies, and providing students with a '2017 relevant' learning experience.  And administrators all over the world are grappling with managing highly competent teachers amidst those who should possibly be considering other careers. I reflected on how grateful I feel that I served my principalship in a system of self-managing schools, which while having challenges, has far more permissiveness built in than other systems represented in the room this afternoon. We must always protect and preserve this.

Tomorrow I am going to make a serious attempt on the Expo Hall so stand by for tomorrow's blog post full of pictures and new ideas.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The universality of education

It is the drawing close to the end of my first day at ISTE 2017 and as I sit writing this post I am in a hall with 6,500 others waiting for the offical opening and first keynote. I spent a lot of the day at the Teach Meet. (For the uninitiated a Teach Meet is a group of educators sharing their great ideas with each other). If you are interested in ISTE 2017's Teacher Meet here is the Collaborative Note Doc

So what did I learn? Lots but the highlights were...

  • creating twitter profiles for the characters out of Romeo and Juliet and then getting students to tweet as those characters is a cool way to get kids to really understand Shakespeare
  • people in the US are as concerned about the digital divide as we are. Jay Eitner, an awesome superintendent from New Jersey was compelled to act the day he went into McDonalds and saw lots of kids from his district in there not for the food but for the wireless. The kids were hanging out at McDonalds in order to complete their homework. Providing people know to apply for it (and here's the thing they generally don't), families that qualify for free or partially subsidised school lunches can get a wireless connection in their homes and an affordable device through the federal programme Everyone On. The connection costs 25 cents a month. Imagine if we could get a deal like that in NZ. What would that mean for our tamariki.
  • Google Voyager has made huge improvements in it interface and educators are using it to 'take' students to places they can't afford to travel to.
But the thing I learnt the most today was actually a reminder about the universality of education. No matter where I went or who I talked to we all care about the same thing, we are all struggling with the same wicked problems, and we all want to make a difference to students, their learning and ultimately their lives. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

When disruption goes mainstream

Late yesterday afternoon I landed in San Antonio. My mind was a bit foggy which is quite normally, and even more so after three flights, multiple time zones and not a lot of sleep 😪. As I walked to collect my bag I was tossing up what would be the easiest way to get from the airport to my hotel. I decided that I would use a cab, my familiar mode of transport from past trips to the US, as I was not sure how or even if Uber worked from US airports.

Having collected my bag I looked up and saw this sign:

I wasn't too sure what Rideshare meant but had a hunch it might be code for Uber. So I pulled the Uber App up on my phone and sure enough Rideshare was confirmed as the way to find an Uber from my current location. Still a little undecided I looked around for a cab. There were none in sight. In fact 'Ground Transport' was behind me and around a corner towards another terminal.
So I requested an Uber, and there was one three minutes away. It told me to meet at Pick-Up 20 which was just outside the door of the terminal and really easy to find. My Uber arrived and we headed off.

Ironically I had had a long conversation about Uber with the taxi driver who dropped me off at Wellington airport at the start of my journey. He was on the Co-op taxi board and they are quite understandably grappling with how to compete and manage the looming threat of Uber. We talked about why people did and didn't catch Ubers and where taxis still had an advantage. 

I reflected that for me the best bit about catching a taxi was the pick up - no standing on the street, hoping your Uber will arrive soon and the ' 3 minutes away' really is three minutes not 10, phone out looking for the right number plate, or frantic phone calls with the driver trying to locate exactly where each other is. But with a taxi it is a known address, and a specified time. I also reflected that the best bit about catching an Uber was getting out at the end of the ride without the having to muck around with a payment, and of course Ubers are cheaper.

My Uber experience yesterday though has brought home to me that here in San Antonio the disruption called Uber is now mainstream. In fact it was easier to catch an Uber at the airport than a taxi. They seem to have addressed the 'unfair advantages' that taxis have enjoyed until now. In fact upon reflection I have yet to see a cab on the street. The transport disruption called 'Rideshare' has well and truly gone mainstream. 

I am in San Antonio to attend ISTE, the conference where digital meets education. I am curious about the potential disruptions to education that I am going to see over the next few days. I am also going to be thinking about what it will take to make these educative disruptions mainstreams, and then together we'll discuss if this change is helpful for children and their learning.

Watch this space!!!

Monday, June 12, 2017

The fruit that grows in the valley

Tea Crop Cameron Highlands
In late 2015, after completing a speaking engagement in Singapore, my husband and I took some time out to explore that country and neighbouring Malaysia, places neither of us had visited before. Part of our trip took us into the Cameron Highlands, a temperate region, which we found a huge relief after the heat of coastal Malaysia. We were fascinated by the Highlands as we drove through valley after valley, full of vegetable crops and fruit trees. What we learnt was that this area grows all the fruit and vegetables for Malaysia and Singapore. The fruit grows in the valley.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. The fruit that grows in the valleys of our lives. As I look back over my life I realise that my most character forming experiences have occurred in those periods of my life that I would describe as valleys.  Probably the deepest valley I have ever been in was when my 32 year old brother died of leukaemia. I certainly developed character during those times as we sort to live a life that was better not bitter as a result of this experience. As a teacher and a principal I went through many valley experiences but I know these shaped me into the educator that I am today.

None of us like going through valley experiences, those times when you have to bite your lip, or bite your tongue and hold back your tears. Those times when you are asked to put aside the things you know, maybe the things you believe in, and try a new approach, or work with someone or on something that doesn't fit well with your notion of who you are. We've all been there and I'm yet to meet anyone who likes it.

Which brings me to the learning pit...

Used with permission
Great schools that I have visited spend time talking with their students about the learning pit - that valley of confusion and struggle, that valley that if you can get through it will leave you a better person. I love the way Stonefields School illustrates it.

My wondering though is whether or not we as adults are as embracing and encouraging of the 'opportunity' of the learning pit for ourselves as we are in supporting our students as they go through the pit. How comfortable are with being uncomfortable? As we struggle with new ways of working do we remind ourselves that the 'learning pit' is part of the change process or do we grumble and moan, consoling ourselves with chocolate, whilst complaining to those around us about how unfair life has become?

But it is not only fruit that we find in valleys. At the bottom of most valleys we find rivers or streams - in fact valleys are formed by the water that flows through them. Water is a critical element to the fruit. Without it nothing grows. What is the water in your life? Is it your colleagues who support you through your growing pains, is it the books you read, the PLD you receive, the Facebook groups you belong to, or your loved ones at home. Whatever it is, take time to drink from this refreshing stream, as it will ensure that the fruit you are growing is luscious and can be enjoyed by many.

Getting back to Malaysia and the Cameron Highlands we stayed overnight in a place where the strawberries grew all year round. The conditions were so perfect that there were no seasons just lots and lots of fruit. If only our lives could be like that.