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.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Are we expecting too much too quickly of our teachers?

Over the past few weeks I have spent considerable time thinking about what it must be like to be a teacher in 2017. I think the joy and wonderment that keeps our amazing teachers teaching is still there, but I also sense that there is a deep exhaustion across the sector at all levels of the teaching profession. I think much of this exhaustion has come from under-estimating the enormity of the changes we are currently expecting of the sector, and from the compressed timeframes in which we want this change to occur.

Moving to shared teaching spaces, or Innovative Learning Environments (ILEs) is one example of where I think we might be expecting too much too quickly. Last month I had the privilege of visiting Waitākiri School in Christchurch and having an incredibly insightful conversation with their principal Neil O'Reilly. Neill's Masters thesis was on the key components required to create effective collaborative teaching and learning environments. It was from our conversation and then taking the time to read his thesis, that the enormity of what we are expecting from our teachers and leaders as we transition to ILEs dawned on me.
Let's pause for a moment and think about the changes we are asking a teacher, whose training and experience up to this point has been in a single cell classroom, to make as they transition into a shared teaching environment.

From my classroom to our teaching space - teachers are trained to work with children. This relationship is very different to working with other adults, so the first challenge for teachers moving into a shared teaching space is to learn to work as a teacher with other teachers, and to become comfortable with teaching in front of their peers.

My beliefs to our beliefs - most teachers operate from a very strongly held set of personal beliefs, many of which are formed from their own school experiences. As teachers move into ILEs they need to plan collaboratively and to accept and enact different ways of doing things. I suspect that at times these co-created practices do not align with individual beliefs about what is effective teaching practice. I know from my teaching days how exhausting and soul-destroying I found teaching in a way that did not align with my personal beliefs.

Teacher-directed to self-regulated learning - one of the expected outcomes of moving to an ILE is that the delivery of the curriculum moves from being teacher-directed to one of self-regulated learning. Having multiple adults, and collaborative spaces and structures, enables learners to be more self-regulated, but we must not under-estimate the enormity of the shift we are asking teachers to make in their pedagogical thinking if up until this point the learning in their classroom has been mainly teacher directed.

More structured environments and greater competence and reliance on digital technology - For ILE's to work there is a requirement for effective systems and routines. Neill's research concluded that 'these environments are twice as structured as they were when teachers were teaching in isolation" and that most collaborative teaching spaces use an online platform to manage the complexity. For meany teachers this has meant a significant increase in their digital competence.

I'm not for one moment suggesting that moving to ILEs shouldn't happen. I personally believe that teachers working effectively together achieve far more than teachers working alone. What I am suggesting though is that we need to acknowledge the enormity of the change that is required, and to adjust our expectations accordingly. It is much better to take 3-4 years to completely transition to this new way of teaching than to try to bring about the change in under 12 months and then give up, put the walls back in, and do what we have always done, because it was all too hard. Pat yourself on the back if after 12 months teachers have nailed working together. Don't worry if it takes a couple more years to achieve a self-regulated learning environment. It is far better to take a longer time on the journey than to give up because it is all too hard. And remember to take the parents with you as well.

During the holidays I got chatting to a couple of teachers at the airport. They weren't facing the challenges of transitioning to ILEs. The challenge they were facing was extraordinary numbers of after-school meetings they were expected to attend, in what they saw was a misguided attempt by the management of their school to address student under-achievement. The irony they expressed was that the time they would normally use to plan their teaching was being taken up in meetings passively listening to others telling them how to do their jobs more effectively! They expressed concern that if their students didn't improve then they would be blamed, but their reality was that they now had insufficient time to prepare the learning for their students. What was really sad was that both of these highly experienced teachers were thinking about leaving the profession.

Teacher professional learning and development is critical to improving our schools. Making teachers sit passively in staff meetings being told what to do does not change teacher belief and practice. Teachers need to work through the 'why' of what they are being asked to do. A deep understanding and commitment to the 'why' ensures that a teacher's practice continues to align to their beliefs, which is critical if they are going to be the best teacher they can be.

All of the changes we are currently making across education are important and if done well will result in more students achieving success. My plea is that we implement these changes at a pace and in a way that ensures we arrive at the desired destination with teachers and leaders who are still passionate and energised by what they do. We can do this we just have to be sensible and remember that meaningful change takes time.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What are your need-meeting channels?

My last blog post about Needs-Finding Mindsets triggered lots of comments. In this post I am continuing the theme around "Needs Finding" but reframing it from meeting the needs of others to getting our own needs met.

Working in education is an amazing and at the same time tough/daunting/challenging (add your own adjective) job. For sanity's sake educators need places they can go, and people they can talk to, in order to gain perspective and preserve their sanity. Educators are not lucky enough to get 'professional supervision' like other emotionally-charged occupations such as counsellors and police. Instead we turn on our colleagues, relatives and close friends to get these needs met. And there are right ways and wrong ways to do this.

So let's start with the right 'need-meeting' channels. Coming in equal at No 1, are work colleagues and your nearest and dearest. Work colleagues because they have the clearest understanding of the context in which you work including 'how things work around here'. And your nearest and dearest because they have the clearest understanding of how you work - both your strengths and your weaknesses. If possible stick to conversations because these are less prone to being misunderstood than written communications.

At times we are in situations when we can't go to our work colleagues or we are facing something our nearest and dearest has no experience in and this is where organisations such as unions and professional associations are a great help. If you have questions about your employment conditions ring the union. If you don't understand your payslip talk to the person responsible for payroll. If you are unhappy about something that is happening in your school talk to a trusted senior leader. My general rule of thumb is to go to the person most qualified to meet your need.

So what are the wrong 'need-meeting; channels? Answer - anywhere that you do not have control over what happens next with what you divulge. The most powerful way I have seen this explained is to get people to imagine a conversation is like an egg. Once an egg has been cracked open (e.g. you've said or written something) you cannot put the egg back into its shell.

In the physical world most people seem cognisance that it is unprofessional, in social situations to share work stories that divulge personal details. Stories can and do travel fast especially in a small country. People however do not always apply the same caution to online social spaces.

I love social websites such as Facebook. I love that I can keep up with the coming and goings of family and friends. I love that I can share my life experiences. I love sharing great articles and blog posts. I love being able to share in life's celebration and to be able to offer support in times of grief. And all of this 'love' lulls me into a false sense of security.

For many, Facebook and other similar sites, have become integral parts of our lives to the point that we forget that when we hit the 'Post' button we no longer control what happens next. We post to closed groups forgetting that  a closed group only remains closed if every member of the group holds fast to the confidentiality of the group. We forget that a screenshot can be grabbed in an instant and used in multiple (and not always good) ways. We also forget that content posted to sites such as Facebook cedes license to the hosting platform.

In recent years I have witnessed a surge of online communities in which teachers and other professionals share ideas and support each other. Most of this is awesome. I also think it is only a matter of time (if it hasn't happened already) when something posted in a "closed" group becomes part of an employment dispute or ends up in the front page of a national news service. We need to be very protective of our online selves.

Working in education can and does have its challenges. People who commit their lives to serving the future generation often have compelling and urgent needs. There are also lots of channels through which educators can get these needs met. We just need to ensure we use the right ones.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Needs-Finding Mindsets

This week, through the NZ Primary Teachers' Facebook group I was reminded of my teaching days in "Open Plan". It was the 80's and I was a young 2nd year teacher 'placed' in an Open Plan School. It was in a new subdivision in a lower socio-economic area of Christchurch. And it was the hardest teaching of my career.

No-one had a clue what you were supposed to do in a school that had 'spaces' instead of classrooms and 'spaces' without walls. And so in the absence of any professional development or guidance we all continued to teach as though we were in single cell classrooms. I still feel pity for the colleagues who got to teach alongside me as I distracted their classes with my drama, guitar playing, all singing, energy boosting curriculum delivery!

As it became obvious that in most places 'Open Plan' wasn't working, school communities began to 'fill' in the walls between the spaces. As I reflect on this and how we are now investing millions in once again creating open learning spaces all I can see is missed opportunities and wasted resources. In the 80s it wasn't the walls that were missing in the teaching spaces, it was the knowledge, professional learning and leadership required to teach in this new and IMHO a much more effective way. People jumped to SOLVE the problem (the classroom is missing its walls) instead of discovering the NEED (teachers don't know how to teach in collaborative spaces) and filling that.

There is a proverb, attributed to African culture, that states: "It takes a village to raise a child" and I whole-heartedly agree, The education of our future generation is too important to be just left to educators (don't hate me for saying this I am still a registered teacher and have worked in education all my life!). Educating the rising generation is the responsibility of everyone and what education needs is for those not at the 'chalkface' to come alongside with a needs-finding mindset.

A needs-finding mindset doesn't approach with a pre-prepared solution. A needs-finding mindset listens empathetically to those they wish to help and then in partnership designs solutions that will bring everyone closer to their preferred future.

Needs-finding mindsets are not just required by those working on the edges of education. They must also sit with those working in education. I think back to my time in schools and yes we did listen to student voice, but in my experience once we had listened to students it was the adults who went away and came up with the solutions which were then 'delivered' to the students. I know I never checked back with students about whether or not the 'solution' I had come up with actually meet their need. And I wonder what might have happened if after designing an intervention we had prototyped it with students for their feedback, tested it with a small group, and only scaled it if it worked. I'm guessing that if we had we would have come up with solutions that were more likely to meet students needs.

Education is a very complex activity and there are no easy fixes or silver bullets. Education is a human-centred activity and in my experience most successful when focussed on meeting needs rather than the delivery of solutions.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Education in a time of exponential change

We stand at the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution; a time when technology is advancing at an exponential rate; a time when technology will disrupt our every endeavour; a time when technology will impact every part of our lives; a time when education will need skilled leaders to successfully transition learning into the fourth age.
I was born at the dawn of the third industrial revolution, the digital age; the early 1960's, the time when computers changed from being people who spent their lives manually calculating, to machines (thanks Hidden Figures for teaching me this!); where the advances in telecommunications enabled greater connectedness between people, and social norms were challenged on every front - although I missed most of the latter as I was too busy attending primary school at the time!

So as we stand on the brink of this exponential change I put on my two favourite hats, education and leadership, and I begin to wonder. What does leadership look like as we transition into a time when we experience significant change in every area of our lives?

Dr Peter Cammock from the Leadership Lab at the University of Canterbury, is one of my favourite leadership gurus. In his book The Dance of Leadership he writes:

"When the ship is in a stable sea and plying a pre-arranged course, management works well enough. It is when a storm threatens, or icebergs clutter the sea-lanes, or when the traditional ports and sea-lanes are no longer available that management loses its functionality. At this point leadership is required."

I look at the world around me. I look at our schools and other institutions of learning and I see exponential change coming as a result of the rapid advances being made in technology. I go into classrooms that still look like traditional places of learning, but the students are connected to the world through their devices. I rely on Google maps to find me the fastest route to the airport and I use a robot at the supermarket to self-check my purchases (A robot you say? Surely not!? It is a self-checkout. Yes and no. It is a robot only we don't see it as such because it holds little resemblance to R2D2).

We are rapidly leaving behind our traditional ports and sea-lanes and we are entering a time of great change. Change will start to happen at a faster rate than we can manage and it is at this point that leadership not management comes to the fore.

So what does leadership look at times of exponential change?

  • It has a learner mindset; a passion to discover; an awareness of what is happening in the world around; It has a strong moral compass, as the known becomes unknown with that which matters most, standing strong at the core; 
  • It has a passion for people and discovering ways to empower leadership at all levels; whether it is leadership over self or leadership over many;
  • It is willing to embrace change, to intentionally move towards the new rather than hiding behind the old.
  • It is has a default setting of open, being willing to share insights and to support others along the journey.
  • It looks to industries other than its own to see what they are doing to prepare for and to manage change.
The fourth industrial revolution is beginning to gather momentum and as it begins to speed up it is wise and impactful leadership that will guide our world into the next stage of human evolution.