Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What I Learned This Week (Volume 7)

            There has been a bit of a gap since I last posted in this series, based on a hectic travel and writing schedule coupled with moving to a new house. Of course, this has also provided some great learning opportunities and here are the highlights.

            George Couros has become a “go-to” colleague for things related to leadership with a technology twist. I have no doubt that George would be an excellent leader without any technology but he has taken the new tools and used them in a way that enhances his leadership. And he’s willing to share. His idea to create a MOOC (massive open online course) and invite colleagues to facilitate one of the leadership sessions has proven to be a hit. I was both excited and apprehensive to lead one of the sessions. The hour seemed to race by fueled by the excellent moderating of Chris Wejr and awesome participation from colleagues across Canada, the United States, and elsewhere. One of the highlights for me was to have a colleague from the Netherlands share what they do to encourage parent support in the school. I always try to get participants engaged in the sessions when I present and was worried about how that might be managed in this new format. Giving folks the microphone and calling on them after they shared some brilliant comments in the chat box provided the solution. I look forward to future opportunities to use this technology or other variations to connect with colleagues at a distance. I also know it’s important for a relationship guy like me to find ways to blend the personal contact that happens when we meet face to face.

            I really enjoyed my two days with the Kainai Board of Education working with all of the teachers and education assistants in developing and enhancing their formative assessment skills. While working with colleagues is always a great learning opportunity, I really appreciated the learning that happened outside of our working time. I was honored to be invited to attend their celebration evening and spent most of the time learning about the history of the Blood Nation and the Blackfoot Confederacy. It was great to meet Chief Charles Weasel Head and to learn of some of the history from Lionel Weasel Head. I feel that I know a lot about the history of Canada but quickly felt inept as I heard the stories of the families that trace their lineage back to a time long before Canada was a thought. I also had the pleasure of seeing students perform during the day and also understand the deep connection to family within the group, as many children were present during the two days of my presentation.

            Moving to a new house always bringing some learning (or perhaps a recurrence of things we should have learned but quickly forgot after the last move!). My wife and I are excited to have a place to call our own after being renters for an extended period of time but on some levels, moving stinks! There was so much to be done and my travel meant an enormous burden for my wife in terms of all of the detail work. Then there was the cleaning of our previous house. Three hours cleaning cobwebs out of a basement we hardly spent time in, was not the deep learning experience I was hoping for, but attention to detail is important in ensuring no web was left behind. Now we’re setting up our new home and looking forward to having our grandchildren come over and play in the new space. I’ve also learned I waited too long to get a hot tub as the evening soaks are awesome!

            I’m off to Las Vegas for the US launch of the two-day workshop built on our Pyramid of Behavior Interventions book. Looking forward to some more learning with colleagues!  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What I Learned This Week (Volume 6)

            I have been enjoying the weekly reflections that are creating these posts and am very appreciative of the feedback received and the time taken by colleagues to check-in each week. Brandon (@AlwaysPrepped) has checked in and asked if I would write a blog for his site using this theme and with a technology angle. The timing could not have been better as my last week had a number of technology moments and served as a great reminder of the potential for so much more learning.

            George Couros (@gcouros) started the Leadership 2.0 initiative through Twitter with a stated purpose to create something similar to a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for leadership, He asked colleagues to help provide some of the nine sessions that will be taking place over nine consecutive weeks. Mine is coming up in two Tuesdays with the theme of “Understanding and Responding to the Larger Societal Context”. I’d love to hear from colleagues about their views as I prepare my session. This open, online course is free to anyone who cares to participate and I have found the exchanges to be fascinating and the follow-up to be quite informative. I’m not sure I fully understand (or even remotely understand) the technology behind these Blackboard Collaborate sessions but I am amazed by the capacity they provide, as people from around the world gather to share their views. I have not met most of the facilitators of the sessions but feel like I know lots about them from participating.

            With the amount of travelling I do, I am always looking for ways to stay connected with family, friends, and clients. I enjoy using Skype and iChat to link up and consider them (generally) to be better than the phone of days gone by. As my oldest granddaughter approached her third birthday, I know we will communicate more using this technology. The downside usually happens with some less than satisfactory hotel Internet service (and that’s a column on its own) resulting in a return to the phone connection.

            I also took advantage of iChat to connect with a school in Winnipeg while I was in San Francisco and then back home in Gibsons. We were able to lay out some good plans and then also discovered some flaws with the process, which we will address in time for me to present a session to the entire staff from the comforts of my home office. While I will always prefer the “in person” contact, I have found this approach to be helpful in laying some groundwork for subsequent work when I arrive.

            My final technology connection happened as I spent an extended period of time with my co-author Chris Weber (@Chi_educate) working through a couple of chapters on our next book. I remain in awe of the potential of the tools that allow us to share ideas, graphics, and tools while in the development process. Chris and I may not be in the same room until after the book draft has been completed and that is certainly a 2012 way of creating a book.

            I’m certainly no technophile and am likely more hesitant than most to get the new tools once they are released. I still enjoy the look on students’ faces when I tell them about a significant historical moment I experienced while listening to my transistor radio. Their complete amusement at my description of the small rectangular box I held to my ear while shifting directions to get better reception is a good reminder of the changes that have happened during my career as an educator. I look forward to becoming more technologically literate and am thankful for colleagues who have taken the leap first and are willing to share with reforming Luddites like myself.

Monday, November 5, 2012

What I Learned This Week (Volume 5)

            I spent most of this past week in the United States and was working closely with a middle school staff in Texas. I really enjoy these opportunities as I feel it really adds to my knowledge base and also serves as a reminder that effective practice transcends geographic borders.

            The staff at Richland Middle School is working to create more positive outcomes for their students. We spent time identifying what they value the most and creating a vision and purpose statement for their work. The y drafted a motto, “equity for all”, that accurately captures what they want to be known for. What became clear during this work was how difficult this process can be when everyone becomes fully invested in the process. Each word in their vision had to be internalized and agreed upon by the staff in order for it to be a part of a school-wide belief and a way of doing their fine work. As I mentioned in my post last week, the best vision statements are not about what we do but who we are. The RMS team under the guidance of Dr. LeeAnn Bartee reminded me of this.

            Many schools I have worked with, and the educators that inspire the students that attend them, will share with me their belief that “all kids can learn”. In fact, I can’t recall a time where I encountered someone who didn’t espouse this. The point I’m trying to make is that our actions need to mirror our intentions. If we really believe this, then we will spend our time and effort on ways to actualize this. We’ll steer clear of the time wasting debates about zero as an earned grade or the unfairness of second chances. “All kids can learn” means we’ll do whatever it takes to make that so. Not by lowering our standards but by elevating all students to reach them.

I also learned that I’m not the only one who gets annoyed by the CAPTCHAs that are now on most websites. I’m not sure why these need to be so challenging with wavy lettering, blurry numbers, and lines through them. CAPTCHA is an acronym from Carnegie Mellon University. To complete the obnoxious nature of these, it stands for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart". Bill Ferriter (@plugusin), was equally annoyed by these devices, when he tweeted:

Thinking about buying bifocals so I can actually read the
Captcha codes on people's blogs. #gottatrysomething

I replied with a tweet of my own that summed up my feelings:

These remind me of the worst assessment devices created.
They are designed to confuse and prevent the end goal being reached!

It’s clear to me that the whiz kids at Carnegie Mellon could also design a really ineffective summative assessment. Here’s hoping they don’t enter that line of work!

            Finally, this week proved conclusively that the time on the road (23 days in the last four weeks) is made infinitely better by two factors – the quality of the work (and I have a passion for the topics I share) and the quality of the people I get to work with. The people I spent time with during the day extended their hospitality and shared their company during the after-work hours. Thanks LeeAnn and Chad, Staci and Justin, Nancy, Ann, and Jenn for the extended hours!