Spirit animals & the power of reflection

While I would be proud to present my spirit animal as the wise owl, the shrewd wolf, or the majestic eagle, I share a far more ridiculous reality: SQUIRREL!  No, really.  It’s SQUIRREL!  It’s my inspiration junkie self finally coming to terms with the beauty of this animal in its abrupt pivots, its nimble movements over unstable terrain, its rapid adjustments and keen senses.  Squirrels are adorable bundles of explosive energy and it’s difficult to predict where they’ll go next.  I’m down with that, and it took a trip to SXSWEdu and a chance meeting of a fellow SQUIRREL! for me to identify and embrace this fact.  I understand its significance and importance in my life, and now I have an answer when someone asks that most revealing of questions as a conversation opener.

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Look at this guy…so ready to go get ’em!  Photo: Anthony Intraversato

All this erratic squirrel energy demands balance, and that prompts me to reflect on reflection.  I’ve pondered the place of reflection in the new educational landscape, and part of my struggle remains the time it takes to sufficiently reflect.  Who has time for reflection when you could be DOING something?!  Then my mind goes all John Dewey on me and I remember my wits:

“We do not learn from experience.  We learn from reflecting on experience.”

He’s looking all Uncle Sam with a pointy finger in my mind, but okay.  I believe this.  Reflection is important.  And our students do not have a firm grasp on what it means to reflect.  (Honestly, they’re more SQUIRREL! than I am.)  While co-teaching our Exploring Education class, Pat LaClair and I found ourselves mired in attempts to help students reflect.  We failed.  Often.  We started by asking thought-provoking questions.  We shared examples.  We asked what our students thought about their experiences and then we asked WHY?  Why did they feel this way?  While we eventually made some progress from relatively shallow answers to more in-depth thought, I was left with two observations:

1. reflection is absolutely imperative to deeper learning.

2. we need to vary our approach.

How might we do that?  Some moments of inspiration hit hard last week while I was in a workshop at SXSWEdu led by  Dan Ryder and Amy Burvall.  The two have created an incredible collection of activities in Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom that promise to develop metaphorical thinkers, and I believe that this is one way forward with reflection.  In a world of SQUIRREL! type thinkers, these activities are quick, fun, and genuinely compel students to reflect and think deeply.  With Legos.  And Oreos.  Check out our exercise in representing a social issue with Oreo:

That toilet?  Come on!  Brilliant.  We had two minutes and an Oreo.  Take a second (SQUIRREL time) and consider the kind of thinking one has to engage in to bring to life this simple creation.  It’s metaphorical, right?  And metacognitive.  It’s creative, and it’s deeper than even a thought-provoking question might elicit.  While I believe that written reflection is integral to learning, we need additional formative opportunities to help students move toward deeper reflection.  With short activities such as these (heavily weighted with fun), students can begin to develop the kind of mindset that deep reflection requires.

Dan and Amy: thank you for pulling together an amazing collection of “reflection recipes.”  It’s perfect for this SQUIRREL! and I know it’s going to be spot-on for those in my class…now what was that about design thinking, deeper learning, and wait, SQUIRREL!

Dan & Amy’s book can be found on Amazon.

Relationships: 6 ways to encourage innovation through connections

As I’ve made the switch from a focus on students to a focus on teachers this year, I’ve been reminded that there are a lot of similarities between teaching students and teaching teachers.

First and foremost, it’s about relationships.

In The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros referenced a New Yorker article that explained why “one-on-one interactions increase people’s willingness to try something new.”  In essence, the article explores the idea of seven “touches–” that is, interactions with people with whom you want to build a relationship.  Yes, this takes time, but if you are committed to change, you have to commit to connecting with the people who will make it happen.

While I admit I have an inclination toward risk in the classroom and in school, I recognize that this isn’t the case with everyone.  Still, I have an intense desire to help teachers try new things in the classroom, so I’ve been working diligently to develop relationships.  Below, I’ve included six things I regularly do to help build these connections.  I hope these may be of some use to you!

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Just two of the rockstar teachers with whom I’ve built relationships: Cori Rockwood & Katie Bryant

6 ways to innovation connections-3

 

References:

Couros, George. The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, 2015. Print.

Gawande, Atul. “Spreading Slow Ideas.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 19 June 2015. Web. 19 Mar. 2017.

 

 

 

Teaching? Why Twitter is worth your time

Think about the last time you committed to changing something and it paid off–a time when you had to change habits, and although it was difficult, you did it because you believed in your end goal.  The struggle was hard, but it was worth it, right?  Now think about how much time you spend on social media–scrolling through recipes, fake news, and kids’ sports photos on Facebook or naming the filters on your Instagram feed.  How do these two connect?  Because committing to a new social media platform–namely Twitter–takes some commitment, but the end result is incredibly useful, and you’re much less likely to be subject to recipes or kids’ sports photos in your feed.  (I can’t say the same for fake news, but that’s another post altogether.)

I joined Twitter in 2009, and like most new Twitter users, was immediately flabbergasted.  My uncle told me I should check it out, and because I respected his tech savvy eye, I did.  My Twitteracy was elementary, to be sure.  I had no idea what a hashtag was, why there were so many @ symbols, or what on earth people were trying to say because everything was abbreviated.  I scrolled, wondering how this could ever be useful to anyone.  I spent some time lurking, following other Twitterers here and there, but feeling like I had really missed something.  Instead of feeling connected, I felt left out.  And stupid.  I left it unattended for a few years.  Yes, years.

And then one day, inspired by a desire to establish a better online presence and find other like-minded educators, I hopped back on and I found this: screen-shot-2017-02-18-at-5-48-41-pm

posted by @Stephen_H, and I thought, well, maybe it IS useful.  I was inspired, and that’s what it took to hook me.  I retweeted his graphic, because that’s an easy way to get your first tweet out there, and Twitter began to reveal its brilliance to me.

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EdTech Nut’s guide to Twitter for beginners

Inspiration junkie by definition, Twitter is where I now go for my fix.  I didn’t realize it then, but in order for Twitter to work well for you, you have to work at it a bit.  After searching for and following people you already know, you have to dig around to find people who might inspire you, and reading through whatever pops up on your feed won’t necessarily help you in your first few weeks.  Instead, spend time searching for hashtags to find people who interest you.  You’ll know you’ve found someone worthwhile when you read their brief bio and it spurs you to read some of their tweets, which then inspire you.  When you find someone of interest, check out who they follow.  This can increase your network exponentially, where ten minutes of searching can suddenly fill your feed with the collective brilliance of a hundred more educators.

 

twitter-followers

You’ve heard of the six degrees of separation?  One of my favorite things about Twitter is that it becomes one degree so easily.  I’ve exchanged tweets with @MsMagiera, @gcouros, and @Sugatam –all people for whom I have great respect in the world of education.  I would never have directly communicated with them–and so easily–without Twitter.

With so many options to choose from in the world social media, it can be challenging to put in the time to learn another platform.  The way I think of Twitter, however, is as my professional social media platform.  The others have a bit of crossover, but I use Twitter to grow my PLN, garner inspiration from other educators, create connections for classroom games or lessons, and to learn.  It’s worth the time.  Do it.

My favorite hashtags:

 

Reference:

Fitzgerald, Kelly. “Using Twitter to Become a Strong Educator.” Using Twitter to Become a Strong Educator. N.p., 4 Sept. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.

 

Design thinking: how might we share the impact of technology on teaching & learning?

Just a quick share of my slides for our VITA-Learn workshop last Friday…

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If any of you have ideas about how best to share your successes around technology and its impact in the classroom, I’d love to hear from you! Our designers discussed a Tech Hub, a plan for creating time for staff innovation every school week, and some potential additions to two dynamite VT-based learning platforms: LiFT and Launch Pad (currently in beta in with limited availability).  Feel free to share your successes on Twitter with #VTedtech.  Let’s share all of the incredible tech happenings in our schools!

School change: building blocks to #empathy

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about school change and how best to make it happen: hours in meetings talking about how to inspire, talking others down from the ledge as they became so easily mired in pessimism, sometimes finding myself marveling at the problem as opposed to seeking out solutions.  It’s easier to say you can’t do anything because of X, Y, Z than to actually take steps to make change.  And it’s true that sometimes even when you spend countless hours trying to make systemic change, it fails.

Michael Fullan, the Heath brothers, and Dan Pink have all written at length about change and its one primary, deciding factor: motivation.  In “Change Theory: A force for school improvement,” Fullan writes, “If one’s theory of action does not motivate people to put in the effort–individually and collectively–that is necessary to get results, improvement is not possible” (8).  Interesting that he draws attention to the fact that change cannot beget results if only accomplished individually.  I have learned this lesson time and again as I carefully constructed the isolated island of a classroom teacher, head down, wading through the bull in an effort to create the best experiences for my students.  By the time I met with my colleagues at the end of the day to talk about standards, common assessments, or whatever other initiative was coming down the pike, I was spent and ready to watch some ridiculous Jib Jabs, not so much do heavy thinking on how best to align ourselves for the betterment of our students.

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Stanford d.school’s form of inspiration

This idea of a culture shift–noted by both the Heath brothers and Fullan–is one that the Rowland foundation has likewise esteemed, and I recognize that shift as the ultimate goal.  So let’s talk about some small steps to get there, taking my call for empathy as the impetus.  I will attempt to build capacity through students first–Fullan’s second premise of the change theory.  Check out my Powtoon for my plan of action–one I hope will result in a move toward better understanding the world in which we live.

 

I will report out (share widely!) what our students propose, and how their ideas play out at our school.  I’d love to hear your ideas as well, and if you’d like to partner with us in this venture.  Authentic audiences, global connections around issues important to our students, and a lasting understanding of what technology can do to build empathy are all worthy goals for this venture.  Please join us!

Resources:

Fullan, Michael. Change Theory: A Force for School Improvement. Jolimont, Vic.: CSE Centre for Strategic Education, 2006. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.

Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. London: Random House Business, 2011. Print.

Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2010. Print.

“Rowland Foundation Vermont Secondary School Teacher’s Fellowship Philosophy.” Rowland Foundation Vermont Secondary School Teacher’s Fellowship Philosophy. The Rowland Foundation, n.d. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.