Friday, December 5, 2014

"Don't Worry, Be Crappy"

I have never blogged 'real-time', in the 'between slots' while facilitating a professional development session - a new challenge, so here goes!

Toady, we had our December Professional Development Day.  The day was co-created and tuned by our PD committee, and was a continuation of our thread of Attributes of a Sa-Hali Graduate.  Now that we have landed on the attributes that we will be focusing on for the forseeable future, as a group, we wanted to start to provide some scaffolding to our staff about creativity, collaboration, and resilience.  Building upon our point of inquiry of "How do we get our attributes into the heads, hands and hearts of our learners", we developed the following learning goals for the day:
  • to have a better understanding of required elements for innovation to enable us to think differently about the possibilities for connecting our students to our attributes, and to bringing collaboration, creativity, and resilience to each one of our classrooms.
  • to make our thoughts visible about these attributes (why they are important, where they fit, and what will challenge us in making these attributes a part of our fabric) to the entire group, and to our school community through large, visual posters created through the process of the "chalk talk" protocol
  • to determine common language around creativity, collaboration and resilience through the development of 'elevator statements', statements that, when asked, provide a framework for each of us to describe what our school believes are the elements of our three attributes
  • to co-develop the kick-off assembly so that it can be tuned by our community through the lens of getting our students thinking about creativity, collaboration and innovation.
We started the day watching the amazing TED Talk by innovator Guy Kawasaki.  He had a 'top ten' list of things he felt were essential for innovation:
  • Make meaning
  • Make a mantra
  • Jump to the next curve
  • Roll the DICE
  • Don’t worry, be crappy
  • Let 100 flowers blossom
  • Polarize people
  • Churn, baby churn
  • Niche thyself
  • Perfect your pitch
He also threw in a final, 'bonus' bit of advice around ignoring "bozos" (and also described the different levels of 'bozocity' - a term that I am going to adopt).  And while you can watch the video to get his entertaining clarification on each of these tips for innovation, there were a couple that resonated with me as our school goes forward on the journey to bring our attributes to life in our school, classrooms, and learners.
“Make meaning” - while a large part of the purpose for our day today is to make meaning of our attributes for ourselves, Kawasaki was referring to the idea that we need to DO things that are meaningful--meaningful for ourselves, and meaningful for others.  He talked about how people who start into something to make money often aren’t doing something that is meaningful, and others start by doing something meaningful and as a result often make a great deal of money!  As a school we cannot simply tell students to be creative, collaborative and resilient in order to get a better job, to have a better resume, or some other external reward-style incentive.  We need to give students opportunities to do meaningful things that develop and utilize their skills of creativity, collaboration and resilience.
“Don’t worry, be crappy” - this is one that is so important for me, not because I wish for anything that we do to be crappy, but because it is ok to try something and for it not to go perfectly.  Mr. Kawasaki talks about how we cannot wait for every possible factor to fall into place before we move forward; with respect to our school, we need to get going, and not worry if what we start out doing is less than perfect.  In fact, I’m sure that we can end the mystery right now--no matter how we start with bringing creativity, collaboration and resilience into our school, classrooms and tasks, it WON’T be perfect.  But we need to continue to iterate, and iterate some more.  It is what we want our students to do, and exactly what we need to model.
As a staff, we then went to “attribute stations” where there was a short, priming video clip on creativity, collaboration, and resilience, followed by an article on each, and then “Chalk Talk”, where teachers silently wrote down and doodled their thoughts, hopes, dreams, and challenges around
"Chalk talking"
implementing changes to their classes that would develop our attributes.  This was powerful for me--educators silently making their thoughts visible, and others commenting on those thoughts, adding to them, and providing different perspectives--all in a non-threatening and safe environment with their peers.  No one dominated the conversation, because the ‘conversation’ took place without anyone ‘speaking’.  Once this was complete, each group ‘
carouseled’ to the next attribute, and continued the chalk talk from the previous groups that had been there.
To close out the morning, we co-created and co-edited our “Elevator Statements”.  Using Google Docs and the comment feature, we had each group create statements that thematically summarized the thoughts of our staff on each of the attributes in separate classrooms.  As they did this, the other groups would go “soft on the people” while being “hard on the content” to make edits and iterations to each other’s elevator statements so the true feelings of the group would be heard.  (As an aside, it is always amazing for me to see these tools in action, and to see the virtual editing that can take place to push us to create a product that more resembles what we had hoped for).  In the end, each of the groups presented to the large group.  Interestingly, the presentations of our “Elevator Statements” likely would have required an elevator to the moon--they were long and complex!  We realized that while each of us now has a better feel for our attributes, there is still more to do in terms of clarifying our thoughts for the greater school community.
After lunch, we split into a new set of groups to get to work on our attributes assembly.  With the mantra of “Hard Work, Together”, our group used a google template to develop our “to do” list for our upcoming student assembly.  At this point, there was dialogue about whether we were going to be able to pull our assembly together.  There were those who wanted to get going with it, as we have spent a great deal of our time over the last 16 months discussing our attributes and leading up to this 'attribute launch'.  There were others who felt that because we have spent so much time and effort to get to this point that we want to make sure we do it right, because we don't want our presentation to fall on its face.
To which I injected Guy Kawasaki's statement--"Don't worry, be crappy!".
We want our kids to take risks, to try things, to really get behind something and put their all into it.  To be creative in making it.  To collaborate to make it better.  But most of all, we want them to try something, and whether it works out or not, we want them to try again, to iterate, and demonstrate their own resilience.
If we want kids to do this, we too have to model it--to be unafraid to 'be crappy'.  And so, we will go forth.
Overall, it was a very productive day for us, and while our end product for this phase of the rollout may not be perfect when all is said and done, we will iterate, and try again! 
And not worry!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Inquiry-based Discomfort

Over the last several months, our faculty has been working hard to co-develop our "Attributes of a Graduate".  As a group, we wanted to determine the skills and characteristics that we want for our students to have as they leave us to face an ever-changing and uncertain future.  We had come up with a number of descriptors as a staff, and solicited thoughts and input from our parents and community.  On our Professional Development day this past Monday, we determined our critical question to drive our learning for the day was  "How do we get Sa-Hali attributes into the heads, hearts, and hands of our students?".

This question led us to consider a number of things:
  • What are the most important attributes?
  • How can we demonstrate that students have an authentic voice in attribute creation and development?
  • How many attributes will students (as well as the staff and community) be able to focus on and remember?
  • What is the best way to kickoff/promote our attributes, and truly get them into the heads, hearts and hands of our entire Sa-Hali community?

So the day began, and were I to use descriptive, non-judgmental, instructional rounds-style data to describe the day, I might say the following:
  • the staff participated in a team-building activity focused on our collaboratively developed attributes
  • the staff did a distillation and consensus-building process that required them to analyse, evaluate, synthesize and then agree on three "Attributes of a Sa-Hali Graduate" that will guide our School Innovation Plan
  • multiple staff members led these small group discussions to engage all of our faculty and ensure each staff member's voice was heard
  • when I asked the staff to take a break for coffee, none of the groups left their tables to take a break--they just kept working on the task in front of them (they eventually left a few minutes later, but I had never seen that before) 
  • the staff used collaborative technology to crowd source ideas
  • the staff began collaboratively planning a promotional campaign (perhaps something that takes off from a creation by two staff members at our school) to showcase and co-develop our attributes, including a mixed media assembly and follow-up lesson plan to solicit input from our students
If one read the above observational data, they might say that it was a productive day that had our staff participating in higher order tasks.  And, going 'up the ladder of inference', I can tell you that without equivocation, it most certainly WAS a productive day.  Yet at one point, one of my teachers said to me "Why are you frowning? You should be really happy right now--look around!  EVERYONE is working on this!"

Good point.  Why was I frowning?   

I wasn't frowning because I was upset--quite the opposite, in fact.  Our staff took a very important task and ran with it...and they ran hard! I was frowning because a process that I had envisioned being a bit more linear and sequential went 'wide' in a short period of time.  Very wide.  And the number of amazing ideas flying around the room suddenly became overwhelming to me.  Too often in my time as a Principal, I 'knew' what the final product should be.  I would begin with that product in mind, be hyper-organized in my planning, and guide the group to a point which would look awfully similar to MY vision--sometimes with only scant bits of commitment from everyone involved.  I would utilize very little of the knowledge and expertise of the room, other than to validate my own ideas.

#bigmistake

By starting with an inquiry-based mindset on Monday, the critical question rapidly moved us into a level of divergent thinking that I had completely underestimated.  I quickly realized that my role in the room had changed significantly:  I was going from 'leader' to...well,  learner, facilitator, cheerleader, and even 'granny' (from Sugata Mitra's 'School in the Cloud').  And while the level of engagement and discourse amongst our faculty was astounding, the level of complexity in terms of coming up with a solution to get our attributes into the heads, hands and hearts of our students had also increased dramatically.  Hence the frown.  And when that staff member saw me frowning, I'm sure I was overwhelmed and all-consumed with one thought:  "How the heck am I going to pull all of this together?".

Later Monday evening, I received a very thoughtful and kind note from one of our staff members. They were impressed with the thoughtful dialogue and discourse that took place throughout the day and the amount of headway that we had made with our attributes.  And then it hit me: it's not about how "I" alone will do this--it's about how WE will do this together.  I can only guess that had I used my traditional method of 'asking a question that I already knew that answer to', I would have gotten 'my answer', and likely been mostly on my own trying to figure out the best way to make it a reality. But by using a co-developed driving question that engaged the group, WE got 'our solutions', and with that ownership, WE will transform our solutions that we created into reality TOGETHER.  And WE will do a fantastic job because the product that we create will be visible to our students and our entire Sa-Hali community.

As successful as the day was, my reflections about Monday have also made me realize that if I was out of my comfort zone and overwhelmed by the divergent thinking of our group and my changing role in the learning that was taking place, others might experience this too.  Going forward, I need to be very cognizant of the fact that as we look ahead at the journey our school will take to help our grads to become creative, resilient collaborators (our three attributes that we are going to present to our students), many of us may be moving of our individual and collective comfort zones.  When we develop tasks and activities that truly require students to demonstrate our attributes, each of us will need support in working through learning that is non-linear, messy, and requires us to become a combination of learners, facilitators, cheerleaders, and 'grannies' all at the same time!

But if the net result of these tasks and activities that we co-create is the engagement and learning that I saw from our faculty on Monday, it will definitely be worth the initial discomfort that comes with inquiry-based learning.

*cross posted at the Sa-Hali Educational Sandbox

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Connecting the Disconnected


This past weekend, I was lucky enough to go to the 21st Century Learning conference in Vancouver, BC. I was particularly jazzed to see two presenters; Will Richardson and my pal Bill Ferriter have both impacted my thinking significantly since I added them to my personal learning network.  And while their methods were different, both Will and Bill had some common messages in terms of the learning that students are doing in schools today and how (or if?) it relates to the types of skills that students will need in the hyper-connected environment that we live in today.  They pushed the group to think about how we 'connect the disconnected' by highlighting a some points that resonated with me:

As kids move through the K-12 system, they become less and less engaged in their schooling.
And while Sir Ken Robinson and others have affirmed this fact for us, both Will and Bill quoted the 2012 Gallup Poll Student poll (of more than 500,000 students) that showed the percentage of students that described themselves as being engaged in their studies dropping by over 30 points as they move from elementary to high school.  Each of them challenged the group:  are we comfortable with this?   Are we willing to confront this?  And for me personally, no matter how many times I hear statistics like this, I still cringe and think about what we can do differently.



We need to give students meaningful work
Students want to do something that makes a difference.  They want to help others.  The Kiva Club developed by Bill Ferriter's Grade 6 that raises money to provide microloans for impoverished individuals and the #sugarkills blog to fight obesity that his students created are sustained by students who are willing to give up their own time to help others that they have never and will likely never meet.  But worksheets are not meaningful.  Memorizing answers to questions that we can simply search for using Google are not meaningful. Right now?  Meaningful.  There is a chance you might need to know this at some point in your life?  Well, not so much.

Classrooms need to be places to make connections, not disconnect
We can no longer ask students to disconnect from the hyperlinked, information-saturated, teacher-laden world (yes, teacher-laden--because students have the ability to learn so much from virtual and face-to-face peers and adults in their world who have loads of expertise in different areas) where they learn for two-thirds of their day.  As Will Richardson said, we need to completely wipe that scarcity-inspired thought from our minds.  We have to.  Because if we think that students are going to settle for anything less than that, they won't (and they aren't).

We MUST have a clear vision
We don't begin with 'all of our students are going to blog'.  Or 'each of our classrooms will have Smartboards'.  Or spending a billion dollars on iPads (as the LAUSD did, with decidedly 'mixed' results).  We don't begin with the mindset that 'technology engages kids'.  We begin with a vision of the attributes that we want for our children (like the excellent work being done in the Kelowna School District and Farmington High School), and then use these attributes to guide our decisions, our structures, our PD, and our approaches to student learning in our classrooms.  (To see a way to get started with your staff, check out this fun way to begin the conversation about developing a mission in schools.)

So, I know what you are thinking:

"Ya ya ya...we know all this stuff, but how do we do it?

Both Will and Bill were very clear--in British Columbia, we enjoy freedoms in our curriculum that simply do not exist in most jurisdictions across North America.  And they were also very clear in their plea for us as educators to take advantage of this curricular latitude to create the learning environments that children need.  And finally, they both told the participants one thing:  get started.  Now.  The urgency lies in the idea that every day the world is changing, so we have a moral imperative to change the environment that students learn in for six hours per day to more closely mirror the world they live in for the other eighteen hours.
So at Sa-Hali Secondary, what are we going to do as a result of the message that I heard this weekend?

  1. We are going to involve our students in the development of and execution of a process that will both highlight our work on attributes to this point and involve them in the selection and definition of these attributes.  We will use the High Tech High Tuning Protocol to develop this process starting with the question "How will we involve our school community in the development of our list of attributes so that they are in the heads, hearts and hands of students, staff and the community?"
  2. We are going to use these attributes as a start point for the process of Instructional Rounds in our school.  We will reflect on our school through the lens of the attributes that we feel are important, and determine how we can scale the innovative practices that are currently happening in our school through making the walls of our classroom permeable to our staff and to others.
  3. We are going to make student and adult learning visible at our school through the development of a school-wide digital portfolio.  Our staff and myself will learn the process of developing digital portfolios by creating a three-dimensional digital portfolio that will serve as our school improvement plan.  We will do this so that we can learn by doing, and model the creation of a positive digital footprint that will allow students to truly demonstrate what we know.  This will allow us to prepare students to develop a capstone project as a culmination of their K-12 learning (a great example of Capstone Projects can be seen at Chris Lehmann's Science Leadership Academy) that they can take away to support them in what they choose to do after they leave us.
  4. On a personal note, I am going to start a Kiva project at our school.  I don't know how this is going to work yet, but I am confident that like every school we have the students who want to make a difference in the lives of others.

Perhaps these are lofty goals, but I am articulating them here so I can hold myself to them.  I agree with Will and Bill, we can change how we engage and empower students in their education, and we need to start. Now.

So we will!  Stay tuned.


Friday, October 24, 2014

#EDUDO - The New Ed Hashtag -- It's all about what you DO!

This morning, Gino Bondi (@gmbondi) and I were sitting at the 21st Century Education conference in Vancouver.  During a bit of down time, we were chatting about how exciting it is to see links to things that flash up on Twitter which are solely focused in what people are DOING in education.  What they are doing in their classrooms.  In their schools. In their districts.  And in a moment of unparalleled brilliance, Gino came up with an idea--a new hashtag that is just for what people are DOING.

Not theories, quotes, or lists.

Not what we should be doing in education, there are plenty of hashtags for that.

But a hashtag for the driving questions, exciting lessons, collaborative projects, professional development strategies, faculty meeting ideas, and district initiatives that are truly making a difference to student learning, teacher learning, administrator learning, and community learning.  Pieces that have tangible products that other students or educators can take, adapt, modify, make better and share them back.

If such a thread interests you, please tag your good things with #EDUDO , the hashtag with the emphasis on DOING!