This year I’m working as a vice-principal. I’m working on my instructional leadership as well as the other dimensions of the job. The other stuff (managerial, operations) happens and I’m working on it.
I have equated this job to playing hockey. In hockey, good players skate around the ice and work, help the team, but also conserve energy. However, when they see something develop that will truly lead to a chance to score a goal, the hockey player breaks into a burst of speed to get to the puck or to the place on the ice that the puck will be in the next moment.
That is how I feel about the job. Lots of skating. Then you see the puck in the right spot. To help a child or family. To influence instructional changes. To actually use tech to help learning. Then I sprint to that and work at that with all my energy. Then settle back to the day to day. The questions I ask myself are:
1) Am I able to see the opportunities?
2) Am I able to convert the opportunities into reality?
3) Are my other tasks, and my efficiency or inefficiency at them, hindering the opportunities?
That is pretty much as honest as I can be. Sometimes I’ve got the puck but most of the game is skating and looking for where the next opportunity will be.
During UnPlug’d 11, the final circle sharing was emotional, vulnerable and moving. This September I began a new position as a Vice Principal. Remembering my final circle sharing helps me remember my ideals and encourages me to lead with courage. Here is what I shared:
“I was thinking about Courage. Thank you for letting me be courageous. I learned about that courage, because I think I need it going forward. We learn leadership because we lead, not because we read it in a book. I’ve had to be the most courageous I’ve had to be ever in my life last night, and there is no artifact of that . . . It’s going to live in me.
The product is the process and the process is the product. In me, it’s taught me courage.”
We are struggling.
A couple of weeks ago we, Rodd and Ben, were participants and members of the organizing team for UnPlug’d, a Canadian Education Summit. As the website says:
UnPlug’d brings together Canadian educational change agents to share peer-reviewed success stories; to deepen relationships among participants; to publish the collective vision of the group. Grassroots educators will share their first-hand experiences, collectively considering modern approaches to learning. The summit will culminate with the release a publication that communicates a vision for the future of K-12 education in Canada.
We’re struggling to find the words to explain what Unplug’d was, but we do know what it wasn’t. It wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t a conference, and it wasn’t perfect.
Perfect isn’t real.
Perfect is fake.
Real isn’t perfect.
Real is beautiful.
In trying to understand what happened at unplugd11 We’ve developed a list of what perfections we ‘missed’.
Perfection Myth #1: Everyone, from every official organization, was represented.
Ben: One moment that I remember is the campfire the first night. I looked around the fire. The warm glow was illuminating many faces that I’d only known as avatars. We were singing. Yes singing. Two guitars were being played by Stephen and Bryan. In this moment I had the overwhelming feeling of loose ties being tightened. In that moment, I had a sense of connection and belonging with this group. This imperfection may have allowed the intimacy and warmth to develop between the group that did attend.
Perfection Myth #2: Perfect Logistics = Perfect Learning
Perfection Myth #3: Professional conversations are best held in spotless rooms with round tables, white linens and climate controlled conditions.
This also didn’t happen. We sat on floors, rocks, muskoka chairs, and benches while getting mosquito bites. We wrote on our laps, had conversations while doing dishes, and paddled in silence as the sun set. At times we were too warm. At times we were too cold. At times, we were downright smelly.
Perfection Myth #4: Getting feedback on our work is easy for professional learners.
Perfection Myth #5: It is best to share ideas in completed slide decks that give clear answers.
We intentionally ignored this usual conference expectation. Each participant brought their own ideas, vision, and passion. Each person brought their ‘story’ to share over dinner. These ideas were challenged, reconsidered, and revised as the shared experiences of the summit unfolded.
The final formal moments of UnPlug’d were shared as all the participants gathered in the Butterfly room and were given a brief moment to share any closing thoughts with the whole group. Each person attempted to distill the thoughts and ideas that had been filtered throughout our weekend of shared experiences. Encouragement was offered, insights were shared, and profound statements were made.
Ben: I don’t want to speak for others, however, when my turn came I was overwhelmed with emotion and chose to share a key lesson that I had learned about courage. As my voice cracked, I let down my guard and shared what I had learned about courage from my interactions that weekend. I finished by sharing how this lesson about courage would guide me in the upcoming school year. This imperfect sharing of ideas allowed us to ‘get real’ about the situation that we are trying to improve.
Perfection Myth #6: Each planned activity achieved its intended purpose.
One of the symbols of UnPlug’d was a large physical mindmap that represented the participants (stones), their ideas (wooden disks), and the connections between them (ribbon and twine). On site, Kim Crawford reflected “Just as we gather around a campfire, the ideas and people in the centre of our meeting room, provided the flame to foster our connectedness.” As the weekend progressed, Tom Fullerton further explained “The rocks were people and the wooden disks our ideas. We used cord to show connections. I described the rocks to my working group as not being as solid as they might appear. Each of us is shaped and rubbed smooth by contact with other rocks as we are pushed together by waves and wind, the conversations and experiences we share.”
Some participants looked to the map as an opportunity to let their artistic sensibilities shine. Others created personal icons as more of an afterthought. Limited access was available to the evolving map because the planning team opted to host ‘check-in’ meetings in the same central meeting space. In doing so, we unintentionally blocked participants from fully engaging with this piece.
Although the mindmap never fully realized its visual potential as a representation of the many connections among participants and their ideas, the artistic and symbolic elements were meaningful to many participants. Some withdrew artifacts from the collaborative piece as mementos of their experience. When members of the planning team stayed behind to finalize publication details, we were granted the honour of finding a home for the personalized artifacts that had been left behind by participants.
High Value Imperfection
Unplug’d had many imperfections. It wasn’t perfect, it was real. Real conversations and struggles were shared. Real people maintained eye contact, were present in the moment, and expressed authentic empathy. Real people were heard and listened. Real people expressed how this experience has re-energized them for the challenge of a new school year. And real is beautiful… even if imperfect.
Sharing. It is quite the bandwagon term these days.
Recently, I read a few news reports on CBC and a book called SPARK, that all talked about the value that cardio exercise can add to the brain. Basically, if anyone, including students in school, started the day with cardio exercise like running they are more prepared to learn.
One teacher in a secondary school used heart rate monitors to assess if students were really exerting themselves in physical education class. Instead of giving higher marks to the students who ran faster, the students who had the highest percentage heart rate were given more credit. This intrigued me. Instead of the outward signs of fitness, this class rewarded what was truly going on within their hearts.
The more I think about this physical education class, the more I think it is like sharing. The current push for more digital sharing may:
– focus too much on outward signs within one realm: online & digital, and
– reward those who aren’t really giving their heart while ignoring those who are giving their whole heart.
Maybe the online education community is too focused on outward signs within this digital realm. Recently I took part in an experience called ‘unplugd‘ where a group of digitally connected educators literally disconnected from the internet and the ‘grid’. The sharing was open, vulnerable, and deep. Aspects of the sharing were captured to share, but most of these conversations were in the moment. It wasn’t shared digitally, instead it was shared between hearts.
When we implore fellow educators to share online are we making the mistake of the phys. ed. teacher who gives the highest mark to the fastest runner? Have we considered all the other times that educators share? Have we considered quick conversations in the hallways, a coffee after school, the end of the week social, the dinner party, the conversation with a spouse and private journal as all equally valid ways to share?
Maybe the online education community rewards those who are sharing from a safe place, while not embracing those who are sharing with their whole hearts. I’ve shared many things online, and as my comfort grew it was less of a risk to share. From lesson files to my own ideas as my comfort grew and it was from a safer place. I wasn’t risking as much. My sharing ‘heart rate monitor’ was showing low exertion.
When we implore fellow educators to ‘just share’ online are we ignoring the exertion in their ‘heart rate monitors’? Have we considered the high levels of vulnerability that they could be facing? Have we considered the courage this act is requiring within their heart? Have we committed to journeying with them through this process to share?
If you want to increase sharing, why not listen to your heart. Find a safe place and medium to begin the sharing process. Eventually, it would be great if some of your sharing was digital but this is not essential. Just share, over coffee, in the hall, or in a journal.
If you are the ultra sharing online guru, why not listen to your heart? Find out where you are at with vulnerability, courage, and risk taking. Eventually, it would be great if some of your digital sharing began to reflect your inner courage.
This post is from Mary Palin, Tribes Master and was originally posted at Tribes.com.
Right now, an online discussion is tweeting: the 31 day game. Two educators in Canada (one is also a Tribes TLC trainer) designed a professional learning game that promotes making a choice between two educational realizations. The first game challenged players to make a choice between two compelling videos; the current game considers cooperative learning strategies. Participants are forced to make a choice between the two.
It’s not easy! You might think so, since both of the choices are really good. But that’s not the hard part; what’s hard is voicing one’s opinion – out there for all to read and comment on. That statement is ‘influence’; maybe it will influence others, maybe it will influence a retort, maybe it will influence a challenge to justify.
Just like in a classroom, there are potentially more who observe, watch, sit, or remain silent than those who actively participate, voice opinions, ask, or dispute. Inclusion is easy and inviting and comfortable. Community is a celebration, a feeling, an event. Influence is a challenge, a risk, and one cannot truly learn without it.
Typically, when implementing the Tribes TLC process, “influence” is identified as the opportunity for problem solving, decision making, valuing diversity and resolving conflict. But isn’t that also reminiscent of “learning”? When one learns, whether it is a concept, a skill, or a process, doesn’t that also involve some problem solving, decision making, valuing diversity (other ideas) and resolving conflict – both internal and external? I can tell you from my own recent experience of learning how to ride a motorcycle that it is most certainly is about ‘influence’
Just like those players in the 31 day game; the more we share, ask, challenge, and ‘tweet’, the richer the discussion and the more we learn from each other. So whether it’s in the 31 day game, the classroom, on the playground, among peers, or around the dinner table; be aware that your ‘influence’ is also a potential for others’ (and your own) learning. Plan your response, and before you say (or tweet) it, make it concise and thoughtful.
In Rodd’s (31 Day Game architect) words, “It’s a relatively simple idea that hinges on participation. You really will learn more if you engage in conversation, than if you worry about having the right answer…”
Have you ever wanted to enrich a conversation with more credibility and dept of thought? Bringing this type of change is kind of like the difference from going to the beach, to going swimming on the surface of the water, to going snorkeling or scuba diving and seeing the beauty that is hidden beyond the eyes of the others. On a hot summer day many people trek to the beach with coolers of food and drinks, volleyballs, frisbees, and sunscreen. If you will, beach dwellers enjoy the view of and breeze from the water. Fewer people take the next step to actually go into the water and swim. The swimmers enjoy the cooling feeling of the water and feeling power of the water as waves crash into them. However, still fewer people actually get beneath the surface of the water, beyond the shining reflection of the sun, to see what is inside the water. This smaller number of people might snorkel or scuba dive to get beyond the surface, to see the life and the beauty that is within the water. A small group of people have formed an edbookclub to enrich the conversation on twitter by diving deeper much like the scuba diver who tries to see the life and beauty that is within the water.
What is edbookclub?
Basically here is how it works, Kelly or I send out a tweet asking if anyone has a book that they’d like to read as part of edbookclub. These suggestions are gathered and if there isn’t consensus, then an online poll is created to see what book we will read. Once the book is selected a schedule is posted at edbookclub.com that outlines when we will discuss specific chapters. Anyone can join and people who are interested just tweet that they want to read along and we put their twitter names on the list at edbookclub.com. Then as we read the book, each member of the book club tweets their thoughts, questions, comments, connections, and respond to the ideas of others with the tag: #edbookclub. Using this tag allows others to follow the conversation about the book, it kind of threads it all together.
Interaction with Grandpa happened in fields, over chess boards and with pointed fingers. At one point about 20 years ago, Grandpa decided that he could kill two birds with one stone. He wanted to have clean fields and spend some time with his grandchildren. So Grandpa would captain his well maintained Buick into the yard to pick my brother and I up, with the back seat full of Allaer grandchildren. When the Buick would stop at a field, with a cloud of dusk in it’s wake, the doors would open and the mess of us would stumble out of the car under the hot afternoon sun. Grandpa didn’t pull weeds in the morning with the discomfort of dewy soybean leaves. He also didn’t approve of using a standard issued garden hoe. Hoes only cut off weeds, they don’t get rid of the problem. The weeds were the public enemy number one, and we were the James Bonds of weed pullers. We were told to sneak up on the velvet leafs, sneak up on the lamb quarters then pull them out at the base of the plant and carry the soon to be dead stalk to the end of the row of soybeans to throw it out of the field. These actions would surely save another soybean life. But we learned. We learned that nightshade is the enemy, that garden hoes are for the lazy and to get a weed out you needed to get it’s root. We learned not to take the weeds of life lightly and they needed to be taken out at the root.
Queen check is a term that anyone who has played chess with Grandpa has heard. When playing chess the most valuable piece is the king. If you’re king is killed, game over or ‘checkmate’. When you are about to kill your opponent’s king, you must warn them by saying the word check. It is the only piece that you must provide warning before taking. The second most valuable piece is the queen, which is a powerful piece. When immersed in a game of chess with grandpa there is likely to be a flurry of activity, which knights, rooks, and pawns darting precisely across the board. It is also likely that Grandpa will have captured most of your pieces in the process. Yet before grandpa would capture your queen he would warn you by saying ‘Queen Check’. Then promptly after pronouncing that your powerful Queen was in trouble, he would win the game. We learned playing chess with grandpa. We learned to lose. He is a merciful man who has no mercy when playing the game of kings. We learned to be honourable, to be upfront with others. We learned to compete hard but always show respect to opponents.
And have you ever had Grandpa point at you and ask to you come over to talk to him? Have you ever sat across the table from him as he pointed to you? There would be a smirk in his eye and smile beginning to unfurl on his lips. When grandpa points he has a unique crook in his finger that the pointer (grandpa) uses to confuse the pointee (you) about who he is actually pointing at. And he smiles and laughs. We smile and we laugh. We learned. We learned to not take yourself too seriously. We learned that regardless of the imperfections that you have, it is important to have the grace to laugh at yourself
He instilled a strong work ethic in his children and grandchildren. He was an example of strong faith. Grandpa thank you for being a strong example. Thank you for teaching us life’s lessons. We learned to sneak up on life’s weeds. We learned to live honourably and with grace.
The internet has changed everything. As we move toward the future, generations are beginning to grow up never knowing a world without having almost every computer in the world connected together. This idea will be threaded throughout this list of the top tools as of right now (Spring 2011). Rodd Lucier, hinted toward this in his top 10 list, and when I questioned him on choosing a program, Keynote, that only runs on one type of computer, Apple, he asked me what would be on my list. The following collection of ideas is my response to his inquiry.
Why is this list called ‘soft tools’? Specific hardware devices, hard tools, are now feeling like a personal preference (e.g., iPad vs Dell laptop, Android vs iMac). However services, apps, and programs, or soft tools, that function across different devices are increasingly important. For me, a pre-requisite for a tool to be essential is for it to be connected to the internet or as it is sometimes ambiguous called: the ‘cloud’. This was reinforced recently when I purchased a new laptop on the way to a meeting. Usually, to configure a laptop to my liking it was a multi-day process. However, I turned the laptop on for the first time as the agenda began. By the time we were reviewing minutes from previous meetings, I had connected to the internet, aka the ‘cloud’, and accessed all my documents needed for this meeting without installing anything. So here are my top tools:
#1: Cloud Notebook: Evernote
Evernote is my new notebook. I use it at all times. Previously, I used a paper Moleskine notebook religiously. Ever since setting up Evernote (yes I’m a premium member) I rarely write down things in my notebook.
One way I use Evernote:
– I rely on my notebook as an extension of my memory. Digital notetaking is something that I’ve tried from time to time with limited short term success. However, none of these solutions were long term solutions. I’ve began to use Evernote as my digital notebook, and something felt very different. The fact that my notebook (and notetaking capabilities) were available on all of my devices and computers in any location that I needed access was a key difference. My notebook might be packed in my laptop backpack, but my iPhone is in my pocket and I can find a note or make a quick jot note in that moment.
Another way I use Evernote:
– Using a paper notebook is great as it has tonnes of features: no batteries, no confusing interface issues, looking cool with my moleskine black book. However, my paper notebook had one huge limitation, to use it effectively, in this digital age, I had to use it with my laptop. Each entry is dated, so to find something in my notebook, I have to do a search in my digital calendar first then find the notes in my paper notebook. Then once I find the note, I usually find reference to digital files on my hard drive from presentation files to spreadsheets to pdfs to digital media. The only link in this chain that isn’t digital is my Moleskine notebook. Now with Evernote (the premium version) my notes are side by side with the digital artifacts by embedding all the content, files, photos of physical items, and todo checkboxes. Not to mention that time stamps, tags and search make finding items much easier.
Yes another way I use Evernote:
– The final way that I use Evernote is to share my notes with others. Sometimes I’m taking notes that affect others or need to be shared. Paper notes are quite limiting to share, but the email feature (yes, a simple email feature) allows me to quickly share notes as well as any attachments that are embedded in the note.
#2: Cloud Platform: Chrome or Web Apps within the Browser
The window to the internet is very important, it has to be fast responsive and play nicely with sites and web apps online. Each of my laptops and computers (from Dell to Sony to Apple PCs) all use the same browser. Using the same internet browser helps keep my head straight, and its minimal interface is really helpful to keep the focus on the task at hand instead of the browser itself. So if you want to use the internet as the platform that will run essential computer tasks then a safe, secure, fast, and automatically updating browser is essential. Chrome is that browser. The Chrome Web App store is the source for these web tools.
One way I use Chrome:
– One way that I’m using Chrome, on all devices is by installing common web apps such as Weebly and Tweetdeck. No longer am I asking if a program is available in Windows or Apple version. Weebly is a website building tool that is housed entirely online. This program has been what I’ve used to create the unplugd.ca site. By using a web app that runs in Chrome, I’m able to update the site quickly regardless of what computer I’m using or my current location. Tweetdeck is a tool to view and update my twitter account. By running right in the Chrome internet browser my perception is that it is faster, uses less of my computer resources and doesn’t clog my task bar or dock with another application icon.
#3: Cloud Productivity: Google Suite – Docs, Gmail, Calendar
The cloud is also a source of productivity tools, and my favourite suite of online productive tools are from Google. Google docs, email and calendar tools allow for the internet to run the program and for synchronous sharing of ideas, information, and authorship. Now I can log onto any computer and get a full suite of programs that don’t run from my laptop but from the internet. These programs are even able to run on my iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad through the internet.
One way I use Google’s suite:
– Calendar sharing is one way that I use the Google suite. I maintain a calendar and am able to share it with all those effected. I also get to see calendars from others who share with me. Previously this type of functionality was available to big corporate types with large IT teams supporting these programs. Google calendar has brought this to the ‘rest of us’.
Another way I use Google’s suite:
– Using an online suite of office tools (like word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and more) allow me to work better with others. I am able to share folders, content, and files with others who are working on other projects. Just a few of my joint projects that I use Google docs to share and jointly edit content are: my pickup hockey league, a board of directors, a department at work, volunteers part of a local 10K race committee, and a focus group that I coordinate with shared agendas. No longer is there a question about which document is the most current. No longer is there a question about who has which file. No longer is there isolation of files that could be lost if a hard drive crashed.
#4: Cloud Communications: Skype
The internet and data allows no cost voice and video communications, including group conferencing, for those with a data connection. Skype, is the new ma Bell, and has become a verb. “We need to ‘Skype’ each other” has replaced “Give me a call”. Grandparents no longer just hear their grandchildren, but see them and make eye contact. Priceless. Actually sans price. Free.
One way I use Skype:
– I have used Skype with many groups to run meetings via audio conferencing. The unplugd.ca committee uses Skype to coordinate this upcoming project with people that are at a great geographic distance without any cost. Previously, just to coordinate many people who were in different geographic regions would require a budget for communications. Now groups like the unplugd committee can bring ideas forward at no cost.
Another way I use Skype:
– Skype also allows low cost phone calls to be made to ‘traditional phones’. When on the road this is ultra handy. No longer are phone calls to my boys at the mercy of large hotel charges or cell phone long distance bills. An internet connection allows me to make these calls for pennies.
#5: Cloud Storage: Dropbox
Hard drives in ‘the sky’ are ultra important for two main reasons. Hard drives, all hard drives will die and having another copy of a document outside of the original computer means files live on after hard drives die. Wouldn’t it be great if your ‘my documents folder’ was on every computer you use? Using Dropbox the files/folders that you select are synchronized to the internet securely and to other computers of your choosing.
One way I use Dropbox:
– Cloud storage has personally saved my bacon. A few years ago I was in the midst of writing my thesis for my Master of Education. Right as I had some great content my computer died, the Apple Genius diagnosed the cause: a hard drive crash. My first thought was one of panic. What do I do? What about my thesis? I’m sunk! Then I remembered in the store that I had synchronized my thesis to an online storage space. Within 10 minutes I had my thesis downloaded. Phew.
+1 Cloud Content: Creative Commons
One more thing… the ultimate source of online content for use in a variety of circumstances is the vast online audio, images, text, and video that is licensed as ‘Creative Commons‘. This allows content to be used within the parameters that the creator outlines. That is huge. No need to be NBC to have access to media that will convey a message. No matter what computer, what program you are using, or what message you are conveying, you are able to access and use rich content from the cloud.
So there you have it, my top 5 +1 for spring 2011. I limited myself to only sharing resources that run in or use the cloud for functionality. Why? Because if it isn’t in the cloud, it might not matter. Because if it isn’t in the cloud, the tool will depend on how fast your individual computer is at the current time. Because if it isn’t in the cloud it is tied to a specific location. Sure there are specific programs that are required for specialized reasons. However, I think that the applications that most people use most should and have been proven to be in the cloud.
What is your list of top program/tools?
How have you used the tools that I have shared?