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.”

Learning and Influence

This post is from Mary Palin, Tribes Master and was originally posted at

forkinroadTo learn requires ‘influence’; to influence others requires knowledge (a synonym for ‘learning’).

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.

Local CallIt’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.

7-29-05 SlatsJust 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’

she's not zulu I don’t want to do anything stupid or embarrassing or wrong. But if I want to learn, then I have to risk making mistakes, being challenged, and defending my actions and reasons.

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…”

How ‘influential”!
Joris holds court

Top 5 Soft Tools (as of Spring 2011):

Bowl of cloudsThe 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

Evernote2Evernote 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

ChromeThe 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 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

Create a New Form in Google DocsThe 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

skype 2 videoThe 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 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

Dropbox LogoHard 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.

cloud computingSo 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.

Your thoughts?
What is your list of top program/tools?
How have you used the tools that I have shared?

Professional Learning Games: The Network That Plays Together Stays Together

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dee for three by romsrini, on Flickr

Each March there is a special time that captivates me. For a Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday I follow games from teams that I’ve never heard with players that I’ll never see again. There is something about the drama of a game. I’m not really into basketball, I prefer football, hockey, and baseball before basketball. However there is something that captivates me about this tournament.


What if a single elimination tournament came to professional learning? That is the idea behind the first ever educational Professional Learning Game (PLG) on Twitter. The person behind this is Rodd Lucier, you may know him as the Cleversheep, who also pioneered synchronous education professional chat on twitter with educhat well before the dozens or hundreds of current incarnations that live in twitter land today.

What is it?

The 31daygame is the first ever education Professional Learning Game. Where participants use twitter to “make a forced choice between the two competing ed’n themed videos. Which is the most compelling?” Over 31 days, the tournament will take place on twitter with the winner of each day moving on to the next round. (Here is the tournament bracket).

Untitled by Jess Rivera, on Flickr
Why it matters:

First, it is time to stop taking ourselves so seriously. The game context is interesting, and may keep the attention of people, who like me, enjoy tournaments, sport, and gaming. Are we going to have to make a choice? Yes. Will that hurt feelings? I hope not. I can take myself too seriously, especially online. This game is a way to bring playfulness into professional learning and do it in a social context. Lets adapt a saying from my childhood which was, ‘the family that plays together stays together’. What if we developed the principal that “the professional network that plays together stays together”?

The droids we're googling for by Stéfan, on Flickr

The second reason this matters is that it helps to uncover and expose us to more valuable content and ideas. Have you noticed that the internet is a huge place? There is too much to see and miss lots of this ‘stuff’? A professional learning game that forces us to choose between two items means that we need to consider both items. Ever tried to google search for ‘education videos’? I have, it is brutal. But if I play the 31 day game, I’ll be seeing 32 different piece of content (about something like education videos) that may be useful to me in my practice.

Her rash hand in evil hour by valkyrieh116, on Flickr
The professional learning game doesn’t just expose us to content, it helps find interesting content. Curation, which is often discussed by Jeff Jarvis, is something that the online education community needs. How do we cut through the clutter of google to find items of value? Must we rely on traditional educational curators, like publishers, researchers, and government organizations? In the information age, there is a greater need for curation. A professional learning game that harnesses the opinions of other educators may be a helpful curator and make online content more accessible to a wider audience of educators.

Finally, the most important thing about a professional learning game is that making a choice leads to reflection and professional understanding. The question, especially since the votes are in public, becomes what do I value and why? Am I willing to publicly commit to a choice, and what does that say about my professional identity? The criteria for making the choice is based on the purposefully ambiguous term: “compelling”. Since the criteria is not defined clearly externally, it is within each of us. As we vote, we uncover our own criteria that we value that is exposed when we make a choice.

So this March you will find me sitting on a couch with some popcorn kernels in the bottom of a bowl, and a laptop open beside me. I’ll be watching games involving 2 teams I’ve never seen before in the wee hours of the morning fueled by a half empty glass of Coke Zero and the adrenaline from the game. However, the laptop will be on the 31daygame. I’ll be watching education videos, making choices, reflecting, uncovering new learning and all while I’m playing a game.

Ears in the Water: Assessment for Improvement

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about the impact of assessments that are based on criteria versus percentiles and norms.  My thoughts about how all assessments don’t equally help students improve were kick started with smell of chlorine, beside the flutter boards at the local community pool.

The din of mothers with their babies and preschoolers splashing in the pool accent most Saturday mornings at the local pool.  Mothers and tots are led through actions and an awkward singing of such classics as ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ and ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’.  During these mornings you will find me sitting against a wall near the shallow end, with a towel on my lap, watching my four year old learning to swim.

Boris zwemlesThere are several parents, each living vicariously through the 5 little guys kicking, jumping, and splashing in front of us.   I know it is silly, but each time my son is asked to do a front glide or a back float with the teacher my attention builds and I mentally ‘will’ him to do well.  Each kick and turn leads me to hope that he will have improved since the last lesson. The parents act like a support group.  Red faces are evident when their child refuses to attempt something and each person has uttered the phrase, ‘it is weird, he loves the water when we are at free swim’.  After we all look away for the requisite moment, we murmur ‘it’s OK’ and ‘it gets better’ to the parent.  And when the teenage instructor handed my child a piece of paper that had water drops and smudges by the time it arrived on my lap, it only took a second to realize what it was.  My son had just received his first report card, although this was his mid-term swimming report.

The mid-term report card had about 20 different items listed and each was rated as complete, needs improvement, or incomplete.  I pretended not to care.  I tried not to look at it, you know it isn’t that big of deal.

What if the report had stated that Liam, my son, was in the 60th percentile of swimming proficiency for children his age?  How would I know how he could improve?  How would he know how to improve? I’m not sure the bell curve would have helped Liam.

Instead the report focused on specific skills that needed to be improved.  These were combined with what feedback the teacher gave to Liam during class to develop the criteria that will help him become a better swimmer.  It could have been said that he has a few areas to improve. But he was told he needed to improve on his back float and back glide. This was combined with what I’d overheard to be: Liam on your back float and glide, you need your ears in the water, your chin up, and your chest up.

Guess what?  The next week, for the first time this course when he tried the back float, his ears were in the water.  The teacher then just asked him to put his chin up and chest up.  Which he quickly remembered and did. As he splashed back to the side of the pool, his eyes searched for mine.  He pointed to his ears while his teeth were exposed with a large grin as water dripped down his face.

Bell CurveI was reminded that when reporting student achievement to parents, ranking isn’t as hopeful or productive as criteria.  With criteria we can improve, we can make a difference.  Clear criteria as someone learns starts a conversation. A conversation that that person has internally as they attempt to apply their learning and is followed up with people around them.

Liam knew what he needed to do to improve in the moment.  He wasn’t perfect, but he was improving by applying the criteria.  Is that a key principal for learning? Understanding the criteria that will help us improve?  If the teacher and the learner don’t know the criteria, how can we learn?

Thumbs up Jacob.Liam doesn’t care what percentile he is in, but his smile showed a deep self satisfaction with his improvement.  His smile was met with a thumbs up from me.
Ears in the water, check.



Photo Credits:

Boris zwemles by ianus, on Flickr

Bell Curve by vlasta2

Thumbs up Jacob. by thejesse

Unplug’d: Canadian Education Summit

Click here to listen to a dramatic reading of this post by the author.

There is a guy I know, named Rodd.  He had a skype chat with me this past summer and offered a number of interesting ideas:

So, what would happen if educators from across Canada who were doing compelling things in the 21st century all got together in one physical location?  Not a chat room, a skype conference or a google doc, but actually face to face.


And what would happen if these educators not only met face to face, but also unplugged?  The focus of the time would be  on the interaction with leaders  in front of them and not connected to the grid.


Wouldn’t it be interesting to take a train up to a natural treasure, Algonquin Park, within the Canadian wilderness where the event will take place?  This summit’s location and activities would develop into a product and the product would reflect the participant’s interaction within this wilderness.

This conversation was followed up with additional skype calls that included folks named Alec, Dean, Tom, Bill, Darren and Zoe.  The result is an event we are calling, “Unplugd” (


Are you interested in being part of this event?

  • Do you attempt to use innovative practices in teaching and learning?
  • Are you interested in deepening your relationships with other innovative and creative educators?
  • Would you collaborate with teachers across Canada and become part of this larger group?

Invitations will be distributed in March/April 2011.

If this event is for you, let us know who you are.

That guy I know, named Rodd and a few other compelling folks will be unplugging to tell stories, deepen relationships, and share experiences.  The more I talk with these folks, the more interested I get.

So, what would happen if educators from across Canada who were doing compelling things in the 21st century all got together in one physical location?

What might happen? Something worth being a part of.

What if “Educon” was a Franchise?

This weekend Educon 2.3 occurred in Philadelphia.  All the edu-twitterati, who are hip at all, were at this educational mecca.  I, however, was not there.  My participating was limited to online tweets and watching some streams since I was presenting at Infusion 2011 in North Bay, Ontario.  However, I love the concept of Educon (and my experience attending last year confirmed my love).

I fell in love with Educon.  I did not fall in love with Educon because of the people, although the people attending are wonderful.   I did not fall in love with Educon because of the riveting sessions, although some of the sessions truly were captivating and built my thinking.  I did not fall in love with Educon because of the food, although Philly cheese steaks could be my early death if I lived there.  I fell in love with Educon because it’s context enforces truth, authenticity, and real discussion.

Educon occurs at a school, Science Leadership Academy (SLA) to be exact, and its Principal lead a team that practices what they preach.  The students aren’t just on ‘show’.  Attendees interact with students.  Students interact with attendees.  Basically, no exaggeration allowed.  You see what SLA is and what it is not.  No myth of perfection.  Just the refreshing view of reality and how one school is trying to serve the needs of students.  The beauty isn’t in the perfection, it is in the reality.

Educon had gotten me to think: what if all conferences used this model.  What if all of our conference learning was placed within the context of a school and included the students.  That is the discussion that emerged this afternoon on Twitter.  Below are the tweets that discussed this with @akamrt, @robwall, and I.  As usual, the tweets are in reverse chronological order, so read from the bottom up.

What Would Yoda Do? An eBook

Update: August 7, 2010. Paper accepted for publication in the upcoming edition of
Journal of Curriculum & Pedagogy, Perspectives: The Digital, 7(2).
Initiating Collaborators: Rodd Lucier (@thecleversheep), Ben Hazzard (@benhazzard) and Kathy Hibbert (@khibbert)

Reflecting On and Imagining Professional Development for Teachers in the Digital Age

A week ago, Rodd Lucier, Kathy Hibbert, and I put out a call for submissions via twitter for educators to contribute to an e-book about professional development for teachers. These ideas were considered, and sorted into themes that emerged. The final product, which can be viewed below, has been submitted to the Journal of Curriculum & Pedagogy for inclusion in an upcoming edition. Beyond the content of the final product, the process of actively engaging in a collaborative writing experience was a key source of my learning.

View the ‘e-book’ below. I strongly suggest that you use the ‘full screen option’.
What Would Yoda Do? A Jedi Approach to Professional Development

What Would Yoda Do?

Reflecting On and Imagining Professional Development for Teachers in the Digital Age

A recent ‘call for submissions’ by the Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, prompted three of us interested in the influence of ‘the digital’ on curriculum and pedagogy to convene a meeting and discuss how we might contribute to this conversation. Individually, we work in our own contexts (schools, school districts and university settings) to navigate the amorphous digital culture in ways that allow us to integrate emerging technologies into our classrooms and our professional lives in purposeful ways.

We decided that in many ways, a ‘call for submissions’ was really the academic version of crowdsourcing amongst a community of scholars. With that in mind, we have elected to further crowdsource the ‘call’ in the form of a question posed to our broader community of educational colleagues, thereby leveraging our various social media networks in ways that embody cultural participation and co-creation. As such, all participants will be viewed not as ‘subjects’ of a study but as co-authors of the resulting product.

A framework has been developed in order to focus the contributions around the status of professional development in education. In keeping with the spirit of ‘embodied practice’, we aim to create a slideshare presentation by remixing the content provided by participants. Embracing the participatory culture afforded through networked communication, we are starting with the simple question: What Would Yoda Do?

To this end, we invite members of our collective social networks to participate on or before Saturday, May 22, 2010:

Step 1: Review images shared by Stephan through Creative Commons on Flikr called Stormtroopers 365 (

Step 2: Consider a caption, comment, quote, or personal words of wisdom for one or more of the photographs that reflects:
· Current ‘pet peeves’ you have with current professional development experiences;
· Possibilities for re-imagining professional development that is socially and intellectually engaging.

Step 3: Tweet your caption, comment, quote, or personal words of wisdom on the topic of ‘professional development’ using the hashtag #wwyd
Note: Rather than restating a favourite quote from another source, we’re looking for original messages.

Step 4: Tweet a link to the image (from the Stormtroopers 365 photoset) that you’d like us to use in referencing your tweet. Be sure to include the hashtag #wwyd

We will collate and organize submissions received, and then generate a slidedeck composed of the contributions. Our emerging thoughts in light of the current state of professional development in education, will be framed in response to our metaphorical question, What would Yoda do? Note that selected submissions will be published under a Creative Commons License CC BY-NC 3.0
Sample slide:

Initiating Collaborators: Rodd Lucier (@thecleversheep), Ben Hazzard (@benhazzard) and Kathy Hibbert (@khibbert)