Monthly Archives: August 2015

Implementing a Paradigm Shift

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Educators who have been involved in a Professional Learning Community (PLC), Personal Learning Network (PLN), a conference or a course, may claim to have experienced a paradigm shift. Some of the buzz words associated with paradigm shifts are blended learning, project based learning, collaboration, transformational teaching, formative assessment and digital literacy.

These educators need to reflect on whether they have simply been busy gathering information on the latest and greatest thing in education or whether they are willing to do the work necessary to take what they have learned to the next critical step, implementation.  It is not enough to `talk the talk` but you have to know how to `walk the walk`. You can become an expert, be able to use all the right words, go on and on with technobabble, but you need to be able to put the ideas into action. It is easy to sit around a table and have rich conversations about paradigm shifts, it is much more difficult to put the theory into practice.

We need to move from a culture of `potential` to a culture of `kinetic`, the science teacher in me speaking. As leaders of change, regardless of your profession,  you will find that there may be obstacles to implementation.

  1. People are tired. They want to continue with what they are doing because something new most often translates into more work. You have to be able to show people that what you would like to implement will actually decrease their workload, benefit them in some way, make their life in the classroom easier and more enjoyable while at the same time be beneficial to their students. This is where communication and modeling are crucial.  As a leader, you need to be willing to go into the classroom, model the lesson, team teach with the teacher so they can see your vision.leadership-quotes-L-a7nvc4
  2. People are sensitive. So many teachers have been teaching the same way for many years and have had success. When you introduce a change it may be met with the old adage “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it!” It can be quite difficult to overcome the inertia of “But we have always done it this way.” A paradigm shift should not imply that what people have been doing is wrong in any way, it should be introduced as a way of improving on what is being done. There is always room for improvement, growth. The question needs to be asked, If we continue to teach our students the way we have taught them in the past, are we truly preparing them for the future now?
  3. People are apprehensive. If you are interested in implementing new technology, you have to be able to provide the necessary equipment, the bandwidth to support the use, the training to use the devices and show that what you plan to implement has substance. So many times you hear “But you make it look easy”, “I am not that great with computers”. You must allow for time. Time for teachers to learn about the technology. Teachers, like students, learn at different rates, have different levels of prior knowledge and different comfort zones. Leaders need to be aware of this and be willing to provide the time and support necessary before implementation. Leaders need to check in with teachers on their progress and be available to provide support. Teachers need to feel confident before they implement technology. Their level of confidence will have a direct impact on successful implementation.
  4. People need ongoing communication. Leaders must make a commitment to ongoing communication, a regular meeting time to discuss the program and its implementation. Teachers will need to have opportunity to discuss what is working, what isn’t and most importantly, the impact on student learning. A paradigm shift cannot be viewed as “The Flavor of the Month” if you wish to see action.

As a leader, it is your job to create the “buy-in” associated with a paradigm shift. You have to be prepared to do the work that is necessary, communicate your vision clearly and concisely and sometimes have difficult conversations with naysayers. No one ever said it would be easy.

Have you had a paradigm shift?

How would you create the “buy-in”?

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Benefits of a PLN

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This summer, as you may know if you have read my earlier blog entries, I have been exploring the use of digital media. This has lead to my building and continuing to build a PLN. The catalyst for my PLN journey was the Short Course which I participated in early in July at UBC.

What is a PLN? It is a Personalized Learning Network.

It is Personalized because you choose what you want to learn about, how you want to learn, when, where and with whom. For me this has meant connecting with teachers, administrators, professors and leaders from around the world. People participate in discussions about what is going on in their country, city, classroom, lives. They share expertise and post comments or links to educational articles and videos. This network of people is available at any time throughout the day, every day and you decide when and if you wish to participate. Sometimes you may wish to simply read comments, other times you may wish to join in, either way, its your personal decision.

The Learning involves sharing ideas, resources and stories through the use of various media. This may involve platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, blogging, TedTalks, Webinars…the list goes on and on. Regardless of the tools chosen, the key to the learning is collaboration.

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The Network is the global community of people that are available to share their diverse perspectives. Different time zones can pose a challenge at times but the effort to establish connections is well worth it.  In George Siemens’ article on Connectivism, he cites :

We derive our competence from forming connections. Karen Stephenson states: “Experience has long been considered the best teacher of knowledge. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. ‘I store my knowledge in my friends’ is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people (undated).”

I have been in education for over 20 years and I have attended my fair share of Professional Development seminars and workshops. Some have been very helpful but many have left me feeling that my time could have been better spent. The most valuable lessons I have ever learned about education and leadership have come from listening to colleagues talk about what has worked and what hasn’t worked for them. Building a PLN has enabled me to blow this concept wide open. I now have access to resources, links, websites, videos… through colleagues that I interact with from around the world.

The platforms that I have been focused on is Twitter. I enjoy the social element and the opportunity to participate in live chats with people who are eager to share ideas and are looking to grow within their profession. I understand that some people may view this as too much of a time commitment in their busy lives. Some people do not like the idea of joining a social network such as Twitter and putting their words out there for the world to see. Some people will dismiss the idea of building a PLN altogether and perhaps call me a nerd. But, to these people I say, give it a try. Sure, building a PLN is not a one time thing, its a mindset. It does take a time commitment, it does take courage to put your words out there for potential criticism, it does take the willingness to learn new skills, but isn’t that what we ask of our students all the time? Shouldn’t we be willing to take risks and by doing so, encourage others to do the same?

If you want to know how to go about building a PLN there are many sites which will help you to start and see the process through. For myself, I gradually became an active member of the Twitter community. I started out by simply reading Tweets and following people that seemed to share my interests: education, professional development, didactics, pedagogy and leadership. This led to retweeting, writing my own tweets, designing my own twitter posts using apps such as Canva, participating in live chats, reading blogs and writing a blog of my own. 

I have learned so much through the experience, personally and professionally, and along the way have developed so many skills in digital literacy. I encourage those of you who want to take part in a positive learning culture and benefit both yourself and others along the way, to give it a try. The sharing of struggles and successes is an empowering experience.

Journey of Discovery

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Recently I watched a Ted talk by Ramsey Musallam called “3 Rules to Spark Learning”. It was recommended to me by my husband who, knowing my love of Chemistry, thought I would enjoy Musallam’s integration of Chemistry into his message. So I settled in to enjoy the show, so to speak. Musallam uses the occasional explosion during his talk for two reasons, to grab your attention and to strengthen his message about the sparking of deep cycles of learning.

During my 23 years as a teacher I have enjoyed doing the same thing. The curiosity that is sparked when you show a classroom of students an explosion is electric. Students want you to show it again and ask to take pictures of the demo so they can show their family and friends. As a chemistry teacher, this is music to your ears. Students are excited and want to share what they have learned! My favorite demo was always one which I set up with seven different pieces of glassware, six of which appeared empty. I would tell the students a story of a day that I was very thirsty and couldn’t decide on what I wanted I drink so I kept changing my mind. The demo had them wondering what I would make next by pouring the contents of one container into the next and so on as the liquid appeared to change from water to kool-aid to water to 7-Up to milk to Pepto-Bismol. At first, some students thought it was magic but then they would ask why the liquids changed, how did I do it? I could then give clues and their Chemistry knowledge would lead them to the answers. It was so rewarding!

I can relate to Mussallam and his journey as an educator. So many of the things he talks about are things that I believe. For example, the importance of cultivating curiosity. Teachers need to be curious in order to take risks and students need to be curious to facilitate inquiry. Teaching is not about the content, it’s not about giving students the answers so they can give those answers back to you on a test at the end of the unit. It’s not about using technology to present these answers in a pretty, bulleted list that you transpose into a PowerPoint. It’s about the questions that students ask when you present them with a perplexing problem. It’s about the discussions that follow when you step back and allow student voices to be heard. It’s about the student who shows up early to class or stays late to discuss with you a “What if?” question that came up at the dinner table last night, one that their family has been pondering because of yesterday’s lesson. When curiosity spills out of the classroom and into the hallways of the school and into the homes of your students, that’s when you as a teacher feel it, that feeling of success.

I also believe that it is valuable to bring your students with you on your own journey of learning, risk taking and discovery. I recall on day, in my Science 9 class when I decided that I wanted to use my iPad as a document camera. So, I grabbed two ring stands, an old binder and two buret clamps and built myself a sketchy stand on which to mount my iPad. I did this with a class of 30 students watching as I explained to them what I wanted to accomplish and how I thought I could do it. The class watched and commented, almost instantly dividing themselves into three camps. One which was sure I would fail, one (rather small camp) who believed it would work and the outliers, who were not willing to commit to either side just yet. Once my stand was complete I attached my iPad to the stand and to my projector as the class waited to see if I would be successful. I turned on the document camera app and placed a flower beneath the camera. To my delight, the flower appeared on the screen and the class went up in applause! The kids were (almost) happier than I was that it had worked. I explained to them how we could use this in class to share student work, to enable the entire class to get a clear view of objects that I wanted to share with them as I placed a large preserved insect beneath the camera and it appeared on the screen. I worked through a problem with the class and the students exclaimed that it was like watching a YouTube video! Of course I had a few who wanted to put their faces under the camera so the class could see them on the screen.

But the best thing that happened that day was that the students became part of the process. They witnessed, as Musallam puts it, the “messy process of trial and error.” They saw that I was willing to take the risk of failing in front of an entire class. Some of them later asked me if I was ever scared that it wouldn’t work? I said  “Of course, but I had to try and I believed that I could do it.” They left that day, talking about what had happened. I could hear them talking to their friends in the hallway about what I had done and how cool it was. That they couldn’t believe that it would work but it did! Several also suggested, on their way out the door, ways that I could strengthen my stand so that my Ipad would not fall off and get damaged. The evolution of the stand continued as my husband fashioned one from an old overhead projector, some of you may remember those. Then ended in my ordering a proper one online. I went on to use my iPad as a document camera for many applications but I will always remember that day when 31 people went on a journey of discovery together.

Because I’m All About the … Questions

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Some of the most valuable professional development that I have experienced recently has been online. One blog post by Jenny Froehle has gotten me to thinking about the questions I ask students. In her blog, Jenny Froehle challenges us to rethink the questions that we typically ask students at the beginning of the school year. While we may be beyond the “What did you do this summer?” question, some questions that we do ask are simply “icebreakers” in nature and give us tiny glimpses into a students life. What we need to consider are more meaningful questions, the kind that lead to deeper thinking, questions that get students poised to orient themselves in the world.

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She suggests modifying questions, for example:

Instead of “What did you do this summer?”, ask “What did you learn or learn to do this summer?”

Instead of “What do you want me to know about you?”, ask “What do you want the world to know and think about you? Now and in the future.”

Instead of “What do you like?”, ask “What do you want to learn more about?”

Instead of “Tell me about your pets.”, “Tell me about what’s on your bookshelf, Kindle, iPod, app list, blog, Twitter feed and what does that tell me about you as a person?”

These are the kinds of questions that will get students thinking, engaged in conversations, provide a deeper insight to who they are, what is important to them.

In her Tedx talk, teacher Shelley Wright speaks about a transformational time in her teaching career. Shelley had been a teacher who stood in front of her classroom, looking out at straight rows of students and lectured, because, as she says,

she “…(W)as the center of the universe.”

She taught like that because that’s what she knew, how she was taught, how she learned. But, while participating in her Masters Program, learning about inquiry, PBL and constructivism, she was inspired to try a new approach, one which would make the students the center of their learning. So one day she garnered the courage to step away from her lesson plan and take a risk.

She asked her students the question,

“If you could create your own school, what would it look like content-wise, in practice, even in spatial lay-out?”

She tells us that her students had plenty of ideas to offer her, but the underlying theme, she willingly admits was “Stop Being Boring.”  She laughs about how her students told her “We don’t mind that you lecture but maybe not quite so much.” The discussions that followed led to her reconfiguring her classroom to promote student discussion. The class sat on the floor in a circle with learning pods on the outside and from the discussions that followed, Shelley learned that her students  “…wanted to make a difference.”

Out of this single question came a journey which ended in the raising of over $20 000 in 45 days for a charity in Uganda. Sure, they had their ups and downs along the way, but they learned so much from the rollercoaster experience, like how to persevere, pivot and plug through. But the most important lessons learned were not about the challenges involved in fundraising, but the underlying, more meaningful lessons that Shelley and her students learned in the process. Shelley learned to believe in her students and, more importantly, the students learned to believe in themselves. She tells us that throughout the experience, her students had a saying, “We are not the future, we are right now!”

Now, I’m not saying that you need to start fundraising. What I am saying is that maybe we need to consider the types of questions we ask students. We need not focus so much on providing answers, but rather focus more on providing questions. We need to talk less and listen more. We need to find out what is important to our students and help them to see that they can make a difference. We need to provide students with opportunities which will allow them to develop new skills, to thrive, to be active participants in the now. As Shelley Wright mentions, one boy in her class, who rarely ever spoke, became that student who was out and about in the community, asking for donations. The opportunity was provided for this student to be a part of something he was passionate about and it ignited a fire in him.

Thought provoking questioning can lead to powerful lessons.

What are some thought provoking questions you would like to implement?

Putting Yourself First

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So many of us have been led to believe that in order to be successful, to be seen by others as a good person, we must put the needs of others before our own. A parent puts the needs of their children first, a teacher puts the needs of their students first, a leader puts the needs of their team first. We need to be more selfless…. really? Now, before you unfollow me, unfriend me or report me to the morality police, hear me out. I am not a terrible person, I am simply questioning whether selflessness is the way to go. Shouldn’t we be looking at what is best for ourselves first so that we have something left to give the others in our lives.

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This is not to say that we are self-absorbed, selfish or self-indulgent but that we are acknowledging the need for self-care. So what can we do to ensure that we taking care of ourselves, recharging our batteries, so to speak? Many people hold out until holidays to relax and recharge. This is why many of us have experienced illness the very day that our holidays are about to begin! Our daily lives are so filled with duties and expectations that we seem to have no time to succumb to illness. But as soon as the clock indicates that vacation is about to begin, its like a switch is thrown and our body shouts “Welcome Vacation!” Unfortunately our immune system does the same thing and the first few days of vacation are spent in complete misery. In order to avoid this we need to make sure that we are recharging regularly.

  1. Sleep is essential. Research continues to tell us that 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep are required for the body and mind to function at optimum levels. For myself, I can do quite well on 5-6 hours and we all know people who are dependent on 9 or more. But whatever your personal requirement may be, try to get that, consistently. Put the electronics away, darken the room and try to get a good quality sleep. Ten minutes of meditation before turning in for the night can help to clear your mind and facilitate a sound sleep. I learned this last one from my 14 year old daughter, one of the most balanced people I know.
  2. Enjoy nature. No matter where you live, make time to get outside. This may be a walk around the block, a hike in a mountain, a run along the beach, a bike ride in a park, but whatever it is, try to do it, regularly.
  3. Quiet time. Take a little time each day, just for yourself. Alone. No interruptions. Whether it be in the morning, afternoon or evening, whatever works best for you. For me, it is worth it to get up a half an hour before everyone else in my family to enjoy my coffee in the peace of the morning. Sitting on the deck, listening to the birds chirp, the wind in the trees and the smell of the clean fresh air. This helps me to relax and prepare for the noise of the day. Even when I am on vacation I get up early to explore the coffee shops in the area, try to get a seat by a window and watch the world go by.
  4. Exercise. Move your body, your mind will thank you.
  5. Read. Reading can educate, elevate and empower you. Whether you read for business or pleasure, find a good book or an article about something that interests you or that you wish to learn about, go to a quiet place and enjoy.
  6. Listen to Music. Music can help you to relax and it can also help to energize you. Whatever the type of music, turn it on, turn it up and sing along. So many people I have met will say, “I used to play the ___ years ago”, I am one of those people, I used to play guitar and piano. Well, why not start playing again? If you’ve never played a musical instrument, challenge yourself, take lessons or watch a video online to learn how. Its never too late!
  7. Stay Connected. So many of us find that our day to day living can get in the way of those relationships which we once held so dear. Find time for the important people in your life, schedule them in and do not cancel. These people help to fuel your energy, make you laugh and are there to listen when you need it. Forget the toxic people who demand of your time, take your energy and offer no positive return.

I’m sure we all know people who are great at all of these things, maybe you are one of those people, and if so I applaud you. But I admit, I am a work in progress and am still trying to work all of these things into my routine. If you are like me, pick two or three things from the list and once they become part of your routine, add another and so on. Most of all, do not feel guilty for putting yourself first!

What do you do to recharge your batteries?