Students as Inspiration for Innovation

Earlier this month I joined the #tlap chat with guest moderator George Couros (@gcouros) where we discussed his book, Innovator’s Mindset.  During the chat, George posed the following question.

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I spent time thinking about all of the people that inspire me day after day.  I was worried that I would choose one person over another, but then it came to me in a way that this group of people always inspire me.

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Students Inspire Me!

In my role I have the honor to be in multiple classrooms at multiple levels.  I begin my time with students by listening to their voice, observing their interactions with each other, and interactions with the tools, both digital and non-digital.  They are my constant source of innovation motivation and bring purpose to the work that I do.  Spending time with them brings me clarity of the why and when I am struggling with a decision I try to get into a classroom as soon as possible.

A month ago I wrote a blog post about the ecosystem of optimal learning.  When I am observing and interacting with students I keep coming back to this whole idea of looking at how we use tools and resources as an ecosystem for learning.  As staff, our role is to make decisions of how to best utilize the human, non-digital, and digital resources so we are providing the optimal learning environment for students to help them as readers, writers, researchers, thinkers, and creators.  To accomplish this great feat we need to listen for when these resources would strengthen the learning we want students to do.   There isn’t a rule and it varies from student to student.  Our ability to be self-reflective while we are listening and observing through the eyes of the students we serve will provide an atmosphere for growth with purpose.

The key is to listen to students.  They will guide the way.  I have found they always do.

One Word for 2016 – Empower

Last week I reread my post from last year, My Word for 2015 – Perspective. As I reflected on my words from a year ago I found that my aspirations of running a half marathon didn’t happen, but the impact that my word of perspective was greater than I had predicted both professionally and personally. For example, I spent a week living my work life with the same level of digital access as the students that I serve and was floored by the clarity that it brought me in my work (Lessons Learned from “Living it Like a Student”).  Looking at the decisions we make through the eyes of students is incredible, and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.

For the last couple of weeks I have been thinking about my one word for 2016.  What word would have an impact on multiple aspects of my life?  What word would take me on a journey where I could learn and grow? What do I want to focus on?  Then it became clear to me that the word needed to be for others.  How could my actions impact other people in my life?  

Empower is my word for 2016. 

When I was reading definitions of Empower in multiple dictionaries I found two concepts that spoke to me.  First, it is to give someone the power to do something.  Second, was to make someone stronger and more confident. What a gift it is to focus on supporting others to get stronger and more confident in what they do. I want to…

  • Empower others to believe in themselves.
  • Empower others to see technology as a tool in an ecosystem of learning where learning is at the forefront.  
  • Empower others to see learning with digital tools with a growth mindset.
  • Empower students to have a voice in their learning.
  • Empower others to see their work through the eyes of the learners we serve.

The difference in this year from previous years is that I will see the impact of this one word through the actions of others.  I will need to listen, observe, and reflect on the level of empowerment I am giving.  Are my words and actions allowing people to get stronger and more confident? I am looking forward to the possibilities.

What is your one word for 2016?

Ecosystem of Optimal Learning

There is a lot on my mind.  I am thinking about learners in a world that is not the same as the world I learned in while I was in school.  Technology and information was scarce and our understanding of learning was in a different place.  Now, we continue to learn more about learning everyday and information is coming at a rapid rate using tools that allow it to be at our fingertips instantly. In education we are at a place where the landscape of schools is at an interesting place.

Challenge or opportunity?

One of the books I am reading is Never Send a Human to do a Machine’s Job by Yong Zhao and a team of writers. The intriguing quality of the book is the collaborative work in the book.  In chapter one they talk about the relationship between technology and teachers.  The quote I keep coming back to is on page 13.

One of the reasons that this quote intrigues me is because the hierarchy conversation has been going on for so long.  It happened when radio and television came out.  Why do we think that technology will replace the teacher, the paper, or the conversation?  How might we shift the conversation to looking at the strengths that come from all of the resources that we have available?  How can we harness the understanding of learning to determine the interrelationships of resources that will make for the most of what Zhao calls the “optimal learning environment”?  As I said, I have a lot on my mind.

When I think through this whole idea of ecosystem I think about how I can help staff I work with.  It is a disruption in the way we think about tools we have available.  Here is a table I have been working on and am looking for feedback.  The first column is where we can look at the learning that we want for our students.  After are three columns to facilitate thought around the resources we have available to us in the ecosystem of our classrooms and schools.

  • The human resources represents how can we harness the capabilities and talents that we have as learners (kids and adults).  What strengths do we have as people that will provide for an optimal learning environment? This could be conversation, discourse, critical thinking, feedback, etc.
  • The non-digital resources represent the school supplies that have been a standard in our classrooms (notebooks, pencils, chart paper, etc.). How do we harness the strengths of these resources in that optimal learning environment?
  • The digital resources represents the technology tools that allow us to do things that would strengthen the learning environment because it may not be able to be done with the human or non-digital resources.  It may also allow us to strengthen the human connection or make the non-digital resources more accessible.

The power of this conversation, to me, is when we take the strengths of multiple resources for that interrelationship.  For example, we may have an amazing conversation around a math concept that we record on chart paper in class.  To make it more available to students so they can come back to it I could take a picture of the chart and post it for my students to access.  We have harnessed the strengths of multiple resources for an optimal learning environment,.

What are your thoughts?  I would love to hear what you think.

Final Reflection of The Innovator’s Mindset – Making yourself Visible, Allowing yourself to be Vulnerable

It has been an honor to take the time to read George Couros’ book, The Innovator’s Mindset.  The learning has been refreshing while being familiar, challenging while being empowering, and self-reflective while being empathetic.  I would recommend it to all staff because of its ability to connect each other and our ideas while placing students at the center of everything we do.  

What struck me as I was completing the book was the importance of making yourself visible.  It isn’t because you will have all of these followers or likes, but because it provides a platform that forces you to think deeper about your work.  As I am writing this, I am constantly reflecting on what I learned as I was reading the book and how I am going to apply it moving forward.  George’s description of blogging as a portfolio of your reflective practice and work is incredibly powerful.  The power doesn’t come in the actual product, but in the thinking, reflecting, and processing that comes from creating that post, uploading work, and thinking about that lesson or situation.  In the work I do I find amazing teachers and students that have stories that could make an impact on others.  On page 177, George challenges us with, “What if all teachers Tweeted once a day about something they did in their classrooms and took five minutes to read each other’s Tweets?”  That kind of collaborative environment will help everyone, but mostly it will help you because it is a platform to constantly reflect on your practice to improve.  It is about small shifts and continuous improvement.  As I have said many times, “It is about progression, not perfection.”  

Making yourself visible is about having the courage to allow yourself to be vulnerable.  This, to me, is the key that is not talked about enough and George models it in the book and in his online presence.  He shares his struggles, celebrations, and learning.  As I am working with staff and students I am honest  when I don’t know something.  I troubleshoot alongside the staff and students I serve.  That is because I want them to see that I struggle at times too and how I respond when it happens.  By being my vulnerable self I have found that relationships are strengthened and people are empowered to work through their own struggles.  For me, I get to be my authentic self in all of the work that I do and that is extremely important to me.  In the past, I hid my authentic self because I didn’t want to show the kinks in my armor.  All it did was confuse and isolate me which was no good for anyone, especially the people I worked with. One of my favorite picture books is The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Prett and Gary Rubinstein because the authors do such an amazing job of showing how allowing yourself to be vulnerable and visible opens up your world to new learning.  

If you are looking for your next book to read, look no further.  Read George’s book, blog about your thinking as you are reading, and be your vulnerable self.  You will never regret it.

Thank you George for inspiring me!

Reflection #2 of The Innovator’s Mindset- Looking at our work as Design Thinkers

As I have been reading The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros I am drawn to his thinking on using what we know and understand to generate new thinking.   A couple of years ago I read Creative Confidence  by Tom and David Kelley and as I read, my thinking around the work I do with staff, students, and parents was forever changed.  They expressed that by utilizing empathy to drive your work makes it more purposeful, meaningful, and will change the world.  Honestly, it makes it about those that you serve instead of about you.  Education is about people…every time.  We can get hung up on the details and lose sight of the why or who we serve without self-reflection.  I try to take time each day to look back through the eyes of who I work with.  George’s writing continues to remind me of this thinking.

George describes in Chapter 1 the idea of teacher as designer by looking at designing experiences based on the needs of the learner.  This requires a shift in the way we have traditionally looked at curriculum, instruction, and differentiation.  As educators we traditionally understand the content and learning theory that provides the students the optimal atmosphere for them to grow and develop in their understanding of information and how to apply it to new understanding.  It is complex, but my question is do we make it more complex by trying to simplify it to meet the needs of all learners instead of looking through the eyes of each learner to start the process of connecting based on where they are at?  Would the complex become more clear if we began with the learners at the center and beginning of the process?  I believe so and am reminded of this the more I work with remarkable people that put learners (regardless of age) in the center of decision making.  From a professional development standpoint, I have found this same approach to be incredibly powerful.  I believe every person is on a learning journey and I have the honor to be part of it.  My role is to continue the growth and deepening of understanding.  

I have a paper hanging at my workstation.  It is from a design thinking kit for educators from Design Thinking for Educators (http://www.designthinkingforeducators.com). It reads, “If you remember only a few things…”  One of the things is “You are a designer.” and it goes on to describe the importance of listening to your stakeholders and be inspired to design for them.  Whenever I struggle with decision making in my work I go to one place for clarity, the classroom.  Most of my time spent in these classrooms is me listening and observing learners and their interactions with each other, the teacher, and the tools they are using for their learning.  It is remarkable what you can learn and understand from these interactions, but what I am most inspired by is the humanness of learning no matter how much of it is on a digital device.  With all of the advances in regards to technology it means nothing if the humans are forgotten in the process.  

George is completely correct when he talks about how it all begins with the human connection.  If you haven’t read this book, please take the time to read it.  You will not be disappointed.

Reflection #1 of The Innovator’s Mindset

This is the first of many reflections I am planning on writing while I am reading The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros (@gcouros).  I am only 20 pages into the text and, as usual when it comes to me to George, I am inspired in so many ways.  On page 10, George describes the two lessons he learned from his parents.  They were restaurant owners who worked hard for everything they accomplished.   George describes his admiration for his parents every time he speaks and it always brings me to tears (along with the rest of the audience).  They are his inspiration because of the human lessons they taught him.  

The first lesson George’s parents taught him was “relationships are at the crux of everything we do.”  This aligned so much with my thinking and what I notice when I am working with staff and students as they learn how to learn in a digital world.  See, our technology vision doesn’t have its main focus as technology.  It is a human centered vision…always.  Our goal is to use digital tools to connect humans, not isolate.  We want to bring together people and ideas to grow be a community of learners.  We want learners to see that they can make a contribution to their classmates, school, teacher, and the world.   Relationships are at the heart of all of this.  Without the continuous reflection of the relationships that are being built we can have amazing and innovation, but it won’t go very far.  Empathy is a critical component of these relationships.  We need to see situations and opportunities  through the eyes of those we serve.  Without it the relationships will stay at the surface.  

The second lesson that George’s parent taught him was to be a continuous learner.  The journey of learning is never finished.  We have to keep going because there is so much more to be discovered.  This begins by seeing everyone as someone you can learn from.  I walk into every classroom seeing an opportunity to learn from others.  This includes staff and students.  This week I was in a classroom where a student and I were trying to figure something out.  I had to step away and a couple of minutes later the student came up to me and said, “I figured it out!”  My response was, “Please show me, I want to learn how to do that.”  His face lit up as our roles shifted so naturally.  Learning from others is powerful not only for you, but for who you learn from.  I have said many times, “Everyone is on a learning journey, I have the honor of being part of it.”  I believe that in my heart and head.  How can I serve the learning journey of others and continue to learn myself?

I am so excited to continue reading. We are also starting a book club and I am looking forward to building relationships and learn from others.  My learning journey continues.  

Lessons Learned from “Living it Like a Student”

As I reflect on this week of living my work world with the same level of access that our students are asked to each day I am pleasantly refreshed.  This disruption has helped me learn things about myself, my work, and most importantly how I can guide students and staff as they continue to grow and learn in a digital world.

Flexibility in Thinking

There were a few times this week where workflows I had anticipating working didn’t work as planned.  Instead of just giving up and going to my laptop I explored other ways to access what I wanted to do.  For example, I knew I couldn’t access drafts in Google Classroom in the app, but when I went to the web-based version I realized that I could access the drafts and post the information. This flexibility in thinking helped me to see the possibilities, which is what we want our students to do.  As I go into classrooms to work with students I am continuously enlightened by the way students see roadblocks in workflows as opportunities to think of things in a different way from a different angle.  I have learned so much from them.

Does our Mindset or our Skillset Get in our Way?

It is interesting because people think that it is my skillset around using an iPad that makes these tasks seamless.  The truth of the matter is there are times I have a partial idea of exactly how to complete a task.  It is my mindset that pushes me to new thinking.  I think about how we might figure this out rather than go back to what I am used to.  This uncomfortable feeling of not knowing is where I need to push myself to figure it out.  That is where the learning happens.  As I work with students and staff I want to encourage them to push them through the uncomfortable to new learning.

What is weighing us down?

For the past three weeks I have had pain in my right shoulder.  In fact, it worried me quite a bit.  By Tuesday the pain was gone.  My shoulders have not been as tense as they typically are.  Why is that?  At first, I thought it was because of the weight of the laptop in my backpack.  Now, I am not so sure.  Is there stress in my laptop I wasn’t aware of?  Is it the way I sit at my desk when I am working?  So many wondering questions.  This is a place I continue to monitor.

Disrupt Your Routine

This week has shown me the importance of disrupting your routine.  Using the iPad as my main device has made me look at things differently.  I have learned about workflows I didn’t know.  I have said many times I will learn that during my “free time”.  The fact is, there isn’t any time.  By disrupting my routine I did it naturally rather than learn it in isolation.  I want to encourage staff to try this disruption, even for just a meeting or a day.  The disruption brings curiosity, stretching beyond your comfort zone, and looking at things from a new perspective.  This leads to learning and growing, plus it will give an opportunity to problem solve like a student would do in the classroom.

Am I able to use an iPad for my day-to-day work?  For the most part, yes.  There are a few tasks that I need to go to a computer, but not as many as I thought (mindset).  Moving forward I am planning to go to my iPad first more often than before.  My reliance on my laptop is not as necessary as I thought.  I also plan to have a laptop free week more often, possibly once a month.  This way I can experience life the way our students do because they are who we serve.  I need to know what it is like to learn in the access they have.  It is an honor and a duty I have to give them the dynamic learning experience they deserve.