21st Century, Change, Creativity, Innovation, Inspiration

Imagine A Teacher

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Imagine you are a teacher.

The school year is about to begin – it’s the first day for teachers to arrive at school.

You walk into your classroom and there is a letter for you. From your students.

Dear Teacher,

The most important thing you can do for us this year is to teach creativity. Consider yourself no longer our teacher but be our ‘Captain Creative’ and we, your eager cohort of innovators, curators, makers, and thinkers.

To teach creativity is to equip us with the skills to think critically. To examine, debate, discuss, agree, argue, dissent, come to a consensus, and to think.

To teach creativity is to question. To make sure you ask questions you don’t know the answer to and let us ask questions too. Let’s solve them together in short, frantic bursts of excitement and long, drawn-out wondering that go far beyond the lesson plan.

To teach creativity is to teach us that ideas are treasures, to be gathered and cherished with pirate-like pleasure! We need to come to school each day more curious than the day before and should know that our actions have an impact that goes beyond our classroom walls.

To teach creativity, one can start with empathy. When we know that to empathize is to arrive at the starting point for change and possibility, that to try and to trial and to test and to try again are all part of process, and that there is never a ‘one way’ of doing (but always your guiding hand should we get stuck down a wrong way), you will be a teacher of creativity.

To teach creativity, is to allow us to bloom. To nurture each of us through the learning process at a different pace and in a different space, feeding our quest for knowledge so that new ideas can flourish. Teach us to connect rather than simply collect the dots.

To teach creativity one does not need to be creative (but you are). To teach creativity one does need to rethink ‘school’ (and you will). To teach creativity is to respect us as individuals, to seek the ‘so what?’, and to be authentic in all that you do.

What are you waiting for? The creativity revolution begins with you. And with us. And it starts now.

Sincerely,

Your students

What would this inspire you to do? What does it tell you about your school leadership team? And where does this school exist?

Approaches to Learning, Inspiration

How To Write A Great Blog Post

Step One: Don’t give your post a lame title 🙂

Our fourth grade students are blogging this year. It has taken a while to get them started but they are growing in their tech skills to be able to do this more independently. Now that they (mostly) have the mechanics of blogging sorted, I wanted to switch my focus to the content.

Up until now the posts they have done have been directed by their homeroom teachers or by me. As they head off on their own, I wanted there to be some sort of checklist in their room to help them. But more than a checklist. I didn’t want it to be purely mechanics. So I turned to two of my favorites: Simon Sinek and Peter H. Reynolds.

Simon STARTS WITH WHY so I did too. We talked about leading with WHY, following up with HOW, and concluding with WHAT. Typically a blog post from a student goes like this:

This is my video of my project.

Using the Sinek way:

I wanted to explain how I understand the connection between people and the impact on the environment. The best way for me to do this was using Adobe Spark Page so that I could add pictures, videos, and links and so I could make sure to tell all the things that I know and how I want to make a difference. I hope you learn from the Page that I have created.

How do you minimise your impact on the environment?

Typically the content speaks for itself but this simple WHY/HOW/WHAT routine helps give a snapshot into the purpose of the post and its content. The question at the end is to give the readers of the blog (mostly classmates) something to respond to in the comments.

My other favorite person is Peter H. Reynolds. He has collaborated on the 4C’s project. I love the 4C’s. In addition to checking other mechanics of their blog post (capitals, punctuation, categories) I wanted to challenge them to check their blog post against the 4C’s. Does their post (and thus the content they created) hit on one or more of the 4C’s? Massive bonus if it hits on all four!

Here is the blogging checklist I created (PDF download):

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21st Century, Action, Change, Innovation, Inspiration, Leadership

Rethink Everything

And start with rethinking worksheets.

I believe that in 7 minutes, you will never look at a worksheet in the same light ever again. What are we doing to our kids when we don’t take the time and effort to breathe creativity and agency into our classrooms?

If you are interested in taking this discussion further, take a look at The Ten Principles For Schools Of Modern Learning. This Whitepaper is the best thing I have read about education and change since I read Seth Godin’s Education Manifesto.

I have just started a course in Creative Teaching and Learning as (a final) part of my Masters Degree and my hope is that we will come up with practical ways to inject greater creativity into schools. One of my classmates shared this video and in it, the speaker tells of the need for knowledge in order to fuel creativity.

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The idea being that having knowledge helps you build creative ideas to problems  and challenges. Do you agree?  I certainly side with Tony Wagner’s thought that “it is not WHAT you know but what you DO with what you know” and believe that the ‘knowing’ and the ‘knowledge’ are important parts to being a creative person.

It comes as no surprise to me that Tony Wagner is an “Expert Education Advisor” for the award-winning film “Most Likely to Succeed”. A ‘grown up’ version of the animated ‘Alike’ this film is on my list of things to watch (when I write up my grant proposal to get the money for a screening).

Most Likely to Succeed Trailer from One Potato Productions on Vimeo.

 

 

Inspiration, Learning, Mindset, Reflection

At Least I Tried….Again.

A year ago, I published a post on this blog titled At Least I Tried.  It referenced a daily cartoon from Gaping Void that was accompanied by this text:

In light of yesterday’s post, this was (again) very timely for me.

But this post is also about the power of our words and how a few thoughtfully chosen ones can really help a person who needs to hear them. Within hours of posting, four different people from different parts of my life reached out with words that I needed to hear. It made me grateful for these people but it also made me think how important timely feedback is.

As educators, how are we supporting our students with our words? 

For EXCELLENT advice about feedback including what it is, what it sounds like, what it isn’t and how to use it effectively, take a look at this 2012 ASCD article by the late Grant Wiggins. His work is an amazing reminder of the talent and wisdom we lost when he died last year. “7 Keys to Effective Feedback” will also give you insight into the difference between feedback and advice, and feedback and grades/evaluation.  It is a great read.

Last year’s post also made me think about Seth Godin’s mantra to “Pick Yourself” – in reference to the idea that waiting for someone else to validate you is nonsensical. Time is precious and your ideas are worthwhile and waiting for someone to ask for them will get you nowhere.

So last night, I reached out to an author I admire with a suggestion for a potential collaboration idea based on a comment she made on Facebook. And I drafted a new book idea for building momentum in schools.

Opportunity is everywhere.  You just have to look – and leap.

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Innovation, Inspiration, Leadership

Begin as you mean to continue…

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I came across this on Twitter just before (or after) the New Year. It seemed timely and thought provoking and I have been pondering calling this my ‘motto’ for the year ahead.

In many ways, this is how I do things. I tend to take massive bites and try and wrap my head around large ideas (and ideals) in a very ‘gung-ho’ manner. My aim is not greatness but more the desire to do something of significance and magnitude.

But what if I have been going about it all wrong?  Would smaller nibbles that potentially yield greater outcomes be a better option? Maybe making a difference one person at a time rather than expecting a revolution?

Which method would help add the most value?

A wise thinker I know said recently:

The journey to disruption may be lonely but fundamental to our ability to serve and add value.

-Will Northrop What If Concepts

Is he advocating for a nibble approach? Or is he just reminding us that not every attempt to serve and add value will be done with fanfare and a loud support squad? And that some of our most important work might be the work done alone?

So which approach to take?

What will you do this year to serve?  To add value? To disrupt? To innovate? 

As for me, three separate opportunities recently were in my path. I put myself out there for all three and was summarily rejected. For all three. On the same day. This led me to question many things but then to reflect on the purpose for seeking those roles in the first place: to inspire, to lead, to learn, and to grow. Are these ideals now out of my reach? No. Just moved to a different (yet to be determined) context.

I then got three new opportunities (over different days this time!): to work on a project involving math videos for lower primary students, to share ideas on “Swamp Dwellers, Fence Sitters, and Go Getters” with a school developing a 1:1 iPad environment, and a book in the mail recommended by a parent in order to develop a personalized learning approach to how we do school.  Inspiring? Leading? Learning? Growing? Yes, on all counts.

I will continue to “choke on greatness” but also with the thought in mind that not all ‘greatness’ will be heralded by a crowd – or known to anyone at all for that matter.

21st Century, Inspiration

Slow Down!

After posting about Austin’s Butterfly, I entered into a discussion with a Twitter-friend:

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If you look, you’ll notice my tweet about a ‘slow-education’ was favorited:

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After following Joe, I checked out the website.  Similar to the concept of ‘slow food’ the principles of a slow education are:

  • Promoting deep learning in the context of a broad curriculum that recognises the talents of all students.
  • Believing that the quality of the educational engagement between teacher and learner is more important than judging student ability by standardised tests.
  • Supporting investment in education and in teaching as a profession as the essential moral foundation of society.

Further investigation led me to this video which is so cool and such a good reminder as to why we need to trust kids more, allow them more agency and freedom, and be prepared to let them take the lead in their own education.

I love the PYP Exhibition for this reason.  I am wondering though, if even this is something that we are sullying with our obsessive need to

1. be in control

2. checklist and rubric everything

3. keep learning on a tight, fixed schedule

What if…

  • ‘exhibition’ was a year round process
  • all units were designed with big ideas that allowed for individual inquiries
  • we created a space for kids to learn at their own pace

Imagine that school….

Change, Inspiration

Responsive

One of the things I have read about is the importance of kids getting to talk in the classroom.  If it is an inquiry based classroom it stands to reason that the voices being heard should be that of the students. Our school is a PYP school that offers “guided inquiry” and it is the guided part that is really important.  The role of the teacher is ever-changing, yet one of the key tasks is to move conversations along.  To facilitate discussions, to guide inquiries.

The following guide is very comprehensive and offers loads of strategies that move (as opposed to blocking) conversations forward:

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The TERC also has a checklist that teachers can use to deepen the discussions:

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One of the best practitioners I have seen when it comes to kids talking is Tasha Cowdy. Tasha and I worked together at Yokohama International School.  She was a kindergarten teacher and like no other teacher I have ever seen before when it came to really listening to her children, moving them forward, and guiding their inquiries. I would love for everyone to see her teach to get a feel for what guided inquiry really looks like.  It is amazing. You can get a brief feel via her blog.

If I could sum Tasha up in one word, it would be:

Tasha responds to her students. She doesn’t try to get ahead of them in her planning but takes the time to listen while they talk and responds to them where they are at in their understanding.  She listens and she acts – but she is not reactive. Her actions are considered, measured, timely, and responsive. 

That is the key when it comes to creating discussion and dialogue in classroom.  The students have to feel like their is a point to their participation (not just to please you and give you the answer you want and already know). When classrooms are responsive and children’s conversations are key to moving inquiries forward, then we have a true inquiry classroom.

Inspiration

The Why Guy

Simon Sinek is the “why” guy. He advocates that we should ‘start with why‘ and in doing so, will discover our purpose.

His advice: find out what you like to do, how you do it and then consider why you do what you do, the way that  you do it.

Simon has a Golden Circle that you can learn more about by watching his TED talk on the subject – one that has been viewed over 21 million times!

Simon generously shares his art. Click here to view a folder of free resources that will help you to help your kids uncover their ‘why’. One of my favorites from this folder of resources is Speak to Inspire Action which gives you tips to help you speak and present in a way that will inspire others to join your cause.  For working with kids, The Friends Exercise is great for helping kids discover their why.

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Inspiration

Nobody Owes You Nothing

I’m not going to give this video much introduction other than to say it is about innovation, ideas, kindness and a spirit of generosity mixed with entrepreneurship:

This video would be brilliant to show any class of students working on an Economics unit (I wish I had seen this a few months ago when our third graders were creating their own businesses!) or for students looking for innovative ways we can share the planet.  It is also another great resource for demonstrating taking action that you could show to students undertaking the PYP Exhibition (I have added it to the Videos section of my new PYP Exhibition website).

When I heard the quote from Johnny’s dad (Nobody owes you nothing), I was reminded of a post by Seth Godin a few weeks back about “Almost No one”.

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Johnny knew he didn’t have to please everyone.  He didn’t bend when he was pushed by others to make money off the farmers who desperately need to save money. He didn’t have to leap into partnership with everyone.  He just needed almost no one to see his dream flourish.

Seth’s words really resonated: “…Individuals that fail fall into the chasm of trying to be all things in order to please everyone, and end up reaching no one.  That’s the wrong thing to focus on. Better to focus on and delight almost no one.”

So that is my mission and my challenge to you:

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P.S. Want to see an update on Johnny?  Click here

Inspiration

Be Kinder Than Necessary

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

— Albert Schweitzer,

French philosopher and physician

I am a firm believer in kindness. And being kinder than necessary. To me, kindness is when you see a person, a thing, a situation that needs something and you help fill that need.  To serve others is truly the way to make a positive impact on the world.

In my role as Learning Technology Teacher in the Junior School, one thing I see across all classes is students who are motivated to help other students when using technology.  Someone will ask me to show them something.  I will show them and then their neighbour will want to know too. Before I can show them, the first student I helped will lean over: “I will show him!” and the two of them will chatter away, leaving me out of a job.  It is the best kind of unemployment I could hope for!

I explicitly build this into my teaching, asking “Who thinks they could teach someone how to….(do whatever we are doing)?”. “Who thinks they could help someone else?”. It is not always a zen-like state of bliss but I am hopeful that kids will see the value in learning from each other.  And that these behaviours will spill over to other facets of their life outside of technology.

New perspectives.  Sharing understanding. Building on ideas.  These are reasons I choose to be connected as an educator and I believe these are ways students can make a positive impact through the use of technology.  Technology allows us to go places we may never go in ‘real life’. This exposure to ideas that were previously beyond our reach must make us more empathetic, more inquisitive, more inclined to think, question, and wonder. Some examples that come to mind:

  • Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and the incredible way in which he has shared his understandings of planet earth with us from his reflections in outer space.
  • Humans of New York genius, Brandon Stanton and the way he captures humanity from behind his camera lens in NYC and, a few months ago, around the world when he partnered with the UN to bring us snippets of humans in Iraq, Jordan, Uganda, Keyna and six other countries in the Middle East and Africa.
  • Peter Menzel’s Global Family Portrait: Material World and his Hungry Planet: What the World Eats both give amazing insights into what people have/have not in this world. This is one thing that is so hard to explain without experiencing it first-hand (especially poverty) but this goes some of the way to allowing students to connect globally to the ideas of others.

So, how can students use technology to make a positive impact on the world? I think Hugh Macleod has some great advice:

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He doesn’t stop there.  Here is a Hugh-inspired, play-by-play for you and your students:

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  1. Inspire and Be Inspired: Look, explore, inspire
  2. Become “Intoxicated by Possibility” – so much to do!  So little time!
  3. Dream big! – Nothing is out of your reach!
  4. Make a dent in the universe – The time is now, the person is you! Make A Dent!

I think in some ways, the key question here is misleading – or at the least, tends to lead us in a direction that we may not need to go in.  The use of technology is not the key point.  The ability to make a difference in our world is the key part.  Technology can help that process, it can accelerate that process, it can inspire that process.  The desire to connect with others, the opportunity to make a difference, that is what should be driving this process.

Use technology to connect, to inspire, to dream, and to act.  That is how we will change the world.

If you are still looking for some support to help you in this quest, one of my favorite, favorite websites is Inspire My Kids.  The name says it all and it does just that with a wealth of amazing resources designed to connect kids that want to make a difference.

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