Saturday, June 30, 2012

Innovation, Ego, Autonomy & Irrelevance

"So what innovative initiatives is your school undertaking?"

I was recently asked the above question by a fellow educator.

This caused me to pause.  I rambled a few things off.  But to be honest, the questions threw me off.

It made me uneasy.  What follows are some thoughts, ramblings and questions regarding innovation, autonomy and leadership ego.

What is driving the innovation?

Are we searching for "innovation" for innovation's sake?

I often wonder about school wide "innovations".  What is driving the innovation? What are the precursors to implementation?  Who do the innovations benefit the most?

Why are we doing what we are doing?

Are we driven by a greater purpose?  Our mission?  Our vision?

It is really about innovation?  Is it rooted in student learning?

Is the innovation about creating engaging learning experiences for students?

Is the innovation about creating learning conditions that are motivating for students?

Is innovation about creating an environment where every student feels connected and safe?

I'm aware that, when it comes to being the "leader" at my school, it is about checking by ego at the door.

What is best, easy, comfortable, familiar or trendy for me,  may not be what is best for the students and school community.

As principal, I need to give up my need to be "relevant" for the sake of being "irrelevant" if it means doing what is best for students.  As Henri Nouwen writes:
"The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation..."
I would suggest that innovation driven by personality and ego is toxic and doomed to be unsustainable.

Autonomy & Innovation

I also wonder about the place of autonomy (student & teacher) when it comes to innovation. I agree that motivation is rooted in autonomy. But can there be too much autonomy?

I like  the image of a river flowing.  A river is free to flow and meander.  However, the river is given its shape and direction by its banks.  Without the banks, the river becomes a puddle or lake.

What is the role of leadership in providing the "banks of a river"?  In my opinion, this is a critical aspect of leadership - to provide the delicate balance of enough autonomy within an agreed up "preferred future".

The bottom line is that innovation and autonomy needs to be rooted in what is best for students and their individual success.

Still figuring it out.....any thoughts?

Friday, June 22, 2012

BYOD Leadership Implications

Our school has embraced a Bring Your Own Technology/Device approach to enhancing the use of technology for our students and teachers.

For the past two years we have had a soft or "organic" launch to this policy.  For this coming fall, we officially launch our BYOD initiative.

As we prepare for an anticipated surge in personal devices, there are some important details that needed to be addressed.  I'll call them leadership implications.

Leadership Implications of a BYOD policy

1. Being clear on the "Why"? Is it congruent with our school culture, values and mission?

In our case BYOD makes the most sense. It leverages much of the hardware that many students and families already possess. It gives choice to parents - one of our fundamental values is "parents as the first and primary educators".  Furthermore, our school culture is rich with a sense of trust between teachers and students.

2. Network Infrastructure

We have invested a tremendous amount of energy and resources to establish a stable and robust wifi and wired infrastructure. We can handle over 4,000 wifi devices at one time (we have 550 staff & students) with reasonable speed and efficiency.

3. Unpacking Digital Citizenship

As the use of technology grows and as teachers increasingly require students to use and access digital media so does the need to model and teach digital literacy.  This is not the sole responsibility of a select group of teachers.

For this coming school year we have hired a new teacher/"tech-brarian" that will assist staff (and students) in acquiring the necessary digital literacy skills to be proficient to transfer those to students.

In addition, over the past few years we endeavored to systematically implement a digital citizenship learning plan for our students through specific lessons in certain classes, grade level workshops or school wide assemblies.  We feel it is important not to take an "ad hoc" approach to teaching this very important topic.

We have also been communicating to our parents about how they can support their children becoming digitally responsible citizens.  We have hosted various parent meetings and constantly update our school website for related resources.

4. Communicating Expectations to the Community

It is critically important that we communicate why we think a BYOD approach to technology is important.  We also need to set some clear expectations for students, teachers and parents as how and when devices should be used.

For example at our school, as a general rule, all personal and school owned devices must be used as a tool to enhance student learning and for positive communications.

We communicate the the following guidelines to parents and students:

Electronic devices should be used to promote genuine learning, research and positive communication - not for such things as academic dishonesty (cheating) and/or hurtful and disrespectful communications
Devices should be used at the appropriate time, with the teacher’s permission. Your device should not be a source of distraction or disruption of the teaching-learning environment. When a not required by a teacher, personal electronic devices are to be kept out-of-sight and turned off.
When using a device, be mindful that you are not violating another person’s reasonable expectation of privacy. The taking of pictures, videos without a person’s permission is not permitted.
Take care of your devices. Be mindful of securing them. Put your name of your device. Do not share any passwords etc.

6. Empowering and Supporting Teachers
Any BYOD policy will only be as effective the teachers who model its appropriate use and who can fully utilize the power of technology to engage students in their learning.

Giving time to for teachers to play and learn with technology is important.  We have increased our collaboration time in the hope that they will be empowered to implement technology in their classes.  Many have responded positively.

We also want teachers to bring devices to school that they are comfortable using in their teaching and learning.  Next year we will implement a teacher technology subsidy program, whereby teachers can apply for a subsidy to assist them in the purchase of personal device that will also be used at school.

7. Autonomy, Choice and Commonality

A BYOD policy, at its core, is based on autonomy and choice. As a school we don't prescribe the type or brand of device. We do, however, recommend certain specifications (i.e. wifi, internet browsing, word processing, etc).

There is, however a some need for a "common space" when it comes to the digital learning. For example we have given all students a school based (& lifetime) email address, common username and login interface, common cloud based storage and file sharing.

But herein lies the delicate balance. We also want to value autonomy and choice for teachers and students when comes to their teaching an learning space. When you walk into some of our classes you will see various digital tools used by different teachers and students.

In addition, parents, for a variety of reasons, may choose to not send their child to school with a device.  As a school we have the obligation to provide an alternative.  We already a number of school laptops that can be issued to students as well as large number of networked computers that students can access.

8. Be Patient with the Messy
Will there be bumps and hiccups along the way?  We have already experienced a few.  Just a few a weeks ago a few teachers discovered some potentially concerning comments on a social media site regarding a few members of our community.   Rather than overreact and  "ban", "take away", or "shut down"  - the teacher had a conversation with the student in question about  their "digital footprint" and the impact their comments were having on others.  (This, of course, high lights the importance of having adults in this space who can model and teach appropriate on-line behavior).  The student learned something and the material "removed".

Might  there by upcoming issues with our BYOD policy?  My guess is yes.

We need to continue to be thoughtful, strategic and patient as we continue to grow our BYOD approach to technology at our school.

Feel free to share some other BYOD implementation strategies.  Still figuring it out......

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Stop the Edu BLAH, BLAH, BLAH!

 Edu-Babble.  Edu-Speak.  I'll call it Edu-Blah, Blah, Blah.  A sample of the "blah" goes something like this:
"As teaching practitioners in the 21st century, we need to be pedagogically sound  - embracing practices and values such as assessment for learning, grading for learning, 21st century skills, personalized learning, differentiated instruction, individualized instruction and self regulation............(cue the eyes rolling, yawns, head scratching and/or glazed looks from all the non-educators - and even some educators)" 
We do ourselves, as educators, a huge a disservice when we attempt to use "Edu Blah" to communicate with  our students, parents and greater communities.

We lose them.  

And if we, as educators (and schools), can't communicate our own "story" effectively, we run the risk of creating a communication void or vacuum- leaving it to someone else to potentially distort or misrepresent.   Case in point - the recent "no zero's" story in Edmonton".

 Now before I go any further, I will declare that I can "edu blah, blah" with the best of them.  

Today I come clean.  I would like offer up some "edu blah's" and coinciding plain language definition:

Formative Assessment
Long before any "grade" is assigned to a student, teachers (and other students) give students descriptive feedback regarding their work.  The more detailed the feedback the better. "Good job" doesn't cut it and neither do numbers and/or letter grades.

Summative Assessment
Anything that a student does to demonstrate what they have learned.   It gives a teacher evidence of a student's learning.

Differentiated Instruction
We all learn differently.  Teachers reflect this reality in their teaching.

Tools teachers use to assist students in determining what is expected of them.

Personalized Learning
Giving students more control of their learning.  Putting students in the drivers seat.

More thinking, problem solving and "doing".  Less memorizing.

Letter Grades
An imperfect way to report student learning.

No Zero Policies
Students that chronically struggle to produce the required evidence of their learning are the most at risk to "slip through the cracks" in school.  Assigning these students a zero does nothing to support them nor teach them the required skills and work habits to be responsible learners. Finding ways to ensure they do the work is the right thing to do.  

Professional Learning Communities 
Teachers need to come together to solve something, produce something or share something related to their teaching.  When they do this, they become better teachers  - benefiting all students

PLN (Personal Learning Network)
See above.

Digital Literacy
Making sure we all know how to appropriately use the internet and the devices that connect to it. 

21st Century Learning
The world is a changing place.  Schools need to reflect this changing reality.

21st Century Skills
Thinking, collaborating, creating, filtering, problem solving and a little bit memorizing too.

Bring your own device/technology to school.  Students and teachers have it, why not let them use it?

Stakeholders/Educational Partners
All the people involved in educating our students.

I invite all my fellow educators to add to this list.  We need to reclaim our message.  Our communities require this of us.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Saying "YES" to Foster Innovation

When I think about some the exciting, relevant and engaging "learning initiatives" that have occurred at our school over the past several years, I think about the incredibly talented people (teachers, students and parents) who have made them possible.

When it comes to using technology to enhance learning, I think about teachers who see the potential of technology to make learning more engaging for students.

From my perspective, as principal, it's been about creating a safe place for teachers to "play" with technology in the classroom.

It's been about saying "yes" more than "no" to the early adopters within our community.

I still remember the day when one of our teachers - @maricelignacio - came to see me about having her students use their phones in class to access Twitter as a tool for engagement in the English classroom.  Our policy, at the time, banned cell phones in class.  (The fact that we had a robust wifi network to handle this request is thanks to @pholowka1)

I said "yes" to this request.  I understood that with that "yes", I agreed to take on some important responsibilities.  As principal I had to explain my decision and defend the teacher from concerned stakeholders.

As the principal, I feel that if I want to encourage and create  a culture of innovation, I need to create a safe place for teachers.  It requires the creation a safe "playground" for teachers to "play".  It requires giving them time, resources and access to a vibrant learning network.

Mistakes will be made and lessons will be learned.  It is during these challenging times that I need to stand behind my "yes".

My "yes" cannot be conditional.  Supporting teachers, as innovators, even when things don't go as planned, goes a long way towards creating the conditions for innovation in schools.