Innovator = Reflector = Cursed?, #IMMOOC Season 3, Week 2

One of the topics for Week 2 of Season 3 of the #IMMOOC (Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course) asks us to examine George Couros’ 8 Characteristics of an Innovator and discuss which of these we might exemplify. In IMMOOC Season 1 I wrote about risk-taking and resilience. and in Season 2 about being reflective.

This time around, I will reflect once again on the innovative habit of “being reflective”, but without re-reading what I wrote last time – this will make for some interesting real life research! The first thing that comes to mind as I think about being reflective is that it can be a curse.

My son has just started his college undergrad courses on the road to becoming a teacher. In his first month of college, he is doing an observation practicum in a kindergarten class. Yesterday he was labouring over his first journal-type entry as a “reflective practitioner”, as his text book describes it. So this got me thinking about how very naturally and continually I reflect on my teaching practice. I guess the habit has been ingrained since my pre-service teaching days when I had to do post-lesson reflections, written down on paper.

Of course as full time teachers, most of us do not have time to sit down and formally journal about the successes and failures of our many lessons a day. Despite this, my lesson plans and student handout materials are scrawled with suggestions and changes for next time. My methods and work are constantly evolving, although not always in significant shifts. Often the changes are to increase clarification or because I’ve found a better source, or often, a new technology tool/approach that I think would be engaging for students.

Thus the curse: being reflective causes a teacher more work. I often am jealous of my colleagues who are not wired to be as reflective. They can make a lesson once, and whether it was mildly or wildly successful or not at all, they can go on to teach it semester after semester with nary an alteration. I do not have this ability. I am often jealous of those who can just keep teaching the same ol’ thing. Semester after semester. Year after year.

Often jealous, but not always. In the end, why do I go through the torment of reflection and the resulting revision? Because it is probably best for our students. If we expect our students’ best work, and require them to revise and rework their submissions, knowing that they can create a better piece of work, it would be hypocritically if we were not willing to do the same.

Advertisements

Blogging: Where teachers ‘go to grow’

One of the topics for #IMMOOC Season 2, Week 5 (based on  George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset), is to reflect on the impact that the process of blogging has on us as a teacher.

Like most teachers I was interested in the concept of blogging but it took me a heckuva long time to pluck up the courage to actually think that I had something to write about.  It has been four years now and over 60 posts and even though few people actually read what I write, the process has certainly been an important one. I have found that the most powerful thing is going back and reading what I’ve written in the past, even if few other people did. It is amazing to be able to say,  “Wow, have I ever learned a lot more about that new thing I tried.”  If for no other reason, the blogging platform is a great way to follow our personal growth and morphing as educators.

But there are other reasons!

As a side gig, I teach an Education Technology course to pre-service teachers at our local college. When I took over the course, I really only made one significant change to what the previous prof had covered. I knew I had to help these new teachers grow their PLN and get connected to the thousands of other teachers out there who are pushing at the boundaries of what education can and should become.  To accomplish this, I had them create  a blog and a Twitter account.

Without fail, their first reactions involve eye-rolling.  As one student put it, “Isn’t blogging something that stay at home mom’s do to fill their time posting about recipes and hair-dos?”  And a typical reaction to Twitter: “Twitter is so ’10th grade’.”

Every semester I re-evaluate the value of these two platforms to educators, and come to the same conclusion….Twitter and the blogoshpere are two places where teachers “go to grow”. Perfect evidence is the tasks set out in the #IMMOOC Challenges every week: they involve Twitter and blogging.

Over the semesters, I have refined my approach to introducing these platforms to my college pre-service teachers, and it has resulted in greater buy-in. I have them start by reading pieces from two of my favourite educational bloggers: Tom Whitby’s “Do Educator’s Really Need Blog Posts”, and “4 Reasons People Don’t Blog and Ideas to Help Change Their Minds” by George Couros. I then send them off to a “Top 100” Educational Bloggers type site to hunt around; invariably, their minds are blown by the teacher-blogoshpere that they had no idea was in existence. I show them sites from around the world where teachers use the blogging platform as a window into their students’ learning such as  “Mrs. Cassidy’s Classroom Blog” where she showcases Grade 1 learners.  And so the value of blogging as a teacher is planted as a seed. Over the course of the semester, they create their own blogs, many assignments are submitted as blog posts, and we practice respectfully commenting on the posts of our peers.  At the end, most see the value of reading educational blogs, and some see themselves as teachers who will use blogging as a teacher or student process/tool in their future classrooms.

To sum up, whether as readers or writers, blogging is where teachers ‘go to grow.’

The Elusive ‘Open Culture’:#IMMOOC Week 4

I am doing my best to take part in #IMMOOC Season 2 : a world-wide digital book study based on The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. It is week 4.

You can’t build an effective wall if your first foundational layer is weak or non-existent; every time you try to add another layer it will collapse within relatively short order.  I love that George has illustrated “Foundations for Innovation” with this wall image. 

The high school that I work at is wonderful in so many ways. We have ‘built’ many great programs and traditions in our short 20 year history.  But one wall that never gets very tall is the innovation piece.  When I consider this image, it all becomes clear: innovation doesn’t flourish in our school because we can’t seem to “Embrace an open culture” – the very base or foundation of the wall in the image.

Most change that we experience is calculated and strategically implemented in response to directives from the province or the school division, but change of the transformative, “this-looks-different”, out-side of the box type doesn’t happen. Of course, like in any school, there have been pockets of innovation. Often times, those innovative ideas have been relatively short bursts of success that haven’t lead to long term change or impact.  The wall image would indicate that without an open, collaborative culture, this is to be expected.

Unfortunately, it feels like we are stuck. Some colleagues fall back on the “high schools are just less open, collaborative places” mentality. On the other hand, I work with several collaborative, open, sharing colleagues and some of them do amazing things for and with their students. Yet, because of our lack of open culture, other teachers in the school aren’t even aware of these amazing things. We celebrate sports victories, musical achievements, and art contest successes, but, we don’t have a vehicle for celebrating the cool things that teachers are learning and trying with their students inside the walls of the every-day classroom. At best we might have a spoken staff-meeting moment of some of the things that are happening, but we don’t make or take opportunities to go watch and experience what is happening beyond the doors that line our hallways.

Some of us have been chipping away at creating a more open culture for a few years, but success has been limited. We tried a “pineapple chart” approach a few years ago before there was such thing as a pineapple chart. It was exciting for a few teachers, but fizzled out because the buy-in pool was so limited, despite efforts to grow it.

During #IMMOOC Season 2, I’m enjoying the opportunity to read about what innovation and cultures of sharing look like across the continent.  As a non-administrator, I’ll keep encouraging different ways of trying to get a wedge into our not-so-open culture. I know there is no magic bullet, but one day maybe we’ll find some bricks that help to build that “open culture” foundation.

I would love to hear how your high schools work on that open culture piece!

Creating vs. Consuming: #IMMOOC Week 3

I am doing my best to take part in #IMMOOC Season 2 : a world-wide digital book study based on The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. It is week 3 with a “short blog” challenge.

School vs LearningI believe that there certainly is a danger as we implement technology into our classrooms that we fall into the CONSUMER trap.  So many apps, especially it seems for younger learners, are what I would call CONSUMER apps.  Students have access to a variety of apps where they play games to help them practice reading, writing skills, math skills, geography skills. They are fun and engaging for a time, but kind of like the TV/iPad as babysitter idea.

I teach an edtech college course to pre-service teachers and I try to expose them to tech tools that they can use with their students to CREATE. It is these CREATING tools that really move our classrooms from school to learning.  When you give kids a device to capture their learning in picture format, video format, digital poster format, meme format, book snap format, etc., the wheels start turning and all sorts of wonderfully creative divergent thinking can pour forth.

That’s what learning looks like.

Being Reflective: #IMMOOC Week 2

I am doing my best to take part in #IMMOOC Season 2 : a world-wide digital book study based on The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. It is week 2.

As I ponder the Innovator’s Mindset graphic below trying to decide which characteristic I most exemplify in my teaching/ learning environment, I am drawn to #3 “risk taker”.  Just for curiosity,  I decide to go back through my blog archives to see what I chose in #IMMOOC Season 1 back in September. Turns out I chose the same characteristic and wrote the post “Risk Taking And Resilience Cycle” IMMOOC Week 28-characteristics-of-the-innovators-mindset

Looking back, since then I had an opportunity to take somewhat of a risk when I was asked to pilot the use of Chromebooks in our school division.  It wasn’t really difficult to say yes to the opportunity of having a set of 30 Chromebooks stationed in my classroom. It wasn’t difficult to say yes, since Chromebooks aren’t “new technology” but are actually commonplace in many learning environments.

So the Chromebooks aren’t a big “risk-taking” effort, but I did stretch myself in a pledge to reflectively blog about the process. (See #8- Reflective!)  The timing was terrible as my semester was a crazy busy one and it was December, yet looking back from even a few months on, writing about the implementation process has been valuable. When I go back and re-read, I notice that I had captured initial thoughts and reactions that I had already forgotten about. Our district technology guys have used the posts to adjust and refine the technology from the division office end. I’m not sure if my principal actually read the posts, but because I had so systematically thought about the Chromebooks and the implementation process, I was quickly able to sell him on why it would be a good idea to go ahead and buy more Chromebooks to replace some of our dying technology.

So, my take-away: risk-taking, even in moderation, is amplified when you take the time to think and write reflectively about the process.

Risk-taking and resilience cycle: #IMMOOC week 2

I am doing my best to take part in #IMMOOC : a world-wide digital book study based on The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. It is week 2.

8-characteristics-of-the-innovators-mindset

This image is a summary of the 8 characteristics of an innovator that George Couros shares in his book. This week the book study community was challenged to reflect on how we embody the characteristics of an Innovator’s Mindset. While I’d like to think that I have little snippet’s of all of those characteristics, the ones that jump out for me recently are “risk-taker” and “resilient”.

While I do not consider myself wildly innovative, I would say that  I’ve become more of a risk-taker. And I think that in order to be a risk-taker, one must be resilient. In my experience, those risks, no matter how well-prepared you think you are, often lead to some degree of failure. If it wasn’t for the resilience, one would never rise again to take another risk!

I am most comfortable taking risks in the area of technology in the classroom. When I look back over my career and technology, the lure of the possibilities that a new technology could bring to student engagement or learning always seems to out-weigh the potential road-blocks or failures. So, again and again,  I’ve gone ahead and tried something new, usually prefaced with :”Ok, we’re trying something new and different today. We’re being pioneers. Hopefully this works.”

Sometimes a new tool works even better than expected (like Goosechase or QuizletLive) and the kids say things like, “Why can’t we do this all the time? How about tomorrow?” Sometimes there are glitches and unanticipated stumbling blocks (like Spiral.ac), but the response from students still might be, “Why can’t we do this all the time? How about tomorrow?”  Sometimes things go totally disastrous (like anything to do with Office 365) and students wait somewhat patiently while I trouble shoot, and the student  response is, “Why don’t you just give up.” And I might say, “This isn’t working today. Here is Plan B for today, we’ll try this another day!”

Thus goes the risk-taking and resilience cycle.