Obstacles to Innovation in Education – reflection on George Couros

 

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This morning I read a great post by George Couros: Flipping the Script; 3 Obstacles to Innovation Viewed Differently.

It ended with this statement:

If we start looking at the challenges as a great way to get people to think differently about the “why, what, and how” of education, we are in a good spot. If we ignore these statements and running away from the challenges, we are actively doing what we don’t want to happen in our schools.

We need to start looking at the challenges as opportunities to create something new and vital in education.

I have always heard the traditional reasons for not making radical change – ‘we don’t have the time, we don’t have the money, we are not sure this will work.’

George does a great job at debunking these obstacles.  I would add one other great obstacle that is really stifling innovation – the impact our practices will have on test scores.

We are really afraid of making radical change because of these obstacles and I think test scores create the greatest barrier to change.  It works a little like this – ‘If we just keep doing what we are doing but we tweak just a few things, we will finally get the results we have to get.’

One big question – even if we get these ‘results’ how do we really know that we are providing an education for our students that will help them to be the innovative and independent thinkers that our society really needs right now.  I can’t help but think that we are really missing the big picture here.

Why not risk?  Why not innovate?

For example, what if we tried some of these ideas?

  • allow schools to develop local partnerships to fund initiatives in their schools
  • put professional development in the hands of individual schools, principals and teachers
  • do away with any meeting that does not allow for active participation and learning for those involved
  • invite the community into our schools and allow them to offer their expertise to our staff and students
  • finally get over the textbook and the ‘5 computers per class’ model.  Provide every student with a good computer and make sure it goes home every night.
  • ask people what they think and what they want – students, teachers, parents, school administrators – stop telling everyone what is ‘good’ for all of us

This is a provocative list and readers may immediately respond with the time, money, results, will it work paradigm.

We need the collective courage to start over and ask very challenging questions on what innovation should look like – the compliance model simply doesn’t work and begs to be thrown out.

Thanks to George Couros for asking these tough questions.

23 Days Until Kilimanjaro!

Every week, I have been putting out an e-mail note to the wonderful group that is supporting me.  Here is the text of my latest note.
There are now 23 days until our group leaves for Africa!
some of the group on one of our training treks in the Gatineau
We have all our gear and the training continues to go well.  This past Sunday I climbed ten sets (31 floors) in a new time – 1 hour and 51 minutes.  This may not seem all that interesting, but for us this is huge.  The only way to prepare for this climb is to get in the best physical shape possible.  There is no way to prepare for the lack of oxygen at the higher altitudes, you just have to work on what you can control.
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We all continue to fundraise, which to me is the truly unique feature of this experience.  We are now over $165,000 for this year and over one million raised since 2011.
Many of you have contributed to this total and I thank-you for being active participants in this wonderful venture.
Together, we have raised $8695.00 for Rec Link and the Sens Foundation.  Well over the new goal set at $8000.00,  thanks to some really generous recent donations.
All this money goes to kids, so if you haven’t donated yet please consider making a contribution on my fundraising page.  You will automatically receive a tax receipt from Canada Helps for 2017.
Recently, I have been working on learning Adobe Premier Pro and have a new video out that shows some of the training we have done this year.  I will keep working on my film-making skills over the next few weeks.  You can see our latest video, Trekking to Kilimanjaro here.
 
This video will be added to our ESRI Story Map that also contains a 3D map of Mt. Kilimanjaro which we hope to use to show our progress up the mountain.
layers can be added to this ESRI map so students should be able to track us up the mountain

This is what tracking looks like – here, a variety of hikes in the Gatineau


For teachers who are part of this list, I hope you will have a chance to follow us through the Story Map starting March 30th.  I will be posting photos, video, text and our route to the Story Map whenever possible.
Thanks to my technical assistant, Liam McGuire for helping to make this possible and interesting for your students.
The link to follow me live using the InReach tool is https://share.garmin.com/PaulMcGuire
Currently, the page looks like this.
When a student clicks on one of the waypoints on the map, they will receive information on elevation, latitude, longitude and bearing.
I am really looking forward to sharing all this with you.  This is a venture we all will take part in.
 

Compliance vs.Engagement – A response to George Couros: Creativity, Daydreaming, and Cat Videos

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The purpose of this post is to just make people think about the changing expectations that we have for ourselves in our changing world, and the often stagnant expectations that we have for our students.  If our focus is truly on quality learning, creativity, innovation, we have to understand that a culture of compliance does not foster this for adults, nor our students.

Creativity, Daydreaming, and Cat Videos – George Couros

So much is at stake these days in education.  We want to develop innovative thinkers and to do this we need to open our eyes and learn to innovate on a system-wide basis.  In my experience, this is very hard to achieve.

As an administrator, I found that many colleagues would be on their e-mail or social media while at meetings at the district office.

The reason for this was pretty simple. These meetings were all about compliance and rarely about engagement or empowerment.  There was little interest in engaging us as learners or even asking what we thought about the policies and practices we were being presented with.

The overall mood at these meetings was that compliance is king and we will innovate for you.  As a result, many educators turned off and buried themselves in their computers.

Many of these administrators then returned to their schools and did the same thing to their staffs.

This is the plan and we all have to follow the plan.

How can we expect our teachers or students to engage when the model we experience as administrators is one based on blind compliance? How do we learn to innovate when we are not encouraged to become engaged in true decision-making about how to become innovative as a district?

When your opinion is not valued and when you are expected to comply with someone else’s ideas there is a serious disconnect.

It is possible to innovate as a system and George Couros argues that this is essential for systems to succeed.  While I always see ‘islands of innovation’, I do not see districts adopting innovation as the standard and the challenge.

Can this change?  Of course it can, once we engage educators in the discussion.

Response to The Fear of Sharing

I just finished reading George Couros’ post The Fear of Sharing.  It is a great article.  I really wish I had a chance to work with George before I decided to leave the profession.  He is a real leader in education and is always empowering and positive – that is where the real growth and learning takes place.

I am borrowing a visual from another positive educator Amber Teamann.

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What would it be like to work with positive educators like this?  I can only imagine.

Sharing makes us all better. Really liked Amber’s line: “If someone feels uncomfortable because you are doing good work, you are not the problem.”

I agree, but I can also remember being reprimanded for ‘sharing’ too much on my blog. Fortunately, this did not hold me back but pushed me to create more and be more critical of the people I worked for.

There is a certain amount of courage that comes with sharing – it is easy to be snubbed withing the small professional community you work in for really trying to connect with other educators. This does not bother me at all – I get so much more positive feedback from my PLN and the professional groups I work with outside the narrow group that used to employ me.

It is important to remember that sharing and creating and sometimes criticizing is what we should be doing.  You will rarely be rewarded or recognized by your own district – to criticize is often seen as being negative, not being a member of the ‘team’.  This doesn’t matter, if we are motivated by receiving the praise of others we will never get anything done.

Dream Mountains gets ready for Mt. Kilimanjaro

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We leave for Mt. Kilimanjaro in 31 days.

This has been a very intense experience on many levels.  First, the physical training has been incredible.  Stair climbing, now as many as 4200 stairs over a two-hour period has been gruelling.

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Every second week we do a trek on the Wolf Trail – a good 2-hour hike up one of the ridges in the Gatineau near Ottawa.  Each of these treks is an opportunity to try out new equipment, new food types and most importantly, a chance to get to know the people you will be climbing with and depending on during the climb to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro – 5,888 metres (19,318 ft).

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Physical training aside, the next great challenge is raising money for the group we have been assigned to support throughout this entire journey.

For me, this is what makes the Dream Mountains experience unique.  It’s not about you and your own bucket list.  It’s more about the fundraising each of the group members is doing for a great collection of local and national charities.

Our current fundraising totals
Our current fundraising totals

I don’t think I would be doing this if it weren’t for the community connection that has been created between ourselves and the groups we are working to support.  What really would be the point?

For me, another important part of the preparation has been my attempts to explore various communication tools that will allow people to follow the climb while we are in Africa.  I have taken my inspiration for this part of the planning from Elia Saikaly who is a master at telling adventure stories using social media. There is no way I can do what he does during one of his expeditions, but I am doing what I can.

My main tool is one that Elia has used – the ESRI Story Map, a wonderful media tool that has allowed me to tell our story from our early training climbs right up to treks along Wolf Trail.  With incredible help from the ESRI team, I have been able to improve my story map and have learned how to add waypoints from my tracking tools – InReach and Suunto to the Wolf Trail base map.  I am really hoping that I will be able to add points during our climb to a 3D map of Kilimanjaro I have added to the story map.

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The money I am raising is going to Rec Link a group here in Ottawa that is doing so much to help the families and children I used to work with while I was principal at St. Anthony School.

 

our-canadian-kilimanjaro-journey-clipular It is such a privilege to be able to give back to a group that has done so my for our kids and I have the coordinator of Dream Mountains Shawn Dawson to thanks for this. Shawn is a truly selfless individual who has an incredible commitment to give back to the community while supporting over 20 novice climbers in our long journey to Kilimanjaro.  It is such a joy to work with someone who is so positive and supportive and is willing to give so much of himself for others – a very rare commodity in my experience.

Finally, none of this would be possible without the great group of family and friends who have supported my fundraising efforts. It has been truly humbling that so many people would donate so much to help me reach my funding goal.  At this point, I have raised more than $8000.00 for Rec Link and have received wonderful support from my wife and family – without them, this would never have happened.

 

I hope people follow us up the mountain.  I hope the technology works.  I hope we have all trained hard enough.  Whatever happens, this already has been a truly unique and wonderful experience and I am happy to part of this great group.

The Magic of Good Teaching

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I read a wonderful post by Dean Shareski this morning.  He asked a great question that got me writing.

If next week you could provide some type direct instruction to your students, what would you teach?

When I taught Canadian history – years before everything became so standardized – I had the luxury to focus on a few themes that I thought were really important. I guess this would now be considered the ‘big ideas’. We focused on the impact of war on a society (WWI) and the evolution of government brought on by the Great Depression. We never got to the end of the curriculum and it didn’t seem to matter. Thankfully, I didn’t teach in an area where people expected me to reach a defined point or concept.

These were my formative years as a teacher, but it has always struck me as important that the teacher discerns what their students need to learn and that developing students to be sensitive, caring people who are able to contribute in a positive way to their community comes first. I have always struggled with standards-based teaching and our current obsession with math scores. I think this is unhealthy and does no credit to the craft of teaching. I congratulate the educator whose English department has the highest scores in the district, but how did we get to a place where we measure success in teaching by the score on some arbitrary test? What have we done to the magic of good teaching?

I have always struggled with standards-based teaching and our current obsession with math scores here in our province. I think this is unhealthy and does no credit to the craft of teaching. I congratulate the educators whose schools or departments have the highest scores in their districts, but how did we get to a place where we measure success in teaching by the score on some arbitrary test?

What have we done to the magic of good teaching?

34 Days to Go!!

Now we are getting close!!

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This is the 3D map I will be using to track my progress on InReach – the map should get updated every day of the climb.
 
34 days until we depart for the climb and $820.00 away from making it to our goal of $8000.00 for Rec Link. That’s just $24.11 a day to make it! If you haven’t donated yet – please click below and make a contribution to help kids here in Ottawa.
 
Here is the link:  http://bit.ly/2bwIrnT
 
Here is the link to find me on the mountain using the INReach site – https://share.garmin.com/PaulMcGuire
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Either way, this will be as interactive as I can make it – if you follow the journey, please make sure you are a true partner in this venture by making a donation for kids in Ottawa.
 
Really looking forward to sharing this with you and at the same time making a significant contribution to a really effective agency here in Ottawa
 
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Leaders as Servants First

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Everyone in education has heard the line that the principal is key to the success of a school.

I have never been comfortable with this, more so after 12 years as an administrator in a variety of schools.  The administrator plays a key role, but the overall success of the school depends more on the leadership style of the principal.

It is difficult to teach a leadership style and to be honest, I am not sure how you would do this.

As administrators, we are well trained in a number of areas.  We take a whole host of courses that prepare us to deal with the administrative side of the job.  We are well equipped to deal with ministry regulations, curriculum expectations, school finance and management practices.

We are not well trained on how to deal effectively and compassionately with staff and the wider community.

I say this because over the years I have heard so many stories of administrators fumbling relationships with staff, parents and the wider community.  I have worked in several schools where I replaced administrators who had run roughshod over the emotional landscape of their school.  To be fair, I have also replaced excellent administrators and in these cases, I have done my best to continue to support their excellent practices.

The problem seems to be that you can’t teach ‘heart’.  You can’t teach a principal to lead from the back, to empower their staff and to make themselves the servant leader in the school.

Years ago, Robert K. Greenleaf wrote about how to test for true servant leadership:

Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the last privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?

This is not new.  Greenleaf wrote about Servant Leadership over 40 years ago. However, this essential ingredient in teaching people to become effective leaders is entirely lacking.

The result is troubling.  Administrators regularly act as if the teacher, educational assistant, custodian or parent do not truly matter.  Administrators routinely believe that their way of leading is the only way and what they know is what is best for their school.  The idea that they should stand back and play a supporting role is lost on many people.

This is not to say that there are no great leaders out there.  I have met many of them, some in our own district and many more at conferences I have attended and learning groups I have joined.

“The servant-leader is servant first…It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”

It will be seen by many that writing about this smacks of disloyalty to other administrators.

This may be true, but I sincerely believe that we are not put in these positions to support other administrators, we are here to support our staff, students, and community.  We are here to create the conditions for the best learning environment possible.  We are here not to put our stamp on our school community, but to get out of the way and allow others to thrive.

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I love reading the work of George Couros.  He is a true leader when it comes to innovation in schools and the use of technology in education.  Most importantly however, he is a true believer in the importance of building healthy relationships.

When I talk about “innovation in education”, creativity in schools, or meaningful use of technology, I always begin by saying that nothing I say matters if you do not build relationships in schools. There is no “culture of innovation” if there is no positive culture. It is the foundation of which we build things upon.

George Couros

Maybe this is one reason why schools are failing to become centers of innovation.  If everything depends on the ‘vision’ of one individual, how can we expect innovation to take place?

How do we expect our staff to really express their creative voice?

This is what I see.  I am happy to hear from others with an opposing view. Whatever the case, we should consider the role of the leader and the enabler, the true servant of their community.

This is where true growth and innovation will flourish.

Keep Yourself Informed – Make a Twitter List

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In times like these, you really need to keep yourself informed.  It is one of the responsibilities that come with living in a democracy.

It is not enough to complain about the bizarre situation in the United States.  Even though I am Canadian, it is really important to keep informed.

There are daily reasons to keep informed and alert.
There are daily reasons to keep informed and alert.

One new way I am trying to keep informed is by setting up a special Twitter list on American politics.  My list is growing daily and it includes many of the dominant opposition voices to the current regime in Washington.  I am also including Donald Trump’s account on the list.  His tweets are objectionable, but again, it is important to see what he is putting out.  A Twitter list is like your own specialized information channel.  I use them frequently to focus my feed on specific topics.

I am also using Scoop.it to share the tweets and articles I find important.  Keeping informed is part of our responsibility, sharing what we find is also essential.

Apart from developing my new Twitter list, I am also signing up for more political blogs and collecting them for my daily unroll.me e-mail.  Again, it is really important to channel as much relevant information as possible to keep aware of a political situation that changes daily.

My list will continue to grow.  I need to create a really good news channel through Twitter and at the same time, I want to follow and support those out there that are doing their best to stand in opposition to the current American political situation.

You can do your part – follow my list or create your own.

Whatever you do, stay informed!

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https://twitter.com/mcguirp/lists/american-politics/members

 

Teaching as Resisting: Using Social Media in Difficult Times

“Schools should not, in other words, be responsive, welcoming, or servile in the face of change, but should be bulwarks against it. Schools should be the high point from which to watch the flood.”

Gary Chapman The Not School discussion of Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death

I read Neil Postman’s book Teaching as a Conserving Activity when I was in teacher’s college.  Something stuck with me, although I haven’t read it in over 31 years. To me, there was an important message in this book.  Education needs to stand in resistance to the dominant culture.

I have always seen the educator’s role as that of a subversive.  We need to resist the dominant culture and teach our children to be critical thinkers.

This is more important now than ever.

For most of us, we are living under a truly evil leader for the first time. This happens, it just hasn’t happened to us before.

Donald Trump is not something that we have seen before in an American President. Denying refugees safe haven and painting them all as dangerous subversives is simply wrong and we who teach need to stand in opposition to this type of thinking.

How do we resist?

I would suggest that this is the time to really embrace social media and teach our children how to use it responsibly.  I can no longer stomach those who say that social media is dangerous and has no place in the classroom.  Those who say our students use social media just to keep up with the Kardashians are really missing the point.  The Kardashians are simply the Flintstones of a new generation.

An older generation's version of the Kardashians
An older generation’s version of the Kardashians

Let’s move on.

Social media is the best way for all of us to resist the evil that now exists in our society.  Remember this, most of us have never lived under a Pinochet, a Franco, a Mussolini.  In the days of these and other dictators, there was no light that you could shine on their evil and have it viewed by others.

Our one hope is that the power of social media means we finally have a weapon to deal with ignorance and hate.

In 2007, a group of protesters in Suchitoto, El Salvador were abducted when they were protesting against water privatization. Their capture was caught on film and quickly uploaded to Youtube.  Ten years earlier, these protesters would have disappeared never to be seen again.

Because of social media, there was an international protest against the illegal capture and eventually, the Salvadoran Government was forced to release the protestors.

If you know anything about the slaughter of civilians during the civil war in El Salvador this was an incredible event.  International pressure fuelled by social media certainly saved the lives of these people.

Now, in 2017 we are faced with a government system that has all the earmarks of the oppressive Salvadoran regime of earlier days.  But we have the tools and as educators, we need to use them as a way to stand in opposition to racism and bigotry.

Look what is coming out daily through social media:

Ontario’s minister of health and long-term care says the province will offer to provide life-saving care to children whose surgeries have been cancelled in the United States as a result of recent travel restrictions.

“Given that this is a critical time for these ill children, our ministry and Ontario’s specialized children’s hospitals, which provide best-in-the-world care, feel the responsibility to act quickly,” Eric Hoskins said Friday.

Hoskins said it has come to the government’s attention that some critically ill children are being turned away at the U.S. border solely because of where they were born and that Canada has an obligation to respond.

CBC Ontario to provide life-saving health care to children affected by U.S. travel ban

Today, Uber also bowed to public pressure and distanced itself from the Trump government.

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So, resistance, peaceful and respectful works.  Let’s really be educators and teach our children that this is an important time.  Tell them to use social media in an intelligent way and resist.