Why can’t we be more positive with each other?

In the last few weeks, I have been subjected directly or indirectly to a collection of feedback. I wasn’t really looking for it, but it always comes, smacking you in the face.

One was actually directed at Heather and another to a friend after a piece of writing that each of them put out there on different topics. Another was the ongoing feedback I get from my employers at Discovery Education and the last and most devastating was from my students from my first semester history class – an experience I had thought went pretty well.

What is the value of feedback? We promote assessment for learning as a way to gain useful feedback on what we are teaching. The exit card is a great way to get a sense of what just went well and how we can make slight improvements on what we are doing next. This feedback works best when it is constructive and impersonal.

What really works is positive and just in time feedback. I get this with the people I write and edit with at Discovery Education and consequently, I work harder to deliver a product that is up to their standards. I always like working with them because I know that they appreciate the long hours I put into their work. This is a good, creative partnership.

In the past two weeks I have seen comments directed first at my wife, then at a friend publically correcting them for something they wrote in their blogs. It really doesn’t matter if the suggestions were relevant – correcting someone in public is not an effective form of feedback. It produces nothing but shame, then anger. It does not produce positive change. Feedback like this shows a lack of social grace and really needs to be avoided. Having said that it happens a great deal in education – why is that? How is this possibly a good thing?

Today I read the feedback I received from the history course I taught at the Faculty of Education last semester. While much of it was positive, I was taken aback by some of the comments:

So unfortunate to have an instructor with a traditional lens on history. I
wish we had a more progressive academic for this course, rather than a retired principal who clearly has some catching up to do in this subject.

And other one. Yes, there were lots of presentations, we couched this as a way for us to learn from each other rather than follow along with the sage from the stage approach.

there were too many presentation assignments, with unclear instructions for what was expected for the assignments and how we were being assessed. Feedback on assignments was very unclear and didn’t offer what we did wrong that took off marks and what we could have done to get the next higher grade. When emails were sent for clarification on assignments, email response from the prof was fast, however, responses left us with more questions, rather than answering all of our questions.

I obviously have to find other ways to do feedback, however, we spent three hours together each week and none of these concerns were ever sent to me. We have email, we have a bulletin board, there are all sorts of ways to connect. Generally, however, communication was a one-way street.

Maybe we are a hypercritical society. Maybe my skin still isn’t tough enough. Maybe I should stick to gardening.

I can take some ideas from the criticism, but so much was toned in a negative way that it is hard to discern whether many had any interest in making things better. Some wrote later that comments were just a reflection of the natural negative atmosphere they found around them – what does that even mean? Is there no personal responsibility for making destructive comments?

Uncalled for public criticism and negative unconstructive critiques need to be called out. In all the cases I am writing about here, these comments were made by people who are currently in education or soon hope to be. This is a concern for me.

Why is it in education that we can be so critical of our colleagues? How can we expect our students to receive good constructive comments that they can learn from when we are so quick to judge others without any consideration of the impact on the receiver?

I felt strongly enough to write my class back. I am not including everything here, but I hope some of the more critical students will learn something before they inflict their negative energy on students:

To those who articulated comments designed to be negative and hurtful, I would ask you to consider how you communicate with fellow educators. Negative and hurtful comments are seldom helpful and do no lead to new learning. You may be in similar situations in the near future and I wish for you that you will not have similar experiences.

I wish you all success for next year. Try to be kind and considerate, it will take you a lot farther in your careers.

There are enough people out there who are going to go after public educators. We are seeing lots of this now. Please, if you are reading this and you are someone who thinks there is value in always ‘stating your mind’, maybe you could curb your natural instinct to pass on your valuable knowledge.

In many cases, your silence would be very much appreciated.

Trolls Creep Into the Education Debate in Ontario

What does one expect a retired principal to say??? You just want leech our system dry and fail our student to line your colleagues (sic) pockets.

Taken from a direct tweet to me – Sunday, March 24

We are entering into a zone in Ontario where debate and protest are again necessary to protect public education here in Ontario.

Unfortunately, when you begin to advocate for a public institution, you do invite the trolls out there to take shots at you. It is incredible how quickly the debate on social media can go south when we start talking about education. I certainly will not be focussing on the negative, but it truly is a shame when people think it is OK to attack teachers for standing up for their students and parents.

Every 15 years or so democracy seems to take a misstep. We elect someone whose interest in public institutions is suspect. Why do we do things like this? Why do we get tired of supporting vital public institutions?

Democracies sometimes head down the wrong road and when this happens the consequences can be very destructive.

In Ontario, the current government of Doug Ford is taking the beginning steps in dismantling many of the gains our education system has made in the past 15 or 20 years. For the most part, we have made these gains because the people in power believed in strong public institutions. Of course, they made lots of mistakes and they could have done more, but I don’t think you can argue that they didn’t believe in a strong public education system.

The current government is having trouble figuring this one out.

When I protest, I’m not standing up for my rights. I’m standing up for my students because my working conditions are their learning conditions & they deserve better than crowded classes, fewer high school options & forced e-learning.

Taken from Twitter – March 25

It is great to see educators fighting back – there are lots of comments like the one above on Twitter right now. Maybe we can drown out the trolls!

There is an important interview you should all listen to. In it, the current Minister of Education, Lisa Thompson struggles to explain why increasing average class sizes to 28 in high school is a good thing.

//www.cbc.ca/i/caffeine/syndicate/?mediaId=1461676099953In a follow-up article, Lisa Thompson is quoted saying that her government is committed to standing by Ontario’s teachers.

I would argue it’s a little more like standing on the necks of teachers, but that’s just me.

This is an important moment for education in Ontario. Increasing class size does only one thing – it reduces the number of teachers you need to employ, nothing else. Anyone who has spent time scheduling high school classes knows that and I have done lots of that.

You have to expect the trolls will ooze to the surface during these debates. Lots of people have real or imagined gripes against an educator and social media gives them a voice.

trying to ‘school’ teachers will not work for Doug Ford

What is great about the current debate is that lots of educators are also taking to social media to write in support of the current system. This is really important. I don’t know if it will make any difference, but politicians should learn that they can no longer make decisions in a personal vacuum. Their decisions will be debated and in some cases protested against in the public forum. Doug Ford warning teachers not to protest his education cuts is a hollow threat.

It is good to reflect on the Twitter comment to me. The troll writes,  “You just want leech our system dry and fail our student to line your colleagues (sic) pockets.”

The day before Doug Ford was quoted saying this, “I love the front-line teachers and we may not see eye to eye with the head of the unions because all they want to do is collect their union dues and start pocketing (them) into their pockets,”

There seems to be a similarity here. This is what happens when our political leaders drag down the debate and make things personal. It gives permission to the trolls out there to do the same thing.

Educators in Ontario should not allow this to happen.

 

Empathy – We Still Have a Way to Go

 

We are coming up to ‘Bell Let’s Talk‘ on January 31st. This is a day to have an open dialogue on mental health issues in Canada. That’s a very good thing.

Twitter is not always the best forum for discussions on important topics like mental health. I have already seen people ‘like’ tweets about the importance of reaching out if you are someone in distress.

It is so easy to ‘like’. It is much harder to sit there and be present with someone who is really struggling. As someone who has suffered from mental illness in the past, I know people need more than a retweet.

I am happy that this topic is reaching beyond the shadows and getting some publicity. I am seeing people like Chris Nihmey and Laurie Azzi who are doing really important work on social media getting out the message that people need to talk. This is essential and I think their work could actually save lives.

What we need is more people entering this dialogue in a really meaningful way. I remember what it was like to be a struggling educator with serious mental health concerns. I did reach out to people when I was suffering from debilitating anxiety. In all cases, at work at least, my efforts to reach out were rebuffed.

In one case that I have written about before, I told a superintendent that undue stress was a trigger for anxiety. Incredibly, my honest admission was ignored.

Very fortunately for me when I reached out at home, I was understood and loved. That has made all the difference.

I learned a lot from my own mental health struggles and I am better for what I went through. I do however struggle with those in places of authority who are still unable to be empathetic when it comes to the people who work for them.

I have never called out the superintendent that was so insensitive to my own admissions and I won’t do it now. I only hope that they have learned something in the past few years. I hope they have learned a certain degree of empathy.

I am adding a Twitter Moment to this post. It is part of an incredible conversation on Twitter on the need for empathy amongst educators for educators. There are some pretty stark posts included here. I really hope that by writing these tweets, people have found some healing and understanding.

Good that there is a day of awareness. We still have a lot of growing to do.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The IWitness Challenge: Make the World Stronger than Hate

I don’t usually post from one blog to another, but today is the exception. This is such a good learning opportunity for students and educators I just had to put my Discovery Education post on this blog. If you are an educator, I really encourage you to examine this creative opportunity.

Educators have a powerful opportunity to educate and inspire students to make change now.

The 2018 IWitness Video Challenge, created by USC Shoah Foundation and in partnership with Discovery Education, provides an actionable way to promote equality, challenge bias, discuss tolerance, and engage students in a service-learning project that inspires action.

I Witness Viseo Challenge

The people in charge of developing partnerships for Discovery education are to be applauded. At a time where hate and divisiveness are part of our daily dialogue, Discovery Education is showing true leadership by encouraging the opposite – hope. They are doing this in the best way possible, by putting out a challenge to young people, the ones who will create a better world sometime soon.

This is not a partnership I know anything about.  All the more reason to write about it here and learn with all of you.

The USC Shoah Foundation is an incredible organization and they offer a wonderful teaching tool for students and educators. The Foundation is linked to the Institute for Visual History and Education which is dedicated to making audio-visual interviews with survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides. It is the perfect partner for Discovery Education.

The contest calls for community action in a similar way to the newly launched STEM Connectseries. Discovery Education is again showing their unique ability to go beyond their own walls to reach out and link the classroom with the outside world.

In this contest, students will listen to testimonies of survivors and witnesses of genocide and become inspired to counter hate. They will complete research-based and standards-aligned activities, culminating in a community action project. To compete in the Video Challenge, students will document their work in a video essay, which will share their message with the world.

I Witness Video Challenge

When I see things like this I truly wish I was back in the classroom!

There is more being written recently about banning cell phones from classrooms and the addictive effects of social media. I can see how this will go, with more calls from people who really don’t understand social media for its banning in schools.

Incredible contests and partnerships like this really need to be promoted so that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Social media using curated resources like Discovery Education can empower and transform our students and then, hopefully, transform a society that is suffering from way too much distrust and negativity.

Prizes for students reach as high as $5000 scholarships and participating schools are eligible for grants up to $2500.

It is really easy to sign up for the video challenge. The steps are outlined here. As always with Discovery Education partnership projects, there is an excellent teacher’s guide that you can see and download here.

I hope you can sign up your class for this unique challenge. We need more hope and we need to push back and create beautiful things!

 

Freeing the Minds of School Administrators

OK, today I admit I am entering the world of fantasy posts, but I am still going to give this a try.

We have seen lots of Twitter traffic and great blog posts in the last two weeks about how educators are stifled in what they can write on social media by school boards who do not want to read dissenting opinions from their employees.

The best posts are coming from Andrew Campbell. This post is great

So, we know what the problem is – the overarching authority of school board bureaucrats and senior admin to stifle all thoughtful opinion but their own. But is there a solution?

Only if you live in the world of fantasy!

I think this is really an issue of governance. Education in Ontario is really controlled by a small number of senior administrators who are in no way overseen by anyone else in the province. Yes, there are lots of ministry directives, but there is no oversight on the overbearing behavior of board admin.

I write board admin because I don’t mean school administrators – principals and vice-principals.

These are the people who have trained for years to become administrators and put everything on the line every day to keep things going in their schools. It is a tough job and there is little or no support for the hard work that they do. There is also little protection given to them in they run into conflict with parents and even worse, board officials.

Many believe that they are agents of their school board first and that the decisions made by the board, decisions they have no say in, must be supported without question.

This is the incredible thing. School administrators are seldom asked for their opinion about how things should be done at a district level. These decisions are made by superintendents and program coordinators who have little connection to the schools they oversee.

School administrators need to have a voice. They need to be consulted in a meaningful way and they need to know that if they speak out they will be protected by a higher authority than their own school board.

If this were to happen we might actually read some interesting and useful comments on how schools can become more effective. Right now, the best we can expect from a school administrator on Twitter is cheerleading – the useless tweets that are designed to make the school look good without conveying any useful information.

So, again firmly in fantasy land, this is my solution. Free up school administrators from the heavy drag of district officials. Let them speak on the record so we can hear from a very effective group of front-line workers who may actually have some ideas on how to bring about effective change to our schools.

This shouldn’t be a fantasy.

 

 

Social Media and Educators – When Will We Grow Up?

Doug Peterson has written a number of great posts over the past few days based on a wide-ranging Twitter conversation we had on the weekend.

Doug has summarized the conversation really well in the following posts:

Yeah, it can happen – Oct 11
The right to tweet – Oct 10
The “P” in PLN – Oct 9

This is a hard conversation to summarize as it went on for three days and had participation from at least ten different participants. The conversation is collected here in case you want to see it.

I also tried to summarize things in this blog post: Twitter, Educators, and Dissent – October 8

As the conversation evolved, we got closer to talking about free speech, social media and working for an institution. I don’t think anything was resolved, but it was very interesting and more than a little sad to read what people had to say.

To me, it shows that our ideas on social media are still evolving. It indicates that institutions have an incredible fear of social media and see it still as a threat. It also reminds me of the incredible power of institutions to suppress the actions of its members even if these actions are not clearly critical of the institution.

To be honest, it is amazing that we had any sort of conversation as some of the participants are still working for districts and these individuals clearly took a risk by getting involved. I totally understand why others decided to stay clear.

I wrote one comment on Doug’s post and I think this would be a good conversation to have openly on voicED Radio.

In preparing to write the comment, I took a look at an old disciplinary letter that I received. It had a chilling effect. It brought back all the old, bad emotions that swirled around during the last year and a half of employment for that district. Truly, writing about this stuff is more difficult than what I have written in the past about my mental health journey.

Still, this needs to be written about. Institutions should not be allowed to operate with impunity, nor should they be motivated by fear or the desire to sanction employees who challenge their way of thinking.

I hope these posts, discussions, and comments can open this conversation a little bit. It is way past time that we matured in our views regarding social media.

Here is my comment:

Hi Doug. Thanks for your posts over the past few days. Very interesting discussion. Reading the comments and your post again I think it is important to point out that disciplinary action is not a black and white thing. I think we are all looking for the smoking gun – the obvious tweet that is clearly over the line. It is not as simple as that and not everything can be resolved through a face to face conversation either.
When it comes to a violation of board policy leading to disciplinary action, it is the school board that defines what is appropriate and what is not. They are the ones holding all the cards and they determine what is appropriate. They issue the letter and add in that any further ‘violation’ will lead to further action including suspension without pay.
These are extremely effective actions because they do not need to define what a violation really is.
When you don’t have to clearly define the policy or the violation almost anything can be considered a violation. This effectively shuts down the person who receives the letter.
School Boards are well within their rights to do this and in Ontario at least, nothing can be done about this, especially if you are an administrator.
You do not have to say or tweet something critical of the board, you just have to do something they disagree with. None of this is obvious and none of this falls within the easily defined lines you mention above.
What is the result of all this? Basically, silence.

Twitter, Educators and Dissent

So, this is my third rewrite of this post. You wouldn’t think this would be so difficult, but this is a complex subject with many points of view.

There is no question that Twitter is a vital tool for personalized PD amongst teachers. How they see Twitter is varied and nuanced.

 

 

In my first draft, I was pretty cynical about the apparent lack of critical commentary on our current education system on Twitter. When I turned to members of my own PLN, I found that the conversation turned towards the real difficulty educators face when attempting to adopt a critical stance regarding the system.

To me, this is a really interesting point. Social media has given educators a wonderful platform for sharing ideas and for expressing opinion. Unfortunately, supervisors have also learned that social media is a great way to monitor dissenting opinion. Those who criticise the system can be sanctioned. All you have to do is monitor their Twitter feed.

This is not where I expected to go with this post, but I have to pause and take note of what people wrote today. Many of the writers mentioned that they had been called into their administrator’s office because of something they had written on social media. I certainly have.

I think this shows a fundamental abuse of social media. Professionals should be allowed to express themselves without fear of punishment. We are losing out on a critical debate by shutting down the very people we need to hear from.

This is a shame because the education system needs critics. While teaching is a very creative endeavor, education administration is not. Senior administrators are valued best when they are successful at protecting a narrow set of beliefs that never really challenges their own positions of privilege and authority.

 

There is no question that the education system needs to be excellent. It needs positive supporters and intelligent critics to achieve real excellence. We are missing out.

Without constructive criticism, Twitter devolves into a senseless cheerleading platform, a thoughtless flag waving standard for the politically correct.

Andrew Campbell has written an excellent article on this whole topic. Here is a quote:

A teacher explained to me that they’d been called into a meeting with supervisory staff and asked to defend a tweet they’d made about a board policy, which was taken out of context. Teachers have taken down tweets after meetings with supervisory officers who didn’t like what they were posting, and they’re strongly encouraged to ensure that their tweets reflect favourably on the school or the school board.
How School Leaders Are Changing EduTwitter - Andrew Campbell

I had lots to write about educator’s ability to write thoughtful content on Twitter. It’s not all about dissent.

I started with this:

This to me content creation is where the best contributions on Twitter reside. Stephen Hurley had a good thought on this:

I like Twitter (more than other social media) because it helps me “test” ideas. And tested ideas become stronger, or altered.
Stephen Hurley

 

Most of my active PLN is made up of content creators – Stephen Hurley, Donna Miller Fry, Derek Rhodenizer, Julie Boulton, Carol Salva, Sarah Ann Lalonde and a great many more fall into this category – I learn from this group constantly as they put out questions and share ideas on a daily basis.

Now at this point, I was drying up, so I put a question out to my PLN. The response was astounding and I have created a Storify of the two-day conversation. I really suggest you take a look at this – pretty amazing stuff!

What does Twitter do for educators? Content creation? Constructive feedback? Displaying work? Ideas?

Thanks so much to my PLN, you wrote the bulk of this article. There is a whole lot more to write about educator and Twitter, but for today let’s focus on the current state of debate on the state of education and maybe how we can free educators up to express their really important opinions.

New School Year? Why Not Start a School Blog?

I always loved the excitement that comes with this time of year. Getting ready for a new school year always presented new possibilities and projects. In the past few years, I really enjoyed setting up a new year of blogs – one for staff and one for the school community.

What I have found over the past few years is that as a school leader, one must do a very good job at telling the school’s story using every form of social media that works.

In my last school, I found that blogging weekly to the school community worked very well. I started using a school blog when I started at St. Anthony School. Communication here was a big challenge, especially in a community where English was not the first language at home for many families.

I chose to blog because it was the only format that could be translated into different languages using the handy translation tool. I also felt that the days of the paper newsletter were over and that the community had to move to a more flexible form of communication.

I love to blog and I had used a staff blog as a way of communicating with staff members for several years. The school blog was an attempt to introduce the great communication tool to parents and the wider community.

One of the wonderful surprises that occurred with the new school blog was the amazing staff participation in the creation of the weekly blog.

an excerpt from the kindergarten entry from one of our school blogs

Generally, almost all teachers contributed something for the upcoming school blog post. As time went on, many added photos from activities that had taken place during the week before.

This was terrific for the parents and I think really encouraged wide readership of the school blog. From a principal’s perspective, this was wonderful as I received a weekly rundown of what each teacher was planning for their students.

The blog was certainly an act of love, and it did take most of my Sunday to put it together. I really believe that it was well worth the time, especially when students asked me to make sure that photos from their class be included in the blog!

I used Edublogs both for the school and staff blogs. For around $8.00 a month, I subscribed to their ‘pro’ service which allowed me to access their excellent help desk. This was money really well spent as my questions on some of the technical fine points of blogging were always answered within hours of my initial query.

So, if you are looking for a good project for the upcoming school year, why not take up blogging for your school or for your classroom. The work you put into it is really worth the effort. You will be opening up your world to the parents you serve.

Good luck, any questions? Please let me know, very happy to help!

Next post – how to put together a staff blog.

The Importance of Being Civil to Others

I read a great post by Andrew Campbell this morning, Why Teaching Digital Citizenship Doesn’t Work.

He writes:

We need to stop teaching Digital Citizenship with long lists of rules and instead reinforce basic Citizenship. Provide students with a set of positively framed principles to apply to all situations, digital and analog. Students don’t need more rules; they just need to apply the ones they’ve already got. The same ones they learned in kindergarten.

While this post was written in 2013, it is just as relevant today. I would go even further, adults also need to learn to follow the rules of civility. Andrew reposted this blog as part of a larger conversation on civility and respect using digital media. Another participant,

Another participant, Rolland Chidiac made this important comment:

Rolland’s tweet makes a great point, but a sad one. People routinely treat people badly and feel that they can get away with it because they are distanced by the phone or digital media.

As educators, we should strive never to do this. We should be holding ourselves to a higher standard and we should be acting as an example to our students.

I am writing this to comment on a really good twitter discussion and because I witnessed an incredible lack of civility displayed by a fellow administrator today.

Following the rules of civility, I will not get into the details, apart from saying this administrator has done an excellent job at making sure I could not return to my former school to do a presentation on a fundraising climb I took part in to Mount Kilimanjaro earlier this year.

Some people just don’t understand what it means to be gracious and civil and I really believe people like this need reconsider why they are in education. In a world dominated by Donald Trump Tweets and bickering, we need to show more grace and compassion when we are dealing with others. Students, parents, and colleagues.

Following the guidelines set out in this morning’s tweets, I would be happy to confront this educator and explain this to them. Unfortunately, nothing would change and that is too bad.

In a world that is growing crueler and less civil, we really need to reflect on this. Our actions have consequences, our actions can really hurt other people – this is something we should never do.

Thanks to my wonderful twitter friends for a great discussion, very timely based on my experiences today.

 

Keep Yourself Informed – Make a Twitter List

the-nation-thenation-twitter

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!

list-members-clipular

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