Saturday, November 28, 2015

Make Room for Creativity and Change

I just read a great post from Jon Harper (Happiness, Silly) about finding our state of creative flow, those times where we feel we are in our zone and are able to develop our best ideas, create our best moments, and generate seemingly unending personal energy. Jon suggests that he finds his creative flow in those moments when the tyranny of what's next fades away. Too often we are so busy with what's next, our schedules and to do lists, that we don't find those creative flow moments.

Jon's post resonated with me, in part, because I've been thinking about ways our education system could encourage more creativity and change. I agree with him that we don't have enough white space for educators to pursue their own passions and ideas, to find that creative flow.

We need to increase creativity and personal meaning for everyone involved in education--teachers, students, administrators, etc. Creativity results in greater meaning and personal relevance. It results in more perseverance. It results in positive change. It turns schools into learning organizations instead of information organizations.

But too often, leaders want to get behind people and push them toward an outcome. We develop one-size-fits-all programs. We hold never ending trainings. We mandate this or demand that. We pile on more paperwork.

It's piled on from every level of our system. What's next is coming at us from federal, state, local, and building levels.

We even require a lot of the new stuff in the name of change. We need to change this or that. We need more technology integration. Everyone must use this new method or strategy.

And this crazy dance goes on with noble intentions.

But what if there is another way? What if we provided more white space to allow professionals to develop their own ideas, to start their own movements, to share more of who they are and what they believe in as educators?

Instead of pushing, maybe just a nudge is all that's needed.

A nudge that encourages, "You have great ideas. You should share that."

A nudge that challenges, "How could we give students more ownership in that?"

A nudge that hopes, "Wouldn't it be great if..?"

To unleash the creativity latent in our profession, we have to make room for change. We have to stop pushing and pressuring and start providing conditions that allow for new ideas and problem-solving.

It will require trust. It will require taking things off of people's plates. It will require leaders who support risks and celebrate ideas. But it will be worth it. Make room for change.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Making Learning More Meaningful

Why have we placed such a high value on sense-making over meaning-making? Sense-making involves understanding and demonstrating a content or skill. Much of the work we do in school is related to sense-making and there is nothing inherently wrong with this. We need to know facts and learn skills. But why don't we make greater efforts to connect sense-making with things that bring meaning? Meaning is what helps us to really make sense of the world. It's coming to a place where we understand why our sense-making matters. Meaning gives relevance to our learning.

Daniel Pink explains in his book Drive that people are more effective, more motivated, and more connected to the work, and all areas of life, when conditions exist that allow for autonomy, mastery, and purpose. When we have autonomy we feel we have a voice and a choice. When we are able to do things well (mastery), it makes us want to try even harder and do even more. And when we have a sense of purpose, we feel our contributions matter and that what we contribute is bigger than ourselves.

These conditions are far more powerful than extrinsic rewards, because deep down we know that things that are most meaningful are ones that stand the test of time. Extrinsic rewards satisfy for a moment, but they don't deeply satisfy. They only feed appetites for more recognition, more rewards, or more pleasures. We need meaning, not more stuff, not better grades, not more rules or policies.

In our hurried, success-driven, hyper-connected culture, there is a hunger for meaning in ways like never before. We need something greater than ourselves and our shallow appetites (more stuff, more fame, more instant gratification).

So how does this all translate to the classroom? Let's ask students to do stuff that really matters, to themselves and to others. Learning shouldn't happen in isolation from real impact. Open the world and find ways for students to make a difference now. Give students the freedom and flexibility to do something amazing. As I think about the learning experiences from my school days that I remember the most, they are ones that were personally meaningful to me. We can't expect sense-making to last beyond the test if we don't help students have personal meaning connected to the learning.

Make learning personally meaningful and students will find their passions and become self-determined, lifelong learners.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Tech Geek or Teaching Geek?

I think it was during a Twitter chat I first made the comment that you don't have to be a tech geek to use technology effectively to support learning in your classroom. I later polished the wording a bit and asserted that "Classrooms don't need tech geeks who can teach, we need teaching geeks who can use tech." Several thought-leaders on Twitter have also shared the quote, like most recently @ToddWhitaker.
The message seemed to resonate with educators. But I also received some push back. What's wrong with being a tech-geek? Can we not aim for both? In the end, are the results any different? It seems there is plenty to discuss regarding approaches of using technology to support learning. So I wanted to address these issues and clarify the thinking behind the quote.

Why teaching geeks?

1. It's more important to get the instructional design right and develop engaging, highly effective learning experiences, with or without tech. Unless the central aim of your curriculum is technology, the tech should support the learning and not the other way around. It's not good practice to find a nifty tech tool and then contrive some way to get it into your lesson, just to wow or impress. That would be akin to using technology like a cool party trick. Not exactly the professional practice that will develop consistent and quality learning for students.

2. Teaching geeks are concerned with more than technology. A teaching geek will do everything possible to increase learning and help all students be successful. They love to learn about teaching, talk about teaching, join with other passionate educators on Twitter, and just be geeky about all things related to their profession. Most of all, they are passionate about student learning. I love to attend EdCamps because the teaching geeks are drawn to these events. Geeks go to Comic-Con. Tech geeks go to CES. Teaching geeks go to EdCamps!

3. You don't have to be a technology genius to use tech in the classroom. Many teachers think they can't use technology to support learning because it's not a strength for them. But even if it's not a strength, every teacher can take small steps to utilize technology for learning. Pick just one digital tool that has the potential to enhance your lessons and learn more about it. Our school is in the first year of 1:1 with Chromebooks, so a tool that nearly all of our teachers wanted to learn is Google Classroom. It was a good place to start because it serves as a hub for classroom stuff and allows for increased sharing and collaboration.

4. Don't wait, start somewhere. For teachers who lack confidence with technology, it's easy to avoid taking steps to learn new ways to use technology. And this is exactly what we don't want our students to do, to shrink back in the face of something that doesn't come easily. I'm very proud of teachers in our building who have stepped out of their comfort zone to learn new methods with technology even though it's not their strongest area. It models the type of growth mindset we want to encourage in students.

5. Turn the technology over to your students. Even if you don't know all the ins and outs of using technology, many of your students do. If you give students choice about how to use technology to support their learning, you can incorporate tech even though you aren't the source of all the tech knowledge. It's actually a great thing when students and teachers can learn from each other.

6. So you're a tech geek? That's great. It can actually be very beneficial to your teaching if you couple your knowledge of technology with an array of other tools that are important to effectiveness in the classroom. How do you build relationships, set expectations, empower learning, and support diverse needs? There are so many factors that contribute to an effective classroom. Technology alone won't result in an excellent classroom experience. But if you can leverage your knowledge of technology to support all the other components of an outstanding classroom, you're a top draft pick for sure!

7. If you are one of the distinguished educators who are both tech geek and teaching geek, you have an obligation to share your knowledge with others. We all want to learn from you.

Question: What makes you a teaching geek or a tech geek? Respond on Twitter or Facebook.

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