Pushing Boundaries @almaharris1

“Pushing Boundaries @almaharris1” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

So the prompt this week for the #EduBlogsClub is to: 

Write a post that discusses leadership, peer coaching, and/or effecting change.

After some reflection, I thought it might be useful to review some of the books on leadership that have helped guide my thinking …

Compelling Leadership by Paul Browning

“The idea of trust is hard to define but we certainly know when it is missing”

Of all the qualities or attributes, Paul Browning argues that leadership is first and foremost about vision and trust. Importantly though, without trust there is nothing. To support leaders, Browning discusses ten practices designed to help engender trust: admit mistakes, offer trust to staff members, actively listen, provide affirmation, make informed and consultative decisions, be visible around the organization, remain calm and level-headed, mentor and coach staff, care for staff members, and keep confidences. This short book is a useful provocation and provides some useful questions to reflect upon.

Distributed Leadership Matters by Alma Harris

“Distributed leadership is primarily concerned with the interactions and the dynamics of leadership practice rather than a preoccupation with the formal roles and responsibilities traditionally associated with those “who lead.” This book argues that it is the practice of leadership that is most important if the goal, in schools and districts, is to secure better instruction and improved learner outcomes.”

There is potential within every organisations that goes untapped, this is often due to the lack of distributed leadership. For Harris, the level of distribution is a key indicator of high-performing organisations. Distributed leadership can be broken down further into four characteristics: the levels of trust, interdependence, reciprocal accountability and shared purpose. With all this in mind, Harris warns that the idea of distributed leadership can easily be misconstrued and abused. Although not designed as a step-by-step manual, this book is a useful provocation to help improve outcomes and performance in an organisation.

Start With Why by Simon Sinek

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”

For lasting change and innovation you need trust, loyalty and inspiration, it is for this reason that Simon Sinek suggests starting with the question of why. At the heart of Sinek’s argument is what he calls the ‘golden circle’. Where most people begin with the what, dictating how we do things and hopefully why we do it. The golden circle is about working in reverse, from the inside out. The challenge is that a why is not something you simply invent, rather it is something discovered through deep reflection and action. In regards to leadership, this notion of why is best led organically and distributed across an organisation.

The Changing Face of Modern Leadership by David Culberhouse

“The rate, velocity, turbulence, and chaos of change is not only affecting our organizations, it is affecting our leadership. Today’s leaders can no longer, afford to just implement mandates and initiatives. They have to engage in ideas and thinking that not only re-imagine the very structures and processes of our organizations, but of our leadership and how that looks in today’s modern world.”

Beyond lists and frameworks of what works and is already known, David Culberhouse makes the case that the future will be different and that we need to start adjusting. In response to this challenge, leaders of tomorrow will be required to be more agile, engage with the question, recognise the fluidity of the systems we work in, provide balance between thoughts and action, and be comfortable with uncomfortableness. For Culberhouse there are four mindsets that are integral to this shift: learner, pioneer, innovative and servant. Although case studies are sparse in this book, this space forces you as a reader to make your own connections and dig deeper into your own context.

Renegade Leadership by Brad Gustafson

“The most distinguishing feature of Renegade Leadership is a blatant disregard for the impossible in pursuit of fulfilling our responsibility to prepare all students for their future.”

Going against the usual calls for revolution and revolt, Brad Gustafson describes how to foster a culture of innovation that is at the same time grounded in a belief about best practices. At the heart of this balance is having a clear belief and vision about education. Gustafson’s unpacks a list of traits pertinent to this practice of leadership, including pedagogical precision, transparency, connectedness, innovation, risk-taking, capacity building, child-centred, empowered learner, impact and moral courage. Renegade Leadership provides ammunition to tackle change no matter what context you are starting from.

Student-Centred Leadership by Vivian Robinson

“The more leaders focus their relationships, their work, and their learning on the core business of teaching and learning, the greater will be their influence on student outcomes.”

For Robinson leadership is more than the usual discussion of management, relationships or innovation, the key is the value added to student learning. She identifies three capabilities important to having the greatest impact as being the application of knowledge, solving problems and building trust. These capabilities support responses to what she highlights as the five dimensions of leadership: establishing goals and expectations, resourcing strategically, ensuring quality teaching, leading teacher learning and development, and ensuring an orderly and safe environment. For Robinson, these capabilities and dimensions represent the how and what of student-centred leadership.

Tribes by Seth Godin

Leaders don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for. They use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them. Leaders must become aware of how the organization works, because this awareness allows them to change it.

According to Godin, tribes involve those who choose to lead, for if you want to you can. The tools of the web make it easier than ever to start a movement. The challenge we are faced with is overcoming our own fear of failure and change in order to be a heretic and develop something remarkable and original. Godin’s thesis can be summed up in five points: everyone is expected to lead, the structure of today allows this change, the market rewards remarkable, it is thrilling to lead and there is always a tribe waiting for you. Not your usual book on leadership, Godin’s intent is as much to guide as it is motivate. It is one of those books that you can easily dip into again and again.

So there are some books that have inspired me, what about you? What books would you recommend? As always, comments welcome.

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To move forward in education - to create a vision for education that then comes to life - we must take more than a top-down or bottom-up approach; we will need all hands on deck. George Couros ‘Innovator’s Mindset’

I was recently asked by a colleague about my ‘vision’ for eLearning and 21st century learning. Inspired in part by Gary Stager educational philosophy in 100 words, as well as my work with with DET exploring the EDUSTAR planning tool, this is the list of attributes that I came up with:

eLearning …

Is Transformative: More than just redefined, learning is purposeful and involves wider implications.

Is More Doable: Makes things like critical thinking and collaboration more possible.

Enables Student Voice: Technology provides a voice for students to take ownership over their work and ideas.

Involves Modelling Digital Citizenship: More than a sole lesson, eLearning should be about foster competencies throughout the curriculum.

I supported this with a list of readings to clarify where my thoughts had come from. Although as I have stated time and time again, it takes a village and recognising everyone in the village can be a futile act.

My concern with this whole process though is two-fold. Firstly, a vision is not created by one person, however compelling that may be. A point that George Couros makes in his book Innovator’s Mindset. This is a problem I had with the DET EDUSTAR training where a few random representatives were expect to be the voice of a whole school. While secondly, an eLearning vision needs to marry with the school’s wider vision for ‘learning’. The question then remains as to how we make a vision for learning and technology which supports the whole school with a common goal?

So what about you, what is your eLearning vision? How is it integrated within the wider school vision? As always comments are welcome.

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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

There are many wicked questions in education, such as what is the role of the learner? Or the teacher? What strategies should we use? What are the essential learning outcomes? How do we engage with stack holders and the wider community? Each problem involves grappling with contradictory knowledge and opinions involved, the economic challenges and the interconnected nature. So many of these problems though are engrained in how we integrate technology within education.

A popular solution in regards to integrating technology seems to be the TPACK framework. It consists of seven different knowledge areas focusing on the relationships between technology, pedagogy and content. However, it can be argued that it creates more confusion than clarify. For example, Richard Olsen points out that, “separating technical/digital literacy from traditional literacy offers nothing”. The issue is that the framework sees things that are not necessarily so as somehow being in isolation, such as Pedagogical Knowledge and Technological Pedagogical Knowledge, as well as Content Knowledge and Technological Cotent Knowledge. The question then remains, what part does technology play?

There are many who argue that technology plays a central role in all that we do. The latest message coming from Greg Whitby, who suggests that technology offers the potential to extend our perspective beyond our own limits, offering the potential to deepen learning. The question though is how far do we take this? Where does social media and other such technology belong in schools? There are those such as Jason Markey who share about using hashtags and a shared Twitter account to model best practice. While there are also those, such as George Couros and Dean Shareski  who warn against ‘edu-fying’ every new application, like Snapchat. Eric Jensen touches on this dilemma wondering if schools should provide students with a safe space away from the external pressures of parents and the world wide web. In addition to this, students have a tendency to simply move onto the next best thing. For although technology may offer the potential to deepen learning, it can also turn students off too.

In the end, I am not sure the exact place of technology? Is it a class Twitter account open to the world or is it a closed off space like Edmodo which allows for some sort of security? Is it allowing students to bring into school whatever device they like or is it banning all smartphones and wearable devices? Maybe the reality is that the answer is different for every school and context. What I do know is that Danah Boyd’s book, It’s Complicated, is more important than ever. Not because she necessarily provides all the answers – who does? – but that she paints a picture of technology and the challenges of today.

The reality is that we all have a choice to make and that choice has consequences. So, what are you doing and what consequences is it having? I would love to know. Please share.

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I recently presented at the inaugural #DigiCon conference on the topic of ‘becoming connected’. It is a topic I have touched on before. However, I elaborated on this a bit more. Here are a few resources associated with the presentation:

Becoming a More Connected Educator (DIGICON15) – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

While I Amy Burvell created some image that connect with the presentation based on her #3ofme series and available at her My-conography page:

Pln Burvell Become Burvell +1 Burvell



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creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16221128468

I had my first day in Year 4 yesterday. I am lucky enough to be in their for a full day on a Friday as the usual teacher runs the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program. As it is their first week, we were working through a range of activities associated with setting up the classroom environment for learning.

One of the activities that we did was to look at “Why do we come to school?” In order to go deeper with our thinking, we did the ‘five whys’ where students were required to answer the question five times, each time elaborating on the last response. Once they had spent some time coming up with answers, I got each student to share on a sticky note the one response that they felt represented them the most.

As we grouped the different responses, four themes appeared:

  • To gain for knowledge
  • To get a better job
  • To live a better life
  • To develop friendships

Having been reading a lot about heutagogy lately, the practise of self-determined learning, the response that was missing was to ‘learning how to learn’. Although some, such as Stewart Hase, assert that we are heutgogical learners from the start, others, such as Lisa Marie Blaschke, suggest that becoming self-determined learners is better understood as being a part of a  Pedegogical-Andragogy-Heutagogy (PAH) continuum. (For more information, see Experiences in Self-Determined Learning). Interestingly, Blashke suggests that, “if we are to help students become heutagogical learners, we must apply heutagogical practices with younger students early on, while at the same time working toward emancipating those who have become industrialized learners and continue to “learn-to-the-test”. In her chapter, she provides a range of strategies, such as:

  • Let learners choose what they will learn and how they will learn it.
  • Encourage learners to explore
  • Be a guide on the side (or a meddler in the middle)
  • Allow learners to learn from each other
  • Help learners understand the process of how they learn

What I was curious about though was at which point does a student say that they come to school to ‘learn how to learn?’ Robert Schuetz talks about the entrepreneurial mindset as being counter to what Yong Zhao describes as ‘Employment-Orientated Learning’, while in a recent episode of the TER Podcast capturing some presentations from a Teachmeet in Sydney, Jon Andrews shared how he had introduced heutagogical learning across his whole school from P-12. Even though Andrews shared his young daughters understanding of design thinking and how she can use such practises across all her learning, the question that remains is when they become conscious of this. That is, when do students make the metacognitive connection that they do not come to school to learn ideas and information that may not even be relevant in a few years time, but instead come to learn how to learn?

Just wondering. As always, your thoughts are welcomed.

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creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by GustavoG: http://flickr.com/photos/gustavog/7367193

So it is Week 4 of the #youredustory challenge and the question this week is what is the best thing happening in your class/school/network. Again, for the second week running, I have been spurred on by the thoughts of Steve Brophy. In his post he suggested that the best is often based on context:

My one best thing changes depending on who I am working with, what I’m working on, the context and a long list of factors.

I would like to take this a step further and suggest that the best thing that is happening in my network is the network itself.

Borrowing from David Weinberger’s saying idea that ‘the smartest person in the room is the room’, I feel that the best thing happening is the network itself. Whether it be online associations, colleagues from nearby schools or those I connect with in person, I am continually inspired at the awesome things happening and the potential of others to go beyond the fixed ideas that we can unintentially confine them with. He did what, but … Or she is just a …

I think that ideas about ‘best and greatest’ are better understood as a way of seeing. More often than not there are great things happening all around us that we never seem to have the time to notice or the eyes to see.

Doug Belshaw wrote a post recently which really challenged my thinking. In it he spoke about our tendency to get bogged down in thinking about the way the world ought to be, instead of celebrating the way that it is. As much as we would like to think otherwise, change takes a lot of time. Patience is therefore needed by the bucket load and change to begin from within.

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