My Way or the Highway?

In a recent episode of the Design and Play podcast, Dean Pearman and Steve Brophy spoke about the importance of sticking to their core beliefs and values. This means moving on when conflicted. Although this stance is to be applauded, I was left wondering if it were a luxury to actually be able to move on at will? It also had me wondering if perpetuating such a message is missing a trick?

I remember being told by a boss once ‘if you don’t like it here then you can leave’. I respect that, it was his choice and in the end I did leave. My concern though was not necessarily the location, but rather the leadership, the ‘my way or the highway’ mindset.

Maybe I am idealistic or just naive, but a leader cannot directly do the work of change and learning. Instead, they create the conditions for others to prosper. For some, this is putting ticks and balances in place to make sure that everyone is performing. For others it involves the distribution of leadership, development and collective capacity building.

I am always reminded of the story of Geelong Grammar’s adoption of Positive Psychology. It did not involve a few sessions with staff and students, rather it involved all members of school, including those working in administration and maintenance. This was about creating an environment where everyone can flourish.

Another similar program is Leading Teams. At the heart of this is an organisation leading change from the ground on up. This is not because someone above said so, but rather because it was a trademark agreed upon by the people on the ground. This involves trust. I remember Ray McLean recounting early stories of failure required to achieve collective success. However, too often such goal setting sessions become token, ticked off as something done, with people towing the party line, rather than sharing what they truly believe. Here I am reminded of David Culberhouse’s discussion of ‘positive deviance’, where the focus is on identifying the bright spots within an organisation and using their stories and strategies to help drive change.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone leaves in the end. However, wouldn’t it be better if such decisions happened to further opportunity, rather than fix our values? For in the end, it takes a village and surely that involves compromise. As always, comments welcome.


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REVIEW: Any Given Team

Any Given Team documents Ray McLean’s journey from teacher, to air force instructor, to leadership consultant. Rather than provide an instruction manual, unpacking the art of leading a team step-by-step, McLean uses various stories to explain the origins and elaborations associated with Leading Teams. Besides being a more compelling means of capturing the full picture, it is also at the heart of the move from instruction to facilitation is at the heart of McLean’s work.

With origins in developing a team of leaders within an elite group in the air force to resurrecting a failing football club, McLean’s initial focus was on supporting teams to develop a trademark to stand by, what he labelled as the ‘Performance Improvement Program’. From these core values, behaviours are identified to drive development and regular group feedback is used to guide this. As he explains,

Take any given team, find out what kind of team it really wants to be, give them some work to do and then afterwards help them talk honestly in their own language about how one another’s behaviour matched up with that team they said they wanted to be; repeat the process, each time trying to do a little better than the last.

Although Leading Teams has become synonymous for its peer review sessions where the team members openly question each other, what is often overlooked is the dependence on an agreed sense of purpose. This focus on values soon expanded to supporting individual athletes in the personal art of leadership. This involved developing their communication skills and connecting them with various community programs to support their place as role models. In addition to this, PIP expanded into business and education.

An idea that comes up again and again is the importance of trust. Although setting rules may seem like an answer, it does not help for transforming actions and behaviours. A point made time and again by Alfie Kohn. This reminded me of Paul Browning’s work on trust and leadership. For McLean, the initial changes to any team is trust, honesty and accountability. The problem is that without this starting point, you only ever have a group of individuals. A key to this change is developing as many leaders across the team as possible, something that Alma Harris discusses in her own work on distributed leadership.

Another point pertinent to the whole program is the place of behaviours. For McLean, performance is a combination of attitudes, habits, beliefs and expectations. So often though the only measurement to go by are our actions. Whether it be our preparation, getting a task down or supporting a colleague, each of these actions are a measurement to a commitment to the agreed trademark and the team.

One of the odd things about the book is the seemingly inadvertent focus on men. Whether it be the air force, numerous sporting clubs or business, it always seems to involve men. This is interesting because my personal experience of Leading Teams was facilitated by a female consultant. I wonder if this is merely a reflection of society and the wider gender divide?

Another question I was left with is where culture starts and stops? Reading the discussions about the St. Kilda Football Club I was reminded of the incident a few years back involving Stephen Milne and Leigh Montagna. It leaves me wondering where that sat with the club trademark and culture. Would this happen at a club like Sydney where ‘the bloods’ permeates all aspects of the team, on and off the field? Is there a line you step over which belongs outside of the club? How much should individuals be expected to adapt their lives to fit the team? Milne and Montagna’s actions would have impacted the culture of the club at the time?

My two personal takeaways from the book are: leaderships begins with knowing yourself and having some agreed ‘trademark’ is essential for any team to work together. McLean suggests that, “the best that we can do is manage ourselves properly”. This reminds me of a comment by Voltaire that “common sense is not common.” Managing ourselves ‘properly’ then is something that takes considerable time and effort. Curt Rees’ starting point is auto-ethnography and knowing who we are. While the idea of a trademark reminds me of Simon Sinek’s argument to always ‘Start with Why’. For Sinek, the why always influences what you do and how you go about it. It is for this reason that McLean asserts,

If we can develop an environment where each player has a vested interest in the development of his teammates, and people are driving themselves individually and collectively towards the team they want to be, the team’s performance will improve and continue to improve.

Brad Gustafson also discusses the importance of values and having a trademark in his book Renegade Leadership. His strategy is to pin his school’s transformational tenets near his phone and workstation so that any time he is on the phone to somebody or writing an email he is reminded of these values.

So what about you? What experiences have you had regarding leadership within team situations? As always, comments welcome.


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Reading Leadership #EduBlogsClub

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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Luke Beveridge and the Decisions of a Servant Leader


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

In a recent post, Paul Browning reflected on leadership and the act of decision making. He outlines four categories:

  • The controller
  • The pleaser
  • The procrastinator
  • The consultor

Thinking about his own practice, Browning suggests that too often he is a pleaser. Although this may keep people happy, Browning points out that it does not necessarily build trust in the same way as when someone consults. However, on the weekend this was somewhat challenged with Luke Beveridge’s decision to handover his medal during the AFL Grand Final.

via GIPHY

There has been a lot said about Luke Beveridge over the last few days. He surfs, cuts his own hair, sings his own songs, even occasionally gets around on a skateboard. However, the moment that will forever be marked on my memory will be when he took off the Jock McHale Medal, a reward given to the winning coach, and gave it to Robert Murphy. This was a symbolic gesture, to give the medal to a player at heart and soul of the club, who after years of tireless service was struck down earlier this year with a knee injury. Stuck on the sidelines, he has been a visible presence in the coaches box each game. Although it was Beveridge’s medal and no one would question that he earnt it, in the spur of a moment he made the decision to be selfless, another member of the club, so as to please the masses.

To me, this is epitomises the notion of servant leadership. Although some talk about servant leadership as taking responsibility for the worst jobs, to me it is also about using any and every opportunity give back so as to build up the whole. The Mind Tools site describes it as follows:

As a servant leader, you’re a “servant first” – you focus on the needs of others, especially team members, before you consider your own. You acknowledge other people’s perspectives, give them the support they need to meet their work and personal goals, involve them in decisions where appropriate, and build a sense of community within your team. This leads to higher engagement, more trust, and stronger relationships with team members and other stakeholders.

This was summed up in an interview with one of the teams veterans who when asked whether it was the coach that the team played for he responded saying that it was actually for each other.

This ‘team first’ mindset was also demonstrated when after the game Marcus Bontempillis poured a container of sports drink over the coach in the midst of an interview. It could be easy to perceive such an act as arrogance or immaturity, or maybe a homage to NFL. Yet what it said to me was that from the coach down everyone was in it together.

We talk about flat and agile structures, yet sometimes leaders are unwilling to relinquish the power and control. Although consulting others when making decisions can help build trust across the board, there are times when decisions need to be made and it is often these moments that leave the greatest mark. For in the end, action creates culture one choice at a time.


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Voices in the Village (2015)


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

In a previous post, I reflected on the voices in the village. Reflecting on the different comments shared with me via my blog across the year. This got me thinking about the ideas and influences that have influenced my thinking this year. I have subsequently spent some time mining through my memories, as well as my Diigo collection, for the posts from the village that have left a mark. Some on my thinking, others in regards to my practise …

Coaching and Leadership

Why Agency Matters – Jon Andrews (@obi_jon_) argues that to get the most out of staff we need to support their agency, rather than continually dictate instructional models and learning outcomes.

The most conducive and productive professional environments for this have been those with high expectations intertwined with support. These environments resist compliance in favour of engagement which leads to responsible autonomy. The best leaders have been those who grow these organisations with two key things, trust and reciprocal relationships in unique contexts.

The Know-How Continuum – Chris Munro (@cmunroOZ) unpacks the challenge of staying in the coachee’s context as long as possible, rather than jumping to ideas and supposed solutions.

The aim is to keep responsibility and ownership with the coachee. Introducing a suggestion with something like “What I’ve seen work in the past is….“, to some degree, puts the idea out there in neutral territory without the coach claiming ownership of it. This is very different from “Well, what I think you should do is…“. For (teacher) coaches (or perhaps just humans in general!) this can be a difficult thing to do.

Dear John – Brad Gustafson (@gustafsonbrad) writes an open response to a parent who raised concerns that digital literacies, such as social media, were being focused at the expense of foundational skills, designed to create a space for debate, rather than an answer to a question.

When our answers become more important than the questions others ask we will have done a disservice to the very nature of learning.

How Do We Rebuild Trust in Our Schools – Corinne Campbell (@corisel) touches on the importance of being trustworthy, as well as what this might mean for schools and education.
Our goal as individual teachers, as schools and systems, needs to be that we are perceived as worthy of trust.
Evaluate Expert Advice on Schools and Advice – Richard Olsen (@richardolsen) questions the debate surrounding the ‘expert advice’ of Ken Wiltshire and Kevin Donnelly, suggesting that the real issue is our perspective on learning.

Illeries model is useful in that it enables us to identify some of core differences between what different people believe about learning (and teaching.) While, I wouldn’t recommend using this model to adequately explain the differences between the various educational theories and theorists as some try to do, it does help us to start identifying where we agree and disagree with others, which in turn enables us to construct and articulate a well formed argument.

Educators as Lead Learners – Jackie Gerstein (@jackiegerstein) provides a guide as to how educators can lead the learning in the classroom.

The goal of this post is to encourage educators not only to adopt the mindset of the educator as a lead learner but also to model, demonstrate, and teach his/her learners the process of learning how to learn new “things”.

What Happens When There Is No Curriculum? – Royan Lee (@Royanlee) flips the complaint about the constrains of the curriculum by wondering what we would do if we didn’t have one.

I am neither a staunch defender of all things curriculum, nor a flag-waver for the dissolution of it. The grey in between, of course, is always far more delightful andcolourful if you allow it to be.

Permission to Innovate – Adrian Camm (@adriancamm) outlines his vision for a co-created curriculum coupled with a permission for staff to take risks.

… because schools are built on trust and relationships, people need to know that innovation isn’t about devaluating anyone’s work. Innovation isn’t necessarily a deficit statement. Innovation can simply refer to the introduction of something new – an idea, product, teaching approach or in creating more effective processes to create a new dimension of performance. Certainly, innovation is contextual, and what represents innovative thought and practice for one person might not necessarily be innovative for another. Being innovative however requires us to step outside of the normal and suspend our biases. Suspending our biases allows us to develop a capacity to disassociate from the way things have always been done. By developing this capacity we give ourselves permission to innovate.

Learning in Perpetual Beta – Borrowing from the tech industry, Tom Barrett (@tombarrett) suggests that learning should be a state of perpetual beta, where we engage in a continual cycle of feedback.

Learning in perpetual beta is all about continuous improvement with an emphasis on engineering as many opportunities for feedback as we can.

How to Use Polarity Management to Support Innovation – Tim Kastelle suggests we need to find balance between execution and innovation. It is a reminder that change involves balancing between many polarities.
The key to managing a polarity is to recognize when you are drifting into the negative region of one of the poles and take corrective action as soon as possible.

Trying to Solve for the Problem of Education in 2015 – Elaborating on the idea of motivation and caring, Dave Cormier (@davecormier) meditates on the various challenges associated with education in 2015 in an attempt to clarify the idea of rhizomatic learning.

I have had a not insignificant number of people I’ve talked to in the last 6 or 7 years say things like “this is exactly the way i think about education…” and they do it this way or can’t or are afraid to or are doing it better. I want to be able to do a better job of explaining how rhizomatic education is possible. How would it roll out to a university? A school district? Does it need to be wholesale? Can it work in pieces? Are models like Genius Hour examples of this…? I have alot of questions.

Following a Shared Vision Does NOT Mean We Share Compass Headings – Grant Lichtman (@GrantLichtman) challenges the professional development model where one size fits all, instead arguing that schools need to develop a collective North Star with each teacher plotting their own journey to get there.

Adults must own their learning just like students, and it will most effectively start with this: “There is our school’s collective North Star. Identify where you are with respect to its location and chart your path.”  How cool would it be if you had an actual map of all of these trajectories for your school!

Learning to Lead and Leading as Inquiry – Claire Amos (@claireamosNZ) shares her use of the inquiry model to support her own growth and development as a leader.

As many of you will know I have a thing for teaching as inquiry, in particular I have a thing for teaching as inquiry as a means of developing future-focused adaptive expertise.

Leading School Improvement – Corrie Barclay (@corrieb) reflects on the challenges with implementing  change and some of the lessons learnt along the way.

The SWITCH Program involved four communities of learners within our P-8 campuses. Their amazing teachers were then charged with creating flipped videos to support and enhance their learning. We were wanting to extend the learning of the students just beyond the daily grind of 9:00 – 3:30.

Leading Change is Hard – Bec Spink (@BecSpink) on the difficulties and frustrations associated with leading change and the need to celebrate the wins, however insignificant they may seem.
I felt compelled to write this post to celebrate the successes- however small they seem from the inside…they are pretty huge on the outside and will continue to motivate, engage and challenge me to keep on keeping on!
The Need for Vision in Schools – Greg Miller (@gregmiller68) outlines why having a vision for learning is so important. What is significant is that it does not necessarily have to be complex, more importantly it needs to be clearly communicated.
I know this may sound simplistic and may even appear to ignore the complexities of schools and the diversity of leadership requirements of school principals; however, without Vision, you have a rudderless ship.
The Ideapreneur – David Culberhouse (@dculberhouse) suggests that one of the challenges we face today is not only coming up with innovative and creative ideas, but successfully being able to sell these within wider organizations.
Turning creativity into innovation, turning innovation into acceptance, turning acceptance into adoption, and turning adoption into change, will be the work of the modern day ideapreneur.
Leading Groups: Dealing with Too Cool for School & Other Personalities – Laura Hilliger (@epilepticrabbit) reflects on her time leading groups and provides a range of tips for dealing with all types.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re teaching a piece of software or a concept or facilitating a workshop to hack on project or product or even if you’re organizing donors night for your local non-profit – when you are leading a group of people to work together, you will have to deal with difficult personality types.
Five Takeaways About Student Wellbeing – Dan Haesler (@danhaesler) provides a summary of the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation’s literature review into Student Wellbeing. Although based on work in New South Wales, there are points made which go across the board.

Engagement and wellbeing are at the crux of what we do in schools and if we get this right, outcomes will – largely – look after themselves (for staff as well as students).

Why Teacher and School Leader Wellbeing is Critical – Jason Borton (@borto74) reflects  on the importance of staff wellbeing in school and shares some of the strategies that he has used to maintain morale.
We can’t continue to just add stuff to our daily workload, so if we’re going to take on something new then what are we going to stop doing to make room for it?
The Speed of Things – Greg Whitby (@GregWhitby) wonders about how we might carry our schools into the digital age and what future orientated form of assessment can help us with this.
I wonder whether we need to be looking at schooling in the same way countries assess readiness for the digital economy?  Do we need a Digital Education Index based on key drivers?
Letting Parents in On the Secret of School – Peter DeWitt (@PeterMDeWitt) suggests that we need to stop protecting parents and let them in on the supposed secrets. A challenging piece in regards to the stories we chose to tell in school.

We assume there are topics that parents don’t need to know about when we engage in new initiatives or changes, when the reality is that they are the very topics that parents need to know about. They can be our biggest advocates with their very own children, and letting them in on the secret of school will help them understand that some of what we do may have changed from when they were students.


Edtech

Everything is Broken – in a harrowing post, Quinn Norton (@QuinnNorton) shares her insight into the level of trust we invest in the web and why this will always be fraught with risk.
There’s your choice: constantly risk clicking on dangerous malware, or live under an overpass, leaving notes on the lawn of your former house telling your children you love them and miss them.
Peering Deep into the Future of Educational Credentialing – Doug Belshaw (@dajbelshaw) explores the possibilities of combining open badges with blockchain, the technology behind bitcoin, to make credentialing more secure.

While we wouldn’t want to entirely remove the “human” element around credentialing, a hybrid OBI and blockchain approach could add value to our current system. Machines and software are extremely good at fact-checking, whereas humans are good at meaning. We need both.

My Name is danah and I’m a Stats Addict – danah boyd (@zephoria) reflects on the obsession that many of us have with all things statistics when online and how it often means so little.

Stats have this terrible way of turning you — or, at least, me — into a zombie. I know that they don’t say anything. I know that huge chunks of my Twitter followers are bots, that I could’ve bought my way to a higher Amazon ranking, that my Medium stats say nothing about the quality of my work, and that I should not treat any number out there as a mechanism for self-evaluation of my worth as a human being. And yet, when there are numbers beckoning, I am no better than a moth who sees a fire.

Appropriation vs. attribution. What’s ok in our digital world? – Deb (@debsnet) reflects on the challenges associated with sharing content in the digital age.

Ownership in the digital world is a slippery issue. In academia, the parameters are straightforward; if you are repeating or even building upon the ideas or words of someone else, you cite them. Period. Yet this same practice does not consistently apply in the blogosphere, Twitterverse, or classroom.

Please Stop Stealing Images – Chris Wejr (@ChrisWejr) continues his reflection on technology by addressing cthe question of sharing and copyright. An important read in regards to anyone who shares anything online.
I strongly believe that very few of us intentionally use images as if they are our own; however, as educators, we all need to do our best to model the appropriate use of images to our students.  If you want to share an image and are unsure of the reference, ask. Creative Commons is all about sharing; If you use or share images, use Creative Commons images on Flickr and provide the correct attribution.
Passion or Promotion – through a series of chalking provocations, Andrea Stringer (@stringer_andrea) explores the question as to whether Twitter is a space for sharing passions or merely promoting self-interest.

I so appreciate the humility and generosity of many educators who share their passion, successes, failures, blogs, lessons and reflections. I assume they do this because they want what is best for their students. Or should I say our students, as they share to make us more effective educators as Brad Currie so clearly stated on #satchat.

Anyone Want to Have a Real Conversation? – Dean Shareski (@shareski) shares why he feels alone on Twitter and more at home in closed off spaces, such as Voxer and Slack.

The challenge is to find a place to take that social capital and use it to challenge and provoke deeper, more interesting ideas. While I have more followers than ever on twitter, I feel more alone there than I ever have.

Why Schools Shouldn’t Ban Smartphones – Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth) provides a thorough account as to why banning smartphones and technology is not the future and merely avoids the inevitable.

Technology is like water to a fish. It surrounds us, and we rarely notice it, but we use it all the time. Instead of keeping children away from the water, we should teach them to swim. Any alternative would be unthinkable.

A Bicycle for the Mind – Chris Betcher (@betchaboy) wonders about the place of iPads, and technology in general, in the classroom. An important post in regards to addressing why, rather than what that too often dictates conversation.

It’s about giving students agency and independence to take control of their own learning. And with that simple goal usually comes a whole lot of change. Sometimes quite painful change, but change that has to happen. Adding technology to a classroom without reimagining how that classroom works, and rethinking what your students can do because of that technology, is a waste of time and money.

Plus ça change: Why Mobile Learning is the New Impressionism – Amy Burvall (@amyburvall) provides a different take on the changes that have been brought about through mobile learning by comparing it with Impressionism.

The Impressionist Art Movement can teach us quite a lot about mobile and connected learning and hopefully put us at ease so we can reframe our thinking and offer the most enriched experience possible.

Keeping Alive the Ghost of Computer Rooms Past – Alan Thwaites (@athwaites) suggests that the real intent of BYOD is to stop worrying about what device students have, but rather what learning they are doing.
Students already have these devices along with the skills to work out how to use them. What they lack is the opportunity to explore, themselves, how they can best support their learning using their devices. We can give them that opportunity if we choose to do so.
Why Technology Alone Won’t Fix Schools – Kentaro Toyama (@kentarotoyama) addresses the myth that technology can fix schools. As he points out, it only amplifies pre-existing inequalities.
Technology’s primary effect is to amplify human forces, so in education, technologies amplify whatever pedagogical capacity is already there.
Blogging as an Essential Literacy in Contemporary Learning – Anthony Speranza (@anthsperanza) provides a great introduction to blogging in the classroom, providing examples of different purposes and contexts.
In a traditional sense, education in the past has been separated from learning communities across location, language and culture. With technology at our fingertips and at the disposal of our students, these obstacles are no longer present as barriers; blogging is a great way of expanding the immediate classroom community.
50 Ideas for Student Blogging and Writing Online – A fantastic collaborative blog kept by the team at Edublogs, in this post Ronnie Burt (@ronnieburt) provides an extensive list of ideas to support blogging. A priceless resource for staff and students alike.

As you think about writing assignments for your students, try to vary it up. Even better, give your students some choice in the type of posts they write. The end goal is an authentic and engaging learning opportunity for all.

Using Seesaw to Engage Kids and Parents Alike – Lee Hewes (@waginski) provides a story that is less step-by-step instruction, more possibility and potential. An interesting read regards the possibilities of technology in the Early Years.

Kids get very excited about sharing their work with their parents. With SeeSaw you can tell them what you are looking for and ask them to go off and demonstrate in order for them to take a photo or video to share with their parents. They typically scurry off excitedly to complete their work, returning to have a discussion about what they have done. This opens up an opportunity for you to either confirm that they are on the right track, or explain to them what needs to be fixed up for them to be able to share their correct understanding with their parents via the app.

Publishing Your Content Online and Syndicating It ElsewhereWilliam O’Byrne (@wiobyrne) outlines steps for not only claiming your online presence, but then syndicating it elsewhere on the web.

In the Indie Web Community, this is either known as the POSSE model or PESOS model. The POSSE model is preferred and indicates that you are publishing on your own site, and syndicating it elsewhere. An example of this is I publish it here on my self-hosted WordPress site, and then syndicate (or re-publish) it out to Medium and elsewhere.

Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015: Indie Ed-Tech – In her review of the edtech trends of 2015, Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) talks the indie web as a means of rethinking and reclaiming the open web.

To resist the compulsion for data, to resist the big business of ed-tech, we need more “indie,” more agitation, more care, and much more not-yetness. And this resistance is happening…
Blended Learning is Not the Next Edtech Revolution. – Phil McRae (@philmcrae) provides a thorough critique of blended learning, which in the end appealing for a more nuanced approach, rather than one dictated by corporations.
Blended learning is not a new term nor a revolutionary concept for classrooms in this second decade of the 21st century. However, the way it is being (re)interpreted could be hopeful or harmful depending on how it is implemented. It is an increasingly ambiguous and vague notion that is growing in popularity as many groups try to claim the space and establish the models, despite a lack of evidence and research. We should therefore be skeptical around the mythos of blended learning before endorsing or lauding it as the next great reform.
Digital Watering Holes – The team at Learn Enabling (@LearnEnabling) provided a discussion of student meeting places online suggesting that maybe we need to go to them as teachers, rather than be surprised when they don’t cone to is.
Learning is social…has been that way since the dawn of time.  Students gather informally and share informally and YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, etc…these are the watering holes where students gather.  Are these watering holes that teachers can use for teaching and learning?
NOT Voice – A significant figure in the Digital Leaders movement (@ozdlt), Nick Jackson (@largerama) explains why endlessly focusing on voice, rather than action, misses the point. A useful commentary for thinking about the place of students in and out of the classroom.
the language does matter because in some ways, student voice could be argued to have been tainted by weak, low-level empowerment of students and because we are now facing power shifts on a completely different level due to technology. Whether you agree or not, I will keep banging the action NOT voice drum.
(Digital) Identity in a World that No Longer Forgets – Alec Couros (@courosa) and Katia Hildebrandt (@kbhildebrandt) suggest that in a world where there is digital record for everything somewhere then we need to learn to consider intent, context, and circumstance when considering different artefacts that may be dredged up.
Perhaps, instead, we might accept that the Internet has changed our world in fundamental ways and recognize that our societal mindset around digital missteps must be adjusted in light of this new reality: perhaps, in a world where forgetting is no longer possible, we might instead work towards greater empathy and forgiveness, emphasizing the need for informed judgment rather than snap decisions.
Digital Portfolios and Self-Determined Learning – Robert Schuetz (@robert_schuetz) provides an introduction to different methods for creating digital portfolios, as well as some steps for going about them.
As we move rapidly from analog to digital forms of learning, it is becoming essential for us to create a cloud-based archive for our learning processes, and our favored pieces of work.

Learning and Teaching

Mistakes, Failures and Disasters with PBL – Cameron Paterson (@paterso) talks about the ‘failures’ he has had with Project-Based Learning and the changes that he has made along the way.

I tend to throw out what hasn’t worked and start again, so I no longer have the tasks that didn’t work so well. Learning (and teaching) is an iterative process. My key message is that I need to start doing a better job of documenting my own learning.
Friday Afternoon Poetry Fun – Bianca Hewes (@BiancaH80) reimagines the age old immersion into poetry by creating a series of short sharp stations which allow a mixture of play and creativity.

My first lesson ever with my new year 10 class was at the worst time possible – last period on Friday of the first week back at school. Our topic? Poetry (OK, the topic is consumerism, but the text form is poetry). I knew that I couldn’t stand up and talk at the kids, or even get them to do a writing task. Why? I’m the new teacher, they’re in year 10, you work it out. So, I went for a hands on hook lesson.

Festival of Gaming – Mel Cashen (@melcashen) provides a summary of her classes investigation into gaming. A fantastic example of inquiry in action from beginning to end incorporating technology in an authentic manner.

From setting the culture, modelling the inquiry and for one group, me even being a team member sharing ideas and contributing. Would they have pulled it off without me? No.  Would they have had as many people visit their website had it not been for me?  Would the group with the arcade game thought of the idea without me.  Probably not. But what I did do is show them how next time they can do it on their own.  I modelled to them how amazing curiosity, inquiry, determination and failure can be.

Words: the More We Learn, the More We Can Learn – Anne Del Conte (@annadelconte) provides a great example of change from the bottom up through her action research project into vocabulary. You can follow the project here and here.

I hope to improve the students’ literacy skills by systematically and explicitly teaching vocabulary using various strategies borrowed from Robert J. Marzano, Paul Dufficy and Joanne Rossbridge (PETAA Paper 196). My goal is to measure the effectiveness of these teaching practices by analysing student performance before, during and after this project. Hopefully with each round of lessons I can refine my teaching practices and improve student achievement in the learning of vocabulary and in particular, tier 2 vocabulary –  those words that are used to embellish and emphasise and can be used in a range of contexts with multiple meanings.

Google’s 20% Time and Genius Hour – Alex Quigley (@huntingenglish) provides a critique of Genius Hour as the solution for improving student engagement and outcomes.
We should not waste the precious time of our students by not guiding them within the best that is what is thought and known within our subject. Great learning requires interdependence – the independence conferred by Google 20% should be confined to the realm of our most experienced students.
Outcome Versus Process: Different Incarnations of Personalisation – In a useful guide for teachers, Yong Zhou (@yongzhouED) breaks down the different ways learning can be personalised.

Generally speaking, personalization can be put into two categories: process personalization and outcome personalization. Process personalization enables students to enjoy choice in the learning process, whereas outcome personalization allows students to define the end results of their learning. Process personalization is by far the most prominent version in education today because the current education paradigm has a predetermined outcome for all students. That is, no matter how one gets there, we want everyone to get to the same place: mastery of the knowledge and skills prescribed in the authoritative curriculum or standards.

Does Your Practice Align With Your Belief – Edna Sackson (@whatedsaid) shares her school’s act of of recording, observing and reflecting to support the alignment of belief and practice.
Viewing ourselves through the eyes of others and becoming aware of different perspectives has been both validating and enlightening. In the process of planning for and evaluating the visits and observing our school’s practice through a different lens, we have asked ourselves the same sorts of questions. Does our practice align with our beliefs about learning?

Storytelling and Reflection

+/- memorable (my ***x talk) – Encapsulating what Alan Levine (@cogdog) does so well – storytelling – this TEDx presentation touches on what is memorable in education and wonders what fills in the rest of the time.

Nearly all of my teachers I talked about have no idea these things were memorable… to me. That’s why I only have photos of two of them, who I got a chance to tell them much later. So if you are trying to be memorable, you are going about this wrong.

The Un-education of a Technologist: From EDUPUNK to ds106 – Jim Groom (@jimgroom) reminisces about his journey of un-education. An interesting read, if not simply for the superb storytelling, then for the rethinking of learning and (higher) education.

ds106 opened up questions about infrastructure, architecture, student agency, pedagogy, and much more all at once. It wasn’t just about technology, it was about how the technology affords new ways for us to collaborate, share, and learn with and from one another.

Mariposa – Jon Harper (@jonharper70bd) tells the fictional story of a girl and the challenges and choices that she makes through life up to the point of graduating. An empathetic piece that reminds us that students always have a backstory that we are never completely privy too.

This journey. This transformation, started one cold, dark morning nine years ago …

The Beauty of Dreams – Steve Brophy (@stevebrophy3) shares a personal story about what drives him each and every day to achieve his dreams.
The power of Kev’s journey was that he had believed in this dream since he was four and had worked his tail off since then to achieve his goal.  He faced rejection on numerous occasions but never let it deter him from believing in the beauty of his dream.

The Role of Personality in Education – Martin Weller calls out the elephant of personality in the room in regards to Massively Open Online Courses. An interesting read if not for the debate the follows in the comments.

As you’ll know, I’m a BIG FAN of Jim Groom, but it’s hard to say that DS106 isn’t a product of Jim’s online personality. Indeed it is all about that, which is exactly why it’s fun. Similarly, I think Dave Cormier’s Rhizo courses are truly innovative and beginning to explore what a networked take on education might look like. But I think Dave’s (loveable, cuddly) personality is a big factor in its success.

Actors Seriously? – Eric Jensen questions the age old metaphor of teacher as an actor. An interesting post regards reimagining the role of the teacher in the classroom.
Seeing yourself as an actor is putting yourself at the centre of the classroom. You’re saying “Watch me, kiddies. It’s all about me.”
Can We Talk About Change Without Hurting Feelings – Will Richardson (@willrich45) argues that we limit change by worrying about too much about feelings, rather than confronting what needs to be done.

As someone who finds the experience of traditional schooling to be increasingly out of step with the real world, and as someone who has come to believe that schools actually are “broken” in many ways, how do I write and speak about those viewpoints without being heard or read as hurtful or demeaning to educators in schools? Is that possible?

A Learning Revolution or a Learning Renaissance – In something of a thought experiment, Matt Esterman (@mesterman) compares the difference between a revolution and a renaissance in regards to educational change.
Calls for a learning revolution have been sounded for at least 10 years, in some cases a generation, in others such as John Dewey well over a century. This is a significant lack of progress in any sense of a revolutionary timeline. I call this a neverlution rather than a revolution.
An Alphabet of Inspiration – Inspired by Austin Kleon’s idea of a creative genealogy, Steve Mouldey (@geomouldey) wrote a list of people who inspire him. A great reminder that it takes a village.
One of the great points I got out of Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon was that of your creative genealogy. Who are the people that inspire you, whose ideas have added to your creativity; whose ideas can be seen remixed in the work that you do?
Caring About Sharing – Ian Guest (@IaninSheffield) wonders why some people are more willing than others to share ideas and resources.

Perhaps these teachers have found ways to overcome the organisational, cultural, legal and technological barriers (Charlesworth et al, 2007)? Or perhaps they recognise the value of participating in a community of sharing which delivers benefits.

Working Out a Schools Competitive Position Even When It’s Not Competing – Ewan McIntosh (@ewanmcintosh) suggests that every school has two value propositions which make it stand out and provides a long list of examples.
A value proposition, even if you are a state school, is a vital value to hone down, not just so that kids aren’t ripped out of your school but so that everyone, including the leaders, can be held to account when kinks in the system appear. If you state that excellence in education is your value proposition, then you’d better get that nailed, all the time, every time, or perceptions will change and take a long time to bring back.
The Good School – Dale Pearce (@dalepearce3) asks the question as to what makes a good school and wonders if this is really demonstrated through the statistics presented on the My Schools website or school ATAR results.
Parents make schooling choices based on a wide range of factors, including results, and we do them a disservice with much of our current representation of those results. We need a better understanding of what a ‘good school’ looks like.
Who is Your Schools Anthropologist – Jason Markey (@JasonMMarkey) asks who is documenting, in a non-judge mental way, what is happening on a day to day basis at your school?
What are the observations we should look for in our schools and what are the questions we should ask students and teachers about their experiences to think with an anthropological mindset?
Work Life Balance is a Myth – Paul Browning (@PaulDBrowning) reflects on life as a headmaster and some of the strategies he uses to find life balance.
Work-life balance for me is knowing the limits and making sure I listen to my body. It is about taking time each week to rest and switch off. I know I have to be disciplined to do this.

It would be nice to tie all these narratives together, but that is not always the way it is. So what about you, what are the posts that have made an impression on you this year? As always, feel free to share.


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Distributed Leadership Matters – A Summary


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

I have been wondering about the idea of leadership with a little l for quite a while now. I first came upon Alma Harris’ distributed leadership in an article within ACER’s Teacher magazine. This then led me to Harris’ book Distributed Leadership Matters.

What stood out was the focus on conditions of learning and trust, rather than particular actions and attributes. Coupled with Disciplined Collaboration, Harris provides something of a vision for empowering staff to lead the change from the ground on up. It clearly addresses the how and why, leaving the what up to you.

Although not designed to replace traditional leadership structures and expectations, it is hard to imagine that things remaining the same. Below then is a collection of my notes and quotes from reading:


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What Could Your Leader Do?


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

While taking the reigns of the #edutweetoz rotation curation recently, Paul Browning put out the question:

Although I engaged in some discussion at the time, discussing the idea of fostering the ‘hidden’ professional development, it is a question that has lingered with me ever since. How can leadership help me? Here then are three things that stand out:

DON’T TELL ME HOW GOOD I HAVE IT

I know I am lucky to have smaller class sizes. That the behaviour of my students is nothing compared to other schools. That I should be thankful that students have some access to technology. None of this actually helps to move things forward in and of itself. It reminds me of the teacher who complains to students about a failed lesson because they put hours into preparing it. I don’t want to know how good I have it, I want a vision to aspire towards, to drive me forwards.

BE A LEAD LEARNER

It is one thing to be aware of what is going on in the school. However, to feel supported, I want leaders to be more than aware. I want them to ask questions? To have some understanding of the intracises involved. I do not expect them to be able to replicate everything that I do, but I would like them to have the appreciation and awareness to be able to provide meaningful feedback and advice.

EDUCATION IS MORE THAN THE THREE R’s

I am aware that much of what schools get measured on comes back to literacy and numeracy, however this fails to recognise the importance of other learning. Actually, not ‘other’ learning, rather learning as a whole. Coming back to the question of vision, why do we do what we do. I am happy to have a guaranteed and viable curriculum, but what is it guaranteeing? Are subjects such as music, science, the humanities and languages important? Why? What are they trying to achieve? Content knowledge? College readiness? Citizenship? Whatever it is, how is this at the core? Richard Olsen touches on the dilemma of learning here.


So what about you? What could a leader do to support you and your professional growth? As always, comments welcome.


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Half Time


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

Inspired by Jon Andrews’ recent post, here is a short story of my own. A meandering on data, leadership and growth.


It was the big day, but something wasn’t right. As Alen came into the huddle at half time, the tone worried him. Even though the team was up by three goals, it was not a fair indication of where the game was at. A couple of quick goals in time on masked what had been a tight match so far. In a low scoring affair, it felt huge – for some. There were players whispering victory. The problem though was that the statistics were against them.

Although they had had more possessions, they were not using it well. Whereas the opposition were more effective. Not only having more tackles, but also being more efficient on the turn around. They had the statistics that counted. This was not the fault of the players, they were just following orders.

What worried Alen the most was that the game had been played on their terms. This involved closing the play down. Stopping the run. Not because that was how they played best, but more because that is not how the opposition liked to play. Known for their high scoring and slick ball use, there was only one game where they had failed to score over 100 points. A wet day when the temperature did not get above 10 degrees. This being said, they had still won by 50 points. History was against them.

Coach was excited. Preaching to the masses, Alen was unsure whether he was aware of the statistics that were stacked against them. Coach was from a different time when expectations got the job done. The problem though is that 15 out of 21 games the opposition had doubled their score in the third quarter. While in half of their games they had reduced the opposition to less than six goals in the second half. They could not be held forever, it just was not feasible to sustain such negative intensity for the whole game. Surely coach was aware, how could he not?

As the sermon wound up, Alen was waiting for the ace that coach was going to pull. Maybe he had done his research? Maybe he had something in his bag?

Alen waited.

As the players split off into their groups, he assumed that maybe the message would be given there, by the assistant coaches. However, as he stood listening all he heard was refinement. Nothing new, just a tightening of the screws. Do this. Stay on him. Stick to the plan. Let’s keep it on our terms.

As the players split from the huddle and jogged back to their positions, Alen questioned whether his thoughts were detrimental to the side. It wasn’t that he was trying to subconsciously undermine the team. He had always been a loyal servant who did what was asked of him, but maybe that was why he wasn’t a part of the leadership team? The problem was that there was a seed of doubt. He wanted to trust coach, but the seemingly naive perspective that he perpetuated left him more questions than answers. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe it was him.

Alen waited.

As the opposition player got into position he prepped himself once more.

The whistle blew, the game continued, it was time to play.


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Leadership Starts with Why – A Review of Simon Sinek’s #StartWithWhy


creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs

Simon Sinek believes that the reason many of us do not get very far when we approach a new problem, whether it be going on a diet, starting a new business or introducing technology in the classroom, is because we have got our priorities all wrong. Too often the focus of our attention is on what we need to do. This could be to lose weight, ship a new product or get devices into every classroom. All too often such actions fail to last because although we think we know what we need to do, our reason for doing so is either missing or unclear. As Sinek points out,

You can get someone to buy a gym membership with an aspirational message, but to get them to go three days a week requires a bit of inspiration

Although fear and manipulation may get the job done once or twice, for long lasting change and innovation you need trust, loyalty and inspiration. This is what Sinek means by the title of his book, Start With Why.

At the heart of Sinek’s argument is the concept of 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. Everything starts with why.


creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Gavin Llewellyn

The catch is that a why is not something that you simply invent, rather it is something discovered through deep reflection. Our why is the thing that gets us up in the morning, what we actually care about, what cause we are a part of. Once that is worked out, the focus then is to bring all our actions back to this. As Sinek states:

It is not just WHAT or HOW you do things that matters; what matters more is that WHAT and HOW you do things is consistent with your WHY. (Page 186)

Sinek supports his idea about the golden circle with evidence from biology. In the brain are two sections which relate to action and decision making: the neocortex and the limbic brain. The neocortex is analytical and responsible for language, whereas the limbic brain is responsible for feelings, such as trust and loyalty. The catch is the limbic brain has no capacity for language, it communicates instead through the neocortex via gut feelings and intuition. Those decisions which we think are right, but have no rationale way of explaining it. As Sinek explains:

Our limbic brains are smart and often know the right thing to do. It is our inability to verbalize the reasons that may cause us to doubt ourselves or trust the empirical evidence when our gut tells us not to. (Page 63)

Although we may think that with the right evidence all decisions can be rationally decided upon,  at the end of the day, there are some choices which are irrational and made emotionally. It is for this reason that it is important, in any circumstance, to start with why. This not only provides clarity of understanding, but the confidence to move forward without fear and doubt.

The role of the leader then is to create the right environment. One where people are trusted and inspired to drive great ideas. The problem, such things can be difficult without an agreed purpose formed collaboratively. This why, as Sinek points out, is not something that is simply decided in an organisation by those with hierarchical power, instead it is led and supported in an organic manner. As he explains:

Trust comes from being a part of a culture or organization with a common set of values and beliefs. Trust is maintained when the values and beliefs are actively managed. (Page 121)

This comes back to the distinction between those who lead compared to those who manipulate. To lead then is to inspire through charisma and support, not to manipulate through fear and control.

What is weird about Starting With Why is that, like Carol Dweck’s Mindsets, once known it seems so obvious. The challenge with why is to maintain focus, for it is one thing to start with why once, but to maintain the focus day after day, year after year, that is the real challenges.

For a great introduction into Simon Sinek’s ideas, watch his great TED Talk:


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When Encouragement isn’t so Encouraging: A Meditation on Rewards and Celebrations

 
 
I read a fantastic post from +George Couros a few months back about sharing a positive story a day. In a dark place personally after the death of his father, Couros decided to try and change how he was feeling by starting the day by tweeting something positive about someone else, and sharing it with the world. For this, he started a hashtag #365greattweeps. To me, this is really a part of a wider movement associated with celebrating the successes and recognising the failures. The question though that is often left unasked is whether celebrations and successes always have a positive consequence for everybody else?

Take for example the ‘student of the week’. A staple of many primary schools. In another post Couros argues that such awards are often handed to the detriment of the students, rather than to their advantage. The reason being is that different items are often found for awarding students. For if such awards were based on academic results then they would often go to the same student every week. The problem with this is that the focus should be on students being good students, rather than being recognised at an assembly. Couros’ solution is to reverse the situation and instead of teachers randomly choosing an item, give this responsibility to the students. That way the students still get 15-minutes of fame, but they also get to share something important to them, a little bit of their story, rather than the story that is chosen for them.

Another scenario where celebrations and encouragement isn’t always so positive is during staff meetings. I was in a planning meeting the other day where it was suggested that staff should always do background reading before preparing a unit of work, to provide the best possible platform to construct the topic on. I could not agree more, having a clear foundation can help to alleviate any confusion, as well as support deeper learning. The problem though was that one staff member was then identified as a great example of this in action. That they did not just rely on a textbook or a curriculum document, instead they grappled with a wide range of sources in coming to grips with topic at hand.

Now I have two problems with this situation. Firstly, if the focus is on the skill of preparation, does it actually achieve anything to highlight the prowess of a particular person? Does this actually add anything of value? While secondly, in celebrating someone’s successes, it can be easy to overlook the context of the situation. For example, the teacher at hand takes three different classes of the one subject. This is a large chunk of allotment, three quarters to be exact. This compared to another teacher who takes six different subjects, none of which are repeated. It seems unfair to compare.

In regards to teachers, if the focus is on celebrations and providing encouragement for individuals, then maybe the solution is to provide a time in every staff meeting for one member of staff to share something worthy of celebrating. Just as Couros suggests that students take on the responsibility of choosing what they share, why do we not do the same with teachers. Why not let them know ahead of time that they will be sharing and instead of making everyone awkward by only focusing on the few. For in today’s day and age where the focus of leadership is an agreed set of goals and values, surely it misses the point to then celebrate the deeds of a small few.

In the end, just as it misses the point to focus on technology as a tool, so to does it miss the point to celebrate the person, rather than focusing wholly and solely on the skill or goal in question. The reality is that in education parlance reference is usually made to ‘best practises’ not ‘best people’, maybe then that should be the focus.

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