Friday, November 25, 2011

Move from the Common to the Diverse

It has been more than a year since I entered the Twitterverse.  After attending the 21st Century Learning Conference in Chicago in October of 2010, I threw myself into the social media mix, and I could not be happier for it.  I tell anyone who will listen that developing a Personal Learning Network on Twitter is perennial professional development at your finger tips, 365 days per year.

Last week, I participated in #edchat like I usually try to do for at least a few minutes on Tuesday mornings (depending on what is coming through my door).  I really enjoy connecting with fellow learners in education, and I have a great deal of respect for each of the individuals who is willing to make public their thoughts and opinions on educational matters.  Last Tuesday's chat was a philosophical one on 'the skills that we want to our children to have' when they leave the K-12 system.  But as the chat progressed, I found myself beginning to get a bit frustrated with the ethereal comments that we (and I include myself in this--I made a few nebulous comments as well) were making as a group.

We say it all...

"we need to teach students to be lifelong learners"
"we need our children to be lovers of learning"
"students must be hungry for knowledge"
"our children need to be positive contributors in a connected society"

As these sorts of tweets were speeding by, I found myself beginning to wonder whether these comments are becoming esoteric.  I came to this revelation because I feel like I am completely immersed in the field of education, and I don't know what some of these comments actually mean.  Perhaps to be more fair, I find myself being one of the many that are starting to say "That sounds great! I am totally in!", followed by a long pause and then "Hmmm. OK, how we do this?".

Without a great deal of empirical data, I feel as though I am starting to see a trend on Twitter.  When I first started with my Twitter account, I found myself spending hours each night watching perspectives on what needs to change in education, listening to philosophies around motivation, teaching pedagogy and closing achievement gaps, and finding snippets describing the types of learners that we need to create here in the 21st Century.  I would share these clips with our teachers, with fellow administrators, and my PLN with verve and alacrity. I enjoyed (and still enjoy revisiting) these clips, and they have shaped my vision of education as I move forward with our school.

But over the last 14 months, I find myself yearning for the practical aspects of some of these constructs for education.  For the first steps.  For some promising practices that will lead us where we want and need to go.  For stories of both 'we tried this and it worked', as well as 'we tried this and we blew it' (I have an infinite amount of respect those who can be vulnerable and admit that what they did was a total flop).  Not a magic bullet, but maybe a holster and some gunpowder.  A start.

I find that I don't open the links of educational philosophers as much as I used to.  I still like the 'big picture' ideas, but I find myself more interested in that teacher, that Principal, or that Superintendent who is telling me how it is going in their class, in their school, or in their district.

I have spoken to a number of fellow PLNers about this trend that I am seeing in my own Twitter use, and I found that many of them are feeling the same way.  They are "totally in" to the ideas of educational reform, but are finding that they really want to connect with people who are "doing it".  They too are following the 'big names' less and the 'people on the ground' more.  I wonder if this is in fact a trend for tweeters in educator circles.

Back to my #edchat last Tuesday.  Armed with my 'esoteric' revelation, I tweeted that I thought we needed to get more concrete in what we were talking about.  At that point, one of my mentors (and someone you should absolutely follow) Bruce Beairsto (@bbeairsto) responded:

As usual, Bruce found the eloquent and sensible way to say what I was trying to describe during #edchat.  It's not that we shouldn't always remember and be refreshed with the WHY, we need to follow that up with the HOW.

In my estimation, the value in creating a Professional Learning Network comes from tapping into your PLN's diverse set of experiences, skills and knowledge.  While at certain points it is important for me to get reaffirmation that what I am doing is the 'right thing' to do, I am finding that it is more important to be challenged and pushed by my peers.  Challenged not only through discourse on educational topics and philosophy, but through the actions of others and turning those actions, possibilities and start points into actions which can be implemented into my own learning situation.

Right now, there are three things in education that are making me insatiably curious and wanting to move from the (as Bruce would say) common 'WHY we should do this' to the diverse 'HOW we can make this work in our own situation':

1) The West Vancouver School District and their latest initiative to improve digital literacy --the student dashboard.

They created an in-district portal for students in grades 4 to 12:  students have their own internal instant messaging, access to district email, personal blog space, digital storage, calendar, announcements feed, and other tools. Very cool--we need this.

2) New Report Card Format - Parkland School Division (Alberta)- I have looked at our current method of formal reporting to parents, and I believe there are many things that we can do to better inform students and parents of progress in their classes.  PSD has taken a big step forward with their template, and I believe that we have an opportunity to learn a great deal from their approach to reporting to improve communication with our educational partners.

3) Finland.  In the last several months, there seems to a be a flood of information about Finland and they amazing education system that they have created.  As a result, I have connected with a number of Finnish Principals, including Timo Ilomaki (@ilotimo), Aki Puustinen (@apuustin), and Kari Rajala (@KariRajala).  There is so much talk about what's happening in Finland with education that I thought why not just ask them?  Connecting with educators world wide and getting ideas--that is as good as it gets!

I am looking forward to continuing to connect with other educators that are diverse and of 'the HOW'.  From my position as a Principal, I am realizing that I need to make sure that while I read research and theory and talk to many about the WHY, and I need to maintain and dig in to the logistics and practicalities of HOW for our staff.

I need to continue to move from the common to the diverse.


  1. Well said. The more examples we can find and share of how to operationalize bigger concepts, the better. We must make things concrete for folks on the front lines.

    Keep some of those 'big ideas' people in your stream too. They'll help you and your staff stay on top of upcoming trends as well as feed you items that will help you maintain a continued sense of urgency. :)

  2. This is great. I agree. When I'm looking for teaching ideas I seem to find lots of debate and discussion but not a whole lots of concrete ideas. Very solid advice, and thank you for posting these links. I'm very interested in these things.

  3. So at the risk of being self-serving, have you seen:

    We tried to get concrete. ;0)

  4. This makes a ton of sense to me, Cale. In the end, the hows are more important than the whys.

    What frightens me, though, is exactly how many of the people that I know don't yet get the whys.

    In conversation after conversation, I keep hoping that whys won't be necessary anymore -- and I keep getting let down.

    I think folks like you -- who really get the whys -- are actually in the minority, and that frightens me.


  5. I'm going to concur with Bill. I, too, am amazed at how many folks still don't see the 'whys' as compelling enough to move toward the 'hows.'

  6. Great post.
    There are a lot of teachers blogging about their reflections on their teaching practices in classrooms. For example...

  7. Wow, some great comments, and I can feel a new post brewing about the 'whys'! I wonder if I am taking for granted the fact that we know reasons why practices in assessment, instruction, curriculum development and technology integration need to evolve and change in our schools. Point well taken--it sounds as though there certainly still is a need to examine some of the 'whys'. Thanks for the push back!

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