May 4, 2017
Comments Off on Work together and don’t talk.

Work together and don’t talk.

I’m trying to figure out how to make students more productive.

I’m trying to figure out how to help students use their time more effectively.

I’m trying to help them isolate the variables that affect their focus, alter them when they want, and thus become a more efficient learner.

It’s all about data collection and data management.

I am not a statistician.

As of right now, the data sits in a spreadsheet, thousands of individual entries of productivity and the factors that influenced it from students in grades 9-11 in both academic and applied streams. The data is not surprising. It has identified that the biggest factor that is connected to productivity is their interactions with each other.

As students engage in a more collegial, collaborative work environment they are more likely to identify themselves as less productive. Students who identify that they were only 10%-45% productive over the course of 30-45 minutes, “friends/classmates” is about 83% of their reason. “Cell phone/social media” makes up most of the remainder.

I know that some will question the “richness” of the task that students are engaged in. Clearly students will be more distracted when doing a worksheet on literary terms.

In turn, I’ve had them record their productivity assessment in all sorts of different task environments like individual work, group work, inquiry-based, gamified tasks, autonomous tasks, etc. and the results stay mostly the same.

Their peers are the greatest inhibitors of productivity.

It begs the question:
How do we help students maintain productivity, build the skills of collaboration, maintain critical social ties whilst knowing that having students work together is working against their productivity?

May 2, 2017
Comments Off on Mid-Career Teacher

Mid-Career Teacher

I see it in the eyes of my students. I see it in the conversations I’m having with my colleagues.

I am no longer a new teacher.

I’m no longer the young buck in a school of old stags.

No one is looking at me and trying to decide if I’m a teacher or a student, anymore. (Ok, in reality, I don’t think that ever applied to me, only in my mind.)

I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I’m a mid-career teacher. Slowly.

But what does that really mean?

To me it means I’ve got experience to know when something works and when it doesn’t, but I’m also at risk of getting caught in the rut of ‘well, it worked last year’. It means I’ve got a shred of influence with my colleagues because they’ve seen me in action, but my perspective comes with the baggage of past statements. It means I’m settled at my school and yet, starting to look for ways to “change things up”.

I’ve even caught myself saying, “Students aren’t as _________ as they used to be.”

This is the point in a teacher’s career where they start getting offered fewer opportunities because they are no longer the upstart.

The realization that advancement means administration for many means this is the job you’ll be doing for the next twenty years. This is also the point where switching careers becomes the most difficult. You are “locked” into the job in many respects.

How does the system support teachers at all phases of their career cycle? But specifically, those of us who find ourselves in the murky middle?

Apr 27, 2017
Comments Off on Why the shift is needed?

Why the shift is needed?

Jun 24, 2016

The Myth of the Isolated Innovator

“I had this idea that would shake the foundation of education as we knew it. I told people, they laughed and turned away. It was me against the world. I was forced back into my corner, alone. My only option was to find the other isolated members of the innovators club and preach only to that choir.” –An innovative teacher

This is the going myth in educational innovation. The myth that innovators are isolated by their radical ways and that the majority of teachers are either too “stuck in their ways” to see the brilliance of the innovation or they’re too lazy to change their ways.

The more I read on creativity and innovation, the more I see that story we tell as self-serving cover. Rather than learning to communicate why the innovation is better for students, we resort to protectionism. We develop an air of superiority because we are so ahead of “them” rather than being uncomfortable.

I’ve felt this. I believed this myth.

I was wrong.

Seth Godin’s blog today reminded me that someone truly interested in changing the way things are done MUST be a cornerstone in the community. They must facilitate communication. They can not be a whisper in the hallways.

It is not enough to self-congratulate.

It is not enough to speak to the echo chamber.

It is not enough to blame the “traditional” ones.

It is not enough to close your door and think you are being radical.

We must work to disrupt the myth that innovators are isolated. This is my challenge to those of you who want to innovate to step into the arena despite your level of discomfort.

The only way to change is through people. Avoiding people changes nothing.

Recommended Reading:

Nov 10, 2015
Comments Off on Is Student Voice For Real?

Is Student Voice For Real?

Noun 4186

Educational change agents are constantly humming the merits of student voice and choice. Although a pithy rhyme, I wonder the implications of incorporating it in educational policy decision making.

A proviso: I believe education needs to be personalized. I’m all for students choosing their own books, methods of learning and connecting the curriculum to their own sense of self, justice, and helping in craft the direction of their learning on the micro scale. My classroom is excessively student directed. I’m all for student choice. I’m all for student voice when it comes to the individual.

Student voice on a larger scale is another issue. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be development of voice, that’s imperative, however, in implementing change in the system as a whole, I think we need to temper our excitement of incorporating student voice.

Student voice has been constructed by the school voice. The social, economic, and cultural factors that influence how students talk about school are often directly connected to how their teachers and parents talk about school and learning.

In battling the marks economy, I have found most students have no problem with the system, as is. Despite the growing research that opines that the marks economy inhibits students’ intrinsic motivation, there is no student groundswell to eliminate it, often because we have given them the language of the status quo.

In the same breath, over the six years I’ve been openly talking with my students about a radical change in education, many students have come around to seeing it my way. My influence on their perspective is obvious. Their voice begins to puppet my own. I may be inherently persuasive, but their voice in arguing for this change seems rather constructed by me.

The pop culture influence a student’s awareness of their schooling. Like in David Foster Wallace’s famous valedictorian speech, the idea that students are unaware of their surroundings is problematic when looking for their influence on the environment.

High school is a constant fixture on tv shows and movies. The media reinforces a student’s understanding of high school. We are not aware of options until it is reflected in pop culture.

All this is to say that I think we need to couch student voice with an awareness that it is not fully developed and often is more a reflection of their teacher than their larger understanding of the world.

Nov 1, 2015
Comments Off on Learning is Water

Learning is Water

This is my first foray into video. This is the first instalment of a series of educational metaphors I hope to use to connect my students with the power of image in communication.

I hope to use my own video footage in future pieces, however, I am so thankful for the plethora of options using the Creative Commons protocol.

As always, feedback is welcome and encouraged.

Sep 30, 2015
Comments Off on Never Too Old for a Coach

Never Too Old for a Coach

Noun 115961 cc

Peyton Manning is a Super Bowl winning quarterback and a 5 time NFL MVP. Love him or hate him, he is a success.

While speaking at LeaderCast 2015, he explained how he understood there to be 4 pillars to success.

  1. Learn to thrive being uncomfortable.
  2. Teammates need to be on the same level.
  3. Devote yourself to intense preparation.
  4. Invest in a coach.

It was interesting. Here was a guy who knew the fundamentals, had had the fundamentals drilled into him his entire life, explaining how he had his old university coach run him through fundamental drills in the off-season. If ever there was a guy who could back it off a little in the off season it would be Peyton Manning.

He said, “As soon as someone doesn’t need to be coached, taught or mentored, they are in trouble. As you either get better or you get worse. You never stay the same.”

He said, “A true coach is someone who shoots straight to give you relevant information.”

Although I am no Peyton Manning, I decided to hire a coach this past year as I trained to compete in a couple of Ironman triathlons.

My coach was able to introduce a new dynamic to my regular training. He insisted on new methods, new styles of workouts and kept me focused on the bigger picture, even when I doubted the methods.

At the first meeting with Dave he told me, “You’re going to have to trust me.” And I did. I had no reason not to.

What worked for me was that my coach was flexible. He understood that my life was more than the practice, more than the competition. This was critical.

My coach provided me feedback when I needed it, not always, not constantly. Most importantly, he never evaluated me. He fine-tuned my workouts, for sure, but never was he the one that ultimately judged me. This too was critical.

At 34 years old, I opened myself up to a coach for the first time since I was a teenager playing hockey. He was someone who shot straight and gave me relevant information. Proving as always, you’re never too old for a coach.

How can we rectify the paradox of being effective coaches and ultimately judges of our students?

Sep 24, 2015
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A FitBit for Learning

Noun 81484 cc

My mother has taken to wearing a FitBit to track her steps, her water intake, her sleep cycles all in an effort to stay healthy. She finds satisfaction when the little piece of plastic vibrates to celebrate her hitting 10,000 steps in a day. The presence of it reminds her to drink another glass of water. She can look at the data it provides over a day, a week, month or year.

I trained harder than ever for two Ironman races earlier this year. Every time I went for a run or ride, I linked into the GPS satellites and tracked my movement. I strapped on a heart rate monitor and stayed within set ranges. I used the data to focus my training on my aerobic threshold, rather than training like I have in the past by going full on every workout.

My students get into class and they have no FitBit. They have no heart rate monitor to focus their efforts.

They have me.

The data I give them is not enough. It is scattershot, often after the task is complete, and is not well-documented enough to really allow them to do solid data analysis.

How can we change that?

What data can they harness while working to increase productivity, flow, learning and progress?

What variables affect these things and how can I help them create the specific range that will focus their efforts?


At this point, I have asked them to try and track certain variables: time on task, breaks (even if they are minor daydreams), words written or pages read, happiness, the challenge of the task, who they are sitting beside, the music they are listening to, stress level, what they’ve eaten today, and how much sleep they had.

By gathering this data, I’m hoping to be able to start helping students make sense of their data in hopes that they can isolate the variables that affect (positively and negatively) their focus and productivity.

I’d like to work up to including outside data about quality of work, etc. I haven’t figured out exactly how to do this.

I want a FitBit for learning for my students. I haven’t totally figured out how to do this.

Any ideas?

Sep 18, 2015
Comments Off on Technology is Muddying the Water

Technology is Muddying the Water


I love how technology has changed things. I love how it democratizes knowledge. It gives access to information, but also to an audience which we could never have found.

Technology allows me to spout off into the abyss and potentially land on the ears of someone who needed reassurance, who wants to challenge me, who remixes my ideas into something better or simply who gets a chance to think. It gives us a chance to find and build community.

However, as the conversation continues to bristle around how to integrate technology into the classroom, I worry that the bigger narrative about change is being glossed over.

The change that matters is the immense shift in power around information, experts, ideas, ownership and feedback.

A new app can’t help with that.

Apr 17, 2014
Comments Off on In Action (@adoelman & @ballantynedj)

In Action (@adoelman & @ballantynedj)

Walking into their classrooms, I had my assumptions. They were predicated on the ideals we’ve talked through, the passion I knew they have and the stories we’ve shared.

Walking into their classrooms, I had my expectations. They were predicated on their conviction for improvement, their commitment to their students and their openness for my visit.

This week, I had the good fortune to spend time in both Anne Doelman (@adoelman) and Dan Ballantyne’s (@ballantynedj) respective classrooms. I was given the rich opportunity to see them in action.

It’s a rare opportunity in teaching, to be a fly on the wall. Too often, the doors are closed, access limited. When I was given the chance, I headed to the classrooms of two teachers I have already learned much from and who I knew would give me more opportunity to be better.

In Anne’s classroom, the easiness of relationship was obvious. Students were comfortable in the environment. It was clearly an environment of trust and mutual respect. Anne has the benefit of a very large, open space, with “quiet” rooms attached. I witnessed an ability to outline intention without being dogmatic. That’s what Anne does best.

It highlighted for me, and gave me a kick in the pants to mimic, a commitment to a student’s understanding of purpose for each element of action. I thought I did it well enough, however, Anne demonstrated an even more explicit means of intentional communication.

She had a video camera rolling for even the smallest interaction, so that students could capture evidence of their speaking and listening skills. The idea of capturing heaps of evidence of their learning was paramount, but the piece I miss, is giving them the footage; allowing them to decide what makes the cut and what doesn’t.

While watching Dan, I saw the epitome of patience. I could see the intersection of his desire to embrace the ideals of the Futures Forum Project and the realities of working with a group of disaffected, disengaged students. And it was working. By being flexible and dynamic, by embracing a student-led suggestion, Dan showed how easy it was to give power to his students. It was neat to see students feed off of another student’s ownership of their learning.

I liked watching Dan be inclusive, while also not forcing inclusion. He reminded me to offer opportunities to participate, but not to mandate it. He allowed a student to passively participate. I hope I do that, but I’m not always sure. It was definitely a moment of insight for me.

Both classroom visits showed me the richness of my teacher network. It authenticated what they’ve talked about and it allowed me to see them in action. A valuable tool more teachers should be provided.

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