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Oct 5, 2011
Comments Off on Leaving A Legacy … Steve Jobs

Leaving A Legacy … Steve Jobs

It’s not about the products.

Or the technology.

It’s not about ubiquity.

It’s about the relentless pursuit of something new, something bold, something special.

Leadership is not about getting people to follow you.

Leadership is about walking the path, inviting people to join you, but walking whether they come or not.

Steve Jobs did this like few others.

That’s his legacy.

Walking the path of innovation, alone if needed, with the mob most often. Either way, one foot in front of another in pursuit of something better.

Who walks this path in education?

Who is bold enough, to take the products, and the technology, and the ubiquity, and walk in pursuit of better learning for our students with or without the mob?


Sep 22, 2011

“At Least, I’m Here”

Yesterday, it got the better of me. It wore me down time after time. it leaves me asking, “How can we change the culture where students thinking showing up is good enough?”

As students showed up late, they told me, “At least, I’m here.” As students decided not to get their work done, “At least, I’m here.” That was the extent of their expectation of themselves.

I have a problem with that.

We have a culture in school, and I don’t think it is just this one, where we’ve celebrated the showing up enough for students to think that is all we expect of them. But worst of all, they begin having only those expectations of themselves. They begin, or in some cases continue, a race to the bottom.

Maybe that’s what it is all about? We need to understand the education revolution better to recognize that showing up matters little; That getting an education does not have to be at a central building, at a pre-determined time.

Maybe we frame learning so that the least they can do is get their high school diploma?

Maybe the least they can do is learn something they are passionate about?

Do I really care if they are in the room, if they are learning? Maybe the ubiquity of learning opportunities throughout their lives is our lowest expectations?

Maybe this is a call to look at the nature of attendance?

I have higher expectations of my students, so how do we change a culture that seemingly just wants them to show up?

Sep 19, 2011
Comments Off on Mr. Kemp, Why would you do that?

Mr. Kemp, Why would you do that?

It was innocent enough, a student I was talking to asked, “Why would you do that?”

Photo on 2011 09 19 at 17 49

We were talking about setting goals, short-term goals and long-term goals. We were talking about setting our bar high. About pushing our expectations of ourselves. We were also talking about being honest about our intentions.

And that’s when it struck me, why am I doing this? Why am I training for an Ironman? The real reason, the reason deep down inside.

I had to say, “I don’t know.”

Maybe it’s because I’ve made the commitment.  Blown the money and now feel obligated.

Maybe it’s ego, I want to do something that others can’t or haven’t.

Maybe I want to prove something to myself or to others, about my abilities. To show them.

Maybe I want a challenge that will push me to my physical and mental limits.

Maybe I want to make my Mom and Dad proud.

Or maybe, I want to live a life that takes advantage of opportunities. I’m physically well, fit and in a position to attempt it. I’m in a place, where on a daily basis, I tell kids to try something that seems too difficult to achieve. I tell kids to dream big, to set the bar high and I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I want to look them in the eye and tell them, they can do anything.

I don’t really know why I’m doing it. I don’t know why it became a goal I had. But I guess, that’s the beauty of goals sometimes; you set them and if you are willing to sacrifice and put the time in, they become part of you, part of who you want to be.

“Live Passionately Today” is tattooed on my left wrist.  Maybe this whole thing is my attempt to personify that.

And I guess, most likely, it is all these reasons.


This was cross-posted at my other blog, In Constant Pursuit, about my pursuit of Ironman.

Sep 2, 2011
Comments Off on What to Ignore?

What to Ignore?

We can’t do it all. In life, in school, there is just too much.

Not that we don’t want to. Not that we don’t try to.

But something has to give.

And so, what will it be?

In education, is it the curriculum, policies, procedures? What is it that we ignore?

Because of course, it has to be one of those things.

It can’t be the students. It can’t be the authentic learning opportunities and experiences. It can’t be the intention for a student to love learning more this year than they did last. Can it? Is it?

I’m afraid in our pursuit of fulfilling more government, board, department mandates we just might end up ignoring the people in the room. The people, who despite taking the same course, are richly different. The people in the room who are longing for authentic learning. The people in the room who deserve our attention. The people who cannot be ignored.

So I’m left with the question, if something has to be ignored (and it does), what will it be?

Aug 30, 2011
Comments Off on Thinking “And” not “Or”

Thinking “And” not “Or”

It is so easy. You know the posture, you are either “with us” or “against us”. “This” or “that”. “Students” or “Teachers”. “Unions” or “Management”

But, that doesn’t work very often. In fact, if anything, that usually disables any forward momentum. It creates an environment of exclusion. It creates isolated ideas.

This happens to the best of us. We get caught in our frame of thinking that we instinctually place anyone who is opposed in an “or” position.

But maybe it is time for us to make the change.

Maybe it is time for us to re-think everything, starting with the word in the middle.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be one way or the other.

Have we, as an education system, as an education reform/revolution movement, spent enough time think with an “AND” mentality?

Have we, as teachers and students and administrators, tried hard enough working with an “AND” mentality?

I hear/read so much about education that frames things as an either/or. Not near enough, do I hear/read about education with a both/and.

What does that look like? How does that change things?

How do we get there?

How can I start developing that frame of reference?


I don’t know where these questions will take me. The following blog post struck a chord with me. Read the inspiration.

Aug 28, 2011
Comments Off on The Point of it All?

The Point of it All?

“How are you going to use this to impact the world?”


I said this to a student of mine who gave me his rap music and asked me to give him feedback. It wasn’t school work, but it was important. It is was what made him breathe. He may not go to university or college. He may become a plumber or an architect or a rapper. But my feedback was not about that, it is connected to the larger purpose of what we do.


The reason we are going through this process of formal education is to prepare students to impact the world positively, not to prepare them for university or college. I keep hearing and reading about the role of public education as a means to prepare students for their life of post-secondary education or work.


I’d like to modify that; shouldn’t everything we do, inside the classroom and out, nurture the idea that each of us impacts the world, one way or another. We need to learn so that our impact is positive. You may not cure cancer, but instead you’ll raise a child who values themselves and their education, and so on.

One of my goals this September as we start back, is to stay rooted to this question.

Because if you aren’t asking this question, what question is driving it all?

Aug 4, 2011
Comments Off on Do We Spend Enough Time Wondering?

Do We Spend Enough Time Wondering?

I was stuck in traffic today. The blessed curse of driving into and out of Toronto during the day.

The thing is, I’m usually that guy.

That guy who weaves in and out of lanes, trying to find the fast one. That guy who speeds up and then has to slam on my brakes when the traffic inevitably reminds me of where I am. I’m usually that guy.

But not today.  I’m relaxed and at ease. Nowhere to go, by no set time.  I was operating at the timeline of life.

And I had CBC radio.

I’m a fan of CBC radio. No, I’m not pompous and a left-wing liberal (ok, one of those maybe), but I listen to it as a reminder, to myself, to wonder.

The thing is wondering can get away from us. It slips through the door somedays, to only return tomorrow. Life has a way of leaving the door open like that.

Being stuck in traffic on a day with no schedule allowed me to find that old friend and I got to thinking, do we do this enough? Allow our students time to wonder? Or is that something they should do on “their own time”?

The thing is we spend so much time talking about thinking, that we sometimes forget about wondering. There is a difference.  Wondering doesn’t have to follow the logic, it doesn’t have to be specific or on task.  It doesn’t have to be something you are even interested in.

CBC radio reminds me. Shows like Ideas, Spark, As It Happens, are all a collection of randomly produced wonderings. They make me wonder about the things that don’t enter into my thoughts. They never play a lead role in my life. Yet, they make me wonder.


Now, as I wrote this, I got to reflecting that I do wonder at times, but usually, I have access to Google to clear up any wondering. Google makes wondering efficient. There’s something wrong about that.  There’s something unnatural. Yet, I do it. Often.

So, I don’t know.

Do we spend enough time wondering?

Jul 20, 2011
Comments Off on Who is Our Innovation Leader?

Who is Our Innovation Leader?

The tech world has Steve Jobs and the Google guys.

The film industry has Christopher Nolan and James Cameron.

Marketing has Godin, tennis has the Williams sisters, and J.K. Rowling changed things in the book world.

Even politics has/had Obama.

The difference as I see it, education doesn’t have the leader.  And, I think, the leader matters.

We have groups of people throwing out ideas, we have our edu-bubble of innovation, but we don’t have that person that is the game changer.  That one person, or organization, that is constantly shifting the thinking.  Making everyone stand up and listen. Making it impossible to stay the same.

We are not organized.

Sure, we have unions, but they are not in the game of innovation. They are in the game of management. Change and innovation doesn’t happen in management. Continuity happens in management. Protection happens in management.

We have a few individuals who are asking the right questions and helping the thinking along. Many of them provide the illusion of leadership. Too many of them are not classroom teachers.  They were.  But they aren’t any longer. This matters.

After a few years (How long is too long?) of being outside the classroom/school, what influence do you still carry? How connected are you? Bill Gates is no longer the tech innovator, now that he’s out of the game.  Neither was Steve Jobs when he took his hiatus.  He needed to be in the building for his influence to matter.  The same goes for education. Doesn’t it?

Now people will say that innovation looks different in education. I agree.  However, isolated moments of innovation aren’t enough.  We haven’t gone far enough. We haven’t pushed the revolution.  Is it because we have no leader? Or is education incapable of that size of innovative shift?

I think we need a leader. We need the game changer. Who is it going to be? How are we going to get there?


Jul 6, 2011
Comments Off on What If I’m Wrong?

What If I’m Wrong?

A respected colleague of mine recently asked me, “You are always trying new things and trying new approaches, aren’t you afraid you’ll be wrong and then students will be affected?”

What if I’m wrong?

I figure, I’ve got three options:

  1. I’m right.
  2. I’m wrong, but I’m closer to the best possible idea.
  3. I’m wrong and I’m farther away from the best possible idea.

In the pursuit of providing my students with the best learning opportunity, I’d rather side with the 2/3 chance that I’m moving forward, rather then letting the one option stop me in my tracks. This goes for everything I do, negative thinking breeds a failure to move, positive thinking means movement is essential.


The other side of the my response is that I do my due diligence. I don’t hatch an idea and then go. Ok, sometimes, but generally, I read, I reflect, I talk and I connect. No idea is considered in a bubble. But, no idea is thrown out just because it hasn’t been done before or because it makes me, or other people, uncomfortable.


What if I’m wrong? The only time I can be wrong is in thinking I’ve got nowhere to go.

Jul 5, 2011
Comments Off on Learning Happened. (A few lists…)

Learning Happened. (A few lists…)

A few lists connected to the school year that passed.

Things to Do Again:

  • Invite the outside world into my classroom. Throw open the doors.
  • Be constantly striving for more authentic audience, task, learning.
  • Invite scrutiny.
  • Build rich connections with colleagues and look for opportunities to engage in good, though possibly uncomfortable, professional dialogue.
  • Shift away from the centre. Don’t think top-down is teacher-student. Instead, think there is no top, “We are all in this together.”
  • One rule: “Be Great”
  • Have rich, meaningful, honest conversations with each student about their progress. These conversations were much more nuanced and useful then any mark or report card comment. They take time, but they are worth it.

Things I Didn’t Get Quite Right:

  • Parents: I had no complaints from parents, well, none that I have any knowledge.  I had some real great feedback from parents, though. But I didn’t quite get it right. Even after last semester’s reflection on the role of parents, I didn’t do a good enough job keeping/getting them connected to their child’s learning. I need to take more time to get them connected, get them involved. Especially as I use more and more social media, authentic audience, etc. It blends so easily. I want students, regardless of grade, to be talking to their parents about what they learned in class today. This breeds a greater importance on learning, less on the final numerical result of the learning.
  • Flexibility: Some of the feedback I got from students was that I provided them, at times, too much freedom and flexibility. They felt that they hung themselves with it. Now each student recognized that they need to own the responsibility, however, they’ve never been taught how, so it is unfair for me to expect them to handle it.  I had many of my students comment that their ability to “be in a regular classroom” was compromised because of the flexibility they had in my class. I look at that as something that I didn’t get quite right and I’m going to need to work to find a better balance.
  • Sharing: It is one of those lessons you learn early, and it turns out often, about taking (or even better making) opportunities to share the things you are doing.  I wrote a blog post entitled “If I Don’t Share, Is It Because I Don’t Own It?” that begins to reflect on the nature of sharing in this profession.  I used the excuse that “I didn’t own the class” when I first talked about sharing, but now, with more afterthought and more reflection on all the things I did in class, I recognize that I’ve got to share more.  I believe there are things every class should be doing, those things that worked and are easy, but if I don’t share them with the people in my building they are dead already.  I don’t know what this will look like, but it needs to be done.
  • Feedback: I’m still not there. I’ve written about the feedback loop that I’m trying to create but it is not complete. It needs more tweaking. How do I provide rich, constructive, learning feedback, while making it manageable? How do I provide that as instantly as possible while teaching upwards of 90 students a day? How do I more concretely connect the required number (grade on the report card) with the intangible (observations)?
  • The Game: I’m not one to mind my ‘p’s’ and ‘q’s’. I say what’s on my mind and often live with the consequences. Professionally speaking, I’m not one to play the game.  I just run at my own speed. This tactic (though it really is the lack of tactics) has left me isolated at times. On its own, I’m not too worried. However, if my actions are going to work against a student’s needs in the future (with a colleague, parent or administrator), then I haven’t served them. The game is not for me, it is to serve my students in the best way. I need to find a middle ground, maybe?


Things I Learned About Learning:

  • I love to learn. Adding the Twittersphere to my daily professional development was wonderful.
  • Learning happens with community. The idea that learning can happen on your own is baloney. You need other people. We need to constantly be honing our ability to create community in our classrooms. But not just any community, learning community. There is a difference, a big one.
  • Learning is a dog fight. Grip it and rip it. Learning is not for the faint of heart. It is tough and messy and rarely pretty. Recognizing this made me much more willing to take risks and not shy away when the going got tough, which it does inevitably, every time.
  • It can’t happen in a bubble. Allow for distractions. Maintaining direct focus is unsustainable for most learners. Most of us need time and space to breathe.
  • I’m not the best learner in the room. I’m really only good at learning for me. Let people/students learn with whatever methods work for them.
  • Sometimes you need to slow down to speed up. I like to jump in with testing the water. I do this with learning new things too. I learned that for some things, that isn’t the best strategy. Now, this isn’t to say i’m not going to be jumping in, but maybe, just maybe, I won’t be doing a cannonball.

Things I Need To Learn More About:

  • Google Apps
  • Integrating autonomy more effectively into every class. FedEx Days? What would they look like?
  • Building more authentic, project-based learning opportunities.
  • Establishing richer community with people on Twitter. I’m not using this tool to its full potential.
  • How to be a better collaborator.
  • Access to funding opportunities to enrich the learning in the room.
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