3 Traps That Stall Innovation (and How You Can Avoid Them) #IMMOOC

“Change isn’t something that comes with a checklist.” – Dave Burgess, in the publisher’s foreword to The Innovator’s Mindset

I’d really like it if innovation were a cleaner process. One with less uncertainty. One will less failure. One with a clearer roadmap.

But that’s not what we sign up for when we set out to innovate.

Innovation is most certainly an adventure without a checklist. But even when you set out on an adventure that could go a thousand different ways, there are always a few pitfalls that you know you’ll want to avoid.

If you want to lead innovative change in your sphere of influence, then you have to avoid the pitfalls that sideline many attempts to create something new and different in education.

There are certainly others that could be included, but after thinking through three attempts to innovate over the past few years, I know that these three pitfalls can bring innovation to a halt in a hurry.

Trap #1: Innovation Replication
Innovation is tricky to replicate. A successful innovation provides a new and better solution to an existing problem. Certainly we can benefit from considering the solutions that others have identified, but just because we could implement their solution doesn’t mean we have to or need to. If we don’t have the same question they do, we don’t need try to implement the answer they’ve discovered.

What we can really benefit from is looking at the questions that others asked as they began to innovate. What drove the initial process and got their conversations off the ground? What rules did they choose to ignore? What constraints did they have to overcome?

A careful look at the path others traveled en route to innovation is more likely to benefit us than simply adopting their practice.

But we like continue to prefer solutions because we fear the unknown…

Trap #2: Fear of the Unknown
When we’re trying something new, it’s not uncommon to find ourselves in a bit of uncharted (or at least less charted) territory. While I would never advocate haphazardly jumping into the change process without a plan, I will say that most innovative change that I’ve experienced needs a different sort of planning norm. If you are making a new path, you will not walk on a nicely paved road. You will not be able to anticipate everything. You don’t even know all the obstacles in your path yet. Finding a balance between a comprehensive plan and one that you can actually bring working on is key.

While outcomes can be unpredictable, designing the process can allow you the freedom to focus on the real problem you are tackling. On the outset, identify the problem you are wanting to improve upon and honestly assess where you are at in your current reality. Then set a big goal for where you’d like to be and begin to backwards plan until you get to the actions you’d like to tackle this week. Set checkpoints for yourself, and find someone to help you out with the plan.

But don’t allow yourself to stay in planning mode forever. There’s some comfort in the planning process that you’ll need to step away from or you’ll never get started…

Trap #3: Not getting started
The problem—that area you know needs a touch of innovation—is not going to sort itself out. Your inertia will literally keep you where you are at forever unless an outside force disrupts the status quo (seriously… it’s a basic rule scientific rule). The problem you’ve identified needs an outside force to send it off its current trajectory and in a new direction. You can be that force, but you will be most effective if you don’t go it alone. After you’ve looked at the questions that inspired others to innovate and designed a process to enact a particular change, GET AFTER IT (but not on your own).

You Have a Choice to Make
Each of these traps can be avoided.

Instead of replicating answers, learn from their driving questions.

Instead of fearing the unknown journey ahead, set a goal and backwards plan toward it.

Instead of letting inertia maintain the status quo, draft a plan that you will actually start.

Looking at someone else’s innovation can sometimes leave you feeling like others have the magic touch. They don’t. They just get started on the work.

I love this reminder from J.K. Rowling: “We do not need magic to change the world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: We have the power to imagine better.”

You have a choice to make: Innovate and improve the school experience for your students or let the status quo keep its hold.

Make the right choice.

If you like what you’re reading here, you should check out my book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth. The book highlights six truths that will help you THRIVE as an educator, including one–Imagine it Better–that will challenge you to imagine better than the status quo for your students. Find the book on Amazon or read more about the book here.

Top 10 Tips For Student Blogging (guest post by @mrodz308)

Near the end of the school year, I had the chance to see something amazing happening in one of the elementary schools in my school district. Marina Rodriguez (@mrodz308), a 4th grade dual language teacher at South Knoll Elementary, reached out to see if I would come by and participate in the “Hour of Blog”–a time she and her students use after school to explore all things blogging.

The experience was amazing.

She and her students, none of whom began the school year with any blogging experience, created hundreds of blog posts throughout their after school “Hour of Blog” they began together during the spring semester. Our time together went so quickly. The students asked wonderful questions and shared insights beyond their years.

A lot of people would look at the end product and want to replicate it, but not know where to get started. I asked if she would share about her experience. Marina was happy to share about the project and offer some tips for anyone who is interested in getting your students blogging. I also love the student and parent reflections she shares, too.

Enjoy this post from Marina Rodriguez, and get your students blogging!

Back in January of 2017, I decided to bring blogging into my 4th grade dual language classroom.  With state testing right around the corner, I wanted to offer my students something engaging they could experiment with, lead, and make their own.  I caught the name of a blogging website called Kidblog off a post on Twitter, and the only thing I knew for sure was that this blogsite was safe for kids.

My initial concerns were many… How would I introduce something I have never done before? When would we find the time to practice this unique genre?  Are my students mature enough to handle working independently online?  Will the novelty of trying something new fizzle out before we get anything valuable accomplished?  How would I make sure students practice good writing habits?  How would I manage it all for so many students, when they will have online access anywhere, anytime?  Is it crazy to try to do this on my own with 4th graders?

Even with the many concerns, blogging online seemed to carry possibilities that would excite our learning and launch us into something new and wonderful.  After talking with a small group of my students for some feedback, we decided to make it an experiment.  I decided to trust that my students would at the very least have fun trying something new.  I took a breath and we jumped into the digital world.

What happened in my classroom those next few months of school was nothing short of amazing.  My classroom shifted.  We went from a classroom to a community, from students to guides, from rule-followers to leaders… independent problem solvers, collaborators, creators, innovators, and explorers.  Learning became contagious.  Students kept a “Blogger’s Notebook” and worked hard to find reasons to write, and they wrote often.

During this process, I became a part of this magnificent shift in our learning environment.  I became a guide and an actively engaged learner.  I learned to trust myself as I pushed to learn more, just as I encourage my students to do the same. This adventure helped me to become a blogger.  I also discovered that my students, my bloggers… are some amazing human beings.  They ended the school year feeling like a part of the world around them, thinking beyond the walls of the classroom, and ready to make an impact.

Here are my Top 10 Tips for Student Blogging for teachers thinking about getting started…

Top 10 Tips for Student Blogging

  1. Why blog?

Let your students in on this secret… the more you write, the better you get at it.  Here are a few other reasons… to value student voice, to give students meaningful and purposeful reasons to write, to allow students to learn for themselves and learn from each other, to allow students to make an impact on the world, to connect with others and build relationships, to experience having an authentic audience, to struggle and reflect, to explore, to grow, to research, to collaborate, to problem solve, to create, to innovate, to practice critical thinking, to prepare for the future.  There are many other reasons why blogging can be powerful for students.  Blogging helps students learn, reflect, and grow.

Encouraging students to write what they want as much as possible is a powerful way to grow writers and critical thinkers.  When students have the freedom to lead their own learning, amazing things will happen.

  1. Make Expectations Crystal Clear

Making expectations crystal clear is key for just about anything.  Picture your ideal learning environment, then let students in on your vision.  Together, you can build towards that goal.  Teach mini-lesson, after mini-lesson, offer reminders, reviews, notes, etc., as much as you see is needed.  In an ideal learning environment, everyone is a learner, and everyone should develop the skill of guiding others to learn new things.

The goal is to have a room full of independent, critical thinkers, and creative problem solvers.  With the right guidance, a classroom can quickly become a place where both students and teacher carry the title of Guide, where everyone is able to offer what they know with respect and willing to help others in the process, not because it is a mandate, but because it’s the right thing to do.

  1. Begin with a Small Group

It is easier to manage things when you start small.  Begin with a group of 6-8 students who you think would not have issue with independently making decisions, setting goals, expectations, etc.  These students can be your mentors for the rest of the class.

Guide your small group in the right direction, but allow them the freedom to lead and make decisions.  Hold special blogging meetings during lunch or before school, to help launch and establish their special leadership positions.  Encourage a plan for everything, so they understand that things work best when planned.  This will give students ownership, and naturally allow them to develop the need to care and protect their work with great passion.  Students will often set the bar much higher than you expect, and will lead other students to do the same.

  1. Encourage Inquiry Projects

Inquiry learning is phenomenal.  Encourage students to use blogging to share what they learn.  When children begin school at the age of 4-5, they come in excited and ready to explore the world, often with spectacular curiosity.  They are typically ready to jump into learning and exploring with little fear or hesitation.  As the years in a classroom begin to lay its heavy hand on their curious minds, students become less of explorers and more rule followers.

Allow for natural curiosity and exploration to develop through student inquiry projects.  Blogging about an inquiry project is a fantastic way to bring back a student’s inner explorer.  Students practice developing a higher-level ability to think through what they want to learn and make good choices, not because “the teacher” told them so, but because true explorers and learners must make good decisions as they push to learn more.

Encouraging the explorer part of a student’s brain is essential to having a student-centered learning environment.  Allow students to investigate, research, and write about the things they enjoy or find intriguing and/or interesting.  It can lead to some powerful learning.

  1. Share with Parents, Admin, and Others

Sharing student work with an authentic audience can make a powerful impact.  I still remember the look on my students faces, when we talked about having their parents and other teachers read their work.  They were both nervous, but incredibly excited.  These experiences help students truly own their work, and it helps them to understand the true purpose of this communication skill we call writing.  It’s more than developing a writer or blogger, it is showing students that their words have value and can cause impact.

Publishing for a target audience helps students understand that the value of their own voice.  Not only is it important for students to publish and publish often, but by focusing on specific audiences, students practice real-world communication skills.  Writing to specific audiences is a skill that students will use for the rest of their lives.

  1. Digital Citizenship vs. Being a Good Human

The best advice to give students is that they are responsible for being good humans, both inside the digital world and out in the real world.  The difference between having digital citizenship and being a good human is absolutely nothing. The sooner students understand that who they are online is who they are in real life, the better.

Technology is a part of our everyday lives, and students need us more than ever to help guide them into making good choices.  Trusting that students do the right thing may sound like a lot to ask, but it is well worth the investment when student-centered learning is the goal.  Most students would rather participate in the digital environment to learn, than to be denied that option for poor choices.

  1. Walk Them Through the First Blog

Guiding students through their first piece is important, because it sets the expectation.  Our 21st Century Students know a lot; however, they need our experience and our guidance now more than ever to help keep them on the right learning path.

Don’t expect perfection, expect their best work.  You may want to approve the first few blogs before they post to an audience, however, only a teacher knows when best to move a student on to what comes next.  Make sure to give them the freedom to write without your approval at some point, better sooner than later.  Try to read all of their work, as much as possible.  When students begin to write more than you can keep up with, you have succeeded in creating a group of students who are living as writers.

  1. Focus on the 4 C’s

According to the National Education Association (NEA), in order to prepare our 21st Century Students for a global society, we must help them develop four key components:

  1. Critical Thinking & Problem Solving
  2. Communication
  3. Collaboration
  4. Creativity & Innovation

All four components can easily be embedded into blogging.  Making sure students understand why these components are important will help keep them focused on the big picture… their future.

  1. Teachers Can Be Bloggers Too

The best way to lead students into blogging is leading by example.  Diving into something new with your students is a priceless experience for both you and your students.  It turns everyone into a learner instantly, and allows both the teacher and students the opportunity to live as true explorers.  What an amazing experience to offer students!  Sharing experiences, good and bad, reduces the fear of making mistakes and builds an environment where students feel safe to learn, grow, take risks, and push forward to become life-long learners.

  1. Give It Time

Give yourself and your students time to develop.  Again, only the teacher knows when her class is ready for what comes next.  The use of a program that allows students to write electronically anywhere they have access to the internet is exciting.  They will develop quickly the need to write, and write often.  They will make mistakes, and you will need to help teach them how to pick up the pieces, how to make their writing stronger, fresh and fearless, or more impactful.  It will take time, but it will happen sooner than you think.

Technology is in integral part of the lives of our students.  Blogging is one way to help students maneuver in an environment that will continue to be an important part of their lives.  Preparing our 21st Century Students to become leaders in a world already at their fingertips is not only important, but necessary.


Comments from my 4th grade class of 2016-17 students and parents…

“I blog because it is fun and I love inspiring people. It helps them get through a problem.”  -Malichi, 4th Grade 

“I love blogging because it’s a way for me to express my writing in the form of technology, and I just love how blogging brought all of us together as a tiny community.”  -Mariana, 4th Grade

“I like blogging because it is challenging for me.”  -Juan, 4th Grade

“I like to blog about just about anything I can.  I like blogging because I like seeing other people’s perspectives on blogging and what they think about the different categories that you can blog about. I personally think it’s COOL to see what other people think about it.”  -Isaiah, 4th Grade

“I like to blog about things that would help you later in life. I also like to post quotes and poems.”        

-Luke, 4th Grade 

“I like blogging about poems. I like blogging because it helps me interact with my friends.”  -Luis, 4th Grade

“I like to Blog about how to build character. Most of my Blogs are in the category of Building Character. I like to Blog because it is a great way to express your feelings for a certain topic. Blogging is a great experience!  I can’t wait to continue with it.”  -Sam, 4th Grade

“I like to blog about Star Wars, and science fiction.  I like to blog because I do not like to share my work a lot, but Kidblog makes it less scary.”  -Hudson, 4th Grade 

“I love to blog because other people can learn from my blogs and create more like mine, and just carry on the idea! I blog to change the world, and to follow my dreams! ( ; I like writing encouraging poems and also writing fictional stories.”  -Halle, 4th Grade

“I like to blog because it helps me with my learning and my writing skills.”  -Efrain, 4th Grade

“I like to blog about things like family. I also like it because you can learn from it, and you get to chat about the things that you are to do. You can learn from your mistakes, and that helps you get better, and you will love it even more. That is why I love blogging.” -Madison, 4th Grade

“It is fun and educational.”  -Nathanael, 4th Grade

“I like blogging what is in my mind. I think that blogging what is in my mind makes others think how I think about things around me.”  -Ashley, 4th Grade

“I like to blog, because you can interact with your friends, you can share your writing, and give your opinion about the writing.”  -Paloma, 4th Grade

“I like blogging, because the options to write about are endless…”  -Lily, 4th Grade 

“Blogging helped my daughter in so many ways with her attitude toward writing and her overall writing skills!  She would write short stories here and there at home prior to blogging. Once introduced to blogging, her short stories began to expand to include elaborate titles and chapters! She began writing stories!  She looked forward to being a part of the blogging group after school. She learned to express more of her thoughts on paper/computer.  Being shy, this provided an outlet for her. She found that writing can be fun! She would think of topics, plan ahead and write creatively.  We are grateful that she was introduced to blogging at SK by you!” -Parent

“So many positive changes in my son since he began the blogging class with you.  He has always been a voracious reader, this opened him up to the process of writing & not dreading writing assignments.  I even noticed improvement in his vocabulary & spelling habits.  For him being such an introvert, the most positive change I noticed was social.  He seemed to forge stronger friendships with his classmates as this was a fun bonding assignment outside of the normal classroom setting.  He corresponded via email with a classmate about topics & ideas for their blog, and spend lots of time brainstorming & collaborating with a friend.  Having a “special” time & fun activity outside of the traditional classroom structure was so beneficial for my son, as it gave him the opportunity to be creative & have complete control over his work product.  We are so thankful & appreciative for this opportunity, and… he thoroughly enjoyed staying after class each week to participate!” -Parent

“My son has grown immensely this year in his writing and I believe it is largely due in part to his blog experience.  I have seen him use his free time to write and blog, which is a big change from years past.  He enjoys brainstorming and coming up with new ideas for his writing… I wanted you to know how much you had an impact on him.” -Parent

“The blogging experience conducted by Mrs. Marina Rodriguez helped my daughter increase her interest and motivation in writing generally, and more specifically in writing poetry and even some ‘philosophical’ meditations about life and other essential topics. She became more aware of her spelling weaknesses and made the best of the opportunity to correct them. She also visualized (and still does) herself as a ‘blogger’ and, in many occasions, she has introduced herself to other people by using the expression: ‘I am a blogger.’ It clearly means that she has become more familiar with several contemporary media platforms that are now part of our daily technological experience. My daughter also had the opportunity to interact with some of her classmates’ blogging activities, exchanging therefore with them thoughts and getting in the know of their areas of interest or concern. That made her more aware of her circle of friends and contributed toward friendship and communication, and not the opposite. Also, she has kept her interest up projected to the future and plan to continuing her blogging activity despite the class is over.” -Parent

“We feel it is a wonderful example of using current technological resources to reach children academically… without them seeing it as work at all!  Well done!” – Parent

“Blogging created an excitement for writing for my son.  He was often eager to share what he had written with our family.  He also enjoyed reading others entries.  I felt like blogging was very helpful for his social and emotional well-being and helped him feel very connected with his classmates and wonderful teacher!  Thank you Sra. Rodriguez!” -Parent

“I feel that it helped my daughter become more expressive with her writing. This is obviously very subjective, but it seems that she started to see writing as more of a tool to initiate communication than simply something used to respond to others.” -Parent

Be sure to check out Marina’s blog (www.marinarodz.com/blog) and connect with her on Twitter (@mrodz308).

Create Simple Personalized Professional Development #IMMOOC

In college, I had a professor who would read PowerPoint slide shows to us about the benefits of engaging instruction for students. The irony was not lost on me. It’s rare that a class is a perfect match for you as a learner, but I learned a great deal of what not to do throughout that course.

For all the innovation out there in education today, there’s still a lot more whole group lecturing about how we should differentiate and individualize our instruction for the students we serve than I’m comfortable with. Professional development that ignores best instructional practices is insulting to teachers and detrimental to leader credibility.

I understand part of the hesitation on the part of leaders. Differentiation in a classroom is an incredibly complicated, albeit rewarding, undertaking. There aren’t a lot of options out there for differentiated professional development, and creating something from the ground up seems like a monumental undertaking. So, we often opt for a standard delivery of a new idea. When we do that, we rob those in the room of the opportunity to experience something innovative. Sure, everyone hears the same content. But as Dave Burgess often reminds educators, “What good is covering content if people aren’t listening?” Professional development can’t just wash over you; you have to internalize it, wrestle with it, consider how to make it your own. It’s high time we stop measuring professional development in terms of seat time. That’s a measure of compliance, not learning. As George Couros reminds us, “Compliance does not foster innovation. In fact, demanding conformity does quite the opposite.”

Exploring Another Way

I’m in my first year on the campus I serve, and for our last two campus professional development days, we set out to do something different. We knew we wanted our PD to challenge and support teachers on their self selected goals for the year, and we also knew that we wanted staff to have time to implement some of the new things they learned about. More than that, my principal and I (both new to the campus this year) didn’t want to come in and talk at people for an extended period of time for professional development.

We decided to run the majority of our time as an EdCamp (with a bit of scaffolding). In a traditional EdCamp, participants design the day when they arrive to meet their needs with conversations among those who take part in the EdCamp. It’s highly organic (which I really like), but it is a bit of an adjustment for many not familiar with the style of learning.

For our purposes, we added scaffolding to not overwhelm anyone on the first iteration. We took the teachers’ goals from the beginning of the year and teased out four common threads: Student engagement, Social emotional learning, Growth mindset, and EdTech. With these in mind, we created a schedule for the day that allowed teachers to grow in their self defined goals, but also pushed teachers to learn not simply with presentations, but primarily through conversations with each other about the topics at hand. Check out the schedules below:

October 10th schedule

February 20th schedule

We sent teachers out to these conversations with these instructions:

When you get to your session, here are a few reminders:

  • If there’s a video, be the one to get it playing.
  • Find someone to add notes in the Google Doc.
  • Help get the conversation started. (Yes, you! You’ll be great!)
  • Find out where everyone stands on the topic.
    • Ask what experience people have with the topic.
    • Ask what people want to learn about the topic.
  • Make sure everyone who wants to contribute gets a chance to participate.
  • Encourage the conversation. Be patient.
  • Don’t let a little wait time fool you into thinking the conversation is over.

Our teachers loved these two days. The best thing about that for me is that it wasn’t about us as leaders at all. We got out of the way and let the teachers connect with and learn from one another. In those conversations, they challenged one another and worked through tough conversations about the hard work that teaching really is.

Selfishly, it was an incredible way to get to know our teachers on a deeper level. That wasn’t the purpose, but what an important benefit it was for us. We received overwhelmingly positive feedback on the day, and even heard some frustration in October that we wouldn’t be able to revisit this style of learning until our time together in February.

Compliance never got me that reaction.

Offering Empowering Encouragement

Before launching the October PD day, I had a chance to put one other support in place. It was probably my favorite part of the entire experience.

The unstructured conversations needed a secret leader, a plant in the room. Someone who would keep the conversation moving and focused on the topic at hand. So for each of the sessions, I thought through our staff, selected a staff member or two who had a lot to offer in that conversation, and went and had a conversation. I got to share that I was excited about our new, somewhat risky (but hopefully really rewarding) PD that was coming up. But more than that, I got to share that I saw greatness in them. That they had something that needed to be passed along to others. They they were an integral part of the success of the upcoming day.

Those conversations are some of my favorite interactions I’ve had with our staff.

In the end, each EdCamp was a great day. But more than that, I hope it showed teachers that we were willing to practice what we preach, to do something that might not run perfectly (but would be better than the way we’ve always done it). That’s what the Innovator’s Mindset asks of all educators.

Regardless of your role on campus, where do you need to make sure your methods match your message? Do you notice anything that’s contradicting itself? How can you fix those inconsistencies?

And as much as you have control over it, how can you drive PD toward something that honors, rather than sells short, teachers who are giving so much to serve their students?

I’ll be writing more about my own journey with innovation over the next few weeks as part of this MOOC (massive open online course) centered around George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. Check out the #IMMOOC hashtag to see some conversation about innovation in education.

The Myth of Innovation Killers #IMMOOC

I’ve been in several conversations lately that go something like this: “[THAT WHICH IS OUT OF MY CONTROL] is an innovation killer.”

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that there are real constraints and awful situations that educators find themselves in. I know that those happen more often than we’d like. But if we wait until our constraints disappear to begin innovating, we will forever miss the opportunity to create change.

I have a hard time not seeing the “X is an innovation killer” message as a nicer way of saying innovation is too hard for me right now. As George Couros says, “Often, the biggest barrier to innovation is our own way of thinking.”

Nobody knows your situation like you do, so if it’s not the time to add something extra in life, I understand. But when it is time, remember that everyone who is poised to innovate has constraints and a choice. Don’t wait until the time is the constraints have disappeared. It won’t happen. You’ll always have constraints. You’ll always have the choice: Today, will I innovate, or will I let the excuses win?

As Seth Godin says, “Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.”

Click to tweet this image

I’ll be writing more about my own journey with innovation over the next few weeks as part of this MOOC (massive open online course) centered around George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. This week, we were challenged to write posts in under 200 words. Check out the #IMMOOC hashtag to see some conversation about innovation in education, and look for the #IMMOOCB1, #IMMOOCB2, and & #IMMOOCB3 for more of these short posts. 

Risks Worth Taking #IMMOOC

I love this video. Jason Mraz is playing a show, and when he realizes there’s a guy playing a shaker in the audience, he takes a risk and invites him onto the stage. I think there’s a lot we can learn from it. But first, watch the video:

I love the way Mraz is surprised by the brilliance that Stan brings to the performance–even to the point where people thought he was planned to be art of the show.

When I see this video, I can’t help but think that this is what quality risk taking looks like in education. It’s not an uncalculated shot in the dark (which would be an irresponsible sort of risk to take). This risk taking is the kind that could pay off in a huge way for a student. It’s the moment when you could choose to send him out if class but instead you find a way to leverage the energy in the room for greatness. That doesn’t happen without risk. And the reality is this: We won’t reach some of our students if we fail to take some risks.

How will you anticipate these moments?

Who do you need to invite on stage?

I’ll be writing more about my own journey with innovation over the next few weeks as part of this MOOC (massive open online course) centered around George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. This week, we were challenged to write posts in under 200 words. Check out the #IMMOOC hashtag to see some conversation about innovation in education, and look for the #IMMOOCB1, #IMMOOCB2, and & #IMMOOCB3 for more of these short posts. 

Starting Innovative Change #IMMOOC

I love the conversation around innovation in education. George Couros’ definition of innovation (something that is both new and better) allows for a wide interpretation of innovation in a time when many associate the term exclusively with tech-laden change.

When we get it right, being innovative often helps makes our work focus more on learning than on just getting school done well.

I don’t think anyone disagrees that being great at learning is much better than simply being great at school, but sometimes it’s tough to know just how to begin this kind of change. Here are three easy ways you can start this week:

1. Write down a few people you plan to learn from at school this week. Put it on your calendar. Make sure someone follows up with you.

2. Pick out something that is part of your routine and ask yourself why you do things that way.

3. Model the learning you want your students to develop. Force yourself to share not only what you are learning but also a little about what that process looks like for you.

Whatever you do, use the influence you have to make school a place of incredible learning.

I’ll be writing more about my own journey with innovation over the next few weeks as part of this MOOC (massive open online course) centered around George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. This week, we were challenged to write posts in under 200 words. Check out the #IMMOOC hashtag to see some conversation about innovation in education, and look for the #IMMOOCB1, #IMMOOCB2, and & #IMMOOCB3 for more of these short posts. 

Capture the Moment: Using Twitter Moments in Education

When they originally appeared on Twitter, Twitter Moments were only for things of national or global importance. Stuff like celebrities making bad decisions, famous people tweeting foolishness (yes those first two are mostly the same, and yes they were still most of what moments were about), and also things like actual news (but only rarely).

Recent changes made by Twitter allow you to create them. If you’re sharing your learning on Twitter (which you should be) and you’re not using moments (many people aren’t), you’re missing out. This post will tackle what are Twitter Moments can be used for, why should you care, and how do you make them.

So, what’s a moment and why should I care?

A moment is a collection of tweets that you can gather together in an easy to share format.

Why is that useful? When so many educators are sharing their learning on Twitter, there is an ocean of greatness out there. It’s nice to put a few of the tweets that stand out to you in a single place for future reference and clean sharing at the moment.

Here are a couple of examples:

I had the privilege of attending EdCamp Navasota this weekend. It was fantastic. In a half day, I had so many conversations that challenged and supported me. It was amazing.

I had the opportunity to facilitate a conversation on blogging during the second session. We shared resources, stories, and struggles throughout our time together, and at the end, I created a moment to pull a few of the tweets together before they got swept away in the sea of other tweets that included the #EdCampNavasota hashtag.

Here’s the small moment I collected and shared:

It was great to have everything in one location for a quick share after the session, and I’m able to go back to those resources and pull from the intelligence of the entire room the next time someone asks me about blogging.

I also used a moment to capture the tweets that were sent to my campus hashtag (#CGcats) last week. A couple of weeks ago I heard the simple but genius idea that’s made a big difference in our staff tweets: Instead of telling them why it’s so great to share, reflect, and connect and hope they’ll be intrinsically motivated, just let them wear jeans on Thursday if they tweet three times about what they’re learning of what’s happening in their classroom (Thanks to Matt Arend, Amber Teamann, and Sanee Bell’s collective genius for this!).

We had a great response, but we have people at all levels of familiarity, excitement, and trepidation surrounding Twitter currently. This Twitter Moment is something that allowed me to share the tweets to everyone on campus as well as my PLN.

It’s great to have all this awesome from around our campus pulled together in one space, and I love that I can access this summary so easily in the future.

I also used moments to document big chunks of my experience at TCEA last week. Who hasn’t had that conference overload/exhaustion feeling before, right? It’s nice to be able to go back to those moments to reference all I learned in Austin over those three days. Here are links to those if you’re interested: TCEA Day 1, TCEA Day 2, & my blogging session.

How do I make a Twitter Moment?

I make my moments on my phone. Here’s how I walk through it:

First, click the wheel on your profile page. Then, click moments on the list that pops up. In the top right corner, click the plus to open a new moment. Add your tweets before clicking save and publish.

Unlike a tweet, there’s no need to get everything perfect the first time. Moments are editable and can even be unpublished if you need. You can also add tweets by clicking the carrot, clicking add to moment, and selecting the moment to add it to.

Capture Your Moment!

Think through this next week. What are those opportunities to capture a moment on Twitter? Will it be a Twitter chat? An event at school? An area of your learning where you know you’re growing? Something you’ve learned that you can pass along to a colleague?

Whatever it might be, don’t miss out on the opportunity to capture and celebrate things worth sharing!

What will you share?

8 Big Ideas From #TCEA17

I made it back home from TCEA. As is often the case after a great conference full of amazing sessions and incredible educators, I’m just drowning in good ideas. Last year, I posted 10 Big Ideas From #TCEA16 after returning home, and I’m bringing back that style of post here.

I could probably go into a separate blog post on each of these ideas (and I very well may at some point), but for now, this is all about capturing and documenting my learning from the past three days (and sharing it out in case it’s beneficial for you). I hope the ideas challenge you and support you in your growth as you make your way through the spring semester.

While TCEA is a huge tech conference, these ideas aren’t dripping with EdTech implications. More than anything, they challenge me to make manageable changes and convict me where I haven’t done enough work to rethink “the way we’ve always done it” in our schools.

Without further ado, here are 8 sticky ideas from this year’s TCEA conference.

You cannot keep up with it all. But if you are connected, you have a much better chance of keeping up with much more. – Amber Teamann

Learning and fun are not antonyms. – Adam Bellow

When we do things, we do what’s best for kids. If you can tell me why it’s not best for kids, we won’t do it. Otherwise, we do it. – Todd Nesloney

‪If parents only know what’s going on in class because of our homework, we need to do better. – Alice Keeler

Being a workaholic is not a virtue. – Alice Keeler

If you want to teach students responsibility, give them a responsibility in class. Homework doesn’t teach that. – Alice Keeler

‪If you weren’t allowed to assign homework, how would you redesign your class? – Matt Miller

Giving people a chance to contribute is powerful. – Dean Shareski

It’s likely that you probably agree with some of these ideas and want to push back on some of the others. That’s great. The more we think critically about what it is we should be doing as educators, the better off we will be. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have come across so many educators who are doing so much to serve the students in their care as best they know how.

Why Do We Do That?


I’ve got a little story for you.

It’s Christmas, and it’s the first time the family is having dinner away from the home they grew up in. The cook (not the matriarch of the family) is preparing the roast to cook, and the first thing he does is cut off the ends. He puts it in the pan, it cooks, it’s prepared to be served, and then comes the question. His mom asks, “Why did you cut off the ends?”

A little unsettled, he replies, “That’s what you always did when you cooked it, mom.”

She laughs, and he begins to get a little worried. After her laughter subsides, she shares why: “We only cut the ends off because we didn’t have a pan big enough to fit the whole roast.”

And just like that, the dreaded TTWADDI has reared his head.

Credit goes to Amy Mayer (friEdTechnology) for this memorable image!


Now think about your school. Why do we do things the way that we do them?

With some things, there are good reasons.

Maybe we do things that way because it’s best for kids or because it keeps people safe at school.

But with other things, I imagine that we don’t always have a great reason for what we’re doing. With many things, probably more than we’d like to admit, we’ve never even thought about why we’re doing what we’re doing.

I think it’s time that we start thinking seriously about what we’ve not thought about before.

Typically I’m not one to make suggestions without offering solutions, but my goal is a bit different here. I want us to think of what we haven’t been thinking of. I want us to spend a bit of time exploring the gaps in conversations. Yes, eventually it’s important that we come to some conclusions, and I’m invested in that conversation as well. But I think it’s worth taking a step back from time to time and sharing a few ideas about what school could actually look like if we shook off the force of habit that has a strong hold on many of our practices.

So here are a few ideas I’m trying to rethink. I have some thoughts on solutions, but I’ll save those for another day.

Ideas I’m trying to rethink:

  • If we want our teachers to develop best instructional practices, why do we depend so heavily on whole group instruction for professional development?
  • If time out isn’t a good option for discipline in the classroom, why is ISS such a common consequence for behavior?
  • Why are we so hesitant to share our ideas with other educators? Why not connect more with others? Why not try to do that in new ways?
  • If we know that learning is often a messy, non-linear process, why is learning so often divided up into 6 or 7 or 8 period days?
  • If we know that learning happens at varying rates for various students, why are six weeks grading periods so commonly followed?

What are YOU going to rethink? What do we need to reconsider in education? What have we done the same way for too long?

Share your ideas in the comments!

Leading with an Innovator’s Mindset #IMMOOC


One of my goals this year is to help create a culture of innovation and risk taking on the campus I serve. My last post highlights why that’s so valuable to me, so I won’t retread that conversation here.

Innovation, creativity, and change are not ushered in through announcements. Most of what is worthwhile in education just isn’t brought about that way. But that’s left me wondering this: In my role as an assistant principal, what do I need to do to make our campus a place where innovation and risk taking are embraced?

My first answer is that I need to practice what I preach (meaning I better be taking some risks myself if I want them to).

I wrote recently about how we often position ourselves in the safest positions in education. What do I mean by that? We find all the symbolism and then lead the discussion. We work all the problems and then share them with the class. We find all the pitfalls and then carefully avoid them as we lead instruction.

While it’s good to provide solid examples, I think it promotes an “I have it all together” attitude and persona that is really detrimental to a growth and innovator’s mindset.

So I think it’s worth our time to look at ourselves as learners in light of these eight characteristics that George Couros claims are essential to an Innovator’s Mindset. Here’s a great graphic from Sylvia Duckworth that outlines the eight characteristics.


I’m a big believer in the idea that models accelerate learning. But although modeling well is crucial for our success and the success of others (especially as innovators), I think we’re fooling ourselves if we believe that being a model is enough to lead widespread innovative change on any significant scale.

For me, the problem is that I feel really comfortable reading a book like The Innovator’s Mindset, determining what I need to do to grow and innovate, and letting that be my method for bringing about change. In the long run, I think it will bring about some change, and it’s certainly better than letting the status quo roll forward for another year. But I think we can do better.

Realizing that modeling alone cannot be my answer, I kept coming back to this question, “What can leaders do to cultivate an Innovator’s Mindset in both themselves & among those they lead?”

Not surprisingly, that’s not a quick question to answer.

I tried to tackle it as a big question, but I just couldn’t. Innovation is so intricately layered and multi faceted in many ways that I couldn’t manage it as one big, huge question. So my answer to the question above is broken down into the 25 questions below. Each is tied to a particular element of Couros’ 8 Characteristics of an Innovator’s Mindset.

innovators mindsetWhat follows is really a reframing of chapter 3 in George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. Where his recommendations (at least upon my reading) are for teachers setting up innovative learning spaces for students, I’ve tried to draw out what will challenge me to be a better leader on my campus. It’s not a linear list; don’t try to do all this in one PD day. But as you plan for your year and ask your teachers to be innovative, remember to hold yourself to the same standard.

25 Questions for Creating an Innovative Campus Culture

  1. Empathetic
    • What did I want from my leaders when I was in the classroom?
    • In what ways am I the leader who frustrated me?
    • Do I lead PD that I would want to attend?  Do I offer any PD that I could sell tickets for? (With special thanks to Dave Burgess for inspiration…)
  2. Problem finders
    • Where have I asked for a linear solution to a messy, complicated problem?
    • How can I provide structures that validate messy, non-linear professional learning?
    • Where am I providing too many answers and robbing teachers of the opportunity to become problem finders?
    • How will I develop a clear understanding of teacher needs?
  3. Risk-Takers
    • What are the best opportunities for growth you are doing for teachers on your campus? Compare what were you doing two years ago with what’s new this year. Consider opportunities for innovation.
    • Where are the areas in greatest need on innovative change on campus? (And don’t just ask yourself. Ask your teachers this, too.)
    • What are you doing as you lead professional learning that was happening 10 years ago? There’s probably an opportunity to innovate on your list. What will you change first?
  4. Networked
    • How are you learning about the awesome things that are happening in classrooms and on campuses across your campus? Your district? Your country?
    • How are you using connections to other educators online to improve professional development on your campus?
    • If collaboration is important to you, how are you creating time for it to happen during scheduled professional development?
  5. Observant
    • Dream big–What would it look like for your school to become a model of innovation for your community, even to those outside the education world?
    • Where do you get your inspiration from inside the education world? What about outside sources?
    • How are you giving teachers the necessary autonomy for innovation to occur on your campus? Is this the model you want teachers to follow for students?
  6. Creators
    • If “learning is creation, not consumption,” how do your PD sessions allow for teachers to create as they learn?
    • What could teachers create during PD to show their learning?
    • What have you flipped in your professional development? How might this be beneficial to professional learning?
  7. Resilient
    • Change is uncomfortable for many. What pushback should innovative leaders anticipate?
    • What barriers can you take down for teachers who want to be innovative on your campus?
    • As you move through the change process, how will you invite and provide space for teacher feedback?
  8. Reflective
    • How will you inspire others to be more reflective about their professional learning?
    • Reflection will draw out failures, and failure is scary. How will you recognize the role of failure and welcome it into the larger conversation about innovation?
    • Leading well is tough. How will you be innovative about your support system as you lead others toward innovative change?

I’ll be writing more about my own journey with innovation over the next few weeks as part of this MOOC (massive open online course) centered around George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. I’ll also share throughout the year as I try to innovate and help others do the same. Check out the #IMMOOC hashtag to see some conversation about innovation in education.