Category Archives: Life

Where Truth Gets Eyeballs

We all know carbon dating has been disproven.  Homosexuality is a choice.  Climate change is a hoax. Hillary is a criminal. Everyone should carry a gun for protection.

All of these statements have been treated as facts in the media over the past few weeks, in preparation for USA to go to the polls.

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And many people fully believe them to be true.

“People have difficulty now just sorting out what is true and what is not, and if you don’t have some common baseline of facts… it’s very hard to figure out how we move the democracy forward.”

US President Barack Obama

in conversation with Bill Maher

If we don’t have a common understanding of the facts, how do we have a national conversation about policy?

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President Obama goes on to say that the filters on the information getting to the people are very challenging to overcome.  News sources report untrue information that people believe.  People don’t think critically about the information delivered to them through AM Talk Radio, Fox News, Facebook, “Reality” TV…

Confirmation bias has people making decisions then looking for the statements in any media to confirm their beliefs.

 

In Canada, what questions are we asking about our media?

During our last national election, some of our largest newspapers used their front pages for partisan politics to influence voters.

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Canadaland with Jesse Brown explores the state of media in Canada on the regular podcast.

In Ontario schools,  while we are concerned about the ability of our students to make up an article for traditional print media, how do we also ensure that they know how to critically examine media and ask questions to separate fact from belief?

 

If ever there was a time for educators to make digital literacies, including critical thinking, a priority, today is it.

Canada needs critical thinkers who make evidence-informed decisions.  We need citizens who know how to  keep their eyeballs, their heads, and their hearts on the truth, no matter what filters are on the media that they tune into.

We need citizens who stand up to the indoctrination of children and the perpetuation of false information.

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Canada flag image shared by Brandon Grasley CC-BY-2.0

Featured image (Where’s my eyeball?) shared by Alan Levine CC BY 2.0

Resources:

Literacy Toolkit for a Post-Truth World

OSAPAC Resource for School Leaders

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OSAPAC Resources for Digital Citizenship: Critical Thinking and Information Literacy

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The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies by Doug Belshaw

Tech Gypsies Episode 31 

Emotional Uncertainty in Exponential Times

I’m not sure how to share this experience because it is new, intense and raw, and writing is the way I try to sort things out.  So please bear with me.

How do we describe and define the intense feelings we experience when we see people we care about, colleagues in our profession, working their fingers to the bone at tasks that just don’t matter anymore?

Exponential change is our reality, yet many of our institutions continue to work hard to be exceptional at what mattered yesterday.

Picture yourself at work, and suddenly the discussion turns to whether term “flip phone” should have a hyphen or not.  If we argue this for even a single minute, we have missed 347222 Tweets, 2.4 million Google searches and 701389 Facebook logins.  Nobody cares about flip phones or flip-phones or how you spell it any more, yet  discussions this meaningless can consume our days.

We can be so busy at irrelevant tasks that we completely fail to take notice of how quickly the world has abandoned any interest in what we are doing.

As we strive to understand and embrace exponential change, recognizing this commitment to irrelevance in others creates an intense intersection of sadness, defeat, frustration, isolation and the irresistible desire to escape.

It’s coming to terms with the fact that a compelling case for change may not exist for these dedicated educators – the realization that the past is too entrenched, that beliefs are not going to shift, and, sadly, that you are no longer part of this tribe.

Or maybe that they still believe in certainty.

We have to know when it’s time to run, and begin again.  Maybe this emotional intersection is that sign.

Featured image by Stephen Downes CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0

 

 

 

Do You Have Time?

We all have time.  But how much?

And how will we spend it?

As an educator, I struggle with doing too much.

As a teacher, I packaged content endlessly, provided feedback on everything, read tirelessy, reflected on everything.  It consumed me. It consumes many.  Balance, alignment, living a rich life away from school – all of these things can be hard when there are no “hours of work” or boundaries of work.  There is always more that can be done.

Many of us work really hard – too hard perhaps.  But the passion for what we do, for changing life trajectories, is hard for others to understand at times.

It takes intention to stop and rethink the effectiveness of the effort and the purpose in how we spend our most valuable resource – time.

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John Sills and Ben Kelly share the career of Jim Fry, NWO Regional Director, MNRF June 2016. Photo by Kira Fry.

Recently, two dear friends spoke at my husband’s retirement celebration.  They shared a timeline of his outstanding career in protecting Ontario’s natural resources.  Then they focused on what is left in the timeline, and how we need to be intentional about how that time is used.

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Leo Suazo shares his understanding about the value of time. June 2106. Image by Kira Fry.

 

Retired US Fish and Game Officer Leo Suazo spoke eloquently about the value of time, and how after retirement, we have the opportunity to choose how we will share our gift of time.  What life trajectories will we impact? What changes will we enable?

How will we use our time to support those doing good in the world?

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Kira and Chloé. Image by Jake Avery.
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Shannon and Kyle with Jim. Image by Kira Fry

 

So then, how does this help us decide how to spend that precious time? Perhaps a recent commencement address by Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean James Ryan helps us think this through.

 

Dr. Ryan proposes five good questions we can ask in all that we do.

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From Five Good Questions by Dr. James Ryan http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/16/05/good-questions

The last question?

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Late Fragments, by Raymond Carver http://allpoetry.com/Late-Fragment

 

From Dr. James Ryan:

My claim is that if you regularly ask: wait, what, I wonder, couldn’t we at least, how can I help, and what really matters, when it comes time to ask yourself “And did you get what you wanted out of life, even so,” your answer will be “I did.”

 

How will you use your gift of time?

Featured image of Diane Corbett, Ian Anderson, Doug Hyde and Jim Fry (Ontario Provincial Peer Support Program) by Kira Fry, June 2016.

This post is dedicated to my father, Melville Charles Miller, who would have been 81 years old today, on this Fathers’ Day 2016.

His dedication to the natural resources of this province inspired many of the people who have continued that legacy.

References:

Good Questions

 

 

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Image by Kira Fry, June 2016

The Robots are Coming…. No, Wait, They are Here!

How are we preparing our students for the digital economy that is not their future, but their present?

How do we create the compelling argument that this is important, that this should be a priority in our school system?

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Walmart is mere months away from replacing their warehouse workers with drones and robots.

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More menial low-skilled standardized jobs lost to automation. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-wal-mart-drones-idUSKCN0YO26M

Automation is not new.  We have had the “robots are taking over the world” narrative in our minds for decades.

Have we become desensitized to it?

Because now they really are.

The extent to which robots are able to do menial jobs has grown exponentially, and artificial intelligence is no longer science fiction – it’s commonplace.

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Automation has become extremely sophisticated using AI to do jobs not previously thought possible. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobmorgan/2016/06/03/automation-isnt-new-so-whats-the-big-deal/amp/

 

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From http://chronicle.com/article/Robot-Proof-How-Colleges-Can/235057 by Joseph E. Aoun

 

But when robots can do standardized work, it creates new opportunities. New opportunities for creators, for coders, for those educated to take advantage of these new opportunities.

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by Joseph E. Aoun, Chronicle of Higher Education http://chronicle.com/article/Robot-Proof-How-Colleges-Can/235057

 

How are we embracing the opportunities robotics will bring to our economy? In Ontario alone, we will have a deficit of 76,300 digital economy jobs by 2019.

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Canada Labour Market Outlook http://www.vancouvereconomic.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Labour-Market-Outlook-2015-2019-by-ICTC-March-20151.pdf

 

Or are we just going to continue to blame corporations for embracing the technology available to them?

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If we create standardized students, they can easily be replaced.

 

If we create unique individuals with the skills and competencies to rise above the menial and embrace new opportunities, we will be enabling our communities to continue to grow and  prosper in our changing world.

 

As a parent, do you ask your school how your child is being prepared to thrive in the digital economy?

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LEARN HOW TO LEARN

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Featured image shared by Robin Zebrowski under a CC-BY-2.0 licence.

 

 

References:

Technology Has a Language. It’s Called Code.

Are Robots Going to Steal Your Job? Probably.

3 of the World’s Top 10 Employers are Replacing Workers With Robots

What If? OPSBA 2009

A Vision for Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age OPSBA (2013?)

Robot-Proof: How Colleges Can Keep People Relevant in the Workplace by Joseph E. Aoun 

Canada’s Digital Talent Strategy March 2016

Digital Canada 150

Michael Geist: Digital Canada 150

Automation isn’t new, so what’s the big deal? by Jacob Morgan

 

 

Be That One Person

You can change a life trajectory.

It is a powerful message, and it’s one I have heard often throughout the last month.

Richard Wagamese, storyteller and Canada Reads Peoples’ Choice author, spoke to educators in Thunder Bay about the one person who rescued him from a desperate life path.  It’s a remarkable story that began with a simple kindness to a homeless native teenager in southern Ontario.

It ended with Richard reminding us that we have the power to be the one person who makes a difference in the life of another.  As educators, we have no idea where our influence and impact will end.

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Richard Wagamese, speaking to educators at the NAN Education Conference in Thunder Bay, March 30/31, 2016

 

Recently, I have been studying the impact of childhood trauma on long term life outcomes, including school success.  The CBC Ideas 3-part Podcast, All In the Family, examines the ACE Study – Adverse Childhood Events.

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CBC Ideas Podcast: All in the Family Part 2: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/all-in-the-family-part-2-1.3532422

With traumatized kids, “executive function” becomes derailed.  In other words, their control over their behaviour is damaged.

A “code of conduct” is about punishment for behaviour without addressing the root cause.

How does a Code of Conduct negatively impact our most vulnerable kids, and amplify their inability to cope?

“Traumatized kids have a “fragmented” executive function”.

“The single greatest predictor of academic success that exists is the emotional stability of the home, it’s not the classroom.  And if you really wanted to do education reform, you would start with the home, darn it, you wouldn’t start with the classroom, because it is the greatest predictor.”

(John Medina, CBC Ideas Podcast, All in the Family, Part 2: 34: 01)

At #uLead15, Pasi Sahlberg talked about the “invisible factors” that impact school success.

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Pasi Sahlberg, uLead 15 slides: http://pasisahlberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/uLead-Talk-2015.pdf
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Pasi Sahlberg, uLead 15 slides: http://pasisahlberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/uLead-Talk-2015.pdf

 

At #uLead16, he spoke about the importance of small data – understanding individual children and the causes of what we observe.

And about equity – the idea that genetics and geography should not impact your life chances because the school system is an equalizer, not a separator/filter.

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The Globe and Mail, April 23, 2016 http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/how-finland-is-fighting-inequality-with-education-andwinning/article29716845/

 

We cannot continue to believe that test scores matter, that sorting children is what schools are for, that code of conduct thinking is best for kids.  These stances perpetuate inequity.

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Pasi Sahlberg, uLead 16 slides: http://pasisahlberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/uLead-Talk-2016.pdf

 

And here is the thing:

“Resilience studies show that if just one person is looking out for a vulnerable child, that can mitigate trauma.”

(CBC Ideas Podcast, All in the Family, Part 3: 35:35)

One person, can change a trajectory.

Teaching is the most important job in the world because every single day we are handed the opportunity to change the trajectory of a child’s life.

Just by caring.

Resources:

Pasi Sahlberg – presentation slides uLead16

Pasi Sahlberg – presentation slides uLead15

A substantial resource list is available on the CBC Podcast site here: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/all-in-the-family-part-2-1.3532422

#innovatorsmindset Blog Hop #3: What If?

“Daddy, what is that yellow stuff they are spraying on the plane?”

“Daddy, what are those big white things for?”

“Daddy, will we still be able to see the ground when we take off?”

“Daddy, do you think it is snowing in Toronto yet? Will there be snow when we get there?”

I heard all of these questions this morning from a boy, about 7 years old, sitting behind me while taking a flight with his family from Thunder Bay.  They were on their way to Miami, via Toronto.

Then the Mom, who was sitting across the aisle, said, “Why can’t you be that interested in your school work?”

What if?

What if parents asked questions like, “Why can’t you learn about things you are interested in, like this, in school?”

What if parents asked those questions all the time?

Would it impact the pace of change?

Check out some other wonderings about the What Ifs of school:

Patrick Miller

Paul McGuire @mcguirp

Tina Zita @tina_zita

Mark W. Carbone @markwcarbone

Amit Mehrotra (@AmitMehrotra78)

Stacey Wallwin @WallwinS

 

 

Ten Years Ago, Ten Years From Now

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Today is my dog’s 10th birthday.

Technically, he isn’t really my dog.  We bought him for our son 10 years ago.

“Basso”, the beagle, was my son’s Christmas present in 2005.

A beagle was the #2 item on my son’s wish list.

Item #1 was an iPod, but everyone wanted an iPod in 2005, and all of the stores were sold out.

 

 

An iPod.  An iPod with video playback – new technology in 2005, and the cool accessory for a grade 11 student.Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 12.17.32 AM

As it turns out, we found an iPod as well, just before Christmas, in a pop-up tech store in Vaughan Mills (which had only opened about a year earlier).

Basso the beagle has seen so many changes in technology in his 10 years with us.  We have pictures of this dog on such a wide variety of devices – including that first iPod.

Basso still hides his face when he sees any device.

His earliest experiences with camera devices always involved infrared lights and flashes that hurt his eyes.  Even today, as I tried to take a birthday picture, he closed his eyes and then hid his face under his blanket.

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In April 2006, when my school board sponsored teachers to purchase technology for Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 11.54.33 PMtheir classroom use, I bought a beautiful Canon PowerShot A700 digital camera for just under $700.00. The very first picture I took is still my favourite picture of Basso.  Since then, Basso has had his picture taken with an iPhone 4, 4S, 5, 6, and 6s.  His picture has been displayed on an iPad, iPad2, iPad3, iPad Air, MacBook Pro and MacBook.

The worst technology Basso ever experienced was that  5th generation iPod back in 2005.

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 11.55.28 PMI needed that camera because my ultra-cool blackberry 7750 cell phone/smart phone didn’t have one.  We weren’t thinking about taking pictures with our phones 10 years ago.

Back then, my son was loving his time in grade 11 – at least the part that was high school hockey.

He was dying of boredom in his physics class, and a few other classes as well.  The content was utterly irrelevant and uninspiring. He saw no purpose in memorizing formulas for tests or trying to figure out the “type” of problem so he could determine what formula to plug the numbers into.

Since then, he has gone on to a brilliant career first as a national team athlete, and now as a science-based professional – a choice that required surviving many more (very boring) physics classes.  It certainly was not his physics classes that inspired him to have a career in science, where he does more physics every day than his teachers have ever experienced.

So I wonder, are the students in that physics class today still reading from a textbook, going home and answering questions for homework, and then being tested on their ability to memorize the formula or choose the right formula given some made-up problem?  Or are those students now solving real-life problems, networking with people who actually work in the field of physics, and learning about the amazing opportunities available to them in science?  Has the 10 years of explosive technology change had any impact at all on students in a grade 11 physics class?

Unlike with Basso, when I hold up my iPhone 6 to take a picture of my granddaughter, she knows that she is supposed to smile!

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Ten years from now, when she is in Grade 5, that iPhone 6 will be her blackberry 7750.  She will laugh at what I took her baby pictures with.

It will be the worst technology she will experience in her life.

I wonder, will her grade 5 class still look like the grade 5 class of today?  Or will our school system finally have entered the pace of change that is the world now?  Will her grade five class be mirroring her world and her life, or will it still be focused on her grade 6 EQAO scores and preparing her well for the world her grandparents grew up in?

We laugh at the technology from 10 years ago.

Do we laugh at what we thought classrooms should be like way back then too, or do they still look exactly the same?

 

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On Canada Day: Solving Big Hairy Problems

Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to present at conferences in other Canadian provinces. Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 10.22.52 AM It makes me realize how little I actually know about education in Canada outside of Ontario.

It’s silly, really.  Just because we exist in different education jurisdictions doesn’t mean we can’t spend more time learning from each other and collaborating on common problems.

My Canada Day resolution is to focus on building connections with my out-of-province colleagues.

We know that Canada has big problems and challenges.

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For example, we don’t know how to safely dispose of nuclear waste.  We are destroying Arctic coastlines with oil spills.  The tar sands have far reaching environmental and health impacts.  Our population is aging.  Our First Nations, Metis and Inuit citizens are isolated and can’t access the basics we take for granted in the south.

I would argue that our education system must build the capacity and desire in our future generations to solve these problems.  As Pak Tee Ng says, if we want our graduates to be creative and curious citizens, consider that’s how they arrive in school, so do no harm!

Yesterday, I was reading about some of the work my cousin, Robert LeRoy, has done in chemical and physical sciences, and I stumbled upon this quote from an interview with him:

Q: Are there any words of wisdom you could pass on to a novice in the world of science?

Finding something which interests you enough that you are willing to work really hard on it, and which challenges you to use your abilities to the fullest, is the key to a fulfilling and enjoyable life. Whether this involves basic or applied science (as in my case) or any other area of human endeavour is immaterial, and whether or not it pays particularly well, is also of no matter. Don’t choose something because it is easy – choose it because it is challenging and worthwhile.

Robert J. LeRoy, Theoretical Chemistry, University of Waterloo

We know there are barriers that keep some of our best thinkers from accessing opportunities to contribute to the solutions to Canada’s problems.  How could we collaborate as educators across the country to remove some of these barriers?

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Pasi Sahlberg, slides from #uLead15 Keynote shared here: http://pasisahlberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/uLead-Talk-2015.pdf

Our current system of high grades as a filter for future formal education is one such barrier.  In countries like Finland, there is the recognition that high marks are not proven indicators of success in all professional fields.  For example,  high marks in high school do not predict success as a classroom teacher, so high school marks are not used to select candidates for the Finnish Education Program.  In fact, about a quarter of successful applicants to the Teacher Education Program come from the lowest quartile of secondary school grades.

When we look at the number of disengaged secondary school students, we have to see a national tragedy.  This, in itself, is a big hairy problem for Canada.  How many of these students could be the ones with the ability and desire to find answers to our global and national challenges?

How can we create a system that embraces and enables all learners to reach their full potential, for the common good of all Canadians?

The story of the Genetic Genius, Dr. Lap-Chee Tsui, the man who isolated and identified the gene that causes Cystic Fibrosis, exemplifies some of the barriers faced by brilliant minds.  Dr. Tsui was not a good student and he could not score well on tests. Without numerous interventions, he would never have had the opportunity to make this important discovery.  The results of his work have changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Please take the time to listen to the full story here, on CBC Ideas with Paul Kennedy.  I have summarized the story below.

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As a child, Lap-Chee Tsui lived in China before fleeing to Hong Kong with his family, where frequently, his family was unable to pay his tuition fees for high school.  A kind and generous teacher loaned him money for the fees, until the teacher could be repaid by Lap-Chee’s father, so that he would be able to continue to study.  His parents stressed the critical importance of a good education, but it was his free time out of school that nurtured his curiosity.

Without many toys, Lap-Chee turned to ponds and tadpoles for entertainment. He loved to draw and build things. He experimented with his sister’s kitchen toys, burning salt and sugar to see the chemical reactions.   

Dr. Tsui characterizes himself as a very good learner with a very curious mind, but he could not write tests, the primary form of assessment in school.  As a result, he did not get good grades.

Other students could regurgitate class notes, right down to the punctuation errors, and score very high marks.  Lap-Chee felt he knew the material well, in fact he still uses some of that learning today, but he could not provide rote memorization of the material on the tests.

His poor grades would have stopped most people from pursuing further education.  However, he persisted, and with some luck, found an opportunity to begin laboratory research.

Here, he excelled.

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I will let you listen to the rest of the story that led to this amazing discovery.

My question is, how many brilliant problem-solvers in Canada have been blocked from achieving their potential by the false barriers the system has established?

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Photo Credit: Mike Prince

As Canadians, how can we ensure that all of our students have the opportunity to aspire to greatness, so that we all have a better quality of life?

The role of educators is key to the future of Canada.

 

July 3, 2015 edit: I have added this brilliant 3 minutes from Scott McLeod on how we are really good at using the words for change, but we are not seeing it in our classrooms.

 

 

 

Enable every child to grow to contribute to the good of this country.

Do no harm.

Resources:

Canadian Medical Hall of Fame: Dr Lap-Chee Tsui

Propelling a New Education Paradigm Forward to Reduce Dropouts – CEA (Deborah McCallum)

Learning From Afar: CanConnectEd 2015 Live Stream

The live stream for Connect 2015 can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/embed/y_ZmM7zPLyI?rel=0

I was thrilled to catch Jamie Reaburn Weir and Dan Ballentyne today.  They shared this video, which I believe is important for all to watch.  Most educators intrinsically know all of this already.  They do live it, after all.

They just don’t know how to change it.

That’s why more than just educators need to watch.  What kind of world do we want?

Is it not a national tragedy that so many students are turned off learning, and that a number determines their future learning opportunities?

How many brilliant people refuse to play the game?

I will not let an exam result decide my fate:

Dangerously Irrelevant!

Are Digital Portfolios a Disadvantage?

It won’t surprise anyone that I am a strong proponent of digital professional portfolios.  I demonstrate how to create them here, and over the past year, George Couros has worked with Principal Associations in Ontario (CPCO/OPC/ADFO) to help our school leaders become connected learners, including the idea of using a blog as a portfolio.

I’ve bought into this hook, line and sinker.

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I exude visible thinking, open learning, reflective practice, and I promote it in professional practice with every breath.

I know, you’ve heard enough.

So I have to ask, then, if I am wrong?  Is it actually a disadvantage to have a digital portfolio?

Because right now, it really feels like it is.

Let me explain.

Over the past three years, I have sat through a number of professional interviews, on both sides of the table.  I don’t hear any questions about connected learning, open professional practice, or Professional Learning Networks being asked.  Ever.

Never.

I have yet to hear a single question about how an interviewee models the learning we want to see in the classroom.

I have never heard a question about whether the interviewee blogs or sees any value in blogging.

I have not heard a whisper of any competencies around modern learning or 21C practices.

As the person being interviewed, I have watched eyes glaze over at the mention of anything digital.  Anything.

What’s going on here?  I hear everywhere how TELT (Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching) is a priority in this province, how the renewed vision for excellence is all about creating global citizens and digital leaders for this changing world.

And we are doing this – very well in fact.  We have absolutely amazing learning happening in schools.  Teachers in Ontario are world leaders in modern pedagogical practice.  We KNOW what TELT looks like at the level of the student desk because that is what we are doing every single day as we connect and share and challenge each other to keep getting better at it.

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Teachers are flocking to edcamps and Twitter chats, taking charge of their own professional learning and busting out of the model that says learning has to be provided and into the culture where learning is sought.

Educators are flattening the organization.  Principals are not “instructional leaders” any more, they are co-learners, because the real learning at all levels is happening where the students are learning, not in a banquet hall in a Toronto hotel.

This is absolutely the most exciting time to be in education.  The shift is palpable and visible in classrooms.

When we think about spreading excellence and adapting best practices, we need to stop thinking exclusively about horizontal spread.

How do we spread digital leadership, open reflective practice, networked learning and the modelling of 21C (modern learning) competencies vertically in our education system?

Until we can do that, Digital Portfolios will continue to be invisible.