Four take aways from FETC

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It has been two weeks from FETC in Orlando. Easily the most exciting conference I have been to in a long time. For me, there are some really important takeaways that I have been thinking through for the past two weeks.

First – coding is king (or queen)


Reshma Saujani was for me a highlight of the conference. It is so inspiring to listen to a young person who has taken hold of an important issue and has created real change within a large community. Reshma spoke about Girls Who Code – a group I would really like to bring to Canada. She is making a great effort to get more girls and women into computer science by working with great partners like Google and Facebook and by linking up to businesses across the United States who pledge to hire graduates of the program when they complete their studies.

Apart from this inspiring talk, I saw so many companies that are bringing out new technologies that allow students to learn to code at an early age.



Programmable robot by K’nex coming out in July

We have been fortunate enough to buy some of these kits from Lego and Pitsco and we will be adding these to our maker space and science classes as soon as possible. The applications in the class for these kits are endless and the engagement potential makes them so valuable for our teachers. Before FETC, I had never seen any of these kits, now they are being produced by a whole range of innovative companies. What makes these kits really important is that students can learn coding as a way to make machines move and complete complex tasks.

Second – you need a learning management system if you are moving to 1:1

This is something I really never thought too much about before FETC. What I noticed, however, is that most school systems are using some sort of an LMS to manage the use of computers in the classroom. Whether it is Google Classroom, Moodle, Webanywhere or in our case Hapara, you need a way to manage the amount of information your students are accessing and sending back to you in the form of assignments.

We have had Hapara for more than two years, but it never occurred to me that as we move closer to a 1:1 school at all grade levels, the most important digital tool that we can make available to teachers is a management system.

Within two weeks of returning from FETC, I arranged a half-day training session for all of our teachers and we hope to follow this up with another session this April. Teachers are now starting to use Hapara to send out material to students and monitor their work during the school day. It is amazing that I had to go so far to learn the value of this great program.

Technology tips are everywhere

I took in at least three workshops that acted as a survey session on technology tips for the classroom teacher, for the administrator, for anyone. These sessions were so important. Which such a huge selection, you really had to take in a few of these sessions – if you could get in, they were very popular.


Twitter notes from The Top Ten Technology Tips to Transform Teaching in one hour!

The pace in these sessions is so frenetic that the only useful way to take notes is through Twitter. I wrote tons of posts during my time at FETC and tried valiantly to quickly use as many tools as I could so I could remember what I was learning and pass this on to our staff.

Last take away – if you get an opportunity to go to a conference go!

To be honest, I don’t know how you can get by these days without getting to a conference whenever possible. My passion is education technology and I use Twitter and a whole variety of blogs, but there is no better way to stay current than by attending one of these great events.

You all need to get out and learn, talk to people who are making the innovations then take back as much as you can to staff.

Finally, I leave you with some of my visual impressions taken with my new GoPro. It’s a bit jumbled, but I hope it gives some sense of the great creative energy of FETC.


Why attend major conferences

Every once and awhile I am able to make it to major conferences either here in Canada or in the US.  Last week, I attended the FETC Conference in chilly Orlando Florida and have just spent two hours with John Sowash on Google and the Paperless Classroom.


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on the first day, I attended a three-hour session on Makerspaces, MaKey Makey and eTextiles.  Later I will be attending a session on filmmaking in the classroom.  All this at the preconference!


my attempt at eTextiles

We really need to attend these conferences if we want to move learning in our schools.  As a principal, I am very fortunate to be able to attend a major conference every two years.  I have always taken advantage of this opportunity and I have always learned a great deal to bring back to my school.


Conferences also gets the creative juices flowing.  My to do list just from this morning includes learning Pear Deck, arranging a workshop on Hapara and connecting again with Discovery Education.  Not bad for the first two hours!


Creativity and innovation are the lifeblood of education.  Educators need the opportunity to share and exchange information as often as possible.  Twitter is a great help, but there is nothing like a real, live conference to really get the creative juices flowing.


This is a great place to connect as well.  Many of the people I follow on Twitter are here, Richard Byrne (Free Technology for teachers) and George Couros (The Innovator’s Mindset) are both here as keynote speakers.  The chance to see these educators live and possibly talk with them is exciting – my version of attending a Rock concert!


This may seem a little nerdy, but these conferences really revive my love for innovation in education.  The workshops fuel me with ideas that we can try back at our school.  Conferences fuel my desire to write and share with as many educators as possible.  I even present at some of these conferences and was briefly on the organizing committee for one in Ontario, Canada.


I should probably be doing more of this sort of work, but I am happy to attend and share right now.


As we get ready for our next workshop, I am meeting people from all over the States and Canada. I have talked to the presenter who I know can help us propel our makerspace to the next level.  


My job – just share everything!

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Makerspaces in a box: An opportunity to create

The first day of FETC was great.  We had a chance to really focus on  important technical innovations that are changing the nature of education.  Google applications to make a paperless classroom, experiencing a makerspace and methods of film-making in the classroom.  A full day!

The three-hour format allowed us to try out some really interesting tools for the classroom.  The makerspace workshop had me totally engaged making circuits using play doh, metal tape and fabric.  Nothing that we were using cost more than $25.00 for a simple kit that uses play doh as a connector.  Other materials cost just pennies, but I really enjoyed having the opportunity to work with these materials to make different circuits.  This is a good lesson for me – you don’t need to have the latest technological gadget to create something new.

my paper circuit – a work in progress

I quickly got caught up in making my own inventions, lighting up diodes and connectiung buzzers.  Each station had a differnt challenge for us and what we created was our own.  What freedom – to simply use your imagination and succeed at making something new.  

Each kit was labeled with its own QR code linking to a website expanding on the activities in the box.

The three-hour workshop just flew by and I thought to myself what would it have been like to learn about circuits and innovation when I was a student, free to invent what I wanted to invent. I never understood circuits drawn on a caulk board.

Although I have understood for a long time the importance of makerspaces as a way to encourage innovation and creativity, I have never taken the time to actually sit and work through some of these tasks.  So simple, but so empowering.

The paper circuit website

The Squishy Circuits site – kits cost $25.00, but you can buy the parts separately 

When I return to school, I will look for ways to incorporate some of these great ideas into our makerspaces.  No need to look for the newest robotics kit – kids can create with some of the simplest materials available.  The key element in all this is simply to let kids create, don’t wait to amass a huge pile of wires and diodes, just get a few simple kits and get started!

 eTextile project – again, very simple materials that kids could use to innovate

Leading and Empowering – reflections on George Couros’ The Innovator’s Mindset

I am combining a few ideas in this post.  In chapter 5 George Couros writes about leading, learning and innovating while in chapter 6 he writes about engagement versus empowerment.  He also focuses on compliance and how this stifles any real, deep learning.

These are challenging chapters because schools continue to be places where compliance is valued and innovation is in short supply.  As George mentions in an earlier chapter, it is not good enough to have islands of innovation, we need systems that encourage innovation and engage people in such a way that they are willing to take the risks necessary to bring about real change.

I think this is a tall order in education where compliance is valued as a way to make sure that the corporate vision is sustained.

Maybe real innovation, and real learning cannot be done on a system-wide basis.  There are organizations that thrive on innovation and engagement like Google and Apple to note the two best examples.  In neither corporation is compliance a core value.  Valuing compliance kills creativity and invention.  So how are we going to manage change and encourage innovation when we are more about ‘school’ and less about ‘learning’ as outlined in Sylvia Duckworth’s graphic above.

I would argue that there is nothing wrong with having our islands of innovation.  Over time, as more people write about creativity and learning there is always the chance that these islands will grow and possibly merge into subsystems where the results of innovative, empowering leadership may be noticed as the real way to encourage student growth and creativity.

My hope is that more people will write about the innovator’s mindset and that true innovation in education will become more than a convenient label.

People who want to lead their educational community will have to  seriously consider the lessons in these chapters.  Leaders need to ask are they all about learning or all about school.  Do they empower their staff, do they create a climate where risk taking is encouraged, have they moved away from a compliance model to one that favours empowerment of staff and students.

We are charged with developing the next generation and we need to always question and assess how we are doing.  Are we creating a generation of consumers or creators?

How to connect parents to your school

One of the most important parts of my job has to do with finding new ways to connect our parent community to the school.  It some areas where I have worked this has not been a big problem.  I have worked in schools with strong parent councils and parents groups who have the time to put a great deal 0f time and resources into the school.

Not all communities are like that however.  For a variety of reasons, it is a challenge for the parent community to connect to the school.  There are a whole host of reasons for this.  It might be the culture of the community or it may have a great deal to do with the need of parents to work several jobs to make ends meet. Whatever the reason, it can  become a real challenge for the school.

I have written in the past about connecting to the community through social media.  This can work really well, but what if your parents don’t have access to social media, or don’t have the language skills to follow school events through blogs or Facebook?

We are beginning to find ways to make these connections, but it really is a challenge for our community.  Our parent community does not connect in the traditional ways.  We have always had a very small school council and parents are generally too busy to spend much time in the school.  They connect to the school through their children and support the school through their work with their kids at home.  What I am learning is that we need to connect with our parents by holding more events that can draw them into the school.  I think we are starting to have some success.

Our first real success was a June BBQ that we put on for the whole community.  We brought in a special caterer and got some great deals from a local business who rented out inflatable castles and mazes.  We didn’t charge any admission and used money from parent engagement grants to cover our costs.  One drawback with this event is that it all had to be planned by staff.  Still, it was a great success and convinced one parent to take on the school council for this year. She is doing a great job now and has focused all her efforts on getting parents out for short, fun social events like a Halloween party and a Christmas sing-a-long.

We also made a real effort during our Education Week activities last year.  Instead of holding an event at night that parents would not be able to attend we had a five-day open house.  Every morning we had coffee and homemade snacks made by our staff out in the yard ready for parents as they brought their kids to school.  As the week went on, more and more parents stayed behind to talk with each other and some of the teachers.  We invited them into the school every day and some did come in to visit the classrooms.  One thing we did that I really liked involved taking pictures of the parents with their children.  We then asked our photographer to make a montage of all the pictures.  We also gave all the parents a print of their picture.  We were able to take over 30 photos and the montage now hangs in our main hallway.  Kids and parents really liked this and it was a really easy way to strengthen the connection between school and our community.

This year we took an idea from another school that experiences similar challenges to ours.  We usually hold a ‘meet the teacher’ event about ten days after the beginning of the school year.  This year, we invited all the parents into the gym the very first morning.  I introduced all the staff to the parents and the kids found out who their teachers were.  Then, all the parents were invited to follow their kids to class for another short introduction to the new year.

All these events have one thing in common.  I want our school to be our parents’ community center.  I want them to feel welcome at our school not just on special occasions, but every day of the year.  I am hoping the more we hold these social events parents will begin to see our school as their school and gathering place.

at our June event, we invited local community agencies to set up booths so families could sign up for summer recreational programs


We have a great deal more to do.  We are now focussing our attention on making the yard more inviting for our students and our parents.  We have done a little work in this area by providing more benches and more greenery in the yard.  I have noticed that in the good weather parents will now linger in the yard before and after school to chat and enjoy the yard.  We have big plans to do much more in this area which i think will make a huge difference for students and parents alike, but that is another post.

For now, we will continue to look for ways to make our school a community hub for our parents and students.  We will continue to break down any and all barriers so that we really become a second home for the entire community.


The Innovator’s Mindset – It’s all about Relationships

We need to build more organizations that prioritize the care of human beings.  As leaders, it is our sole responsibility to protect our people and, in turn, our people will protect each other and advance the organization together.  As employees or members of the group, we need the courage to take care of each other when leaders don’t.  And in doing so, we become the leaders we wish we had.

Simon Sinek (pg. 67)

In chapter Four of The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros starts out with this quote and I think it sums up the message of this chapter.  So far, George has defined innovation and its essential elements.  In this chapter, he begins writing about laying the groundwork for innovation in an organization.  We all want to either be in or lead innovative organizations, but how common are these organizations?  How do we move from having ‘pockets of innovation’ to an organization where innovation is accepted and encouraged?

You can’t make innovation happen by stuffing the newest concept down the throats of your teachers.  This may encourage compliance, but it hardly encourages people to try new things, take risks and think outside of the box.

People need to know that their ideas will be valued, that they will be protected and that they live in a culture of ‘yes’ rather than in an environment where innovation is actually feared.

What a bizarre concept!  Fearing the innovative spirit because it may put more pressure on others in the organization or that it will raise expectations beyond what is considered reasonable.  When we create an atmosphere where we are most concerned about managing people we discourage innovation and stifle creativity.

This would not be acceptable in a classroom, so why would it be considered appropriate for a school or a system?

Still, we have all been in situations where ‘no’ is the norm.  No means the status quo or it means that one person’s ideas matter more than anyone else’s.

What we need to focus on are relationships.  We need to trust the people we work with and let them know that their ideas will find acceptance and understanding.  As George writes, “…we need to strive to create a “culture of yes.”  When trust is the norm and people know they are supported, taking chances seems less “risky” – for learners, educators, and leaders.” (pg. 73)

I totally agree with this approach.  Our job as leaders is to develop positive relationships with our staff so that new ideas have a voice and teachers are confident that their ideas are being listened to.  We need to be the spark, build confidence, then get out of the way. (pg. 78)

Why do we so often feel that we need to be the ones leading the change?  Why is our opinion so much more important than the collective? How do we limit the imaginations of our teachers managing the change process in our schools?  I really have no idea, but I do know that this approach stifles innovation and creativity.

Last week I watched a video on a Google experimentation lab.  The video is amazing, so I have included it here.  Basically, the idea behind the lab is to try new ideas without the normal institutional restraints.  If failure is going to happen, the members of the lab are actually encouraged to ‘fail faster’ so they can move on to some other new idea.  When you watch the video is clear there is mutual respect amongst the members of the team and all ideas and notions are valued by the group.  

What would it be like if we ran our schools even a little bit like this lab?  What would we be able to create?

Reflections of George Couros’ Innovator’s Mindset – Chapter Three – Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset

There is lots to write about in reflecting on this chapter – too much for one post.  Examining the characteristics of the innovator’s mindset is really important, so this is a chapter that should be read carefully – a few times.

The first point that resonates for me is that we don’t have to sacrifice innovation because of the limitations of the system.  It is a poor excuse to surrender just because it is too hard to work ‘within the box’.  We will always be inside a box – that is where the students are so we need to challenge ourselves to innovate where we find our students.  We can clearly do this and we have an obligation to do so.

The challenge for the innovative teacher is to find a way to reach every student, to help them to find the problems, not just solve the problems that we hand them.(pg 49)  Giving them the freedom to find and solve their own problems will create a generation of students who can learn effectively.

As an administrator, I am really interested in what George has to write about how educational leaders can support innovation in their schools.  What is especially important is the notion that every staff member needs to be able to progress from their point A to point B (pg 47).  Too often we see the one-size fits all PD that does not consider the learning needs of the educator.  As George puts it, we need to be able to lead with empathy and help teachers to find their ground so that they can become effective innovators.

In our school, we have chosen to focus on a few digital tools that can help teachers to innovate and meet the needs of the different learners in the classroom. Through a series of great webinars and prepared lessons, our teachers have been equipped to explore the possibilities of Discovery Education, Mathletics and Atomic Learning.  While some of these sessions were structured in a way to give teachers an introduction to these programs, they are now ready to develop their own learning plans to explore the great potential of these and other programs.

As an administrator, I see my role as the risk-taker for the staff.  If I don’t innovate and try new ways of doing things why should anyone else try?  It is certainly more easy to do things the way they have always been done, but then we are not serving our students.

This is not an easy route, and there can be consequences for taking these risks, but as educators that is what we need to do if we truly want to have an innovator’s mindset.