Tag Archives: leadership

Lessons from Disney

In my reading last week,  I came across an article from the Disney Institute titled “Leadership Lessons From Walt Disney: Perfecting The Customer Experience“.  As a connected learner and leader, I am always interested in ideas for improving improving service. The interesting part is taking time to consider how new ideas can be applied to another setting – K12 education in this case.

Consider these two quotes from the article:

At Disney Institute, we were recently reflecting on the phrase, “simple is the new smart,” and it reminded us of a leadership philosophy we share with our clients and training program attendeeskeep it simple so that everyone understands.”

Walt Disney was a master at this. One of the simplest, yet most powerful and timeless leadership lessons we have learned from Walt is: “You don’t build it for yourself. You know what the people want and you build it for them.”


     Photo by Stephanie Schmidt (my daughter)

If you consider education through the perspectives  of “simple” and “build it for them” (the students), what would be different in education?   My initial thoughts include:

  • increase in play based learning
  • more creating and making
  • increase in choice
  • more self directed
  • multiple paths to experience learning, and a
  • focus on making technology (and I mean the whole area – hardware, software, access, digital resources) easier to use

What would you add to the “K12 by Disney” list?  Please share your insights to this idea by leaving a comment or connecting on Twitter

Additional Resources: 
Read the full  Disney article: Perfecting the Customer Experience


CMA: Connecting more dots

Yesterday I had a chance to hear Simon Breakspear (@simonbreakspear) deliver his “Learning Redesigned” presentation. I thought the dive into deeper learning for all, and HOW was brilliant and thought provoking.

I have shared a simplified sketch of few key elements of the CMA model from my notability musings.


I am really interested in what Simon identified as three key aspects of change:  start small,  move fast, and  iterate frequently. Clearly, these are aspects of change that big organizations such as K12 institutions do not excel at.   As I was reflecting on his message over the day, I got to thinking about other connections within the K12 structure.

I don’t see this insight limited to learning and instructional practice. IT departments need to operate in this way too.  I can envision many benefits of striking more quickly with technology change and implementation – especially with the ever increasing rate of digital change.  The rapid iteration notion would apply to developing support models, tweaking networks for optimum performance and perhaps dynamic agile assignment of people resources to deal with trending needs re help-desk support models etc.

I wonder if the real quest is for instructional change & digital change to be working through this process at the same time for a more harmonious, rapid and positive change.

I love the AMPLIFY element of Simon’s model. There is no replacement for nurturing others, starting conversations and sharing your thinking and learning. PERIOD.  As part of the go forward process, in my view it is critical that we, yes we – all of us, take the time to share our experiences in ways that are findable, sharable and provide forums for comments and questions: blogs, videos, chats etc. – we must leverage the learnings from the journeys we each experience.


Technology Enabled Learning at Millen Woods PS

I recently had a chance to spend some time at Millen Woods PS (link) with principal Gwen McCutcheon and her staff.  The school had a very welcoming atmosphere. There was a definite energy for learning, and yet a calmness at the same time. Impressive!

The visit began with an opportunity to meet with Gwen in her office to discuss some background information and leadership philosophies. Gwen is very interested in how technology can support and enable learning. Gwen states emphatically that she is “NOT a techie”, but has worked hard to establish a culture to leverage the best uses within her school. One of the resources that is shaping Gwen’s thinking is the book Visible Learning. She has noted a few key quotes from the book that really resonated with her, and reads them often. Some of the key points include:

  • teachers need to understand learning through the eyes of the student
  • what works is not just the tool or the structure
  • students learn best when they understand the learning process
  • learning is an:  explicit goal, appropriate challenge or  measuring progress towards meeting a learning goal
  • in this context, effective use of technology makes a difference to student learning
  • technology can add a level of accountability
  • when students explain their thinking, they become their own teachers

Millen Woods P. S. has 60 iPads at this point in time – some from their start up funds 3 years ago, some purchased by the school and 20 from our  central allocation this year.  Principal McCutcheon views iPads as the most versatile piece of equipment in the school. She has been impressed with how well staff have adapted to thinking in a technology enabled framework and using iPads to support small group instruction, rather than taking a 1:1 approach.  She is proud of the way the staff have focused on using technology to enable, support and capture student learning – making student learning visible, exploring critical questions and sharing thinking. Students enjoy the hands on approach and many staff feel that this has increased accountability.  One example of students capturing their work is by using the Explain Everything app.

I enjoyed meeting teacher Stephanie Ringwood and her French immersion class.  I was very impressed with seeing how her students used the iPads to support their learning. Listen to  Stephanie’s perspective  (video) on the shift to using technology in her classroom.

At the time the school opened two years ago, one of the big changes for staff was having the computers dispersed in pods around the school.  While it took some time for all staff to adjust, Gwen feels they have “mad the transformational journey” and see the value in this approach.

As we walked the school, I saw other groups of students working in classrooms, pods and in hallway groups using technology to capture their learning — making movie trailers regarding physical fitness.  I could tell from the way the students interacted with Principal McCutcheon that they were used to seeing her out and about in the school.  I noted that there were some interactive white boards in the school, perhaps in roughly 25% of the classroom.  Gwen feels this number is quite appropriate for the school and that there is no need to have one in every classroom.  I do concur with her views on this as many teachers find it challenging to move past the teacher centered instruction early phases of using them. I also took note of some students working at their literacy skills using electronic books.

As we returned to the office area, the large flat screen TV in the hallway captured my interest.  It is used to display student work the Millen Woods way – students teaching other students and students capturing their learning — AWESOME!

One video example of a student demonstrating their work is evidenced in Roane’s Video (posted with permission).

iPad syncing trays and Mac Mini (side mount) for syncing

Hallway TV displaying student work

Laptop controlling hallway TV

Thank you for sharing your learning journey!


WRDSB Student Voice

Each year, I look forward to opportunities to interact with our WRDSB students and have conversation about technology, learning and Board plans etc.  My recent meeting with our student trustee group yielded some fantastic discussion, so I thought I would share a few highlights in this forum.

The trustee group submitted some questions ahead of time to create a framework for our discussion.  They were interested to know more about:

  • differentiated access to resources
  • the need for wifi login
  • software licensing
  • ITS department projects for this year and Board directions

After addressing their questions, we opened up the floor to additional questions from the student trustees.  This lead to a wonderful discussion which brought together a number of interconnected ideas.  I was very impressed that students were well aware of the need to manage their privacy online. Through our discussion we extended this to managing one’s online identity and reputation.  I encouraged the students to see how ‘Googlable’ they were. Would their online reputation precede them?  As a self reflection, do they choose to use social media, communication and collaboration tools for positive purposes? – and what might they change in their typical actions? After all, “the net does not forget”.  Digital citizenship is something that must be lived, a way of being. I also took the time to talk about the expectations defined in the WRDSB Responsible Use Procedure.

In the final portion of the meeting, I was given the opportunity to ask the student trustee group questions. I chose to ask one question: Given the changes that have been achieved over the last 4 years ( access to more resources including social media and collaboration tools, wifi in all classrooms, BYOD, improved internet bandwidth etc. ), what has been the impact to their learning?
The students were very frank and open with their responses.  I have captured a few highlights in the list below:
  • extremely positive feedback on the establishment and expansion of the Futures Forum Project
  • learning and engagement is improved through blogging and collaborating online
  • like to be able to use their phones in class – looking up information in the context of a discussion is beneficial
  • excellent class projects through the use of wikis
  • technology affords many forums for peer help
  • social media tools keep students connected and focused, engagement is up
  • web based teacher resources very helpful (blogs, wikis etc.)
  • the 4 any’s: learning anytime, anywhere, anyone and anything
  • easier to work and organize electronically, paper just does not work well
  • online connections (community) is very beneficial
  • use of Facebook groups and web (fan) pages very helpful – easy to connect, collaborate and stay up to date
  • the type of environment we have created helps prepare us (students) for post secondary learning
What Next:
  • continue to promote teachers as risk takers with technology
  • continue to build more capacity for technology use (reduce fears in using technology)
  • encourage teachers to learn from students too
Finally, I was impressed that a number of the students present were aware of the learning strategy of the “flipped classroom”. My sense is that this approach was seen as beneficial in many learning situations. It was hoped the WRDSB teachers were open to exploring the benefits of this approach.
I extend my thanks to the WRDSB student trustee group for such a great conversation about technology enabled learning. I look forward to my next session with group.

Leadership: Points of Reflection

At a recent learning opportunity through the Abel program, I had the opportunity to hear Mary Jean Gallagher speak about leadership. As anticipated, it was a great presentation.

The session began with Mary Jean comparing developments from different time periods and the relative impact. She recalled the first main frame computers, and  Commodore 64’s on the scene and wonderment people had about how things would change. What would happen?

Technology is in a constant state of flux. How will leadership respond to technological change: Does a new technology present a promise  or a threat?

Questions to consider:  How do we embrace new technology in a time when people are concerned about ubiquitous  access and equity, AND  in the same context of parent concerns of  access, identity and privacy AND in the same context of: it is easier to be risk averse rather than push ahead.

It is human nature to pull back. How do we get people engaged in the change process? Perhaps a key role of a leader is to distress the comfortable, and comfort the distressed.  Todays leaders need to add disonance to our organizations sometimes and be less risk averse. Leaders don’t have to know everything, and that is OK. Leaders do need to model in visible ways. Leaders need to help organizations set policies that help organizations move forward by enabling rather than avoiding.

Her presentation concluded by identifying points for leaders to ponder:

  • Are you intentional about what you do?
  • Do you role model in visible ways?
  • Do you intentionally position things for change?
  • Where do you lean: towards anchors or change?
  • Are you reflective?
  • Do you engage with wider collaboration?
  • Do you model learning and inquiry?

I hope you find these points for reflection valuable. Enjoy your reflecting and learning — and happy leap year day.


Educon reflection: learning in public online

Educon2.4 was, as anticipated, a great conference this year. There were many great sessions and conversations. This was my second time attending Educon, and I thought the conversations seemed richer both formally in the sessions and less formal hallway discussions. One topic that has stayed with me for reflection, is the idea of learning in public online.

I have been following the learning journey of Dean Shareski. Over the last few months, Dean has been studying the ins and outs of learning online in public, beginning with his own learning.  I admire Dean for putting his own learning and experiences ‘out there’ first. In the Learning Project, Dean posts a video online requesting help to learn to play the guitar. Through online connections, Dean eventually connected  with a music teacher who supported Dean’s learning request by having his students prepare videos to teach Dean various aspect of guiar techniques. The full project description is described here in the  The Learning Project blog post.

Dean’s project demonstrates a great example of learning of learning on line in public through network connections, collaboration tools such as skype, video resources personalized for the needed learning experience and shared through blog reflections.

As part of the presentation, Dean referenced  Shannon Smith who is also experiencing online public learning. Learn more about Shannon’s journey here: Clarinet lesson.  My family had the pleasure of dining with Shannon and Brent on Saturday night at the conference. It was a wonderful evening of conversation, in which we learned about our many musical connections and interests.

At Educon, Dean and Alec Couros led a discussion around this idea of learning online in public. There was a great discussion around the considerations that learning online in public raises:

  • when is learning in public appropriate?
  • what are the privacy implications for students?
  • how would any negative comments be received and handled?
  • how do we prepare pre-service teachers for this type of learning environment?
  • what are the benefits?
  • are there drawbacks?
  • how do we best teach students to manage their online profiles?
  • how do students best create and manage on online portfolio?
  • what else?

The framework of learning online and in public is here as demonstrated. Helping students to develop and manage a personal learning network is an important part of preparing students for the future. I believe the need to use online resources, connections and crowd sourcing to collaborate and problem solve is the way of the future. Simple tools such as a blog can serve as a personal portfolio for students to capture their journey, sharing and reflections.

While this seems like a natural direction or next step, there is much work to do. Many people are uncomfortable in this environments. We have to put strategies in place on overcome the fear factor.  Teachers must be able to put themselves in the place of the learner in this new environment. I believe significant change is needed in pre-service teacher programs to have new professionals ready and comfortable in this environment.

As a post conference follow up, I had the pleasure of assisting Shannon with her clarinet lessons by preparing a recording to assist in her learning. Thanks to the internet, distance was no barrier to providing assistance: a pdf of the music notation was exchanged by email, I recorded the music using an iRig mic on my iPhone e-delivered the audio recording back to Shannon.  I hope I can continue to be involved in Shannon’s music journey!


Boot Camp Panel Reflections

Earlier this week, I had a wonderful opportunity to participate in a PLP Boot Camp panel discussion.  I enjoyed hearing the thoughts and key messages of the panel members concerning 21C leadership. I captured a key phrase or two from each panel member and share them here for your reflection and what these might mean for you.

  • awakening to the 21 century
  • embrace change
  • continuous learning
  • unified direction needed
  • observe and learn from the cultures in your organization(s)
  • place yourself in the place of most potential, be open to possibilities
  • tools in service of the learning
  • be open and transparent
  • consider support and release needs
  • sustainability planning is critical
Enjoy reflecting on these leadership thoughts. What actions will you put in place?

2011: Looking Ahead

As it turned out, I was not home on January 1, 2011 so I will take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy New Year. I typically do not create a big list of New Year resolutions, but at this point in my life, I will commit to focusing my efforts on some key things.

  • open transformational leadership
  • contribute to educational change
  • building communities
  • improving student learning
  • rebalancing work/family/personal time
  • live the ‘Habitudes
  • better exercise routines
  • and maybe get a little more sleep!

I look forward to sharing the journey ahead with you. I hope 2011 will be an exciting, go forward year.

~ Mark