Byron's Babbles

Teacher Leader Shape-Shifter

This morning I did a session for our Teacher Academy where I had the teachers pick a toy from a bag of lots of different cool toys. I gave them two minutes to play with the toy and then they had to report out how the toy related to their classroom, serving students, and them personally. This is a great reflective activity that really makes participants think. Then, of course, these reflections really get me thinking and I end up writing blog posts like this one.

One of the teachers chose a Slinky® and while reporting out she described herself as a shape-shifter. She stated that she needed to adjust and adapt according to student needs. This was genius. I have always tried to inspire team members to be continually comfortable shape-shifters. I am such a big fan of fluid change; whether that is organizationally, personally, or in the classroom. We need to be comfortable with the one thing that is constant – change.

Here’s the deal: as leaders, teacher leaders, and organizations, we must be comfortable with an ever-changing skin; no matter what we call it. Whether we call it change, changeover, conversion, metamorphosis, mutation, shift, transfiguration, transformation, translation, transmutation, transubstantiation we must have the resilience that shape-shifting brings to be successful. I would suggest that leaders and teachers must become adept at negotiating multiple, sometimes divergent, identities. We must be adaptive because everything we do during the day as teachers is situational – it shifts from context to context.

In other words we all need to use our portfolio of attributes, skills, and experiences to arrange, re-arrange, and adapt to meet the needs of our current situation. The concept of shape-shifting implies a sense of individuality and free agency in making choices, removed from constraints. By creating her own meanings for curriculum and leading of learning, the teacher who inspired this post, will be able to apply it within the context she is teaching. We then need to be able to demonstrate the resourcefulness and ability to change as contexts change.

Shape-shifters can be seen as innovators, rebels, or even a compromiser, but I see this as an important adaptive leadership trait. I do believe that shape-shifting also allows us to push away from the status-quo way of doing things and adapt to changing needs.

Experiencing, Not Attending For Learning

As I travel home this evening from what was an incredible journey to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, I am reflecting on all that my family and I saw and experienced, all that I learned at the 2019 International Research Conference, and can’t help but reflect on yesterday’s 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. A week ago yesterday we began this excursion and a week ago today attended the Calgary Stampede. What we found is that one does not attend the Stampede, one experiences the Stampede. Through this experience I learned about invented traditions. These Invented traditions are activities that are actually recent but are accepted by the public as having a particularly long and resonant history and as representing something essential about a nation’s character, values, and identity–arose from a widespread effort to justify the nation state, royal dynasties, and national boundaries by linking them, often tenuously and sometimes even falsely, with the past. These invented traditions spring from the need to reconcile constant change in the modern world with the desire for stability and traditional understandings about society.

We found that the Calgary Stampede has evolved over the decades in response to economic and political dynamics and the perceived need to maintain a vibrant balance between nostalgia for the past and celebration of the economic and ideological promise of the future. Successful cities have managed to brand themselves through identification with their annual festivals. We found that the brand lived up to the hype. One of the things I learned from experiencing and studying the Calgary Stampede is Americans cherish individualism and individuality above community. Canadians have exactly the reverse set of political priorities. This is not to say one is right and one is wrong; it is just to say that I learned some cultural differences along the way. We made some great friends while at the Stampede.

I can’t help but also reflect on all the great scenery, nature, and natural beauty we had the opportunity to see and experience as well. The Canadian Rockies are awesome, and we had the opportunity to experience them from as far south as Waterton Lakes National Park and as far north as Lake Louise in Banff National Park. This all reminded us, as a family, of how important sustainable development is to making sure future generations will be able to enjoy and learn from these natural beauties like we did. We must work hard to meet the needs of our present generation without compromising future generations ability to meet their own needs.

This was also discussed during the 2019 International Research Conference. Dr. Gerald Farthing, Former Deputy Minister Of Education Manitoba Department Of Education reminded us to act locally, while knowing what’s going on globally. I was honored to speak at the conference on discovering, developing, and distributing great leadership. It was awesome to visit from individuals from around the world to discuss current education issues and the innovative solutions to opportunities. We must find ways to end our preoccupation with the industrial and factory models of just “doing school”. The gap between what we call education in schools and learning that happens from being a part of society is widening. We must redesign our learning environments if we want to engage our students in the learning process. Learning needs to be 24/7, and not confined to a physical space we call school.

Yesterday, as I reflected throughout the day on the 50th Anniversary of the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon, and those first steps, I was struck by all the ways we could relive the history. For example, Neil Armstrong’s Spacesuit was at the Smithsonian Castle yesterday and I was in Canada, but I took an in-depth 3D tour of the suit using Smithsonian’s new 3D Digitization site for doing interactive tours. You can also take an up close and in-depth 3D look at the 1903 Wright Flyer. It is such a great thing that the Smithsonian is doing. Every person can learn from and take part in Smithsonian exhibits without physically being on site. Think of the possibilities of this. I can remember saying, “Wow, everyone should experience the great learning that goes on at the Smithsonian’s many museums.” They can! Opportunities like this begin to take away the effects of zip code or socioeconomic status. Every child really can experience the Smithsonian. By leveraging the technology the Smithsonian is able to let their researchers tell their stories to the world and allow students to take a quest of discovery.

For me, I am going home with a renewed commitment that we must quit just having students attend and “doing school”. We must enable them to experience learning and go on a quest of discovery.

Teachers As Designers

IMG_6433Yesterday, I started my day by spending time at Fort Calgary. Fort Calgary is the exact location where the city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada started. The fort, originally name Fort Briseboise, was built as the post for the North-West Mounted Police in 1875. Then when the railroad came west, Calgary began to grow and the rest is history.

The location was chosen because of of the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers. In fact Calgary got its name because of being a location of a great water source. Calgary is named after Calgary Bay on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. It was originally thought to mean “clear running water” but has since been defined as “bay farm,”

After this learning time, I was back over at the 2019 International Research Conference discussing teachers as designers and leaders at Mount Royal University. We were discussing the Double Diamond Design Approach pictured here:IMG_6393With this model we must first find the right problem or topic. Then we use convergence to bring the topics, partners, and education entities together to decide subject matter and activities and then divergence to get the day-to-day pedagogy developed. As we discussed the model, I got to thinking about Fort Calgary and what a great tool this historic site could be for education. The site certainly has needs for support and volunteerism. Therefore, the schools could:

  1. Determine needs of Fort Calgary
  2. Determine what needs could be supported by the education entity
  3. Use convergence to bring all parties in the partnership to determine the scope of the project and learning
  4. Finally, use divergence to break the learning and work down into the day-to-day bites

IMG_6432We don’t want people who just do school. We must figure out how we teach and facilitate learning with our students by radically collaborating in our communities. Additionally, we must make sure our very traditional school leaders recognize the great facilitation of learning this radical collaboration creates. We must shift from the compliance factory model of school to education as facilitation of learning. We do this by connecting and collaborating, which enables us to be adaptive, intertwined, interactive, and diverse. How about you? Are you leading learning, or just doing school?