Know myself…

In the course that I’m currently taking, we discussed the importance of knowing and understanding our strengths as well as our weaknesses when moving into positions of leadership. Our discussion led to self-awareness and whether or not the perception we hold of ourselves is consistent with other people’s perception of us. This really made me think. I am often my biggest critic when it comes to self-assessment but I know that I really enjoy working with others and the concept of team work. My love of collaboration is rooted in years of playing team sports and growing up with two brothers very close in age. I truly believe in the power of many and that great things can be accomplished through collaboration. I would like to think of myself as a person that can adapt and work with anyone and any group. As an administrator, collaboration and shared leadership would be one of my core values that I would bring to a school.  Effective change could happen with one leader running the show but sustainable effective change can only happen through collaboration and shared leadership. Although I can identify collaboration as one of my strenghths, I also know that my dependence on it influences my area of focus for improvement.

My love for collaboration can often result in an over dependence on collaboration and therefore a lack of independence. There are situations where school administrators need to make some difficult decisions and at the end of the day, they are responsible for the entire school and its staff and students. As an individual, I find comfort in groups because  I can defer to the group when tough choices need to be made. I often find that when I do make decisions independently, I do so with some hesitation and doubt. I also tend to overthink decisions and then dwell on them after they are made. I realize that when it comes to independence, I need to have more confidence in myself, be more assertive and take a leadership role whenever I am working collaboratively in a group. In order to do accomplish this, I will look for and accept leadership opportunities that involve high levels of decision making.

A Change of Mind: From Competition to Cooperation

I just read a fantastic blog post by Zoe Weil called Reflections on Competition in School.The post sparked great conversation about cooperation vs. competition and I felt compelled to join the conversation. The following was my comment on Zoe’s blog post:

Bruce Lipton is a leading researcher on “new biology” and author of Biology of Belief and and Spontaneous Evolution says that our preoccupation with competition stems from the world’s “myth-perception” of how evolution occurs based on Darwinian theory where nature eliminates the weak in a battle for survival. Consequently, life is basically a competition with winners and losers.

Here is an excerpt from one of his interviews from Planeta Magazine explaining his view on cooperation vs. competition.

Darwinian theory further emphasizes that life is based upon a “survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence,” implying that it is a “dog-eat-dog” world where we must struggle to stay alive. This idea of “struggle” was originally based upon Thomas Malthus’ theory that predicted: “Animals reproduce so quickly that there will come a time when there will be too many animals and not enough food.” So life will inevitably result in a struggle and only the “fittest” will survive the competition. This idea has carried over into human culture so that we see our daily lives as one long competition driven by the fear of losing the struggle. Unfortunately, Malthus’ idea was found to be scientifically incorrect, consequently the competitive character of Darwinian theory is basically flawed.

New insights offered in biology are now revealing that the biosphere (all the animals and plants together) is a giant integrated community that is truly based upon a cooperation of the species. Nature does not really care about the individuals in a species; Nature cares about what the species as a “whole” is doing to the environment. Simply, Nature does not care that we have had an Einstein, a Mozart or a Michelangelo (examples of humanity’s “fittest”), Nature is more concerned about how human civilization is cutting down the rain forests and changing the climate.

The “new biology” emphasizes that evolution is 1) not an accident and 2) is based upon cooperation, these insights are profoundly different than those offered by conventional Darwinian theory. A newer theory of evolution would emphasize the nature of harmony and community as a driving force behind evolution, ideas that are completely different than today’s notion of life/death competition.

Most of us are of the belief that we need to have competition in education because that is the reality of the world that we live in and we have to prepare our students to survive in that “dog-eat-dog” world. However, it is evident that this notion of “survival of the fittest” is not doing our world any good and there needs to be a change of mind. I think this change of mind needs to start in our education system. It’s not about preparing our students to compete in the “dog eat dog” world. We need to focus on cooperation in education so that we can prepare our students to change the “dog eat dog” misperception that the world currently holds.

Whiteboards vs. Chart Paper


I was introduced to concept of “Whiteboarding” when I read Frank Noschese’s fantastic blog post titled, “The $2 Interactive Whiteboard” As a former math teacher and math facilitator I was drawn to whiteboarding and socratic dialogues. The whiteboard is such a simple, low tech tool but promotes collaboration, problem solving, communication, basically all of the 7 mathematical processes that I blogged about a few months ago. If you have a few minutes to spare, read the following 5 pg. article on whiteboarding.

There are so many benefits to whiteboarding in the classrooms. I won’t go into details since you can read them on Frank Nochese’s blog mentioned above. However, one question I brought up to Frank on his post was what the difference was between using a whiteboard and just plain chart paper (which up to this point I used very frequently). Other than the obvious benefit of saving paper and trees, he refered to a researcher Colleen Megowan who studied different types of whiteboarding and the affect on student dynamics. Althought it didn’t actually make it into the research paper, she did look at the differences between chart paper and whiteboards and her observations make perfect sense.

When students collaborate using a chart paper most of the thinking and reasoning usually happens before the marker actually touches the paper. This may be due to the fact that students don’t want to make mistakes. Therefore, when students do start writing on the chart paper, it is a summarization of the conversation and the thinking and reasoning that took place before. In addition, Colleen spoke of the “power of the marker” and the fact that usually it is the same student that ends up with the responsibility with writing on the chart paper. Maybe these students are leaders of the group, have the neatest handwriting, or just get to the marker before everyone else but what these students write is their interpretation of the group’s conversation and may not necessarily represent the group’s collaborative thinking.

When students use whiteboards, the writing usually happens as the students converse, reason, and think collaboratively. The ideas written on the whiteboard evolve as the conversation unfolds and is a better representation of the group’s thinking than if written on chart paper. Because the markings can be easily erased, students are immediately  inclined to write without hesitation. Whiteboards are also less intimidating for students and encourage multiple students to contribute and write. In addition, Megowan spoke about the “power of the eraser” and the fact that writing can be erased changes the group dynamics and allows a new role (the eraser) to emerge within the group.

After reading more literature on whiteboarding and socratic dialogues, I was hooked and immediately saw the benefits not only for math but in all subject areas and needed to have a set of six whiteboards for myself to try out. I wanted whiteboards with similar dimensions to standard chart paper (24″ x 32″). I looked into getting whiteboards from Staples but the cheapest whiteboards with the dimensions I was looking for cost about $28 each (with tax, close to $200 for six). I needed a cheaper alternative and Frank mentioned on his blog that educators were going to homedepot, Lowes, or Rona and purchasing 4′ x 8′ tileboard and cutting them into six smaller sections (24″ x 32″). However, my online searches on these stores’ websites for tileboard came up with nothing. I phoned multiple home depots and Rona’s in my surrounding area and several phone calls later, I finally found a Rona that had one panel of 4′ x 8′ tileboard in stock. With my school board discount, I was able to purchase the panel for $37 and didn’t have to pay for the cutting since Rona gives you the first 3 cuts for free. So all in all, each whiteboard came to approx. $6.17. Not quite $2 whiteboards but I am very happy with my whiteboards and I’m very excited to implement and share the whiteboarding strategy with the teachers in my school board.

I’m not advocating that we abolish chart paper from the classroom. Chart paper still has it’s place for ideas that need to have a permanent fixture in the classroom. (anchor charts, learning goals, success criteria) However, there are situations in the classroom where using whiteboards would be more effective for collaboration, thinking, and reasoning than chart paper. The benefits of whiteboarding shouldn’t be ignored and should have a place in the classroom as well. I would love to hear your comments on how you use the whiteboarding strategy in your classroom.

In my next blog post, I will be looking at various websites that offer online whiteboards that allow students and teachers to collaborate online and see if the whiteboarding concept can be implemented in a digital environment. Perhaps the digital environment would have an effect on group dynamics not seen in typical face to face whiteboarding interactions or perhaps new roles would emerge from collaborating online.

The Fifth Way

I finally finished reading my book (which I loved), Spontaneous Evolution by Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman after being sidetracked by so many fantastic blogs. In this book, Lipton and Bhaerman make reference to Johan Galtung, a Norwegian mathematician and sociologist and founder of TRANSCEND International, a peace development environment network. Galtung is most known for his ability to transcend conflicts and find what he refers to as the fifth way, or fivers. He recognizes that every conflict has five possible resolutions:

  1. I win. You lose.
  2. You win. I lose.
  3. The conflict is resolved by avoiding it completely.
  4. Compromise where all parties are dissatisfied.
  5. Transcendence where all parties feel like they win and resolution is above and beyond the problem.

After reflecting on this portion of my book, I believe educators need to implement the power of Galtung’s fiver approach in education and seek ways to solve issues with resolutions that are above and beyond the problems so that all parties (students included) are happy with the outcomes. Lipton and Bhaermann explain that the first step to creating a fiver solution is for opposing parties not to settle and meet each other halfway but to work together and progress forward towards an ideal resolution.

This notion can be applied directly to the classroom where conflicts often arise between teachers and students. Often, the labels “teacher” and “student” create a separation, a polarity in the classroom. It’s the teacher vs. student mentality which results in disengaged students, late assignments, students doing the bare minimum to get a “level 2” etc.

Here’s my fiver solution for the teacher vs student power struggle that exists in many classrooms. Get rid of the labels “Teacher” and “Student” and “classroom” replace them with “learners” and “community”. It shouldn’t be about the teacher as the holder and controller of all the knowledge and the student as the observer waiting to be educated. As Angela Maiers would say, It’s about a community of learners each with valuable knowledge and skills working collaboratively to achieve their full potential so they can make their contribution to the world.

I choose the red pill…

“You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Morpheus, 1999

I can’t help but think of this quote from The Matrix to describe my new perspective on 21st century fluencies in education. I always thought myself to be a knowledgeable individual when it came to using technology in education. I was an I.T. teacher at two of my previous schools, I was a report card administrator, I knew how to use the Microsoft Office programs, I was familiar with a variety of educational software programs, and I also had experiences with Interactive White Boards in my classrooms. In terms of technology in education, I thought I was doing just fine….until I swallowed the red pill…

During a leadership workshop, two colleagues of mine, Zoe Branigan-Pipe (a teaching colleague) and Lisa Neale (now my leadership mentor) passionately spoke about using “web 2.0” in education. By the end of the workshop, I was still hesitant about using web 2.0 in education but was convinced by Zoe and Lisa to at least create a Twitter account and use it for professional purposes. It only took me a couple of tweets about some good math related resources, articles, and some more guidance and encouragement from my meetings with Lisa before I realized the power and the positive impact that social networking can have in education. Sure, I only had 9 followers but those were 9 educators that were possibly benefiting from my shared knowledge through Twitter. 9 people that wouldn’t have had access to my professional knowledge without this simple yet powerful microblogging site.

Twitter was just the tipping point. Soon after I joined Twitter, I created a Wikispace account. As I was searching for Wikis about web 2.0 applications in education, I stumbled upon Classroom 2.0, a social networking group for educators. For a brief moment, I thought my web 2.0 journey had come to an end until I discovered Glogster, Wordle, Jing screencasting, and etherpads. Every site I visited led me to 5 more and the number of websites that I discovered grew exponentially. I soon realized that the rabbit hole was becoming a bottomless abyss!

As a “born again techie” I am overwhelmed yet excited. When I look at the incredible applications of web 2.0 in the classroom and the willingness of so many to share and collaborate, I feel encouraged and proud to be an educator. I look at technology and web 2.0 as the key to student engagement, achievement, and equity. Web 2.0 has also made me realize that my professional learning community is not limited to my teaching partner, my divisional team, my school, or board. My professional learning community is now global with teaching colleagues in places like Johannesburg and California. When I graduated from the Faculty of Education from Brock University in 2002, I never imagined that I would be able to collaborate with educators from around the world and until a few months ago my perception of technology in education was very narrowminded. However, now that I have chosen the red pill, my blindfold has been lifted. I can no longer ignore the power of Web 2.0 and the positive impact it can have on student learning. I want to stay in this techno wonderland and see where this rabbit hole will take me.