The Reflection Pool

#HWDSBaccelerate – Adele Stanfield

Here in HWDSB, we’ve been talking about how to transform relationships, environments and learning opportunities. The driver is pedagogy, but the accelerator is technology. Asking students to do this is one thing – but what about the educators? I’m asking connected educators around our district how they use technology to accelerate their learning. 
Adele Stanfield is a funny, thoughtful teacher in our district who believes passionately in doing what is best for kids and in the power of professional learning. I was so glad that she agreed to share her experiences with all of us.Adele 2
What is your role in HWDSB?
IT teacher with a focus on promoting authentic use of technology and inquiry.
What led you into education?
This is a second career for me. I was a counsellor with Young Offenders and Children’s Aid clients, ended up supporting my clients in school. From there it was an easy leap into teaching.
What are your go-to pieces of tech?
Since Queen Victoria has 1 to 1 iPads, that is definitely my go-to when I’m teaching. I rarely use the interactive technology of the SmartBoard, preferring the ease of use of the Apple TV. My iPhone is my personal go-to. And to complete the Apple Trifecta, I’m usually carrying my Macbook Pro because I like to type on a laptop.
Twitter or something else?
Depends what my needs are. For PLN (Professional Learning Network), Twitter is a must, although I appreciate HWDSB’s jump into Yammer. Having a PLN without borders (Twitter) is exceptional, but sometimes you want that local interaction (Yammer). My favourite PD is joining in on Twitter chats, and I find even when I’m in a hurry, I can throw out a question to the Twittersphere and get quick responses. I appreciate a good educational podcast too, although it’s one-sided, so doesn’t allow room for conversation.
How has technology shifted the way you learn?
I have often said that I don’t think I could teach without technology now that I’ve been immersed in it for a few years. I can do things–my students can do things–that weren’t possible 5 years ago. Tech allows me to connect with others, to learn with/from others, to problem-solve, to find innovative things to do with students. There are no limits! I can learn how to do almost anything by watching simple videos, listening to a podcast, or reading a blog post. And the beauty in all of this: it’s virtually free!
What’s your best piece of advice for those wondering how to use tech to accelerate their learning?
I attended a workshop a few years back that had the best title: “It’s okay to be where you are, it’s just not okay to stay there.” So, my advice? Just move forward. As educators, we need to model lifelong curiosity so our students see that learning doesn’t stop when they leave school. Seek out a PLN that can help you improve your practice, that can take you a bit outside of your comfort zone, where really good learning takes place. Set small goals (join Twitter, join a Yammer group, practice using an app, start blogging) so you don’t get overwhelmed. And don’t worry about failure. I find I learn way more from my mistakes than from my successes.

(This series inspired by Royan Lee and the #workflow series on his Spicy Learning Blog. Thanks, Royan!)

How to Avoid Your Reptile Brain

Imagine this scenario: you are in a workshop. The facilitator asks for ideas or suggestions. You bravely put up your hand or speak out to offer something. The facilitator says, “Well, but…” What happens to you?

Or this one: you are in a conversation with your boss, who is a great person. She asks a question. You offer a piece of information or an opinion. She looks at you and says, “Why would you think that?” What happens to you?

komodoJohn Clarke, Cognitive Coach extraordinaire and Adaptive Schools guru, would explain it this way: any hint of judgement shuts us down. Our reptile brain takes over and we retreat to safety. Then any possibility of a deeper conversation and learning can disappear.

I have experienced these kinds of situations in both my personal and professional life. Sometimes a sideways look, an abrupt answer or a pointed question has shut me down too, and my reptile brain as taken over. I have to say it: I don’t want to stay there! It’s easy to shut down or withdraw, but that doesn’t lead to change (my #oneword for 2015) and learning.

Here are three things we can all try to avoid the takeover of the reptile brain, whether we see it in ourselves or others:

1)  Listen actively and openly. Begin conversations with a smile on your face and a light tone. Set aside what you think the right answer is and what to say next. As New York principal Tony Sinanis says in his post, The Three, being “the ears” is a huge part of the educator and principal’s job.

2)  Ask open ended questions that invite thinking.  Try “Say more about why this is important for you,” or “Why is this essential for you?”.  We can also practise asking questions like, “How might we…” or “Can we think of ways to…”

3)  Monitor our responses.  When we know ourselves, we know what pushes our buttons.  I try to be aware of when my reptile brain might be stirring, sometimes with limited success! But instead of jumping to defense, I try to sit back, breathe deeply (you can’t think without oxygen, another wonderful nugget from John Clarke) and regroup.  I had great results with this once when a supervisor was questioning me closely. I could feel myself shutting down! I eventually was able to question myself and my thinking and realize that it could change. That was a good moment.

If this seems like too much work, consider this: of course it’s easier to fire out our questions or continue with our usual style. But developing trust and learning is about the way we talk. As Clarke says, “If we don’t attend to it, we can’t change it.” If we see others’ heads go down, eyes to the floor, then we know what we’re doing isn’t working. I want to bring forward people’s thinking and engage in challenging ideas, and I know I have a lot to learn.

I’m in.

3 Reasons I Go to Edcamp

I attended Edcamp Leadership this week: my fifth time at an Edcamp and a great day! Let me tell you why.

Credit to
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1) The Unconference Model:  Educators want choice and autonomy when it comes to their professional learning. They want to decide what they need to learn to meet student and staff needs better. They want to find out about great resources and ideas. Educators also want to hear about what others are doing in their classrooms, schools and districts. They want to listen, talk and reflect with colleagues.

Unconferences, of which Edcamp is a variant, offer all these to participants. There’s no keynote. There are no vendors. The success of the day is up to you! Participants build the schedule. No one edits or crosses off. If you want to engage others in an issue or topic, put it up on the session board at the beginning of the day. Choose whatever sessions you want to attend. Offer your ideas, opinions and experiences in person, on Twitter, or take notes for your next blog post. If one session doesn’t meet your needs, leave and head somewhere else. Go hang out in the lobby and chat with a new friend. Oh, and it’s free. Yes, free.

2) Connections:  There’s a strong link between Edcamp and Twitter.  Many people who see the value of social media connections also attend these unconferences. I use Twitter to connect to educators around the world, but especially in Canada and the United States. One of my favourite things to do on Twitter is participate in chats like #satchat, #iaedchat, #ptchat or #cdnedchat. It’s a chance to have a real time conversation about interesting and timely topics in education. The 140 character limit forces me to distill my thoughts to the essentials.

It was super to meet many “tweeps” face to face at Edcamp Leadership and especially those I’ve met through Twitter chats. I even got to participate in a live #satchat with Brad Currie (NJ), Scott Rocco (NJ) and Tom Whitby (NY) – what a privilege!!

I have to give shout outs to Vicki Day (NY), Tony Sinanis (NY), Jimmy Casas (IA), Ben Gilpin (MI), Reed Gillespie (VA), Joe Mazza (PA), Tom Whitford (WI), Sue Bruyns (ON) David Fife (ON), Anne Marie Luce (ON). These wonderful educators are worth following through their blogs and Twitter feeds. Each one is making a huge difference to their students and to the improvement of education.

I also met a number of interesting and committed teachers, vice principals and principals in sessions and break time.  I find the atmosphere at Edcamp open and friendly, much more than at a traditional conference. Folks are more than willing to meet and engage.

3) Learning:  I love to learn through conversations. Edcamps offer the chance to engage in deep thinking. When you arrive, you hang out in the main room and watch the schedule being built by participants. It’s a time to chat with people and listen to their realities, successes and struggles. You really can have a conversation about all of that in a few minutes!  Then it’s time to choose your sessions, where the “law of two feet” applies.

My thinking was challenged and stretched by sessions on leadership and struggle and how to put cultural competency in action. These discussions were so rich that I am drafting blog posts to address both.

What’s next? How about Edcamp Toronto, Barrie or London?

You should go.

 (I also blogged about Edcamp here. That post included links to Open Space and unconferences.)