Saturday, August 25, 2012

WHY Purpose & Passion matter

Why do some people appear to be so passionate about their work?

You know the people I'm talking about. They have excitement in their voices, they are constantly thinking of new ideas, they willingly accept new challenges, they work diligently to see things through, their words are convincing and they are inspiring. Hopefully, this describes YOU!

These passionate people believe not only in WHAT they do for work, but more importantly, WHY they do their work. It's their knowledge of WHY and their sense of PURPOSE that makes their words and actions authentic. They say and do things they truly believe in!

Authenticity is crucial in an organization because it contributes to the building of strong relationships. Strong relationships build trust, and with trust comes loyalty and a sense of belonging. The feeling of belonging, that one's work is valuable, important and part of something bigger, is what inspires people to go beyond the call of duty. "People working together for a common what creates the bond and the camaraderie that brings success." Sinek

This is what schools should feel like!

Passionate educators working together to ensure the best opportunities and best learning for each and every student. Students working together for a common cause and purpose. Adults and students working and learning together.

And just like everyone else, YOU have an important role to play in creating this.

So take some time to ask yourself, "Just WHY is it that I do WHAT I do?"

As you attempt to answer this question and clarify (or re-clarify) your PURPOSE you may begin to question some of your own practices. You may feel uncomfortable but this needs to happen if you are going to align your WHAT with your WHY. It's an important step in gaining (or regaining) your sense of PURPOSE and being able to approach your work with PASSION.

Don't resort to threats such as zeros and late penalties or incentives like bonus marks in order to get your students to take action. These are just attempts to manipulate! Approach your work with PURPOSE and your students with PASSION. Inspire them to take action!

I'd love to hear your WHY's and I encourage you to share with a comment! Thanks.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Novelty or Innovation?


"Real innovation changes the course of industry or even society."   
                                                                                      Simon Sinek
(Yes, it's a day late but I wrote this in the spirit of #leadershipday12.)

In his book, 'Start with Why', Sinek (@simonsinek) references many examples from the business world (Motorola, Colgate, Apple) that we can draw parallels to in education.

As I listen to and participate in conversations face-to-face and through social media I sometimes wonder if our quest to create innovative approaches to learning has somehow resulted in our overemphasis on the shiny new tool. Is it good to be a trailblazer and be on the leading edge of a new approach to teaching and learning? Of course! However, we should also strive for our new approaches to lead to lasting improvements for all learners.

The newest laptop, the most recent version of the iPad...these are examples of shiny tools with added features, but in short order they will all be replaced. It wasn't long ago that the first iPad was being introduced and now people have the iPad 3, equipped with new features, in their hands. When it comes to added features, Sinek writes, "They are added in an attempt to differentiate, but not reinvent." So the question to ask before investing big dollars in the latest technology is whether the tool will help the teacher 'reinvent' education for today's learners or simply be a temporary engagement 'fix'  that learners will become bored of once the technology is replaced?

I'm as guilty as anyone else of being dazzled by the most recent shiny tool. I enjoy the flexibility of working from my iPad, MacBook or smartphone, depending on where I am and what I plan to do. But, it's not the shininess of the tool that has captured my long term attention. Instead, over the past few years these tools have supported my shift to become a globally connected learner. On a daily basis my network of educators exposes me to new ideas, challenges my thinking and inspires me! Is the technology itself engaging? For a while it was! But what keeps me coming back to these tools is that they have helped accelerate my learning. In other words, the way in which I am learning is the focus of my shift and the tools are simply supporting this shift.

In schools, we need to be approaching investments of time, energy and money with similar thinking. We're better off encouraging innovations in pedagogy that can be accelerated through the use of new technology instead of focussing on the learning of a new technology without a shift in pedagogy. Supporting teachers in their learning of new pedagogies such as inquiry-based learning or project-based learning, that can incorporate and be accelerated by technology, will lead to lasting advances in teacher and student learning. We should be supporting teachers' attempts to transform their students into active learners who are proposing questions, seeking answers and creating solutions to their own problems. And if their students' learning can be accelerated by becoming globally connected and they can share their learning by having access to creative presentation tools then we should be investing in the technology that allows them to do so.

While simply investing in the latest tools and training teachers to use the tool may lead to temporary improvements in teacher and student engagement it will not magically lead to a pedagogical shift. Consequently, teachers and students will likely revert to traditional forms of teaching and learning when the novelty of the tool dies down.

New frameworks for learning will demand our investments in technology. Investments in technology won't demand new frameworks for learning!

Monday, August 13, 2012

First WHY, then WHAT!

I am currently reading Simon Sinek's (@simonsinek) book, 'Start with Why - How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action'. In it, he stresses 'that people don't buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.' This has got me thinking a lot about how this applies to teachers, students and how students don't buy WHAT teachers do, they buy WHY they do it.

Consider Sinek's ideas in the classroom. Telling students WHAT to do (or even HOW to do it) isn't enough on its own to generate long term motivation. Instead, teachers who communicate WHY...the values and beliefs inherent in WHAT they are asking students to do are more likely to inspire long term action on the part of their students.

"When we communicate from the outside (WHAT) in, when we communicate WHAT we do first, yes, people can understand vast amounts of complicated information, like facts and features, but it does not drive behaviour. But when we communicate from the inside (WHY) out, we're talking directly to the part of the brain that controls decision-making, and our language part of the brain allows us to rationalize those decisions."  Sinek

As educators we must be mindful of this. We communicate to students a lot about WHAT challenges will look like and HOW they can go about accomplishing them. The WHAT involved in any particular challenge may interest and engage a certain group of students but it likely won't interest all students and definitely won't contribute to any lasting engagement. If our goal is to engage students in meaningful tasks, we must communicate the WHY! For learners, understanding the WHY is what creates the meaning in a task.

"We're drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us. Those whom we consider great leaders all have an ability to draw us close and to command our loyalty."  Sinek

In the classroom, we are the leaders! Our ability to consistently motivate, inspire and convince students to do what is asked of them comes in large part from whether we communicate the reason(s) WHY we do WHAT we do! Our WHY'S should include explanations such as 'caring about students', 'wanting what is best for them in the present and their futures' and 'doing what is in their best interest'! Of course, these are not words we can say just once and expect they will believe. We must remind them of our beliefs and convince them through our actions! It is through our consistent words and actions that we tap into our students' emotions and build the loyalty and trust we all hope to create with our students. Once we've established our students' trust and loyalty, they will go beyond our expectations and agree to challenges even when they know they may not be to their liking.

Each of us can recall stories of specific students who truly seemed to work for us, regardless of their ability, the level of challenge or their fondness for a task. They are great examples of students who obviously bought into WHY we do WHAT we do! Through consistently supportive words and actions we demonstrate how much we care about our students. Once we establish trust and loyalty with them, they appear even better, more committed students. They consistently complete tasks when assigned to them, follow through on instructions and embrace challenges even when they know it will require considerable effort. Rather than questioning the logic behind completing such difficult challenges, their rational brains generate reasons to justify WHY they should embrace these challenges.

People may refer to all this as building rapport while others may call it fostering relationships. Most importantly, they both rely on a foundation of trust and loyalty that has been established by teachers who emphasize WHY before WHAT!

So the next time you catch yourself describing to students WHAT they are about to do, I urge you pause and consider whether you have emphasized WHY they should do it!

Here is clip of Sinek's TEDx Talk.