Leading with Strengths #immooc


How do you find the balance between “mentoring” and “micro-managing”

to ensure people feel supported and comfortable taking risks?

[Question, Chapter 8, Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros]

Leaders empower their organization’s members; they do not dictate to or manage them. How do leaders empower their people? With a shared vision, a leader finds within each member a strength which promotes that vision. A leader lets the person know, and encourages that person in that area, building on that talent. That first step to knowing one’s team members is the first step towards building the trust that allows each member to speak up, knowing their leader supports their work.

Teachers will grow professionally when their administrators take a personal interest in their careers. When teachers feel cared for, just like students, it goes a long way toward creating a great school culture. 

Carolyn Jensen, principal for Parkland School Division

Chapter 8, Innovator’s Mindset LOC 1846 if 3535

In many schools both students and teachers find themselves in a data swamp where the focus on remediation, interventions, and weaknesses under the guise of “school improvement” mean only negative conversations, expectations, and program implementations to improve text scores. Any recognition of what teachers have done well is undermined by mandates and requirements and meetings that tear at their professionalism. And leaders find themselves stuck in the muck of those mandates and struggle to clear the path for a focus on students as whole persons, not failures.


People who do have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general.” Tim Rath

Clearly we need to make sure our educators and students have ample opportunity to explore and practice in areas which they thrive. George Couros

Chapter 8, Innovator’s Mindset LOC 1714 of 3535.

So, What about mentoring members for improvement?  Think about this from Tom Rath and George Couros:

FullSizeRender 5.jpg

If we want our team members to be actively engaged rather than disengaged and compliant, we, as peers, and leaders must focus on strengths.  But how does that help us lead to mentoring?

Great leaders practice balancing trust and autonomy while providing strong mentorship…pushing others’ thinking and abilities by asking questions and challenging perceptions without micro-managing.

George Couros,Chapter 8, Innovator’s Mindset LOC 1740 of 3535

Chapter eight provided a great example of how to push thinking. Mandates are often categories of requirements, so why not form teams around those requirements — let members choose according to their interests. Remind them of their strengths, and give each team autonomy as they apply each one’s strengths to work together from their professional knowledge to innovate the solutions that would best fit the students’ strengths as well.  What would happen?

While we supported and learned from one another, we also pushed each other to be better. The teachers and staff started to see each other as experts and valued their contribution and expertise.

Each individual is recognized for his or her own unique qualities and how those strengths support the overall vision of learning for our school

George Couros,Chapter 8, Innovator’s Mindset LOC 1870 of 3535 

Grow the solutions locally. Build that community of professionals. Within that community, members see each other’s strengths, and merge their unique ideas into a focused solution based on that school’s students’ needs. Only then, when all members feel supported, does trust and collaboration move the organization forward. Without the input from professionals themselves, the culture is built only on compliance, not engagement, not empowerment, and teachers do not see or feel their value. With professionals who believe in themselves, are supported for their strengths, and participate with those strengths towards the school vision, then a culture of learning forms, and teachers and students begin to ask, “What else could I do to support our vision?” And that’s where teachers begin to mentor each other.

Learning is messy, and we have to be comfortable with risk, failure, growth, and revision.

George Couros,Chapter 8, Innovator’s Mindset LOC 1796 of 3535 

What is the balance? Find and trust in the strengths of the people in your organization; bring the ideas from those strengths into the process of deciding solutions to issues. Model risk-taking with one’s own strengths and begin the journey of trust-building so that the members begin to question how to improve themselves.

Key to this issue of strengths-based leadership is taking the time to talk with your people, to never stop encouraging, recognizing, and supporting their leadership to make the school great for students. It’s specific, it’s modeling the expectation of celebration, it’s providing that celebration individually and for teams. It’s not a reward or announcement: it’s recognition and letting them know the value of their work to the school. The emphasis is on the doing and succeeding in small steps, and that their work and ideas make it happen and let it continue. It’s an ongoing conversation of the collaboration and commitment that teachers accept to get our job done.

Two questions suggested for this journey:

  1. Describe your dream position next year, what would it be? George Couros
  2. Where do you see your career in the next three to five years? Carolyn Jensen

Now, how do the answers help build the organization by letting the members shine through those answers?


The Innovator’s Mindset . Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. Dave Burgess Consulting 2015.

Tom Rath, Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow (New York: Gallup Press, 2008).

As a final note: Take this to the student level. Read Debbie Donsky’s The Truth of Who We Are — Let’s change the focus to strengths and talents and passions rather then remediation of weaknesses.

Perhaps I is an acceptable way to WE #immooc


Have you ever received pushback when sharing, “I did…”  It’s common. Eyes rolling. Arms folding. It’s a problem.

In conversation about this with others, it was easy to accept the ideas they suggested to not use the word “I.” Those sharing the solution used the word “I.” They used the word “I” because it’s their way to solve the problem of pushback and that’s how the issue needed to be framed and could be framed in our trusted conversations. They found a problem, and they solved it, and they shared it, using “I.”

To dig into this idea further, perhaps in some schools, the trust among teachers is too low and the willingness to share to further improve student learning is also not developed.

Teachers are professionals, yet coaches and others continuously, not purposefully, intrude on that professionalism.

The sad thing is, that we want people to share, so to not be able to use the word “I” to put oneself out there, take a risk, and share “your” classroom strategies, without “eye-rolling” and pushback. — that is a problem.

So, yes, a strategy suggested is to use the word “we,” as in the above paragraph.. Asking inviting questions [ “Has anyone tried…”], another suggestion, also works.

Still, people need to feel safe to share; teachers need to share their ideas and experiences so the school knows, teams know, and peers know the ins and outs of what instruction and learning is occurring.

So, what else could be done so everyone is actively listening and willing to share?

How can this negative mindset be flipped for active, interested engagement by all staff?

This is a problem for many innovative leaders.

One strategy making the rounds again is establishing “norms” of behavior everyone will agree to, such as:

  • Honest and forthcoming with communication
  • Speak up and ask clarifying questions.
  • Respect others’ ideas positively; listen and engage respectfully.
  • Be interested
  • Be professional, on time, prepared.

However norms like this can also receive pushback since norms– well, don’t they seem obvious?

Perhaps a reminder of the school mission and purpose statement at the beginning of the sharing meeting would be helpful. Again, this keeps the vision on “ours” and “we” in mind: our goals are the same; we can learn together.

Perhaps the sharing could be framed as a possibility with the listeners sharing afterwards what could work in their classrooms, so that everyone is using the “I” word.

Perhaps sharing the Two Rules of Improv used in Pixar as explained by Randy Nelson for Edutopia would help develop a more accepting mindset (video at end of post).

The two rules are:

1. Accept all offers
2. Make your partner look good.

How could “the offer,” the sharing, be more acceptable?

Share reflectively. Reflection includes what one would do next time to improve. As Randy Nelson says, it’s “error recovery, not failure avoidance.” Frame the sharing as a problem solved. People share “I tried this…, and next time I would…” which shows a willingness to recover, improve, and master.

How does the listener make their partner, the sharer, look good?

Listeners are interested when they know there’s a dilemma, and so accept the offer. And listeners must not judge or make suggestions for the sharer; instead they accept the share as a starting point and build or adapt a possible version for their own work. According to Randy Nelson, this is collaboration: amplification of ideas. “Possible” means they don’t have to actually do it, but they are interested and have given the person sharing an acknowledgement. This is where technology helps; perhaps open a Padlet for sharing these possible amplifications. Again, this is a mindset shift: be interested in what others have to offer, not just share what is interesting, and collaborate: each listener accepts an offer of ideas and amplifies a small idea which opens up possibilities for everyone.

And sharing of something actually done shows a “proof of a portfolio, rather than the promise of a resume,” as Randy Nelson says. These conversations framed as collaborative amplification to build ideas for everyone could build trust, gather ideas for everyone to improve, gather input for portfolios, and perhaps become an entry point for blogging to share further. The word “I” shows risk, reflection, problem-solving, and trust, whether as original sharer or as amplifier.

Somehow, sharing with an “I” needs to be acceptable. Reviewing vision statements, using “we,” asking “I wonder if..” or other questions, establishing norms, and framing conversations as collaborative amplification could help develop trust and focus. Still, sharing needs to be acceptable.

What other ways could the mindset of “I” to build “we” be developed into acceptability?

How about amplifying the idea with yours in this Padlet or in the comments below?

Agency #immooc


What is best for the learner?

Whether student or teacher, what is best for each as learner is that which builds the capacity to learn and invent on their own with the freedom to act to forge their futures and make the world better because of it. We need to build the capacity of knowledge to empower learners with the confidence that they can invent their world.

To be truly empowered, people need both ownership and autonomy.

George Couros, Innovator’s Mindset

How do we frame our work together as educators and with students, all learners, so that we own what we do, with autonomy in our journeys? How do we grow agency in our teachers and students?


Build Trust and Relationships

First step: slide into the path of our students or another teacher to understand each other, to know where we’re from. Build time to listen. Listen. Trust in their choices. Creating an environment of trust warms the willingness to engage; it empowers people with their own agency to make a difference. It’s ripples radiate throughout the community: trust is the sunshine that warms the soul. It builds confidence to risk, to know failure will not be met in a negative way, but as a process to learn, and so builds resilience.

As leaders in education, our job is not to control those whom we serve but to unleash their talent.

George Couros, Innovator’s Mindset

Teachers are prepared with professional knowledge; trust them to do so.

Students are prepared with curiosity; trust them to use it.

Disrupt the Routine

Next step: Disrupt the usual. Share leadership: gather solutions and insights from staff, or as teachers, from students. Expect discord in the dialogue:

Innovation often comes from conflict and disagreement, not in an adversarial way but in a way that promotes divergent thinking…to actually create a better idea– perhaps one that merges multiple, shared ideas.

George Couros, Innovator’s Mindset

Step Out of The Way

Third step: Once the idea that voices are not only heard, but also become a contribution to solutions, then the willingness to participate actively increases. Whether in improving school programs as teachers or developing pathways to learning projects as students, once the doing has been their choice with their voice, the foundation of agency grows.

Teachers own and offer their ideas, collaborating with others to improve student learning. Students own their learning, thinking as authors, mathematicians, historians, scientists, musicians, artists, engineers, leaders, etc. Yes, both teachers and students become leaders: organizers, designers, collaborators, being flexible and team players. They see themselves as creators rather than consumers, contributors rather than recipients.

Celebrate the Culture

Fourth Step: Reflect on the growth. Review for improvement. Once the community of learners, educators and students, moves towards the mindset that each is a vital participant, leading or following as needed, then step back and reflect on what worked and why. Share successes. Soon what didn’t work will come forward. Design next steps from both. And begin the transparency of reflective processes to continue the development of a culture of learning and a culture of innovation. That might look like blogs or portfolios, but sharing is key to continued reflective practice.

Share Innovation

Finally, identify how the journey has created new and better solutions and processes for the school or classroom. Celebrate the innovative ideas, successful or needing revision: each risk comes from the willingness of everyone to build a better community within the school and without. Celebrate and share in social media so others can learn, the community is informed, and progress is curated. The feedback locally and globally will add ideas and further innovation.

Continue the Journey


George Couros suggests  the above five steps to continue the foundation for an innovative culture.  What would that look like?
Lay the Foundation.jpg

An innovative culture builds agency, whereby its participants feel trusted, are confident to voice ideas, co-create solutions, own the process, and act in collaboration with other participants to make the community better. Educators and students alike learn and grow w together in such a culture.

As we discussed progress in developing the foundation for innovation in our Voxer group, a Google Slices for crowdsourcing suggestions and experiences for  innovative professional development or meetings awaits your participation so we all can share in an open way to bring an innovative culture to our own situations with the input of all participants.  Please enjoy, use, and add your own:

Grade. Assess. Feedback


Ross Cooper asks a great question: Should the 4Cs be graded?

Should communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity be graded?

Remember that assessment is for learning, feedback for improvement, but grading is an evaluation of the moment.

Read Ross’s post and think about his ideas.

Rubrics can be created for anything, but are best created together with students, with a focus on what is proficient, rather than filling in the whole rubric with qualifiers. Just know what is proficient, to strive for, to exceed. Those criteria will change over the year as students’ starting points change and they nudge forward in their expertise.

What do students think critical thinking is?  or creativity?  Is there a common language from which learners can have a conversation?

For all the 4cs,  that’s the big question: is there a common language understood about the expectations? After having that conversation, students can identify where they use the skills, and how well they apply them. The criteria to me would be a living document, and may, if learning is truly the goal, be personalized for each student along a continuum. And the progress made certainly would indicate to the student his success and next goals.

But what about the more visible communication and collaboration skills?

Should we grade communication and collaboration? I think both should begin with a conversation and development of expectations with students. They should observe and assess where they are, and then choose improvement goals.

Communication and collaboration are part of the Common Core State Standards so learning targets of proficiency could develop from those.

However, in my real world of students, I’m thinking about success, and that means that the proficiency goals for students would be personalized. Some of my students are stretching towards college level goals, and some are still putting words together. If I want learning, then proficiency is a continuum, setting new goals together to reach the next level based on feedback on what was done well and where improvement is needed. Feedback from students themselves, peers, and the teacher. Feedback as conversation, whether in conversation face-to-face or in conversation on a collaborative document. But feedback is the key to learning.

Any “grade” must be fairly decided by criteria and conversation of achievement of that criteria. It must be a fair representation of the student’s progress, and that representation will change over time.

Ross shared a great truth by Rick Wormeli:

“Students can learn without grades, but they can’t learn without timely, descriptive, feedback.”  ~ Rick Wormeli

Because I think the learning will come from the doing, and the reflection on what helped and what didn’t will better guide next steps than a grade would, I would have that feedback conversation with kids during their projects and together decide what and if to grade – for all the 4cs– what and if to grade as a conversation.


Connected Educator Month #ce16 #immooc


It’s Connected Educator Month!

How will you connect with others outside of your school to empower yourself and share with others?

I’m connecting in the University of Michigan’s Virtual Digital Writing Conference every Sunday. So many exciting and interactive sessions, including keynotes and conversations with Dr. Troy Hicks @hickstro This event is also a National Writing Project program.  Watch as many or as few as you want each Sunday in October. Free, but registration is required.  Here are the sessions I participated in on Sunday, Oct 2. Follow on Twitter at #4TDW

I’m also taking part in Innovator’s Mindset Mooc by George Couros, author, principal, a book study with 2000 participants, including whole school districts. Katie Martin also facilitates. We participate in many ways– as many or as few as you wish: webinars / podcastsVoxer group, Google Plus Community, Facebook Group, Twitter hashtag #immooc, and blogs.

With the ideas we share, we become better. For instance, after reading others’ blogs and tweets, and participating in the webinar I wrote this post. Musings on Innovation. The last graphic in the post is a list of questions I would use with students based on the 8 characteristics of an innovator. So my friend Kevin Hodgson [who is the closing keynote for the VT conference] created a comic about the post’s ideas for innovating school design, which will add context to our thinking. Kevin and I are moderators for the IMMOOC Google Community. The great thing about a MOOC is that you can lurk or join in at any time. Learning is forever in many forms.

I’m also reviewing Mark Barnes‘s Hack Learning series book, Hacking Engagement by James Sturtevant. Empowering students through active engagement of value is key to my teaching. How do I connect with Mark? We’ve been following each other on Twitter for years, and his work inspires my teaching. Check out his book, Role Reversal

Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom at ASCD.

Another possible event is Teachers First OK2Ask webinar on 10/4 at 4 PM Pacfic — Chrome Extensions. See this and upcoming events — register here.
Or view the CE calendar here for more choices for connecting.

Maybe you’ll just start your Twitter account and follow the above hashtags — just looking at the tweets and starting to follow teachers in your grade or subject. That would be an awesome way to start. Or choose a chat related to your interest. [See Edudemic’s Guide to Twitter or this Live Binder]

Why? Because the world is connected. Your students are connected. Being connected makes you relevant.

The amazing thing about connected educators is this: it doesn’t matter your degree or position, everyone has a voice.

You become online friends with those you constantly interact with to better your teaching to better the instruction that betters student learning.

You get to know and ask questions of Troy, Mark, George, Kevin, Lucy Gray, Shelly Terrell, Alec Couros, Matt Miller, etc.

You may even collaborate and co-create instructional material for others. Look at my friends Gallit and Denise, who now have published a book on Genius Hour. Denise and I finally met after years of blogging and tweeting together to better our teaching of writing — and we even [without meeting face to face, just tweeting and Google Slides] presented for Connected Educator 2012 —  she made a trip to meet up. It was awesome.

And your teaching strategies will grow. Why? Because connectedness flattens the world: we all have the opportunity and the voice to share good ideas for learners.

And guess what? Even if I were still teaching, I’d be doing those three things and more: #4TDW, #IMMOOC, book review. Because they help me teach in the way students today want to learn, and I refuse to be irrelevant. I will come away every day with a better idea to impact learning, to empower students in their learning tomorrow.

Everyone starts somewhere. Just start.  

Maybe you just want to know HOW to be a connected educator. How about reading and following the suggestions in the book The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning by Tom Whitby and Steven W. Anderson [who started #edchat ]. There may even be spaces left for the Teachers First bookclub. Or we could form our own bookclub for the book in Google Plus or Twitter, just to support each other. Just comment below.

Here’s what two educational leaders say from the website about the book and connected learners:

“It is incumbent upon all educators to connect with other educators who can reignite their passion for teaching. The authors generously share their wisdom for those who want to accelerate the development of a personal learning network. “ 
Angela Maiers, Founder and President
Choose2Matter, Inc. and Maiers Education Services, Inc.

“Learn how and why educators must connect in order to truly be at the top of their game. This book gives practical advice on how to connect, engage, and grow as a learner.”
Adam Bellow, Corwin Author Untangling the Web

Lots of ideas and examples here and in the stream when you join Twitter. Be a connected educator, a connected learner.

Just start!

Where will you start, or what will you do if you already are, a connected educator?
Sheri Edwards
Connected Innovator

Reflect curiosity and wonder…
Go boldly and scatter seeds of kindness…

More Information about Connected Learning

21st Century for Families #immooc


Teachers: Always Learning– Communicate to Families

As I strive to become a better teacher, coach, and learner, I search for resources that help me grow, offering ideas that I can adapt to my situation. In changing my teaching to meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s worlds, I need to share with and bring parents and families into the journey. After all, they were taught the old, factory model way; it’s all they know. Teachers today take the best of yesterday and move it forward.

One of the resources I review is the P21: Partnership for 21st Century Learning.

I discovered there two important resources for families, so they can understand why schools are moving to more collaborative and connected lessons and projects:

Education for a Changing World: What is 21st Century Learning and Citizenship?

Family 21 Century Citizenship Tips 

I found these blog posts:

Blog Post with parent resources: What is 21st Century Learning all about?

Blog Post on Thinking Classrooms and Student Self-Assessment: How to Build An Empowering Classroom Culture

What about the basics?

What about the 3Rs?  We still teach the foundation, but in different, more personalized ways with the help of technology, and include the 4C’s –the 4Cs — critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.

Learning today, fully sixteen years into the 21st Century, includes the three ‘Rs’ of reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic, but also focuses on skills now essential to a connected world, essential for the adult world of our students: the 4Cs — critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. Here’s how we’re moving forward:

Instead of standardized, sequential lessons completed by oneself, students learn by doing, by asking questions and working together to solve problems and present their learning in ways “above and beyond” the paper and pencil strategies of last century.

Of course, that means 21st Century Learning is as much process as it is static information and final product; it’s more than anything “google-able”: it’s a whole lot of risk-taking, questioning, struggle, and feedback from teachers and peers to guide the process so students achieve success.

Feedback rather then grades?

Feedback is not a grade, it’s a guide. Feedback is a guide much better than a grade because the feedback shows what is done well, and what steps would lead to improvement and success. It truly is no child left behind, and without the need for tests.

But if there are no tests or grades, how do we show our students are learning?

The Journal: Panel: Ditch Grades Now: Focus on Student Learning shares the work of Mark Barnes:

Instead of grading students on their work, Barnes had “a conversation” with them. He used an online gradebook, but instead of applying grades or points or percentages, he recorded feedback and discussions with students. Instead of judging his students’ abilities at an arbitrary point in time by assigning a score, he guided them through a checklist that was designed to help them progress to where they needed to be. [emphasis added]    ~Mark Barnes

With a checklist and a conversation, students can self-assess their work, discuss with peers and teacher how to improve, and therefore, build their success. In the same article, an explanation:

“We have something far better than scores when report card time rolls around,” he explained. “We have artifacts and feedback that provide a clear picture of learning. When a teacher reviews the body of work from a student and asks, ‘Where does this fit on a traditional grade scale?’ the student understands and provides accurate responses in almost every instance — at least as accurate as a traditional grade can provide.”  ~Mark Barnes

Many schools still give grades, but it’s not an average, or filled with zeros for unfinished work, it’s based on high expectations personalized to students in conversation with students and teachers. It’s rather like your supervisor or team member at work explaining what is needed, checking that your work fits, and offering suggestions when needed — so that the product is as expected and needed with quality. That’s much better and more realistic than a one-time test or assignment; it honors the goal and the student; it is good teaching.

For an example of how that works in the classroom see “Idea for Rubrics.

And think about it, how do we really learn? We talk to others and share after we try. We keep trying until we get it. The research supports this, especially with feedback. To know what to expect, here’s an article on how to give feedback by John Hattie, the author of Visible Learning, where Tony Buzan’s work is also included:

eminent psychologist Tony Buzan points out, practice only helps people to repeat what they are doing. If what they are doing is incorrect, people internalise the wrong thing. Feedback lets students know how they are doing while there is still time to adjust and perfect their efforts.[emphasis added]

The great part of this is student understanding of the process, the content, and the purpose. So when grade time arrives, students can share their work, explain what they did well, how they revised, and what could still be done to improve. As your child explains this, listen. You will hear knowledge and skills, content, confidence, humility, pride, and a command of their own learning.

So, to our families, we invite you into our classrooms to see:

  • projects and work wrapped in foundational skills in process and basics with authentic  purposes and audiences
  • the four Cs: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity
  • checklists and steps to guide success, personalized for students
  • ongoing feedback from peers and teachers [and families] to guide success
  • mutual grading from student and teacher founded in expectations learned and developed with feedback
  • an open door for families to visit and volunteer, offering their own feedback

I think, if families think back to those school days remembered most, it will be the times where people worked together, a project, a collaboration. That’s the goal everyday: to have authentic learning with deeper learning.

I hope this clarifies the transformation of classrooms for families.

If you have comments, questions, or any other resources, please share below.

Everyone is Writing a Book


Ross Cooper wrote a post entitled, “Everyone is Writing a Book, or Everyone Has a Voice,” and I tried to write this comment [but was blocked as a bot]:

And I choose carefully the books that I read based on how it applies to me. I’m glad to have so many resources to help me think through and apply standards based grading — or no grading; quality formative assessment– and student self-assessment. This is important because no one magic bullet exists, so adding to my playlists and setting them to the melody of my classroom helps me write my own song.

So I’ve been thinking about the same thing– everyone I admire is writing a book, and what I say to myself is: I can do it too, and so can you!

Everybody is writing a book, because everybody has experiences and ideas that can help someone else. One little nugget in a book can set me on a new path of exploration for my teaching and learning, and I love that.

So your experience on a project, your example of professional development, or your strategies for student engagement— all of these and more could be a short book that just might help the movement towards more connected learners and more authentic learning closer to reality.

Besides, with all the information out there, as Steve Hargadon once said , “in order to cope, we must give a little bit of our own” [ITEC Keynote 10.18.11].

After years of innovating, modeling for others, and blogging, these authors are able to publish their experiences so we can all learn. The bloggers and authors are giving a “little bit of their own,” voicing their ideas, wonders, reflections, and successes, and I appreciate it.

Isn’t it wonderful that these opportunities are available to us- to hear the voice of others and add to our own– to read and to publish?

So, go forth, get reading and do your own writing.

PS: I am not a bot.

Image by mrsdkrebs

From Extend the Conversation

by Denise Krebs and Sheri Edwards

Connected Educator Month, 2012