Keepin It Real: A Review

 

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Lisa Donohue compares educators to that of Christopher Columbus, the explorer that used the tools at hand to navigate unchartered territory. According to Donohue, “our youngsters are the ones who will define the worlds to come, and our role is to equip them as well as possible for the unknown future.” Are we preparing our students, who like Columbus, are entering unchartered territories, or are we providing our students with learning environments that are best suited for us?

It is hard to deny that technology plays a greater role in both our personal and professional lives. Despite this increasing reliance on technology, and a global dialogue about technology enabled learning and teaching, how many educators truly embrace technology in their classroom as a means of supporting current, sound pedagogical practice? Let’s be honest, how many technology enabled learning opportunities have been missed because of an educator’s unwillingness to embrace change and take learning risks in an ongoing effort to support student learning?

 

 What does your classroom practice look like?

 

“…teaching is the only profession where we have the same responsibilities on our first day as on our last. It’s the way in which we carry out these responsibilities that define our career.  If we’re doing the same thing we did 20 years ago , then we have failed not only ourselves , but our students to.”-Arthur Birenaum.

Keepin It Real, provides 21st century classroom opportunities that any educator can implement that support the skills we need to empower our students to be successful, engaged individuals outside of our schools.

The author focuses on the “new literacies” needed to be successful in our changing world:

  • Reading Literacies
  • Writing Literacies
  • Media Literacies
  • Digital Literacies
  • Social Literacies
  • Critical Literacies

 

These are vitally important skills to be able to interpret the world we live in. As educators, we need to adapt to the rapid changes in order to help our students safely navigate the online world in which they learn, play and work in.

At the recent  technology enabled learning and leading conference #TELL2016, the message was clear, we can no longer afford to wait for all educators to become “comfortable” with technology before engaging our students.

 

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Trying to “get on board” with technology in the classroom can seem like trying to jump onto a fast moving train that just won’t slow down! It may seem like you will never “know it all” or “well enough” to introduce it to your students, but that is is the benefit of integrating technology into the classroom! Our students are so open to learning and sharing alongside you and they don’t expect you to know it all. In fact, they love to show you what they know! Integrating technology into your classroom also allows you to model lifelong learning, co-learning and risk taking-valuable skills for our students!

As Donohue explained

“When I began my teaching career many years ago, I stood at the door  of my classroom every morning, welcoming my students into my room. It seems that now I stand at my classroom door and, instead of inviting them in, I invite them to look out, beyond our walls, beyond our community and into the world.”

-Lisa Donohue, Keepin It Real, 79

Keepin It Real is a great resource to get started on transforming your teaching practice by integrating technology.It explains how the “new literacies” are a means of supporting the “old literacies” (reading, writing, speaking, listening) while engaging students with 21st-century learning opportunities. Each chapter provides relevant, easy to use examples of how educators have integrated technology into their lessons and Donohue provides student feedback from each of the tasks.

If, as educators, we want to do what is best for our students, we need to prepare them for a world that is highly connected and digitalized. If we remain in our comfort zones, we support student learning that allows them to remain successful in our world, not theirs.


“The primary aim of education is not to enable students to do well in school, but to do well in the lives they lead outside of school.”

                                                                                                             -Elliot W. Eisner

A Review: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

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I just finished reading The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom (@mitchalbom).

As with all his novels, Albom weaves his lesson adeptly throughout the characters, especially that of Frankie Presto and his musical gift. Uniquely narrated by music, the narrator provides us through Frankie, many opportunities to understand the many gifts we each posses and the role that these gifts have in shaping our lives.

The message that resonated with me is that we all, at different points in our lives, join a band. Our band members may change and our musical tastes may change, but in the end we all play to our own music and the various band members we play with help create our sound.

“Everyone joins a band in this life. And what you play always affects someone. Sometimes, it affects the world.”-Mitch Albom

Whether playing a solo piece or a rambunctious melody, the lesson that was evident throughout was that we never truly understand the impact that people have on our lives nor do we truly understand the impact that we have on others. Our relationships need to be sacred and we need to be cognizant of the potential impact we have on others. We may not be fully aware that we are members of someone else’s band, but we need to be aware that as we navigate life, we support, intentionally or not, the music of others.

“You cannot unplay your notes. Time, like music, is indelible that way.” -Mitch Albom

Although I enjoyed the message about how our lives are so interconnected with others, I have yet to read a Mitch Albom novel that has impacted me the way that Tuesdays with Morrie did. Tuesdays with Morrie captured my heart and set the bar high for any of Albom’s subsequent efforts!

 

The Innovators Mindset-Blog Hop #4

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In my position as the Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching Contact for my Board, I am often tasked with generating data and completing reports that document results on the impact that innovative teaching practice is having on our teaching practice and that of students’ learning. It is a difficult position to be in because innovation, as we have discussed throughout the book study, means different things to different people. What is innovative for one educator may be common practice for another.  Can the impact of innovative practice be measured quantitatively?

Innovative practice takes risk, time and reflection to implement effectively. I often feel that the goal of measuring innovation is counter-intuitive to innovation itself.

As an educator, I do understand the value of measurement. Our data tells our story.By measuring our efforts we can inform our future direction. However, for educators to feel supported and encouraged to take risks, in the school and in individual classrooms, I think the idea of meeting measurable outcomes while creating innovative learning environments is difficult to balance. Being accountable to standardized reporting formats is stressful for educators and relinquishing control over student learning in an attempt to create student centred learning is intimidating in systems of increasing accountability. I think that the strongest indicators of measuring the impact of innovation on our practice and student learning lies in the conversations that occur both inside and outside the classroom.

When these all important conversations are occurring the results are immeasurable. The impact of these conversations go far beyond the single classroom and help build energy,momentum and the capacity to “innovate within the box” . I can create reports, and charts but the most empowering signs of how innovation is impacting practice in education comes from the emails and conversations I am grateful to have with all educators in my Board. Conversations that are open, honest and based around what is best for our students give us the greatest insight into innovative practices. If you are not hearing these conversations, or you are not a part of them, then no amount amount of measurable, quantitative data will allow you to truly measure the impact of innovation in our classrooms. Listening and contributing to the journeys of innovative educators is the most powerful part of the process!

Listen-the conversations are all around and if they are not- spark a conversation with a simple, ”What if?…”

 

 

A Review: The Illegal

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The Illegal, by Canadian author, Lawrence Hill is another opportunity to get to learn new Hill characters such as Keita Ali, Lulu, and Mrs. Ivernia Beech ( a tea drinking, cookie eating, fiercely independent senior citizen). Lawrence uses his writing skills to weave a robust cast of characters against the fictional lands of Freedom State and Zantoroland.

Keita Ali grew up wanting to be a winning, marathon runner. He trained and aspired against the backdrop of his homeland, Zantoroland, but due to the increasingly dangerous political circumstances of his homeland, he becomes a runner in Freedom State. Running becomes a metaphor for something much more than the physical act. Keita Ali runs from his homeland, and his old life and he runs towards a future as a man with a documented identity. He no longer experiences the joy of running. He runs for his freedom, and for his life and that of his sister. Set against the frightening existence of undocumented people fighting to survive while struggling to balance an undocumented existence while clinging to their identity is all too real in today’s world.

Although a fictional novel, The Illegal is a timely read as we witness  in the news the struggles of people who flee political and economic situations that none of us can truly understand.The news is filled with stories of people fleeing their homeland in search of a better life and that of those who have already fled but exist in the shadows due to their illegal status. It is in these shadows that Keita Ali exists and runs to survive.

The ending wraps up the conflicts that are so strongly developed throughout the book a little too tidily, but the book and its characters capture the reader and make the book an enjoyable read.

Click here to hear a recent interview of Lawrence Hill by the CBC’s The Next Chapter by Shelagh Rogers (@RogersShelagh).

Innovator’s Mindset Blog Hop-“What if…”

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What If….?

Imagine for a moment that you could implement innovative practice in your school or classroom. Don’t think about the policies. Don’t think about past practices and the way “things have always been done.” Don’t think about finances. Don’t think about the naysayers. Dream big. Aim for moonshot thinking. Allow yourself to imagine. Start with “What if…”.

George Couros posed a series of  the “what if” questions in his book, The Innovator’s Mindset. The question that resonated with me was, “what if schools operated as if we should all be learners as opposed to students being the only learners?”

My professional world was opened up to me through fabulous mentors and my PLN. Being a connected educator has been transformative in my practice. It wasn’t always this way. I taught my students in the best way that I knew-the exact same way that I had attended school as a student and in the way that I saw teaching being done around me. Change? Change is hard, I get that, but it is necessary. To accept that we can continue creating learning environments that do not engage our students with curriculum and 21st Century Competencies because we see no need to change is doing a huge disservice to our students and to our profession. What if we all had a learner stance and took the time to reflect upon our current practice, open our classroom doors to connect with educators inside and outside our buildings and most importantly, listen? What if taking risks, and participating and modelling life-long learning was valued by all?

“What if…” two simple words but when used together can be the catalyst for change. If we frame our thinking around what is best for all our learners and ask that simple question the possibilities are endless!

What if your decisions were based on courage rather than fear?

What if there was enough time and support to do everything you wanted to do?

What if everyone saw the possibilities instead of the obstacles?

What if we could achieve a healthy life-work balance?

What if everyone made decisions based on what is best for the learner?

What if everyone took the time to share their effective practices and learn from one another?

What if everyone listened-to each other and the learners we serve?

What are your “What Ifs?”

Check out these bloggers and their “What Ifs”

Jennifer Casa-Todd

Patrick Miller

Tina Zita

Mark Carbone

Donna Fry

All #InnovatorsMindset blogs for question #3 can be found here.

 

A Review: Shifting the Monkey by Todd Whitaker

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I was excited to read Shifting the Monkey: The Art of Protecting Good People from Liars, Criers and Other Slackers by Todd Whitaker  (@toddwhitkaer) because I was curious about my role in the “monkey business” and how this was impacting me and everyone I serve.

Whitaker identifies monkeys as challenges, obligations,and problems that pop up in our jobs on a daily basis (p.3), but most importantly he identifies our role in shifting those monkeys back to where they belong: quickly, efficiently and without guilt.

I admit it. I feed the monkeys. In all aspects of my life I feed the monkeys. Initially I think some level of feeding the monkey is necessary but to continue to feed the monkeys does not serve anyone well.

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Do you feed the monkeys?

  • Have you ever taken on additional responsibilities because you viewed handling all conflicts and crises to be part of your leadership role?
  • Have you ever taken on additional responsibilities because it is faster to do it on your own?
  • Have you ever enabled your good colleagues to take on additional responsibilities because you know they are capable of shouldering many monkeys?

If you have answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then you have been unable/unwilling to shift the monkey back to its rightful owner. You feed the monkeys.Todd Whitaker’s book very simply gives those in positions of leadership key tips on how to shift the monkeys, to grow as a leader and protect our fellow colleagues with whom me serve.

Todd’s message is based on three key principles:

  • Treat everyone well.
  • Make decisions based on your best people
  • Protect your good people first.

(Whitaker, Todd. Shifting the Monkey. 28)

Monkeys come in many shapes and sizes. It is natural for many leaders, especially me, to make the mistake of taking on monkeys, thinking that they are helping others. Placing the monkey back where it belongs does not make one a weak leader, nor does it make them unaccountable. In fact, strong leadership effectively and efficiently shifts the monkey back it where belongs and allows leaders to move forward with bigger goals while protecting and supporting colleagues who make every attempt to support the goals of the organization. Most importantly, by recognizing the monkeys and putting them squarely back where they belong, you are modeling accountability. As someone whose natural tendency is to feed the monkeys, this is much easier said than done!  BUT it is vital to an organization that our best employees, as well as ourselves, are protected from taking on these monkeys!

I highly recommend Shifting the Monkey for anyone. Monkeys can creep up on us at anytime, in any aspect of our lives. The people who like to shift the monkeys onto us won’t change so it is up to us to take control and shift the monkeys back where they belong so that we can be the best leaders and people we can be. I am learning nobody benefits from us taking on someone else’s monkey. True leadership means taking control of the monkeys.

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Click here for my visible learning on Shifting the Monkey by Todd Whitaker.

 

 

If I Could Design a School….

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If I could design a school today I would want a school that provided rooms that allowed students to learn in a manner that best suited their physical needs.  I would want the physical rooms to be awash in as much natural sunlight as possible and opportunities to take the learning outdoors as often as possible. Seating situations would maximize collaborative learning opportunities. I would also like to see classrooms that provide physical supports for promoting healthy, engaged students.For example, I would like to see traditional desks swapped with standing desks that adjust to both a seated and standing position. As an adult, how often do you enjoy sitting all day long? 

A classroom in my ideal school is clearly student centred with the teacher having many opportunities to be a co-learner and this would be reflected in the fact that the teacher’s desk would not be front and centre with all student desks aligned and facing the teacher for his/her delivery of information.

All rooms in the school would support technology enabled learning. A variety of devices would be available for all students to access, record, share and demonstrate their learning. When adults attend conferences they are often plugged into more than one device. How can we expect one device to meet the needs of all our learning opportunities?

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These multiple devices would be readily available within each and every classroom. Technology would be embedded throughout the day and seamlessly integrated into the most effective teaching and learning practices. Technology will be the expectation and not an event. Students would not make their way to computer labs and libraries for regulated tech use.

From the classroom, to the learning commons, to the lunchroom, students and staff would have access to WIFI that would support the use of multiple devices. Bandwidth would not be an issue. There would be no such thing as a “Dead Zone”.  Tech enabled learning would no longer be defined by the traditional classroom walls. It will happen anywhere, anytime. We know that the Internet has changed the way we learn. We are no longer dependent upon educators to provide the facts. Nor are we dependent on framing our learning between schools hours and class periods. Learning happens anywhere, across a variety of platforms and throughout the day and evening.  Students need access to a variety of tools and strong bandwidth to ensure the learning is uninterrupted. IT would have the resources to support this school and work in conjunction to support what is best for the learners.

In an ideal school there would be continual opportunities for collaboration with fellow learners both within the walls of the school and within the virtual classroom. All learners would be be provided with time to co-learn. Most importantly time would be provided for reflections because that vital step in the learning process is often the most overlooked.

My school would not only take care of the physical and technical needs of my students, but I would also provide students with the mental health supports that they need to feel safe and secure. Counsellors, medical professionals and spaces designed to support mental health would be key to taking care of the entire student-not just the education part.

The joy in learning, whether it be in the gym as part of team, in the student lounge as part of a club or in a workshop as part of an extra-curricular learning workshop, would be front and centre. There would space, time and money for all members of the school community to work together, learn together and showcase the learning. My school would be connected to its school community. Partnerships and relationships would be empowered with the transparency of the school and the learning and joy occurring there.

The physical structure aside, I would like a school community that supports the learning of ALL its learners. I would like ALL learners to exhibit growth mindset, collaboration, and technology enabled learning skills. I envision a school community that is connected and supportive and working together to enhance the learning occurring in the building while connecting with other learners from across the globe to enhance the learning and collaborative expereince. No matter how well designed it is, and how much WIFI is in place, learners without a growth mindset and a passion to do what is best for learning (for themselves and others) will never benefit from the most well-designed school. The physical space supports our learners but ultimately it is the learners, ALL the learners, that will have the most profound impact on each other and the learning in the building.

Please check out Paul McGuire’s post as part of the #InnovatorsMindset Blog Hop!

Please check out Leigh Cassell’s post as part of the #InnovatorsMindset Blog Hop!

Please check out Donna Fry’s post as part of the #InnovatorsMindset Blog Hop!

 

Using Social Media for Student Learning

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This blog post has been in my head for a while, but it is one that is worth writing down (finally) because of the impact it can have on student learning. If you are an educator who is hesitant about utilizing social media in the classroom I hope that my recent experience with Holy Angels School (@HAS) will change your mind.

Holy Angles School tweeted about their upcoming #familyliteracyday #HASReads activities.

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My nephews attend #HAS and I was excited to know that I could follow their learning on Family Literacy Day. I would not be able to attend the literacy activities, but I could still be involved in their learning.

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Thanx to the trusting principal, Kim Figliomeni (@kfilane), all educators at HAS have access to the school twitter account and so I was able to learn that Liam really enjoyed Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (@Gary_Paulsen123). 

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Being an avid reader, I was excited to discuss Liam’s ideas about the book. To start the conversation, I asked Liam what he did for Family Literacy Day and he said “nothing, we played hockey”. I asked his brother what he read for that day, and he replied “nothing, I just drew.” If my nephew’s school and their teachers had not taken the time to share their learning via Twitter, our conversation about reading might have ended there, but the teachers did share and I was able to dig a little deeper. Soon Liam was telling me, in detail, all about the book and why he liked it so much. Not only did Liam provide all the specific details about the book, he also made connections to his family’s time at their camp. Not to be outdone, Blake also described in detail the book he liked and had drawn a picture for.

It was through the power of social media that I was able to have engaging conversations with my nephews who initially had “not done anything” for family literacy day!

As my nephews get older, it seems that unless the conversation is about hockey or video games (not my strongest points!) we have fewer things that we can relate to. As a reader, and as an aunt, I greatly appreciated the ability to have some insight into Liam and Blake’s learning and reading interests.

If you are not using social media to connect your school or classroom community, please reconsider. The connected opportunities between your students and their families empower everyone to take an active, engaged role in the learning, curiosity and wonder that is occurring in your classroom/school. Imagine how the conversations can support the learning if our parents/guardians know what their son/daughter is doing throughout the day.  With all the tools available to connect our students and empower our entire school communities can we still keep all the awesome experiences behind our walls?

Below are a few awesome Superior-Greenstone District School Board (@SGDSBoard) educators who model connected learning.

@MsEsClass

@ColleenKR

@MrsMcMahon678

@msevoynakinapub

@LakeSuperiorHS

@MarjorieMillsPS

 

 

What Does Innovation Mean to Me?

This post is in response to the question posed for The Innovator’s Mindset book study that is occurring this month. It is yet another step in my learning as this blog post is part of a “blog hop” and I would like to thank Tina Zita for opening me up to this opportunity!

What Does Innovation Mean to Me?

Being innovative means granting oneself permission.

Give yourself permission to take risks. Give yourself permission to go beyond your comfort zone and challenge your actions but most importantly challenge they way that you always do things. This may cause some discomfort and may lead to some missteps but remember learning is messy! Think back to the events in your life where you took away the greatest lessons. I would bet there was an element of risk involved!

Give yourself permission to fail. Yes, I said fail. Taking risks is required for innovation, but like in life there are no guarantees. For many educators who are accountable tn so many ways, not being successful with all learning opportunities would seem foolhardy if not irresponsible! I would suggest that trying something new alongside your tried and true best practices will yield much more learning than you have ever experienced.Innovative educators try new things without a guaranteed outcome. The risks that they take are worth the potential powerful learning outcomes of their students.

Give yourself permission to go for it! There will never be a better time than right now. Your ducks will never be in a row. The reports and meetings will never go away and your personal obligations will never go away. Waiting for a better time to delve in, to learn how to incorporate technology into your classroom, or learning how shift the learning culture from that of a teacher centred classroom to a student centred classroom will never happen. There will never be a better time than right now to try innovative ideas. And if we are really being truthful with ourselves is it really fair to the learners we have right now to wait any longer?

Give yourself permission to take time to reflect. It is only in reflecting on our past that we can move forward. With the hectic schedules that we have, taking time to just stop and reflect seems to be something that is more often than not viewed as a luxury rather than as a part of our learning.  Upon reflection we can direct our energies and our reflections can be catalysts for amazing opportunities!

Give yourself permission to release yourself from the expectation that you need to know it all, for everyone, all of the time. Today’s immediate access to information releases educators from that responsibility. Now we are free to look at the bigger ideas and innovate to connect to deeper learning. Give yourself permission to admit that although you are an educator you don’t have all the answers all of the time! Connect with other educators who are doing innovative things in their practice. Connect with experts and bring their skills into your classroom. Become the learner alongside the other learners and model the curiosity that will lead to innovation we want our students to demonstrate.

Being innovative is an unique experience for all involved but it cannot occur without having the freedom to try new things, to practice resiliency in the face of challenges and to model curiosity and reflection. Give yourself the permission to be the learner you want to see in your students!

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Hop on over to one of these great posts to check out their ideas of “What does innovation mean to me?”

2/2/2016 14:39:52Amit Mehrotrahttp://mramitmehrotra.blogspot.ca/

2/2/2016 15:43:38Peterhttps://mrcshareseaseblog.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/innovation-less-talk-more-action/

2/2/2016 16:11:42Stacey Wallwinhttps://swallwin.wordpress.com/

2/2/2016 18:14:12Jennifer Casa-Toddhttp://jcasatodd.com/?p=1078

2/2/2016 18:18:21Paul McGuirehttps://paulmcguire1.wordpress.com/2015/12/02/what-innovation-is-and-isnt-george-couros/

2/2/2016 19:50:42Tina Zitahttps://misszita.wordpress.com/2016/02/03/what-does-innovation-mean-to-me/

2/2/2016 19:53:13Donna Miller Fryhttp://blog.donnamillerfry.com/2016/02/02/what-does-innovation-mean-to-me-bloghop-for-innovatorsmindset/

2/2/2016 19:58:51Patrick Miller

 

A Review: The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros

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I was excited to pick up The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros (@gcouros) for two reasons. 1) As an educator I have heard the use of the word #innovation more and more and as a Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching Contact I feel it is my job to support innovation in our classrooms. 2) I also wanted to read the book because I have had the opportunity to meet and listen to George on several occasions and his message  always resonated with me.

Full disclosure. The idea of having an “Innovator’s Mindset” and being “innovative” scared me. I have the opportunity to work with some wickedly smart, wildly creative and truly innovative people and I can admit that I am none of those.  As someone who moves from one post-it note to do list to the other being innovative seemed like something I could never achieve.  I don’t have the creativity or personal space to be innovative so how I could I model it? I could only help and support others in their innovative ideas. Then I read this book and it spoke to the heart of who I am as a person and as an educator and so maybe, just maybe, I can be innovative in my own way.

It turns out my definition of being innovative had been wrong. My ah-ha moment:

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“Having empathy for those we serve” (Couros 38)…..what a powerful way to frame the thinking of having an innovator’s mindset. By meeting the unique needs of all our learners we are, each in our own way, being innovative. My mindset immediately flipped.

Being innovative is much more than using the latest technology to create learning opportunities that have never been created before. It is about empowering our learners, meeting their unique needs, accessing the tools available to us and developing relationships. It is about modeling the learning we want to see.  By getting to really know our learners, we get to know ourselves as educators. To be truly innovative is to truly know our learners and in the end it is all about the learner.

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George’s strengths as an author are much the same as his keynote ability: he can relate to people. He has a special talent for connecting with his audience on both a personal and professional level. Whether he is sharing stories of his family, his classroom and leadership experience or the innovative stories of his colleagues the result is the same; he connects to his audience and ignites within them the spark to empower themselves and others.

If you are in a position of leadership, if you are in a position to change the culture of your organization or you are an educator who simply wants to provide the best learning opportunities for your students, I highly recommend this book.

Click here for my learning while reading the The Innovator’s Mindset.

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If you wish to be a part of The Innovator’s Mindset book study, educators from across the globe will be participating in a four week long discussion regarding innovation in education.

To join  the book study click here. Hope to “see” you there!

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