The Power of Connections

“The positive shifts we have seen in education in the last few years are not because we have access to information; it is because we have access to each other”

George Couros

Connecting & Sharing.  Sharing & Connecting.

Our connections with one another have fueled some wonderful advances in our field – in that these connections have supported remarkable amounts of sharing.  

It is connecting & sharing, [not programs, technology, or initiatives], but sharing & connecting that make information, ideas, approaches, and tools meaningful.

Cycles of connecting and sharing with one another through the building of meaningful relationships with others, the leveraging of technology to share and develop ideas, and the creation of renewable learning experiences that give back to our field, are what make the Edu world ‘go round’ – and go forward.   


Working together in open spaces – connecting, collaborating, creating, reflecting, sharing, and repeating – supports our personal growth, holds us accountable for continuous improvement, accentuates our strengths, revitalizes and energizes our work, fuels our ideas, nurtures and develops relationships with one another, and gives back to our field. 

Connecting & sharing amplifies the great work  happening in the classrooms of excellent educators all over the world. 

Sharing & connecting provides fuel for one another’s learning cycles and, as a result, places emphasis on the elements of our profession that are most meaningful:  fostering and facilitating collaboration, promoting equity, making meaning, fueling passions, and inviting empowerment. 

Common Edu Over-Prescriptions

Some magical shifts are occurring in our field.  Transitions that are shifting the focus of our work from:freedom

Teacher to Learner
Product to Process
Compliance to Empowerment
Rigidity to Flexibility


When Habit Strikes

I’m struck tonight by @kalebrashad ‘s wisdom around the epidemic of “over-prescription” in our field (Check out his insight shared in #IMMOOC Season 4, Episode 4) and how our nature to control can stifle these important shifts described above.

Consider the ways we overcontrol and overprescribe learning opportunities for our staff and students – sometimes so much so that we actually contradict our very message around creativity, empowerment, flexibility, and innovation.

Common Edu Over-Prescriptions

  • Common Assessments |  Although designed with good intentions, common assessments imply that all learners should learn the same things, at the same pace, so they may be assessed in the same way, at the same time.  These commonalities (sometimes expected across classrooms and of all students) don’t allow space for diverse need or level of thought, and stamp out opportunity for student voice, self-assessment, and empowerment.
  • Writing & Reading |  What kids write and read is epically over-prescribed in our schools.  By consistently telling students what to write about, we slowly diminish their perception of their ability to generate their own creative ideas.  When we over-prescribe texts for students to read, we rob them of the opportunity to use reading as an avenue to chase their passions.  Each of these habits contradict the very point of asking students to read and write in the first place – so they become readers & writers – regardless of the content.
  • Lesson Planning |  The art of crafting a quality lesson plan is a part of nearly every teacher preparation program.  While it is true that we want our preservice teachers to  exemplify elements of great pedagogy that traditional lesson plans call for, we must consider how our immense focus on inputs might contradict our call for an innovative mindset that screams “follow your students’ lead” & “give students voice in what they want to learn”.
  • Daily Schedules |  Both teachers’ & students’ days are largely prescribed.  Our traditional schedules demand a certain number of minutes spent in prescribed activities each day, often arranged for us with the sounding of a bell.  Rigidity in our school days can contradict our efforts to empower staff and students on their own personalized learning journeys. (Listen to how @drchagala leveraged his schedule to captivate the hearts & minds of his teachers and students).

This anecdote shared by @katiemartinedu offers a good measuring stick for over-prescription:  Katie says that she knows her professional instruction has gone awry when educators in her professional learning sessions ask her completion oriented questions like “what would you like me to do?”  or “how do you want  _____to look?”  Staff and students looking to us for the recipe to their success is a sign that we may have inadvertently stifled their creativity & freedom.

Let’s help our own cause by committing to exploring ways to reduce over-prescription in our own organizations.  Doing so will help us better align our habits & practice with our commitment to creativity, passion, and innovation.


Actionable Ideas for Innovating Inside Our Box

” Be Vocal!  |  Take a Risk!  |  Be Creative!  |  Innovate!  |  Share with Others! “

Let’s be honest – Innovation in our schools can be… well… scary.  We are housed in a rather rigid system in which our work must operate – a defined system built largely on a foundation of standard expectations, inflexible rules, and deep deep tradition that is difficult to challenge.  These factors make it difficult, scary, and sometimes even risky to step outside the box.  The rules of school are so clearly defined and routinely practiced that reshaping those rules can seem difficult, foreign, or impossible.  Comparison to others, nerves, fear of failure, tradition, and a host of other factors can limit our willingness to break away from the norm.

Negativity Demands Attention . . .

It is easy to focus on constraints, obstacles, and challenges; in fact, it’s hard not to – they are right in front of us!  When something goes wrong, the unexpected happens, or things go south, our attention is demanded.  Let’s face it – it’s really hard to shift our attention away when difficult things happen (consider how hard it is to stop thinking about situations that cause you hurt, embarrassment, or sadness).  In contrast, innovation and creativity offer an invitation for our focus and attention – and are easier to set aside for another day; a day when our plates are a little more clear.

But, just as AJ Juliani & John Spencer suggest in Empower, as innovative educators, we must agree to “focus on the areas of our work in which we have control and influence”.  Let’s recognize that there are some things we won’t likely change in our school boxes (or at least not quickly), and let’s set those aside.  In exchange, let’s take @gcouros‘s advice and allocate our precious attentional resources on innovating WITHIN the box we are given.

 . . . But Innovation Ignites Empowerment

LearnerCenteredInnovationImage shared by @burgessdave

The amazing #IMMOOC crew has been sharing some inspiring ways in which we can all begin to innovate inside the confines of the boxes in which we operate.  These educators are operating within the confines and rigidity of ‘school’ to set sparks of creativity and innovation that empower those they serve.  So, when the confines of our boxes make it difficult to shout from the rooftops, let our actions speak for us.

Actionable Ways to Innovate Inside our Box

  • Required to Assign Homework?

Rethink the nature of homework assignments.  For instance, consider tasking students with serving others as their ‘work from home’.  Every night, each student must meet at least one need of another.  Ask students to document their act of service and report back to the class.

  • Must Use Traditional Grades?

Switch to a learning MINDSET in preparation for a time when the documentation of learning follows suit.  In other words, encourage reflection, revision & reiterations so much so that assigned ‘grades’ fade into the background.  Consider redesigning assessment processes as David Dutrow did, to include learners as integral players.


  • Little Time for Collaboration?

Open your door to your colleagues! As Jennifer Gonzalez reminds us in her still relevant 2013 post:  Open Your Door: Why We Need To See Each Other Teach, the benefits of watching one another succeed, fail, & risk take are immeasurable.  No need to wait for official peer observation to be scheduled either – Spend 15 minutes of one prep period a week working in the back of a colleague’s classroom and spread the word that your classroom is an open door as well!

  • Social Media Restrictions?

A student of mine, came up with a wonderful idea that might help connect students’ lives outside of school (and might help overcome some restrictions on social media use).  Instead of creating a traditional classroom social media account run by students, invite families to contribute to a class instagram account where parents, guardians, and students can share experiences that happen outside of school.  Use the images to help students make connections between the learning experiences they experience in and out of the classroom.

  • Little Funding for Flexible Seating Options?

As @TopDogTeaching would tell you, flexible seating is about a flexible mindset – a mindset than can be adopted with or without fancy furniture to support it.  Help students self assess their productivity, creativity, and effectiveness in various learning situations and support them in beginning to advocate for the learning environments they need to be most successful in each scenario.  Although alternative furniture might support this thinking, providing students choice in simply sitting or laying on the floor, standing, collaborating, and/or working independently is a great start.

  • Schedule Won’t Allow for 20% Time?

With or without a dedicated 20% time, innovative teachers are beginning to weave student choice and voice into their regular (and often required) routines.  Check out how @MrsJankord uses her required guided reading groups to provide a consistent time of choice for her students.  What other parts of our prescribed school days could we build in consistent student choice?



  • No Funding for a New Playground?

Ask students what it is that would help spur their creativity while at recess.  Consider using this dedicated time to spark students’ passions through community, service, or collaborative projects.  Check out how @KLHouston3 is overcoming obstacles to provide creative space for her students.


  • Mundane PD Sessions?

Take charge of your own PD, or suggest an EdCamp for your school’s next inservice day like @SteinbrinkLaura did!




Let Our Actions Be Our Anthem

These IMMOCers inspire me to tear my focus away from the obstacles, challenges, and negativity present in my ‘box’, and to instead, center my attention on what I have the power to control.  Let’s let our innovative actions shout our anthem from the rooftops!


Learners > Students

My daughter is a great student.  She arrives on time, is prepared for class, follows all the school rules (even the ones she hates like “no dropping off your school books in your locker before lunch”), and works well with her peers.  She is quiet in the halls, raises her hand to speak, and returns her homework on time.  Her teachers regularly comment on her positive behavior and attentiveness.  In some ways – all of this makes me proud.  It’s true that some of the traits my husband and I hope to foster in our kids (timeliness, reliability, honoring commitment, and kindness & respect) center around some of the skills targeted in school rules- and for this reason, I’m happy that she is a good student.

I’m always struck, though, at the disconnect between what our schools expect of students’ behaviors and the conditions that truly support learning.  While my daughter is an excellent student (with the grades to prove it), she actually has much growing to do as a learner.  Thinking deeply, finding and solving open ended problems, making connections across contents, applying thoughts to novel scenarios, and thinking creatively are all areas that create stumbling blocks for her – struggles that are masked in her ability to play the game of school quite well.

My daughter’s experience reminds me that optimal conditions for innovation & learning are not fostered through conformity.  In fact, as @gcouros often reminds us, conformity can actually do quite the opposite.


Image from

Sometimes schools fall back on compliance, rules, and conformity in the name of ‘preparing students for the real world’ – for the responsibilities that will come when they leave our classrooms.  While it’s true that our society does have rules and deadlines,  Dr. Justin Tarte thoughtfully reminds us that “responsibility and accountability could never be taught through a gradebook” and that as educators, we need to discern what we are truly assessing/fostering through grades and rules.



I do believe that schools are recognizing this disconnect and are working hard to focus less on rewarding ‘school-like behaviors’ in their students in exchange for a focus on the conditions and opportunities that allow learners to emerge.

One significant step we can take in this process is to embrace the notion of personalization and individualization that true learning necessitates.  Fostering an environment conducive of innovation, creativity, and learning requires a degree of customization that blanket rules can’t provide.  As educators, we must create systems that allow for flexibility and individualization in our approach to developing learners – something that Proactive Coaching says cannot be achieved through rules.  Bruce Brown, founder of Proactive Coaching, notes that rules create rigid boundaries that tend to box coaches (and educators) into a corner and leave little room for discretion.   Exchanging rigid rules for high standards (especially when set by someone students have developed a positive, authentic relationship with) though, allows educators the freedom to look at each situation differently; to customize and personalize their responses based on what each student needs, and most importantly, “provides students a chance for growth” that rules can’t provide.

Box students in


Together, let’s commit to valuing:

Standards over rules.

Creativity over conformity.

Learners over students.