Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Risk Taking is the Way Forward: What will your #sdwrisk be?

Photo courtesy of Allen Spears - Creative Commons Licensed

Educators are being asked to take on a lot today when it comes to improving instructional practice and educational outcomes.  Whether it be increasing student engagement, embracing new tools and concepts for instructing students (or having students create and demonstrate knowledge), re-thinking educational spaces, or a long list of other topics that impact our work with students, the reality is that it can feel overwhelming.

However, in synthesizing the larger message of these changes in practice, there is one clear theme that surfaces.  Change is evident and inescapable.  A hyper-connected world is a world that is dynamically changing.  If an educator's primary responsibility is readying students for the life that they will one day face, we must prepare them to ready for a life of ongoing change.

It's an understandable feeling to just want to throw up your hands in surrender to the overwhelming overflow of change (especially in education).  For the good of our students, we can't give up that easily.  There is hope, and it comes neatly packaged in a simple idea - "risk taking."

Why is risk taking so important?

The act of willingly taking risks is the life line that makes dealing with change palatable, manageable, and survivable.  Risk taking, by its very nature, provides a platform on which we can identify our challenges, develop a plan for tackling those challenges, and then safely implement our plan without feeling the pressure to be immediately successful.

In taking a risk, we agree to try something new without fear of failure -- risks, by their very definition, embody some chance at failure.  The universal understanding of what a risk is (implying that failure may happen) provides us with a safety net to try something new.  

It is the act of trying something new, though, that is the key element. When change happens, it often requires a different response than previously offered/attempted.  The feeling of being overwhelmed by change is usually in direct response to our inability to attempt a new response; we are committed to the way we've always done things and struggle to see a different way to respond. When we take a risk, we commit to trying something new.  We accept that it may or may not be a successful attempt, but we are willing to forego the way we once did things to attempt a new way of doing things.  In doing so, we begin on our journey forward to both address and deal with change.

Taking a risk

Put simply, a risk is any change you elect to make (and actively engage in) that stretches you beyond your comfort zone.  Risks are not determined by the overall magnitude of the change or the size of the impact it has. Personal changes that impact one person are valuable risks, just as are risks that change an entire organization impacting thousands of people.  In the end, a risk's magnitude and sphere of influence is not the determining factor if it is a risk or not -- it is if the risk taken stretches the person, organization, or society  beyond an existing level of comfort.

Steps in the Risk Taking Process

  1. The first step to taking a risk is acknowledging personal/organizational anxiety over a change that has happened which requires a different response.  
  2. The second step is developing an actionable plan that provides an adequate response to that change.  
  3. The third step is determining what success and failure might look like and accepting the consequences for both.  
  4. Finally, the fourth step is taking action -- going for it by taking the risk.

Remember that every person has his/her own aversion to risk.  Some individuals are comfortable with risks that may seem monumental to others.  Others may feel that even slight changes are a big risk.  However, both are valuable and noteworthy, as both are progressive steps forward to address and deal with the realities of change. Your personal aversion to risk is a personal matter that you must grapple with and understand as a part of the risk taking process.

Sharing your risk

Witnessing risk taking is both humbling and inspiring.  Knowing that an individual has literally taken a chance, put a part of themselves out there -- this is exactly the kind of action that can encourage others to take their own risk.  In a hyper-connected world we can easily share our risks with others in ways that were never before possible.  The use of social media is one avenue for this.

Understandably, for many of us the risk we take might simply be putting ideas out there for others see.  We encourage you to think about the act of publicly sharing your risk with others as a way of building a network with others -- a network that just might be able to offer support, insight, or perspective based upon their experiences.

In our district, we are encouraging more educators to take risks and to share them out with the world!  Through the use of a common code that is easily searchable, also called a hashtag, regardless of what social media network you choose to share in your risk can be identified.  For the School District of Waukesha's "Take a Risk" campaign, we are going to use the following hashtag:


Whether you use Google + (our district sponsored social media resource for educators), or Twitter, we would love for you to share your Edu Risks with our community, both to mark and celebrate your personal risks in addressing the challenges of constant change, and also to inspire others to take those first steps forward -- steps that mark the cultural shift our organization is making to embrace and respond to a world of constant change.

Monday, November 18, 2013

App Launcher Customizer for Chrome Browser

The 3x3 grid icon (middle) is Google's,
App Launcher.  It replaces the black bar
previously utilized to jump between apps.
Since the disappearance of that beloved Black Bar in Google, a number of teachers have called and emailed asking if there is any way to customize Google's replacement tool named the "App Launcher."

Sunday night (through a recommendation on Twitter) I found a cool little Chrome app that allows me to customize the App Launcher.

It is called the App Launcher Customizer for Google.  While the name could be just a bit more creative, its functionality serves its name proudly!  It does exactly what you would think it should -- customize the Google App Launcher.  Of course, you have to be using the Chrome browser to utilize the app, but a quick install and you'll be off and running.

Once installed, you really can customize the Launcher to suit your needs.


Here is an image of the typical 3x3 App Launcher Google provides.


Here is my updated App Launcher using the App Launcher Customizer for Google app (again, only works in Chrome).

Notice that I have additional non-Google links
available.  Also, notice that it breaks the 3x3 grid model.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Copy and Paste Long Lists Easily Into Google Forms

Building a Google Form?  Have long lists of names, options, or emails you want to include as options in a drop-down menu or to choose from a list?

The new version of Google Forms makes this easier to do!  If that list is available in a  Google Spreadsheet (or even Doc format where they are separated onto their own lines), you can copy and paste easily into your Google Form.

This video demonstrates how:
This is a great tip shared with us by Lee Hansen.  Thanks, Lee!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Google Midwest Summit 2013 - Already Reaping Benefits

We were fortunate to send a team of 30 educators from across Waukesha to the Google Midwest Summit 2013.  This talented group, made up of educators and coordinators from across the district, was nominated  by building administrators to make the trip.

As always, aside from finding inspiration and adding some new tools to our bag of tricks, the focus is about bringing the message and learning of the power of these tools back to our colleagues and students in Waukesha.  We are so pleased to see this happening already, and we wanted to highlight the headway these attendees have made in the week that they have been back since the conference took place.

  • Using the YouTube editor, one attendee was able to capture a magical moment as one of our students with unique challenges at the elementary level demonstrated incredible growth since her teachers began working with her in fall.  Through the use of the YouTube editor (learned about at the conference), the teacher was able to pinpoint key moments during the student's performance that highlighted each learning target (something that could easily be overlooked without the context)
  • Inspired by the wealth of digital tools that are available and the necessity to simply put the information learned at the conference to use, one teacher/attendee is making a commitment to attempting the use of Blackboard in several classes as a means of getting started.  This is a risk that the teacher has embraced because of inspiration gained from networking with other motivated educators at the Summit.
  • One teacher/attendee has already set up the first Google Hangout (utilizing Google+) to connect with colleagues across the district without having to schedule an after school meeting and spend time driving across town.  The goal is to gain greater efficiency while staying connected.
  • Using the Google+ social network, one attendee has set up a Google+ community at his school and is actively recruiting teachers in the building to join in order to have a common sharing/social place in which to share ideas, articles, resources, etc.  As educators feel the constraints and demands of time, the use of a community like this maintains our connection with others, develops a platform in which we can share and collaboratively learn/reflect, and does so in a way that is asynchronous, meaning it is accessible to teachers when they are ready to digest the information available there.
  • Several attendees are actively talking about how to share their gained knowledge at upcoming professional development dates to spread the wealth of inspiration and information to a much wider group of colleagues.
This in no way captures all of the momentum sparked by sending attendees to this and other conferences, but it gives us perspective on what becomes possible when people are inspired with new ideas and introduced to powerful tools!  Remember, it has been literally less than a week since these folks have returned to the district.

We encourage you to connect with the representative from your building to pick their brain, hear more about the conference, and get inspired.  However, they are not the only source of knowledge.

Resources for the entire conference, for nearly every session presented, are available here:  https://sites.google.com/site/gapsmidwestsummit/2013-ses
Midwest Google Summit
We encourage you to take a look and dig in.  These resources are a generous gift provided by the conference presenters to any instructor who may have wished to attend the Summit but were unable to.