From Oral History to Digital Narrative

In early March of 2015 I was spending a lot of time thinking about the importance of institutional memory as it pertains to the field of education. I was in my first year in a new school leadership role and was struggling to understand the context for past institutional decisions that were presenting me with challenges. As I began to read about the subject, I put together the bones of a presentation in the form of a session description for the EARCOS Leadership Conference 2016. My description was selected and I began working on fleshing out the concept. Here is the final product.

EARCOS Session Description - All international schools have stories to tell - stories that are both enriched and complicated by the transience of each school's population. As schools grow and change, holding on to individual contributions is crucial to understanding the present, appreciating the past, and being able to move productively into the future. Imagine if, as a new administrator, you could quickly pull up a digital timeline outlining the origins, evolution, and future goals of any project, program, or initiative. Learn how to utilize technology to shift from documenting via a fleeting oral history to establishing a more permanent digital narrative.

Biography - Good Morning/Afternoon - my name is Daniel Kilback and I am the Director of Technology at Korea International School. I have been teaching since the Spring of 1996 and have taught Kindergarten, Grade 5, and 7-12 Humanities and Technology. Korea International School is my third overseas post - in 2000 I participated in a teacher exchange with my local school division and National Taiwan University where I taught first year English classes and moonlighted as an ESL teacher in a Kindergarten close to NTU. After returning home to Canada for 4 years I moved abroad again in the fall of 2006 taking a post at the American School of Kuwait - I was there for 9 years and served as their Tech Director for 5, as High School AP for 2, and as their Innovation & Communications Director during my last year in the Middle East. I transitioned to KIS in the fall of 2015 and am currently in my second year in Seoul. This is my second year attending EARCOS and I am pleased and proud to be here with you today.

Background - This is my 21st year in Education and my 10th year in school leadership. I’ve worked in 3 overseas schools, 4 schools in my hometown, at the Elementary, Middle, High School, and university levels. I’ve worked with countless administrators and like many of you I have served on a variety of committees and been involved with more pilot projects and school-based initiatives than I can remember. I’m now at the point where I am beginning to see initiatives and educational perspectives from early in my career come around for a second time - ideas once thought innovative are now being repackaged and rebranded in an attempt to find relevance in an educational landscape that continues to refine, remix, and reinvent itself but where teaching and learning remain the ultimate focus for all involved. 

Growing up, I stayed in one school division for my entire education. I returned to the high school that I graduated from four years later as a teacher. Going back to work with the teachers who had taught my older siblings and me, I was able to experience the benefits of program continuity and organizational memory. This was available to me in a small town in Saskatchewan pre-internet and seems almost impossible in a modern day, let alone international, setting.

Local Perspective - My interest in story telling and documentation as it pertains to education is rooted in my early career experience with a committee titled “Time as a Valuable Resource.” I was four years into my career, had survived the initial challenge of keeping my head above water, and was ready to contribute to something bigger than my classroom. This committee was established to consider and examine how we, as a school division, were using time. The committee was comprised of a team ranging from administrators and teachers to students and parents, and was something I relished being a part of. I engaged in reflective activities, wide-ranging conversations, and collaborative work. Participation in this committee was transformative for my practice and increased my appreciation of the complexities of large organizations. In the end, our committee compiled our research and work into a static document. The efforts of the committee went on to impact teacher practice, evaluation and feedback systems, school communication, and division-wide policy, but the committee’s role as initiating those changes wasn’t something that was promoted or widely understood. It wasn’t transparent. The story wasn’t told. For faculty coming into our division three years after our research had been adopted, there was little understanding of what had changed and why. What was left was an oral history available via committee participants to anyone who knew to ask, but there was no documentation method in place to get new faculty members up to speed and provide them with context for our practices. I have observed this scenario in multiple schools and it can be problematic. The trajectory of an organization can be derailed by new members questioning and changing methodology based in research and experience that, without documentation of that history, may seem merely arbitrary.

International Perspective - All international schools have stories to tell - stories that are both enriched and complicated by the transience of each school's population. 

Being a part of an international school for nine years changes the way you look at school-wide initiatives and programs. It changes your appreciation for the context in which decisions are made. While in Kuwait I saw a series of school-wide adoptions take place ranging from interactive-boards, to Responsive Classroom, to increasing the number of, and access to, high school AP courses for students. I saw a new activity and athletics conference emerge (MESAC) and another end (EMAC). I saw programs like character education, experiential education trips, and advisory in the Middle School cut. The rationale behind for of these changes was rooted in some element of reason, but that reason was not always transparent, clearly communicated, or documented for current or future members of our school. The inherent transience of international schools compounded this problem as inherited programs of past leaders often lacked sustainability while new initiatives established by keen newcomers temporarily flourished. 

In any organization there is explicit and tacit knowledge - knowledge that is easily documented and experience which is not. It was on my exit from Kuwait that I was struck by the volume of tacit knowledge I had about our program and the many changes that had taken place over my nine years - not because I was always in the room when decisions were made but because my longevity afforded me something most faculty lacked - perspective over time. I could see in hindsight how programs evolved and changed, but there was no consistent method for making that knowledge accessible to or transparent for others. We had focused on capturing explicit knowledge by documenting our curriculum, writing and reviewing policy, and keeping meeting minutes but neglected the tacit - the context for our decision making. We leveraged our Google accounts and tied curricular and extra-curricular work to position-based accounts while experiencing an average 30% turnover in our organizational memory. High impact individuals came and went often operating from the viewpoint that those who came before didn’t know what they were doing. They often overhauled and, at times, duplicated existing work. Our faculty experienced initiative fatigue as they struggled to merge past priorities with new ideas. In retrospect, our school became an incubator where individual ideas and initiatives took off but where we lost sight of establishing quality programs over time. By not effectively documenting and communicating our context, and instead relying on a shared oral history, new leaders struggled to navigate the murky waters of not knowing, which made understanding the present difficult and planning the future even more challenging.

When I began teaching the stories of the schools I worked in were conveyed through the local press. Newspaper articles or features on the local news station were the avenues available for schools to connect with a wider audience. Monthly classroom newsletters or quarterly publications were cutting edge for those with access to desktop publishing and a photocopier. Later in my career websites and blogs became the method of choice for teachers and schools as they attempted to connect with a broader community by sharing pictures and stories. With the advent of social media, the rise of mobile computing, and ease with which people could share photos, audio, and video has forever changed how we connect with one another and share our stories. All of these attempts to document work are positive as they move towards making things more sustainable: however, each new documenting tool comes with its own pitfalls.

Proliferation of Social Media - Different studies have attempted to quantify the impact of Social Media on Education and Schools. Not surprisingly the results are mixed. Some studies point to the positive impact social media has had in that it allows people of similar interests to connect, to find a community, and to maintain social ties. Conversely, it also provides a convenient avenue for hate speech and dissent as people seek the anonymity and protection found behind a keyboard.  

Within the field of education, many teachers and administrators have taken to branding themselves as they document their experiences, share their philosophies, and connect with other professionals. This is a logical step in their efforts to separate themselves from the pack.  A premium is placed on telling your story. On being your authentic self. On establishing your personal brand and controlling your narrative. 

The brand adoption can be as simple as a unique Twitter handle or as complex as a personal website with a custom url, logo, colour scheme, and slogan. All of this to support an individual narrative arc amidst a glut of educational personalities. This micro approach to sharing and documentation is incredibly valuable for the individual but takes effort to bring together and establish value for the whole of an organization. 

Schools and administrators are seeking to mitigate the negative effects of this individual branding and documentation by trying to hone a larger narrative of their schools as a whole. The challenge is to shift this focus from the micro to the macro. One such way is by advocating unique hashtags as a way to filter out the extraneous elements of their individual contributors while allowing what is pertinent to rise to the top. These hashtags allow for an individual voice but contribute to a larger group narrative. 

Leveraging the micro event for the macro purpose is compelling as schools market and promote, share academic or team success, and celebrate individual or group achievements through a common hashtag used by the whole of the community. Pulling the individual threads of teachers and initiatives together into a cohesive narrative of a school allows administrators to better provide insight into that school’s trajectory. As schools grow and change, holding on to individual contributions but contextualizing them in the arc of the school as a whole is crucial to understanding the present, appreciating the past, and being able to move productively into the future.

Taking Control - We know that schools are telling their stories but are you, as an administrator - explicitly telling yours? Are you providing “perspective over time” - a digital narrative for the person who will come after you or are you intending to fall back on an oral history? Are you relying on individuals to tell their stories or are you also shaping the story of your school as a whole? 

My challenge to you is to begin to think in terms of context over time and to be intentional about what story you are telling and how you are telling it.

Case Study: The FishBowl PD at Korea International School (Full Screen)

Risk Taking and "The Box" #IMMOOC

Great educators can work with the constraints of the system and still create innovative learning opportunities for their students. - George Couros

Paradigms are, by their very existence, the boxes that contemporary culture wants you to think outside of. Paradigms root themselves in organizations, businesses, governments, and fields of study and move from being innovative and fresh upon conception to being old-fashioned and stale as time passes. Paradigms provide the context for relating to, and understanding, a school of thought and an accepted approach to problem solving.  Within the world of education, the ability to “think outside of the box” exists both as a cliche and as a much sought-after personal or professional quality. Quantifying one’s ability to “think outside the box” is problematic, however, in that no defined measure exists that can be used to accurately gauge one’s ability to do it. The embodiment of this quality often becomes apparent when observed with the benefit of hindsight. The reality, however, is that when this ability is displayed, it is often the result of taking a risk and is therefore criticized or rejected in the moment. 

In order to be successful, therefore, one must find a way to take a risk within their given paradigm. The story of Brad Gustafson’s (@gustafsonbrad) approach to funding new initiatives within his school fits this criteria well. Brad worked within the box by working with his existing school budget but alsoprioritized new initiatives by taking the calculated risk of restructuring that budget to include a designated expenditure for “innovations.” Brad’s ability to create something new from what he had on hand (and not looking for additional funding to support pie in the sky ideas) was both innovative and a success.  He read the tea leaves, made a pivot to the traditional approach to school budgeting, and reaped the benefits. 

One of these benefits was the model he provided for his staff. The innovative nature of his choice to work within constraints but still take a measured risk gave his teachers the tacit consent to take risks in a truly sustainable way in their school. This growth-mindset rooted in working with what he had — finding a small way tomake a change that yielded big results — is an example for me as a school leader as well. 

#IMMOOC as Community

In Chapter 1, Couros defines innovation “as a way of thinking that creates something new and better.“ I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment. In the development of my Week 1 post I explored the notion that change is an opportunity to do something amazing. In examining this idea I arrived at the conclusion that a shift in mindset (viewing change as an opportunity) can be, in itself, an innovation. Beginning my Week 2 reflection with a simple, applicable, and accessible definition for innovation — a word that has become rooted in our current cultural lexicon as a buzzword of choice — was not only helpful but also encouraging.

In considering the prompt this week I began looking for examples where thinking has resulted in making something new or improving on something that already existed. Through this lens I would like to offer up Twitter as an example by considering its original intended purpose contrasted by its evolving creative use.

Twitter began as an alternative to group chat - a way to send an SMS to a small group of people. It morphed into being considered a microblogging platform, became a social network, and now sits at the crossroads of social media and being an information network. This process of development and refinement is a clear example of a company retooling itself as it discovers what it is and why it exists. However, it is the unintended and unforeseen use of the application that I find a compelling example of innovation, specifically as it pertains to our #IMMOOC.

I’m certain that in 2006, when the bones of Twitter were first growing, none of the initial coders, designers, or venture capitalists envisioned a future where a group of individuals from across the planet would be using Twitter as a place to connect based around a common interest. For our group, Twitter is where we share links to our personal video reflections, blog posts, and educational resources, all rooted in a book study and facilitated by that book’s author. The users, our group, have taken a tool and found a way to leverage it to create a community that will exist beyond the timeframe of this course. The impact remains, part of Twitter history, and the content we generate will be something that people will have access to after our MOOC ends. The learning will continue as individuals, now connected as a result of sharing similar passions, move forward in their efforts to inspire and explore doing old things in new ways — #IMMOOC — definitely an innovation worth celebrating.

References

G. Couros (2015). The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning , Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity (2015) [Kindle version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com

In-text citation: (Couros, 2015). Quotation: (Couros, 2015, Location 384)

Change Is Opportunity #IMMOOC

“Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.” Reading this statement this week resonated with me, and it serves as a convenient jumping off point for my first blog post as part of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC. The statement, written in an alternate font, colour, and size, is tailor-made to catch the eye. It is a headline, a tag-line, a rallying cry, a mantra. And it did its job - it got me thinking.

A few years ago while working on my Master’s degree in Educational Technology, I came across a series of videos exploring the relationship between change and innovation. Click here for a sample.

In the video, Dr. Kotter speaks about change and innovation from a perspective rooted in organizational theory and emphasizes the need for organizations to alter their entire framework in order to cause the change that will spur innovation. He sees traditional organizational frameworks as stifling creative thinking and risk-taking, and he believes that in order to get the desired innovation, organizations need big change to spark the fire. He sees innovation as the result of change. 

I love this idea. In his opening salvo, George Couros finds common ground with Kotter in exploring the relationship that exists between innovation and change - that one can’t live without the other. Couros advocates for a grass roots approach to innovation - that the individual must embrace change and view it as an opportunity to do something amazing - to innovate. 

I am now in the 20th year of my educational career, having experienced classrooms from the perspective of a Kindergarten, Grade 5, Middle and High School Humanities and Technology teacher, as well as viewing schools as a High School Assistant Principal and school-wide Technology Director. In a career marked by varied experiences, one pattern I've noticed is that large scale changes often fail to gain traction and yield results, but small changes can spur innovative thinking and therefore be quickly productive.

I’m looking for a discrete change that will be the impetus for a measured, viable innovation to improve how I do things and impact teaching and learning. Even shifting to the mindset that change can be an opportunity to do something amazing is an example of just such a small change, which in turn is innovative in itself.

Processing the Product.

This morning I assisted a colleague with wireframing a website for his master’s portfolio. The website, part of a capstone project, brings together four seemingly disparate projects and demonstrates their connections to a set of standards associated with his field of study. While we engaged in the process of sketching out his site, I was struck by just how powerfully websites can showcase learning. As technology has evolved from paper and pencil to PowerPoint, Prezi, and beyond, our ability to display what has been learned has become more and more sophisticated. However, I found myself reflecting on how much better it would be if this “capstone” could showcase not only what had been learned but also how this learning had been achieved.

Historically, education has focused on the end product - it is what is handed in and evaluated. However, technology is now leading us to a place where we can record the process and not only consider the final result but the steps taken to arrive at that result.

The benefits of this advancement became evident to me several days later, when I was in a meeting in which our High School Principal articulated the benefits of GAFE (Google Apps For Education) to some concerned parents and highlighted the revision history feature in Google Docs. She focused on how this simple feature can be used to assist teachers in gaining a deeper understanding of the nature and nuances of student collaboration and participation while also helping to inform evaluation. Here, technology was functioning to both allow students to create a product and to capture the process along the way.

This got me thinking about my own life - specifically in relation to this blog - and how I sometimes struggle to move from concept to post. I wondered whether I could drill down and capture my learning process, and, if so, what insight could I gain? Here is what coming up with the first three paragraphs of this post looks like.

The video above was just over 15 minutes of composition as I started to develop the outline for this post. 

I observed that I edit. A lot. Once I have the ideas out of my head, the post very gradually starts to take shape. This helped me realize that I need to be comfortable with just getting ideas on paper, and I need to be comfortable with the fact that the finished post will take some time. I need to be patient with the process and realize that composition is just that - a process. If I were looking to be more efficient or consistent, observing this process would help me realize I need to set off a block of time to write and edit.

For teachers and students, observing the process could lead to helpful reflection on individual learning styles and how best to maximize learning and productivity.  

Setbacks.

Earlier this week I came across an article by David Weedmark on “dealing with setbacks,” and it got me thinking about setbacks in my own life. I found myself moving through my days preoccupied by memories of failed efforts. As a leader attempting to effect tech-based change in an established organization, it often seems as though I am more familiar with failures than with successes. 

Yesterday, I had a job interview, and one of the questions focused on how I deal with failures. Again, I found myself reflecting on situations in which I’ve invested considerable time, effort, and energy into a venture only to see it fail. I responded to the interview question quickly, and I pointed out that I have the ability to see the positive, that I roll with the punches, and that I learn from such experiences. However, in retrospect, I don’t believe that I gave the question proper attention - either in consideration or in answer. On the surface, this question seems to be focused on my character - how do I deal with the situation? Setbacks, however, are of more value than revealing my ability to adapt. I realized that failures take a prominent place in my memories because of what they have added to my life and learning. 

In my experience, success can be fleeting and temporary. The successful adoption of an initiative, implementation of a policy, or practical use of technology often end up seeming like a bit of a flash in the pan. They are great when they happen, but all too quickly, my mind looks for what is next. The setbacks are different. They prompt reflection, reconsideration, and remixing. They stick with me. The setbacks are where I have gained the most profound and impactful understanding. After the initial blow to the ego that failure brings, my mind races to evaluate what went wrong. I want to look at the situation through different lenses in order to understand what has happened. Dealing with setbacks has strengthened my knowledge and character. Failures are not something to avoid or to toss aside as simply something to bounce back from. They are something to be appreciated.  

Now, I am left thinking: How do we teach students and teachers to view setbacks as something to embrace and draw from rather than fear?

On the same side.

The other day I met with a mother who was concerned about the academic performance of her son. She had been upset by the progress report she had received earlier in the week detailing her son’s struggles in several of his core classes. The mother had called the school the previous day in a panic and requested a meeting with one of the school administrators. While on the phone, she conveyed her disappointment with what she felt was a lack of communication from the school’s side. When she arrived to our meeting she was visibly concerned and frustrated with the situation.

In preparing for the meeting I found myself reflecting on an article from Toastmasters I had come across late last week. The article spoke to the dynamics of seating arrangements in meetings. Now, I am not a body language expert, but I can appreciate the effects that different table and chair arrangements can have on meetings. For instance, I can’t tell you how often I have found myself disengaged in a meeting simply because the set up of the room was not conducive to two-way communication. Often, due to time constraints and the hectic nature of my day, I find myself seated across from a concerned parent at a desk or conference table or seated in conference chairs facing said parent. I decided to take a cue from the article and set up two seats on the same side of the conference table in my office for this meeting in an attempt to help establish a sense of partnership.

I directed the mother to the conference table and took a seat beside her. Placing the student’s file, transcripts and anecdotal notes in front of us, I made a point to emphasize that we were on the same side and that we were facing the problem together. I was surprised with how quickly a sense of collaboration was established as the mother and I were quickly able to work together to identify the issues her son was facing. We put the question of his academic achievement in front of us as we discussed his study habits, reviewed past grades, considered teacher commentary, and examined his current progress report. From there we shared a legal pad, passing it back and forth, and developed a plan for addressing the central issues of organization, peer tutoring, and teacher communication that we jointly identified as most important. In the end we exchanged contact information and, together, set two dates for follow up. 

In reflecting on the meeting later, I was struck by its collaborative and productive nature. I would encourage teachers and administrators to take a cue from Toastmasters and think through the physical arrangement of their next meeting. Being mindful of the dynamics of seating position can help cultivate collaboration and establish teamwork before the meeting even begins.

Disrupted.

My current post as the Director of Communication and Innovation at the American School of Kuwait has caused me to begin thinking more intentionally about the word 'innovation' and the place it holds in modern day education. I seem to encounter this word daily in my job search, RSS feeds, and in conversation with colleagues. It has become a ubiquitous word that can be thrown anywhere in hopes of reflecting relevance to current culture. But do we really understand its implications and what it means? And moreover, do we really want it?

Innovation is about leveraging thought and putting it into action. It is about viewing the positive and negative from a non-traditional lens and being willing to not only improve upon a rough draft, but upon what might once have been considered ready for submission. Someone who is innovative isn’t only someone who can offer a new solution to an existing problem but someone who can appreciate what is being done well and resist the urge to settle for the status quo. Innovators see opportunity where others see completion. They look for opportunities to help participate in the process. They disrupt. 

It is within this element of disruption where being an innovator can be most challenging. Good innovators not only observe, plan, and act, they reflect, engage, and adjust. They do not disrupt for innovation’s sake. They look to fix what is broken and improve upon what is already working. This desire for continued refinement and fine-tuning is what makes innovators so valuable in education and so necessary in a world where technology has made change a daily part of life.

Post One.

This space was initially intended to house professional documents and references pertinent to a new job search. As I began to design this site, and think of possible content, it dawned on me how much I was enjoying the process of doing both. I recently completed my graduate studies in educational technology and have missed formalizing and archiving my professional thoughts and experiences. As such, I've opted to create this blog to document and share my thoughts on education, technology, leadership, and innovation.

I would love feedback on anything associated with the site. You can email me at daniel.kilback@gmail.com or post comments on my blog entries.

Let’s see where this goes.

-Daniel