About hniezen

geek, digital learner, Educator, Biker and old folkie

Life (and education) really is a journey

It is hard to believe that 9 weeks has gone by so quickly.    This week my Connected Coaching course (offered by Powerful Learning Practice) comes to an end.  Taking this course has been valuable for me.

The value in this course is twofold:  First I have found that this course has been affirming.

  • The Connected Coach will always be a Connected Learner.  Personally, I will always think of myself as a learner first.
  • The strength based appreciative inquiry model upon which Connected Coaching is based is one that resonated with me from the outset.   This course provided me with a framework to help me understand what I was trying to do intuitively.
  • This course has also affirmed my passion for the role of technology as a tool for learning.   I have been committed to the use of technology in the classroom for many years.  The discussions within this course around TPACK and the modelling and opportunities to practice using a variety of technologies has been a hi-light of the course for me.

Secondly, this course has pushed me.  My return to this blog is just one of the many growing edges where I am being pushed out of my comfort zones.  I have also grown in my understanding that:

  • The real focus of the Connected Coach is upon the learner and not just the learning.  The emphasis is upon the relationship: hearing the stories, building trust, listening deeply, and asking good questions.
  • The responsibility for learning belongs to the learner.   For me, the challenge will be to resist the urge to do the thinking and learning for the learner.  For me the challenge will be to be patient so that the learner finds the solution.  The role of the Connected Coach is to encourage deep thought, reflection and support self-directed learning.

My next steps are clear:  I need to explore the contexts in which I can apply what I have learned and experienced from this course. On an informal level, this course has already changed how I perceive myself as one who provides professional development for educators within our Board.   I have already grown in both my online and in my face 2 face coaching relationships.

There will also be some formal opportunities.  Starting next school year, we will be working on implementing a program of professional development – developed in the context of my experience as a member of a PLP Year 2 team (I really am a PLPeep!) – where I will serve as a Connected Coach for a group of secondary teachers.  At this time, we are still formulating the structure of this new program.  I cannot wait to see it implemented next fall.

So while the course comes to an end, I know that my learning and growing as a Connected Coach is still just beginning.  I am glad that this is a journey that I have begun.  I am looking forward to  …

Feel the Wind – Harry

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Getting “Connected”

There are times when I even amaze myself.  Let me explain … I have been privileged over the last 5 weeks to be involved in a course offered by Powerful Learning Practice.  The course is titled, “Connected Coaching”.  Here is the brief course description:

This course will prepare learners to become connected coaches in online communities of practice where through a strength based, appreciative inquiry approach they will work with teams and individual members helping them think deeply toward developing a shared vision for new ways of learning together in online spaces.

I enrolled in the course for a number of reasons:
– I had learned to appreciate the passion and vision of PLP the previous year as a member of a Year 1 team within our Board
– A significant aspect of my role within our Board is to coordinate and implement professional development programs.  I felt that taking the time to learn about Connected Coaching would be a real asset in my work.

At this point in time, there is one significant idea that is transforming how I view my role, how I view professional development and how I understand pedagogy.  This concept is wrapped up in the understanding of the word, ‘Connected’.  Initially, I understood connectedness on a superficial level.  The coach is connect to the learner through technology – through the discussion forums, through Elluminate, or through whatever online tool would be used.

The course is helping me to understand that the concept of ‘Connected’ goes so much deeper.  Yes, we are connected through technology but we are also connected through our shared passions, through our shared thirst for learning, and through our shared  commitments.  I am learning that the concept of connected is about being a part of a learning community.  The concept of connected illustrates that the ties between the coach and the learner can go far deeper than meeting together online via Skype.

What further energizes me is the role that technology plays in the connected community.  I have heard from many that working together using technology is never as valuable as meeting and working together face to face.  However, this idea has been challenged in my mind.  The use of technology can be a real enabler.  It allows individuals to come together within a learning community that would not otherwise be able to do so.  Technology allows the community to meet, communicate, collaborate, and create in many different ways.  This diverse approach opens the door for a greater participation of a wider group of people.

Within the PLP, I enjoy being involved in the community (aka The Hub).  I appreciate the variety of ways one can be involved and the freedom to choose what works for me.  I  appreciate the idea that I can be myself.  I am not being forced into a preset mold of what a Connected Coach should be.

Has everything that I have tried worked?  No it has not … but I am not discouraged.  Not everyone that I have tried to connect with has responded.  There are some who are likely wondering who is this guy and why is he sending messages.  We all know that building relationships will take time.  Building trust will take time.  It is perhaps a little unrealistic to think that it can be done within a week.

Still a few more weeks of the course to go.  More things to learn, more things to do … and more opportunities to deepen the relationships with those in the community.

Feeling the Wind – Harry

Are you a social media lurker?

In the world of Web 2.0 a Lurker is one who spends time consuming content online using social media without taking the time to create content and share.

I know many self-proclaimed lurkers. You may have also admitted to spending time doing ‘a lot of lurking’.  If I am honest with myself, I also have to admit spending a lot of time as a lurker.

Why do I lurk?  I lurk as a way to filter through all of the material that is being shared.  I have found that it is impossible to share, comment or raise questions on every thing that I read.  I simply do not have the time or energy to do that.  Therefore, I lurk to help me sort through the content in order to determine what is relevant and what I find interesting.  I lurk while I am reflecting and assimilating the information presented to me.  I lurk while I consider how or what I might say in response.  I lurk while I think of the questions I have or the comments I would like to make.

I do not think any of us really think that there is anything wrong with lurking while using Social Media.  The difficulty is when a person never takes the opportunity to ask questions, make comments or shares what he/she has learned.  The potential problem is when a person is an exclusive lurker.

I think there are other challenges when participating in an online community like Twitter that also need to be raised.  I have grown in my appreciation for Twitter and the educators who are a part of it.  However, there are times when I find Twitter overwhelming.  There are so many discussions happening.  I can understand if a member of the twitterati is uncertain what to say or where to say it.  I can understand it when there are some who are uncomfortable within this online environment and do not venture beyond their safe group of personal friends and peers.

My response to those who may be intimidated … relax, and feel free to continue to lurk and learn.  I look forward to the time when I have a question that you are able and comfortable to answer.  I look forward to finding an online medium (perhaps micro blogging is not your strength) where you feel confident to be able to express yourself.

Feel The Wind … Harry

Why I Love Twitter!

I recently was asked what my favourite Web 2.0 application was.   It did not take me a lot of time to share an answer.  The Web 2.0 application that I find myself going to each and every day is Twitter.  Twitter is at the heart of my Personal Learning Network … and here is why:

First and foremost, I have learned that Twitter is really all about building relationships. In the context of these relationships, I have learned that there are people who have expressed an interest in me and what I am involved in – what I am doing, what I am learning, my ideas, and my questions.   Twitter provides me with a simple forum to share with them.

Twitter has also allowed me to strengthen my connections with peers that I might only see a few times a year (such as conferences).  In the years BT (before Twitter), there were a handful of colleagues who I would only see a few times a year.  Unless circumstances allowed, there was very little chance for me to get to know these people beyond the professional level.  Twitter has provided the opportunity to grow our professional and social relationship ….  despite the limit of 140 characters.

As my relationships with peers have grown stronger through Twitter, my experience at the various events, meetings, conferences has also become richer.  Each meeting has also become an opportunity to meet with some of my fellow tweeps face to face.  These meetings have served to increase the overall value of the event itself.

Twitter allows me to participate (virtually) at many meetings, conferences and events that I am not able to physically attend. Like many people, my schedule does not allow me to attend each and every professional development opportunity in person.  However, I can count on those who do attend to tweet the ideas, questions and discussions using an appropriate ‘hashtag’.  When I am able to, I can search for the hashtag and catch the hi-lights.  There are even times when the backchannel has more to teach me than the actual sessions.

Twitter allows me connect with a much larger circle of educators – many of whom I would never have the opportunity to meet otherwise.  Through Twitter I have had the opportunity to meet and share with educators from around the world.  We are joined by our common interests and are connected through Twitter.

Twitter allows me learn from all of the people in my learning network as they share what they are learning – news, ideas, questions, comments, reflections on blog entries.  The people I follow on Twitter are people who are asking the same questions I am.  They are sharing the answers they are finding.  I find it a privilege to read their tweets and learn from them.

Twitter extends my connections around the world and is available to me 24/7 so I can grow as a learner on my time when I am available.  I do not recommend that a person spend all of their time on Twitter.  I visit the Twitter stream when  I am able.  It does not matter when that it is.  The Twitter stream runs continuously.

Twitter allows me to filter (and focus) my learning through features such as saved searches and lists.  I agree that there is so much on Twitter and it could be overwhelming.  I also agree that a great deal of information (celebs etc) could be trivial.   However, using some simple filtering techniques, I am able to become selective with the tweets that I  am reviewing.

While I am not personally in the classroom, I have also heard of a number of teachers who are using Twitter as a tool for learning in their classrooms. I would love to hear (so I can share with others) how some are using Twitter in the classroom.

Twitter is incredibly simple to use. But I have found it to be a very powerful tool for learning.

FTW … Harry (aka  @harryniezen )

Moving Forward …

Last night I realized that I am in the midst of another FTW experience.  Normally, a biker  does not feel any wind on his/her face unless they are moving forward.   Professionally, I ‘felt the wind’ while I was privileged to be a part of a dinner meeting.  I expect to feel even more wind today when a number of us will be spending a full day learning together.

Before I can explain this metaphor, I need to provide a little background information:  Within our Board, I am one of a 3 person leadership team for a an initiative called the Futures Forum Project (FFP).  This is a system supported project that involves teachers and administrators from 7 different secondary schools.  The focus is to develop and implement a inquiry focused, technology rich course that fulfills the expectations for 3 secondary school courses – Gr 10 English, Gr 10 Career Studies and Gr 10 Civics.  The actual course will be offered in the seven schools starting second semester (This project will certainly be the topic of a number of future blog posts).

To prepare everyone involved in the project, our Board is participating in the Powerful Learning Practice (aka PLP).  Assisting us will be Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach.   It was during dinner with Will and Sheryl and the other key leaders in the FFP that I really began to feel the wind.

Our conversation covered many topics but one that will not leave me was the discussion on blogging.  I was intrigued by the comparisons and contrasts between blogging and twitter.

“Twitter is only scratching the surface”.

“You cannot meaningfully express yourself in 140 characters or less”.

“Blogging requires going far deeper”

I was challenged by Sheryl to go beyond simply using Twitter.  Not that I will leave Twitter behind.  I really appreciate the learning and networking that I benefit from as a member of the Twitterati.

However, to help me grow (and to help those who may take the time to read this blog), I was challenged to take more time to reflect – both professionally and personally – on my ongoing learning and on the work I am involved with.

The road ahead will likely have a lot of twists and turns (always a good thing for a biker).  Time for another great ride.  I do love to feel the wind in my face.

FTW, Harry

Group Riding

When I first began riding a motorcycle, I discovered the Southern Cruisers Riding Club (aka SCRC).  SCRC is actually an international organization with chapters throughout the US, Canada and the rest of the world.  I began getting involved in the local chapter in Kitchener- Waterloo – SCRC 270.

Amongst the many activities of the club are the group rides.  I had the pleasure of being involved in one today, called the Jelly Bean Ride.  This ride is also a fund raiser involving colours, prizes and jelly beans.

During the ride, there is a lot of time to think and reflect and I spent a lot of time thinking about why I enjoyed riding with a group.    This is what I concluded:

  • There are many times during the ride that you really have no idea where you are.  However, that really does not matter.  The group is led by a “road captain” assisted by his “wing man” (or woman) and “tail gunner”.  As a member of the group, you do not have to know where you are going.  All you have to do is to enjoy the ride and follow the person in front of you.
  • Even though you are often by yourself on your bike, you are not alone.  Many riders in the group communicate with each other using a CB radio.  There is often a lot of good natured chatter along the way.
  • The group ride is a unique experience.  As a member of the group, you are a part of much larger entity.  The entire group is not unlike a living being.  Each part looking out for the other parts ensuring that everyone is safe and having fun.  Hand signals are a large part of this experience.  As the group rides along, each member communicates with the rest through hand signals which, for example: warn of upcoming road hazards, inform of approaching slowdowns, and help each member know when the group is stopping or turning.   Each person is assigned a spot in the staggered formation and together the group rides along like a snake down the road.  My most impressive experience of this phenomena was in June as a member of the Motorcycle Ride For Dad which paraded through Kitchener and Waterloo.  Over 800 bikes were involved in the first portion of that ride – an experience I will never forget

I do not know if this is true of all riding clubs but one of the things that impresses me most about my involvement in the SCRC is the openness they share.  It does not matter what type of motorcycle you are riding – whether a scooter, sports bike, Harley or japanese cruiser – everyone is welcome and treated with the same respect.  What unites us is our love of riding.

And as I get older, there is nothing I am enjoying more than feeling the wind on my face as I ride …

FTW, Harry

Sometimes it is not about the destination …

This summer it has been a great opportunity to get away from the desk.   So far it has been wonderful.  Even though it is still early in Aug (still 4 weeks to go I think), I am amazed at how much I have accomplished:

– attended ISTE 2010 (my initial posts were about this conference in Denver)

– drove, hiked and immersed myself in the wonders of the world north of Lake Superior.

– served as a member of the staff team at CCJ ’10 where almost 400 Wolf Cubs and 175 Cub Leaders camped for a week.

– ripped apart and rebuilt our shed (just need to shingle the roof)

This week, I am preparing to leave home again and co-lead CATC By The Water 2010.  Irreverently called ‘Computer Camp’, this is an awesome PD opportunity for teachers within our school board to work on broadening the use of computers and technology within their classes.

Compared to many summers, it would appear that I have been able to get a lot of things done.  But what I have been continually amazed by is how much more I have enjoying doing the work than getting it done.  I used to be a person that looked forward to checking off the things that I have done.  I always thought of myself as being very task oriented.

The week my wife and I spent north of Lake Superior is a great example of the changes I am seeing in my perspective.  The hi-light of the week was the drive.  The scenery along the hi-way from Sault Ste. Marie to Wawa Ont. is indescribable.  One post card moment after another.  In contrast, the arrival at Wawa and visiting the infamous goose was anti-climatic.

I guess this summer is simply serving to remind me that we need to pay more attention to the journey rather than simply look forward to the destination.  If we simply focus upon the destination, there is so much along the journey that might be missed.

FTW, Harry

It is time for me to jump in …

Well I finally decided it was time to start publishing a real blog. I may even surprise myself if I am able to keep it going. But I am currently attending ISTE 2010 and if this environment does not inspire me nothing will.

ISTE 2010 is an international conference where educators come to learn, to be inspire, to be encouraged, to be overwhelmed …you get the idea. Over 15000 are attending the conference this year in Denver CO. The opening keynote starts in an hour. The conference will hopefully help me to kickstart this endeavor.   So let the fun begin.

The real start of this blog is to explain its title.  I recently discovered the joys of riding a motorcycle.  For those who are, I own and ride a Honda Shadow Spirit 750.  I love to ride and I love the feeling of having the wind in your face as I ride.  I once read something about the difference between riding a bike and driving a car.  I really did not understand the difference until I began riding a year ago.

When you drive in a car, you can look out the window and and enjoy the scenery as you drive down the highway.  The driver is a spectator. But as a biker riding down the highway, there are no windows.  You are a part of the scenery.

There are many stretches of highway through southern Ontario (where I live) that I have driven many times.  Now when I ride those same roads, it is like I am riding them for the first time.

And so, this really is the reference I am making in the title of this blog.  When I ride – with the wind in my face – I am not only on my way to get somewhere, I am also enjoying the journey.

This blog will be my journal reflecting both on the places I am going and on the journey along the way.

So I look forward to sharing and I welcome all those who would like to ride with me – even just for a section of the trip.

May the wind in your face remind you that you are moving forward.

Harry