Not All Who Wander Are Lost – A Lesson in Leadership Paths

IMG_3197.jpgIt was a hot Sunday afternoon when I arrived in Lucca. The first day of the solo leg of my summer adventure and I was nervous. With all my travels, this was the first time I was all alone with no agenda. With no set plan and hours to spare, I set out map in hand. Like many medieval Italian towns (built on Ancient Roman towns), Lucca was full of narrow winding streets. Streets cars could barely pass (they actually only let you drive in the city if you are a local). It wasn’t long before I got lost. Now to be fair I can get lost going home so this wasn’t necessarily something new. What was new was there was no rush, no deadlines, no meetings. There was nothing to hold me back (or become my excuse). I had the freedom to enjoy the journey. I wandered in to old churches, up crooked towers and down bicycle laden laneways. To others it may not have been the best use of time. It may not have seemed logical to go in circles or miss a few landmarks here and there. When in doubt I could go to the standard path: a walkway above the city walls that circled the city, or back to the anfiteatro in the core but for a moment it was ok to be wandering .

Not all who wander are lost. Tolkien

Sitting on a plane heading back to Toronto, I kept thinking of Lucca, those narrow pathways and the wandering in my own personal leadership journey. It’s hard to give yourself that permission to wander, the permission to not take the standard path set out. Education seems to have a pretty clear pathway for leadership: step 1 leads to step 2 leads to step 3, the quicker the better. Like the city walls, they become a constant reminder of a common path I haven’t chosen to take yet. Sometimes wandering feels uncomfortable. At times I feel completely confident navigating tiny laneways. At other moments panic sets in that I’m lost with no way out. Lucca reminded me that the classrooms I get to visit, the conversations I get to be a part of, the questions I get to ask, the risks I get to take are like the gems I got to experience while wandering Lucca. There is freedom in letting yourself wander. I can see the common path and take it when I’m ready but for now I want to remember that just because I’m wandering, I’m not lost. I may be exactly where I need to be.

Were there moments in your leadership journey where you felt you were wandering? Is there a harm in getting lost? Love to hear your thoughts.


Storytime Part 2

It’s been almost a month since we were all sitting in rows in the grand hall of a Berlin hotel anxiously awaiting the start of the institute. 400 or so Apple Distinguished Educators that made the treck from various corners of our world to learn together.

I’ve been thinking about the takeaway for my time together with such amazing educators and every time I’m led back to the idea of STORY. It was my takeaway last year as well (Storytime Part 1: read more here), the power that comes from listening and appreciating the stories of others or co-creating a story as a community.

The week was definitely chockfull of stories. Some of the most memorable came bright and early during the fast paced morning spotlights. House lights down and 3 minutes on the clock. Each story brought with it inspiration, from educators that took the risk and innovated their practice whether it was connecting on social media or having learners design their learning space, to stories of empowerment and student voice. I had to hold back the tears more than once seeing/ listening to the story of learners that found confidence and a voice through the tools and the support of caring educators.

Every lesson I shared about stories last year stood true: the humanity, the inspiration, the power to build community. This time I picked up a few more.

We often look for story in the words written on a page or spoken on a screen but there is a story being told all around us. As we had the opportunity to explore Berlin one day, I realized how much PLACE tells it’s own story. Definitely there is no greater city than Berlin to illustrate that each road, each monument, each dimple in a wall carried with it a story. It made me wonder if I was taking the time to listen closely, to observe and appreciate the story that was all around. Funny how you have to travel thousand of miles sometimes to be reminded of simple truths.

Sharing stories can spark new adventures. Our work group was massive at the institute. Many amazing folks with great ideas of how they had used STEAM with K-5 learners and how we could support fellow educators. I’m going to blame my inattention on the fact that I just finished an AQ course or my introvert-ish tendencies but Seth Godin said the good stuff happens at the edges, right? Well either way, as we sat on the steps Stuart shared his story of success with animation. It got me sharing my story with animation and math this year. We roped Matt and Mike in suddenly there was this spark with our small group that grew to even more by the end of the week. We could see the common thread between our stories of success as well as our stories of need. What we needed to share was #1smalltweak. (Stay tuned for more!)

We all tell our stories differently. I have been working on #the100dayproject and it came to an end right in the middle of the institute, actually the same day we heard from the team at EyeEm. I was excited to listen to a fellow photographer. As I sat and listened to her process I did have a moment of panic. Listening to her process it varied so greatly from mine. It took a few seconds to realize that was ok. We each have a different process, desires, drives for our storytelling and that is ok. It was a reminder to be open to different paths. To approach each story with open ears (eyes) understanding our different rhythms.

It’s amazing the power stories can have to connect, inspire, empower us. As varied as the storytellers or the formats, each story reminds us how much we have in common.  


Yellow Light: Getting Ready to Speed Up or Slow Down


This year has been a bit of a whirlwind. I can’t believe I haven’t posted since June! I’ve had a few ideas swirling as I traveled across Europe, kicking the time off with a group of dedicated educators at the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in Berlin. Here goes nothing!


There were many great sights while travelling across Europe the last 3 weeks but there was one simple difference that caught my attention. It’s funny how the little things get you. It happened first in Berlin then later again in Split. We were waiting, sitting at a red light when the yellow light lit up as well. Our driver inched up, anxiously waiting for the green light to flash, preparing himself so he could zoom off.

It seemed like a silly difference to notice but it made me think about what we do in education. Do we often treat innovations in education like our Canadian stoplights: full speed ahead till the cautions start popping up and then we slam on the breaks? Is there value in the pause and preparation that comes with the yellow warning light along with the red? Seeing the red and yellow light together reminded me that in education we really never just stop (or at least we shouldn’t). There is always a yellow light reminding us to get ready before we go full steam ahead.

Maybe more than anything it was a reminder to me that a yellow light can remind us both to slow down and to speed up.

Love to hear your thoughts!

The Sweet Spot of Learning

Coming in to #the100dayproject, I knew I would be learning. It is one of the reasons I enjoyed the project so much last year and jumped at the chance again. It’s funny how it still catches you off guard. Maybe it is because as educators we are focusing on the learning of others but it is beautiful to be in that moment, the sweet spot of learning, and reflect on how you can help others experience it.

I needed a push, something different and a friend on Instagram suggested I focus my next theme of 10 on minimalism. I have to admit that I went in with a very lose definition of what I actually committed to. I’ve seen it happen in education once or twice before: hear a word, hope we understand what it means and muddle through. After posting the first picture I asked for some feedback and realized I was off track. So I started googling to better define what minimalistic photos had in common (negative space), along the way finding some Minimalism Instagram Greats to follow and be inspired by. As the week went on I could notice myself adjusting photos and looking for the negative space. It was that sweet spot of learning where inspiration, challenge, feedback all hit at the same time.

Then came this latest theme. I had promised myself I would do at least one theme of portraits before the end of the project, originally that was going to be the focus of the whole project. Maybe I got just a little too confident. I love taking pictures of family and friends but I find it stressful to invade their space. How do you walk up to a stranger and ask them to take a photo? Even with friends, how do you boss them around if you can’t guarantee a good photo? Folks were lovely and accommodating but my fears really took over.

As we were reading research reports for a work project last week, a comment stood out to me in Apple’s Classrooms of Tomorrow about gamers. They were speaking of the feedback loop of gamer, how it forces a pause before readjusting their practice.

 Failure simply provides her a quick break before she gets back into the game. 

I realized maybe I had leapt too far outside my comfort zone that I was letting the challenge overwhelm me. It is the only time this project I was 3 days behind at one point. So this was my pause, what was I going to shift to be more successful?

So as I finish up this set of 10 and move in to my next, I don’t want to lessen the challenge but eliminate the excuses. So perhaps it will be 10 self portraits (creatively using the term here). Giving me the chance to play while also lessening a few of my fears that were holding me back.

Funny how a hobby project can surface bigger lessons on the sweet spot of learning, a place with just enough challenge, inspiration and community.

I am still learning.


Taking a Leap – TEDx Talk

I think it was the fall when I first got the email. A colleague I met through OISE was hoping I would do a TED talk at their TEDx event with students all focused around innovation. Sounded cool and as usual my gut reaction was sure.  After I sent the email request to my supervisor, the panic started setting in. Deep down I think I secretly was hoping I wouldn’t be able to get the time off. I got the ok so that didn’t work but it was ages away so the panic could wait. Then the countdown began.

What could I possibly say about innovation to kids, big kids much cooler than me?

The book club definitely got the wheels turning but it wasn’t to the very end that the pieces came together. The experiences from #the100dayproject, our Spark night, a tweet from a colleague. Suddenly I could see the connected web through the individual strings.

To say I wasn’t nervous is an understatement. You can probably see the nerves come through at the beginning of the clip. I did forget a whole section and quote around Relentless Restlessness. Following an engineer who had invented tools that assist doctors with breast cancer added to the nerves slightly.  But standing in front of 100+ faces, mostly high school students I hoped the message added to their understanding of innovation. I hope they left with a sense that innovation is not for a select few, but is available to all of us if we look for the sparks, celebrate the small moments and continue on the journey.

A big thank you to folks that suffered through test versions, last minute freak outs and listening to recorded messages. For the tips, tricks, books and youtube links.

I can’t bring myself to watch it, but if you are at all interested you can check it out below. Thanks for the opportunity Patricia and the TEDxSacredHeart team.

Pedagogy over Tools

Do we need a new battle cry?

It’s not hard to find a post on the need for pedagogy over technology. All wonderful reads pointing to the need not to be caught in the glitz and glam of tech but rather be critical about our choices and our use. I’d be the first to retweet and start the conversation. So you can understand my surprise as I started struggling with the idea reading post after post.

It isn’t that the argument is wrong. The wonderful 6, 16, 26 year olds in our classroom and their learning should always drive instruction. Learners should ALWAYS be the centre of what we do and our decision making. We want to be critical of our choices in the classroom when we are responsible for sparking the learning of others. Pedagogy over tools I can commit to any day but here is my fear:

Is our fixation with repeating the PEDAGOGY OVER TECHNOLOGY mantra holding us back?

Do we put other tools through the same scrutiny that technology seems to experience?

Do we ask a pencil to prove it can increase standardized test scores or a book to improve reading levels (ok,  maybe we have done the later)?

Whether it is lines on a board, Monday morning ‘On my weekend I’ recounts  or 20 minutes of reading in silence we probably have all been guilty at some point of not maximizing the potential of a learning tool.

Paper rips, markers dry out, pencils break but we continue to use them.

Maybe there is no harm in the argument, it is a reminder to be critical and that can never be bad but here is my worry:

Is our constant repetition of the pedagogy over technology debate holding us back from accepting these digital tools as a natural element of our learning environments as they are of our everyday environments outside the classroom?

Are we using the pedagogy over technology mantra as an excuse to not move forward?

For the learner that lights up at the mention of Minecraft, the kid that giggles as they work through their code or the student that finds a voice online in their blog they never found in their classroom’s 4 walls, I hope we can find a new focus for our conversations.

Diversity: Seeing the many seen and unseen elements of each wonderfully unique being #peelequity

A photo posted by Tina Zita (@misszita) on

Pedagogy over tools, yes. Learners first, even better. I guess I’m just thirsting for a new conversation, an evolution past pedagogy over technology. Accepting that these tools that we use to order personalized burgers and predict what movies we will like, have a place in the classroom. A shift not to why we need to use the tools but how we are using them to answer the question:

What can we do for this learner, for this learning, at this time?

What are your thoughts? Have I missed a part of the argument? Love to hear from you.

Renlentless Restlessness

The OSSEMOOC Innovator’s Mindset book club ended about two months ago now, but a small idea has been lingering (Pestering is probably a better word). I wanted to blog about it in March and pushed it off. Then other’s blogged about it and I wondered if I had anything to really add. But as conversations, readings and countless posts about innovation pop up I can’t shake the idea of Relentless Restlessness.

It’s funny how you can read things once and pass it by. I was was re-reading Chapter 13 of the Innovator’s Mindset for our last Google Hangout when the words seemed to jump right off the page. The story is of Brad Bird, Pixar director, who would infuse in his organizations a sense of relentless restlessness“that often uncomfortable urge for constant innovation, driven by the nagging feeling that things are never quite good enough.”

If I’m completely honest I probably liked the quote at first because I loved reading uncomfortable. It seemed to perfectly label my feelings for this year. I could see myself in the nagging feeling and the wanting more. I know it seems silly at times, but being a leader sometimes feels a little like being a tortured artist always wanting a little more, a bit more of a push.

The more I thought about it though, the more I could see myself in that picture of innovation. With the countless definitions of innovation, I could see myself in this one. Could innovation be that simple? A burning desire to do better. To not except good as good enough, but constantly look at the possibilities ahead.

Then I started thinking about our learners and what success means. What do I want for the learners I have worked with? Maybe more than just a definition of innovation, a relentless restlessness is what drives our lifelong journeys to learn. Could education be that simple? A nagging feeling to want more, do more, learn more.

How would the conversation about change alter if we looked at it with that urge to continue forward with more possibilities, more opportunities? How would our conversations and experiences with learners change if we saw education as that burning desire for to know more, learn more, want better?

Maybe I’m oversimplifying it. Maybe education and innovation are much more complex. Maybe relentless restlessness is already driving our systems of change. Maybe there’s a danger in always being in that place of relentless restlessness.

I just can’t shake that nagging feeling that there is more.