Making Distance Collaboration Work

Video Conference with CALWe hear often today that we need to be collaborating with others outside of our classrooms. It isn’t enough that we only talk within our own schools and districts. We should be talking with other educators and students outside of our schools, but what does that really mean? Until recently I really didn’t know what it meant, even though I believed we should be engaging in those kinds of activities. So I thought I’d briefly describe my recent experiences facilitating collaboration between UNI students and CAL elementary students.

What we are doing here at UNI is connecting with rural schools and one of them is the CAL school district. One of our courses takes all of the UNI students out to CAL towards the end of the semester for a full day of the arts. Leading up to that culminating event are a number of smaller events and one of them is a video conference between CAL and UNI. We are doing that today in fact and my biggest take away is ensuring that we make every moment a learning experience, both for the CAL students, but also the UNI students.

For CAL students, they are excited to learn more about who the UNI students are: What’s your favorite color, do you have any pets, what’s your favorite thing to do outside? These are just a few among a host of questions the CAL students have had. For the UNI student, their learning surrounds becoming a teacher. What questions should we ask? What do we do if they don’t say anything? How do you relate to students on their grade level? What do I do if I freeze up and don’t know what to say? These are just a few of the things we talked about here at UNI between groups.

As I look at the learning that’s taking place for students at both ends, I can see truly see the value of collaboration, especially with those outside the school. Which brings me to my point. If we are really going to take advantage of collaboration and not simply collaborate in name only, we really need to be deliberate about what the students are learning when they collaborate. It isn’t enough to open Skype, the Polycom, or Google Hangout. There has to be substance to what the students are doing. It sounds so simple, but even today it took us a minute to really discover where we needed to target our learning for the day.

What I’m trying to say then is that collaboration is only as good as you make it…so make it good. It truly makes a difference.


Check your negativity at the door, it really doesn’t help

After checking in with Twitter this morning I came across this tweet from SAI about how the tone of our comments can kill or propel innovation.  While the article was very interesting, there is a nifty list at the end of the article that breaks down how your tone can propel innovation.  I felt it was a great list and definitely made me question and think about some of the ways I comment and otherwise interact with others.  I have posted the list below, but you can find the entire list here:

1. Invent one refreshing solution to replace a routine that leaves you bored or in a rut. It could be as simple as driving to work along a different route. Brain fact: Boredom is more a negative perspective shaped by daily choices,  and stored in brain as a reality.

2. Uplift your work area with natural lighting.  Brain fact: Environments influence your perspective, and a healthy well lit workplace often inspires new outlooks.

3. Thank a cranky worker for even a small accomplishment.  Brain fact: Well being comes grateful outlooks – fueled and extended by serotonin chemical hormones.

4. Give an offender the gift of forgiveness, by letting go of a grudge. Brain fact: Anger, fear, and frustration lead to incriminating perspectives fueled by dangerous cortisol chemicals.

5.  Propose winning alternatives to an observed annoying habit.  Brain fact: Venting leads to negative outlooks, that create new neuron pathways to more complaints.

6. Act as the person you want others to see in you, and that you’ll become.Brain fact: Dendrite brain cells use the outside world to shape positive perspectives, based on what you do in a day.

7. Vary your background sounds and add music for more motivating outlooks.Brain fact: Music changes brain wave speeds in ways that impact moods and alter perspectives.

8. Stir curiosity and engage others by tapping into their interests.  Brain fact: Lectures  or talks can work against listener perspectives because passive listening fails to improve listener views.

9. Shift routines up daily. Brain fact: Hebbian workers rely on unchanged perspectives that kill incentives, limit focus or even shrink human brains with narrow opinions and stilted views.

10. Enjoy differences as assets.  Brain fact: Risk gaining new outlooks today from a person who differs in age, culture, gender, career or beliefs.

11. Sleep well in order to perceive your world well. Brain fact: Brain waves can bring either poor perspectives or peak performance, based on how you activate and manage them in your favor.

12. Research and open mentally to new and different ideas daily.  Brain fact: Hook even difficult facts onto one thing you know already and perspectives grow and expand with learning.

13. Change on regular basis.  Brain fact: Your brain’s basal ganglia stores old perspectives that can haunt you, while working memory holds new facts that upload innovative views.

14. Diversify your talent development to engage new perspectives. Brain fact: Multiple intelligences are common to all, used by few, and can be cultivated daily for mental health.

15. Create rather than criticize. Brain fact: Cynical or critical mindsets literally block creativity, limit talent in you or others, and stomp out innovative perspectives.

16. List key reminders that guide healthy perspectives.  Brain fact: Memory can be outsourced by simple lists that help you remember to free your mind for finer perspectives that frame a day.

17. Inspire novel young ideas. Brain fact: Plasticity enables people of all ages and backgrounds to rewire their outlook in ways that keep the brain younger and more agile.

19. Encourage yourself and others to spot goodness.  Brain fact: Encouragement changes the chemistry of a brain that frames itself for serotonin, and ratchets up good tone for profitable views.

19. Communicate with care, openness and honesty. Brain fact: Meta messages destroy relationships through implications different from message spoken, and can fog friendships.

20. Integrate from ideas and people across many fields.  Brain fact: It often takes an integration of  hard and soft skills to gain wider perspectives that solve problems with the brain in mind.

21. Relax and practice letting worries go.  Brain fact:  Stress literally shrinks the brain, narrows perspective, and kills tone for healthy communications.

22. Seek new ideas from growing relationships. Brain fact: Greet colleagues through speaking people’s names, to stoke perspectives that spread well being.

23. Risk innovation one perspective at a time.  Brain fact: Inspire creativity and invention through teaching others at the same time you also learn and create yourself.

24. Collaborate to propose solutions from new outlooks. Brain fact: Create new neuron pathways collectively and you’ll add diverse solutions to workplace  problems  encountered.

25. Celebrate those who view the world from different lenses. Brain fact: Women’s and men’s brain differ biologically and intellectually, for instance,  in ways that alter perspectives.

Anything make you question your actions?