An Interview with Hazel Mason


I’m excited to interview the recently retired Hazel Mason.  If you’re a Twitter user and follow Hazel, you’ll know that she’s a great curator of current news.  That, in itself, makes her an excellent person to follow.

I had a chance to interview her recently.  Read on to learn more.

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Doug:  I don’t believe that we’ve ever met in person and yet I follow you daily and I notice that you retweet some of my morning reading.  How on earth did we ever find each other?

Hazel:  You post a lot of things that are of interest to educators and so I want to pass them on. I have personally found Twitter a source of information to help push my thinking. I also enjoy using Twitter to highlight all of the amazing things going on in my former Board, Peel District School Board, and in other schools all over the world. We found each other because you found worth in some of the things I posted and we have had a few online conversations. I think we are kindred spirits who are both passionate about teaching and learning.

Doug:  I’m so glad that we did make this connection.  Like any good superintendent, you’ve contributed so much to my learning.  It says in your bio that you’re “recently retired”.  Congratulations.  Any reflections on an educational career that you’d like to share?

Hazel:  I loved being an educator. I would reflect often on how I was privileged to be in a profession where I had the ability to make a difference each and everyday. I took that privilege very seriously. I saw it as my responsibility to be an advocate for my students, my families, my teachers, my principals, my schools and my school board. When you are a superintendent, you are an agent of the Board but I took my responsibility to my other constituent groups very seriously. When I felt something was happening that was not in the best interests of my schools I would speak up.

At the end of the day though, I was all about the kids and the kids that needed me the most. I was determined to make a difference for those students who I perceived needed a champion and I would try to find creative solutions to support them in reaching their potential. My kids taught me as much as I ever taught them and treating them with absolute respect meant I always got respect in return.

Doug:  During your time as a superintendent, you will undoubtedly have stumbled across some great ideas for innovation.  If I asked you (and I am), could you label three outstanding things that should service to inspire others?

Hazel: The first one I would identify was our work with gender specific classes. They were a risk and I think had the potential to create a safe learning environment for some students who found the pressures of adolescence too big of a factor. As always when you do something different, they came under a lot of scrutiny and they were classes that needed to be based on the pedagogical frames outlined in the research.

Second, would be our leap into 21st Century Teaching and Learning, now Modern Learners. At first it was very grassroots, no real budget, and yet we made it work. When I say we, I mean teachers, IT resource teachers, principals, a few fellow superintendents and me. My Superintendent friends helped with money because the movement was not initially supported with any central money, but we persisted. After 6 years it is now a mainstream objective, part of the Board’s strategic plan, and has a Principal of Modern Learning charged with implementation in every school.

Third, would be the work going on to create gradeless classrooms. I had the chance to see the work going on in Surrey BC where they have moved completely to e-portfolios, and there are a few very courageous teachers doing the same thing in Peel. If you think about it, we are trying to teach students to take ownership for their learning and to become master thinkers. Grades were originally designed to test recall of content. If we are working to move away from a set content and more towards specific skill proficiency reflected in student inquiries, grades become a mute point. What we are looking for is an exemplary demonstration of thinking and learning through a variety of products at an ever increasing level of proficiency.

Doug:  If anyone reading this interview is interested in becoming a leader beyond their classroom (coach, consultant, administrator), what could they do to have their resume leap from a pile of others?

Hazel:  I think we need leaders now who are able to demonstrate their ability to build collaborative, effective teams who work together to make something wonderful happen. I suspect there are lots of folks who still look at jumping through the committee hoops and getting themselves noticed as the way forward. If we are truly transforming education as we know it, the leaders of the future need to not only understand what transformational leadership looks like, but they need to be able to demonstrate they can bring other folks along for the ride.

Future leaders must have courage. Being a leader means taking risks and it means understanding change theory. A leader must know when they need to be a gatekeeper and when they need to push an initiative forward. A leader must also understand and be committed to equity. Saying you believe every child can learn is a trite and meaningless statement unless you have some evidence to demonstrate your commitment to it.

Doug:  A while back, we had chatted about “High Tech Highs” as in High Schools.  I made a smart aleck remark about every district having one showcase school.  Your reply has stuck with me – that the principles of so many could be replicated in existing schools.  Can you share how?

Hazel:  When you look at the movie “Most Likely to Succeed,” the movie isn’t shot in a shiny new building but the spaces have been converted to reflect the kind of learning happening in the school. 21st Century Teaching and Learning/Modern Learning is a pedagogical shift, and it is a shift that can happen anywhere. Sure it is nice to have the fancy furniture and the fancy learning spaces, but I have been in some truly dynamic schools doing amazing things by simply adapting the space and the furniture they have. Slowly the schools are adding additional equipment, be it furniture or technology, but it is based on a vision and there is a clear need attached to the change.

I have been in newer buildings with lots of fancy equipment and fancy spaces, but the learning taking place looks exactly the same as it always has. Classes are teacher centred, content rules, and technology is used as a tool to hand in assignments and for teachers to track those assignments.

Modern Learning is a pedagogical transformation supported by technology and it can happen anywhere.

Doug:  Well described.  Those who are making claims about their “High Tech High” should hold them up against those thoughts.

Your activities online most certainly are the hallmark of a lifelong learner.  Do you have a particular set of things that you follow just for the learning?

Hazel: When I wanted to know or understand something I have always sought out other voices, literature and now social media. I have never seen things as problems but rather as opportunities. When I was presented with an opportunity I wasn’t sure how to move forward with, I would seek out ideas. I have come to realize I am an innovator, I have also realized I am a creative person. It was an “Ah Hah” moment for me because I always associated creativity with artistic, which I am not, but I am a creative thinker. I had a sign I posted on every wall as an educational leader and it said, “If it is educationally sound, it is administratively possible.” I tried to live that saying as an administrator regardless of my role.

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Doug:  Love it!  

As a superintendent, were you able to influence your schools and colleagues with social media?

Hazel:  Absolutely, but what was even more exciting to me was to see how the use of social media grew in our Board. I think it is safe to say learning is very visible in Peel and I think the use of social media is making a big difference in helping parents to have a snapshot into what their children are doing in school.

Doug:  Now that you’re retired, you’re certainly not leaving education completely.  I know that you’re making connections with VoiceEd Radio and beyond.  What’s happening?

Hazel:  I have retired from the day to day but my brain seems to be resisting. I am considering doing some more work with VoiceEd Radio, I am involved with Change.School, and I think I would like to consider doing some podcasts in the future with teachers doing extraordinary things. The philosophy of change is great but sometimes folks need more information about what it looks like with “boots on the ground” if you will.

Doug:  On the internet, you’ll see “lists” of educators that people need to follow.  They quickly get old.  What’s your current Top 10 list of educators to follow?

Hazel:

  • Will Richardson, @willrich45
  • Modern Learners, @ModernLearners
  • Tony Wagner, @DrTonyWagner
  • Brian Aspinall, @mraspinall
  • Gary Stager, @garystager
  • Eric Sheninger, @E_Sheninger
  • Lawrence De Maeyer, @DeMaeyerLaw
  • Neerja Punjabi, @PNeerja
  • Jonathan So, @MrSoclassroom
  • Mind Shift, MindShiftKQED

Doug:  To that list, I certainly would add Hazel Mason.

Thank you so much for the interview, Hazel.  It was a wonderful opportunity for us to learn more about the leader behind the Tweets.

For your daily fix of shared learning with Hazel, please follow her at:  @Hmason36

You can check out all of the interviews that have been posted to this blog by clicking https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews/

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OTR Links 06/13/2017


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