Our Journey into Pedagogical Documentation

Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning,
observe carefully what children do, and then,
if you have understood well,
perhaps teaching will be different from before.
Loris Malaguzzi

Some Investigations Last Minutes
“Inquiry shaped our belief that pedagogical documentation furthers a strength-based image of children, makes their thinking visible, provides for student and teacher reflection and helps drive a co-constructed responsive curriculum . . . Pedagogical documentation is powerful and important when put into practice with our students.” Those are the words of Surrey elementary teachers Hilary Wardlow, Kerri Hutchinson, Laura Verdiel, Lora Sarchet, Niki Leech, and Courtney Jones as they recently celebrated their journey to better understand and implement pedagogical documentation.

Reggio PD TeamWhere did their learning begin? Hilary, Lora and Niki attended Pedagogical Documentation as a Professional Development Tool sponsored by the Vancouver Reggio Consortium Society in October 2014, which sparked their interest in pursuing their learning further. They decided to put forward an application to the Britich Columbia Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) Teacher Inquiry Program to explore pedagogical documentation and extended an invitation to other SD36 Reggio inspired educators: Courtney, Laura and Kerri, to join them. They were awarded the BCTF Program for Quality Teaching grant in late November, jointly sponsored by the BCTF, the Surrey Teachers’ Association (STA) and Surrey Schools (SD36). BCTF Inquiry Facilitators Henry Lee and Catherine Quanstrom provided their expertise in guiding the team in monthly ½ day sessions.

In addition to release time for inquiry sessions, the group used grant funds to observe classes at Meadowbrook Elementary School, the Reggio inspired elementary school.  Classroom teachers, Harpreet Esmail and Shannon Bain, hosted the team’s visit to observe student-led inquiry and pedagogical documentation, generously debriefing their learning.  As well, the team attended four evening dinner sessions focused on pedagogical documentation which were facilitated by Bev Superle, Director of Vancouver Reggio Consortium Society and hosted by SD40.

The team connected regularly through release-time, self-directed Pro-D, Twitter (#sd36reggio) and Facebook as they explored numerous digital and non-digital ways of documenting learning. Their celebratory slideshow below provides a brief summary into their learning.

Simultaneously, many of these same educators, with the addition of Sandra Ball, (Inner City Early Learning Helping Teacher), Sarah Schnare, Carrie Donahue, Julia Thompson from Surrey and teacher teams from four other districts (Richmond, Delta and Burnaby) were engaged in a Cross-District Reggio-Inspired Mathematics Project. Based on the BC Association of Mathematics grant proposal submitted by Richmond teacher consultant, Janice Novakowski, the participating districts asked the question, “Beyond problem-solving which is inherently inquiry-based, are there other practices that nurture mathematical inquiry?” In total, twenty teachers were involved in this pilot.

Janice Novakowski articulates,”Reggio-inspired practices, drawing upon the pedagogy of the early learning schools in Reggio Emilio, Italy, are becoming an area of professional interest to teachers in BC. Many teachers are weaving Reggio-inspired practices into their early primary programs having students share their learning through their “hundred languages” and bring in natural materials, authentic experiences and a focus on the child as being capable.”

The BCAMT pilot focused the teachers’ inquiries around several key questions: “How might Reggio-inspired practices be used in the area of mathematics? What does mathematical inquiry look and feel like in early primary classrooms? How can we ‘make learning visible’ for our youngest students?”

image1How did this transformation of the teaching experience look in the classroom? Janice Novakowski provides specific ways to create the conditions to focus the learning through an inquiry lens: “For example, the teacher may pose the question ‘What is a pattern?’ or ‘How many different ways can yo represent 7?’ and lay out a variety of materials for students to choose from and investigate as they think about the inquiry question. Wondering, observing, thinking, representing, sharing and reflecting are all practices embedded in an inquiry approach and are foundational to Reggio-inspired practices.”

This group also intentionally set  out to foster the creation of an active reggio-inspired professional learning community through “encouraging an online presence and sharing experiences through twitter and blogs.” Share, share, share. Whether it was through workshops, release days of active face-to-face learning, teachers were engaged in deep learning around their own professional practice and widening the circle to include others across the province.  Just as they explored how children could document their learning, these teachers were equally committed to documenting and making their own learning visible for others.

Both of these professional inquiry groups used Reggio Emilio practices as a foundation from which to explore, build and renew their learning journey as teachers. As these educators were encouraged to create joy and wonder in their own students’ learning, they found unanticipated joy and wonder in their own learning as well.

Author’s Note: Special thanks to Teacher Consultants Sandra Ball and Janice Novakowski and Reading Advocate Courtney Jones for their contributions to this article.

Making, Math and Mother’s Day: A Belated Post

Family Motto 3In the short time I was out, I return to a disaster. Right on schedule, for Mother’s Day. My husband says this happens every day.

After being served breakfast in bed by the two youngest, we go for a family walk. The 19 year old is over the top with end of term exams and group projects as he wraps up his first year at BCIT. He barely notices me as he heads back for yet again another day on the campus to get it done. He has no time for a family walk. I am fortunate that he texts me from the campus to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day. I reiterated the family motto.

Science in Progress ElijahAnd then, I escape on the road bike to ride out to Fort Langley to the end of River Road. I wasn’t really gone that long. Honestly. I rode the bike for just over 60 minutes and came home to a super-big mess. The first thing I noticed was the tub of canola oil on the drive way surrounded by empty Alka-selszer wrappers and assorted kitchen items. “What happened here?” I asked the 11 year old. Of course, he is already on to the next best thing, “You know, we were blowing up stuff.”

Mini-Golf with FeetMini Golf Front YardMini-Golf Soccer Net Front YardMini-Golf Hole In GardenHe and his neighborhood buddies are too busy to explain more because they are preoccupied with getting golf balls to their designated holes. Yes, the front yard and every assorted item they could yank out of the garage has been converted into a mini-golf course. It covers the front yard and back. It includes holes made from play dough and empty flowerpots buried slightly into our flower garden.

I wasn’t sure about the crochet set. The 11 year old was waiting to mow the lawn and then was planning to set it up. Still, it was staggered across the front lawn. He assists in mowing the back lawn. They drag the crochet out to the back. I call out to the 16 year old, “Come and play crochet.” He laughs, shakes his head and replies, “I’ll pass. And mom, it’s not called crochet. It’s croquet!” His dad explains the rules to the 11 year old. They play a bit. Then his dad explains the concept of poison. And gets him. Game over. My child is clearly not impressed with the rules of the game.

I cut the 16 year old’s hair. I cut the 11 year old’s hair. It is Mother’s Day and they want their hair cut. I threaten the 11 year old with the Mother’s Day special: a Mohawk. He gets excited. He wants it. I do it (the hair cut, not the Mohawk). I always cut their hair. And it shows. Clearly, I am not a hairstylist. But get this, they are happy. That’s what matters.

Ocean Lightning Ellis 2015Why the rocks and the planks were hiding the cul-de-sac drain, I don’t know. I don’t know about the water guns either but the 8 year old changes his soaking wet clothes and retreats into the house. He is drawing pictures. He has been preparing for an art sale for several weeks. (I don’t know–where does all this come from?). He wants to make copies and sell them. He has over 42 originals tucked in his folder. We discuss the concept of originals and reprints so he knows that originals are much more valuable. He draws most of the afternoon. I go and lift weights. I come home and he has now decided to broker a deal. It is Mother’s Day. He will let me buy all his drawings for $40.00 but because it is Mother’s Day I can have 25% off. The deal expires today.

Bird Ellis 2015I feel some pressure. We talk more, he draws more, we negotiate, and we discuss the deal with his dad. We talk about 50% off and then he comes up with a creative solution: I can have all the drawings (there are now 57) for $10.00, which is 75% off, provided I take him to Toys-R-Us within the next 5 days to spend his money. I explain to him that in order to close the sale he will have to do portraits for each member of the family (all 6 of us). He suggests instead that he draw portraits that have half of each members face on them. Then he only needs to draw three portraits. He draws half of my face and half of my husband’s as a portrait. I agree and the deal is closed. He lets me know, however, that if I do not get him to Toys-R-Us within the next five days then I must pay $20. This has been a long and exhausting negotiation but we have it squared.

The 11 year-old now begins drawing as well. He wants his own deal. He draws cartoons and jokes. He is working on a humorous collection.

I get my choice for dinner. Do I want a barbecue at Crescent Beach? The 16 year old is immersed in homework. He has missed a lot of school for all sorts of school events (track, leadership, mediation training) and begs off doing anything but homework. The 19 year old is still on campus (but I can see he has loaded new files into our Dropbox folder–he must be making progress). There is no point, however, in having a Mother’s Day barbecue at the beach with their schedules. I opt for turkey burgers at home. I know it is easier. It is Mother’s Day. It doesn’t really matter.

To Mom from Mystery GuyThe 11 year-old takes my iPhone, my ear buds and heads out with the sound of music to clean up the yard. The 8 year-old has sold his complete art collection. The 16 year old has his haircut and the 19 year-old has uploaded his projects into Dropbox.

For me it’s been a simply good day.

Celebrate the Tribe


Tribe Seth Godin Quote 2Me: I have a crazy idea. You would be perfect. Would you consider doing something to honour #sd36learn teachers and their innovation as a community? If I needed you, would you consider doing an Ignite?

Dean: Yes and yes.

Me: The idea is that your Ignite would thank all the teachers in the district for being innovative and recognize the #sd36learn COMMUNITY.
Think about it…..
You are all about joy.
It is a fit for you.
This is our last night of the series so I wanted it to be celebratory. You could honour people. I tried to organize a flash mob and video but have run out of time. I wanted: youtube.com/watch?v=mytLRy…

Dean: I’ll figure something out.

Me: Not a mention of district staff. Just about celebrating the wonderful work. About learning. About sharing. About joy.

Dean: Whatever you need…

Me: Hope you are good. Looking forward to connecting tomorrow. I hope I haven’t made you feel pressured.

Dean: Nope. I like a good challenge. Hope you’ll like it. Nothing fancy but celebrates your tribe.

Me: Perfect. I like that: Celebrates your tribe. That is exactly what it is….

Honoured to have you in the room to do it. Can’t think of a better person. You know, understand and build community (tribe).

Thanks to Dean for sharing the joy of the #sd36learn tribe!

And that wasn’t all. We continued to celebrate as teachers and students shared the joy of the learning journey.

See Lisa Domeier de Suarez, known affectionately as @librarymall, share her joy of the “Maker Space.”

In case you don’t know, it was Lisa, with her colleagues, that gave birth to the #sd36learn hashtag four years ago after being inspired at ISTE. You can see the Birth of a Hashtag slideshare here (pretty great slides!):

Our district is forging ahead with changing structures, places, tools and ways of learning, all by intentional design. The educators in our very own backyard who are experimenting and putting it into action are our inspiration. Jennifer Jenkins, Sarah Amyotte, Dolkar McBride, and Edward Ewacha, a teaching team from Earl Marriott Secondary School shared their Ignite: StEMs- Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning. Seeing our own educators in the unfinished journey of innovation, and the willingness to share it with their colleagues, is what others find inspiring. So glad they came to the evening to share!

Arjin and Taziya, grade 6 students from Pacific Heights Elementary shared how Students Taking Charge of Their Learning has changed “school” for them. Special thanks go to first-year teacher Danielle Peters for creating the conditions for these learners to flourish. Their confidence, enthusiasm, passion and ownership of their learning is really quite amazing.

Our keynote speaker, Lance Rougeaux, challenged our thinking with his presentation: STEMulating Minds Want to Know and Do. He helped us redefine our thinking about STEM and what it means now in 2015.

 We had a wonderful evening with the #sd36learn tribe, both those inside and outside our organization. Thank you to all for learning with us and sharing the journey together. Seth Godin captures it best in the title of his book: Tribes: We need you to lead us.


Author’s Note: Special thanks to all our Igniters! Thanks to Dean Shareski for letting me share excerpts from our Direct Messages over Twitter.

A Parting Gift: An Outsider’s Perspective

Guest Post: Special thanks to Sarah Garr (@garr_s) for being my assistant in organizing our Ignites for the Engaging the Digital Learner Series. She innocently offered her assistance last fall and I immediately put her to work! It is with appreciation for her service to all of us in #sd36learn that I asked her to write a post on what she has learned from her journey in our district. Her parting gift, this post, is the outsider’s perspective.


IMG_5313I tend to write from the heart. And for that reason, I must admit this is a somewhat challenging post for me to write. Because for the past 17 years, my heart has ben with the Surrey School District, and at the end of June, I will be leaving it. I am pleased to share that I have accepted a Vice-Principal position with the Richmond School District (SD #38). I am simultaneously thrilled to be able to take on this new challenge, and a little saddened to leave behind the district that has made this incredible opportunity possible.

Over the past 17 years, I’ve been able to plan and participate in numerous school, district and provincial initiatives, which have resulted in transformative personal and professional growth, and as such, has allowed me to better support the diverse and complex needs of my students. I have been fortunate to belong to a unique community of educators who inspire, support, challenge and celebrate not only their students’ learning, but that of their colleagues. I’ve always known that the #sd36learn community is extremely special. But ironically, it’s only as I’ve been able to share some of my most formative learning and leadership experiences with individuals from other districts, that I’ve been gifted with a fresh perspective of what it means to be an educator in this district. Through this process of sharing, I have been gifted with an “outsider’s” perspective.

As educators, we understand that one of the most effective methods to allow our students to fully integrate a new concept is by providing them with an opportunity to share that learning with others. When students are able to reflect, synthesize and then share, they often come to a new level of understanding. In the same way, as I made my way through the application and interview process with other districts, I was able to come to a new level of understanding by reflecting, synthesizing and sharing some of my most transformative experiences as a teacher leader in the Surrey School District.

#dreambigOver the past several years, I’ve been able to speak at conferences where the audience was comprised of individuals from a variety of school districts. However, I was still somewhat unaccustomed to speaking with groups who were largely unfamiliar with Surrey programs and initiatives. I was used to “preaching to the converted”, so to speak. As such, I was able to give a slightly abbreviated overview of various initiatives, such as my participation in the iTunes U course development partnership with Apple Canada, my involvement with the “Engaging the Digital Learner” series, and the creation of a Learning Partners program, and it’s associated “Teacher Drop In” and online Collaboration Calendar, to list but a few. But by moving beyond district boundaries and meeting with individuals who were less familiar with the Surrey School District, I was challenged to more clearly and carefully articulate the multi-faceted intricacies of these projects. And just as we look for that flash of understanding in our students’ eyes, I learned to judge my success by the nods and smiles of understanding of my interviewers. Even more profoundly, as I moved through this process, I began to “see” the Surrey School District from a fresh perspective, an “outsider’s” perspective. At the same time, it was incredibly invigorating to gain a deeper understanding of the great, innovative work that is also occurring in other districts.

And so as I make my way through my last few months in Surrey, I am grateful to Elisa Carlson for allowing me this opportunity to reflect on and share the enormous personal and professional learning and growth that I have
experienced as a member of this inspiring and supportive community. I am by no means suggesting that it is necessary to leave one’s district to fully understand and appreciate its unique character. But from time to time, I would argue that it is indeed necessary to broaden the scope of our conversations, to seek out new audiences, different perspectives and fresh insights, to view the “familiar” through an “outsider’s” lens.

Wheels Turning 3I look forward with great excitement to being able to continue to learn and grow, in a leadership role with the Richmond School District. But I also hope to maintain my strong ties to the #sd36learn community.

To those who saw my potential before I could see it in myself, to those who inspired, supported and celebrated each new step, my heartfelt thanks and gratitude.

Anticipating the Future

The future depends on what we do in the present.

Mahatma Ghandi


Our district is exploring our vision of Learning by Design. We are examining how manipulating the variables of traditional structures, simple & complex tools, and learning strategies can deepen the learning experience for students.We create these important conversations through the Engaging the Digital Learner Series. The event is designed to expose our educators to different ideas, new frames for thinking, practical applications of innovative practice and inspirational speakers.

This past week our evening was punctuated with inspiring stories from four teachers who shared the ways they are experimenting with their practice. From “trying on” new teaching strategies, such as SOLES or Maker Spaces, to believing that anything is possible and preparing students for a future in physical education, each of these teachers shared their thinking and their challenge for us as individuals. Our keynote presenters, George Couros (District Principal of Innovation from Parkland SD) and Superintendent Jordan Tinney, had us anticipate the future as they examined new ways of learning and leading.

The educators in the room represent teams of three from some of our schools. They sit at tables with other teams and engage in structured conversation in response to the presentations.  Table seating remains constant each evening so relationships can develop, informal networks can be established and community can be built. When you have over 5,000 teachers in your district, creating opportunities for connecting allows us to humanize and personalize the organization.

Each evening is live streamed (we had a teacher from Singapore following along and tweeting into our #sd36learn stream) and the videos are included here. Our purpose is to share our learning with not just our own community but with educators across the world so we can all learn from each other. There are no district borders to separate our commitment and passion to make schooling for our students the best it can be.

Laura Mayer, grade 6 teacher from North Ridge Elementary School, shares her story of  her experimentation with Self Organized Learning Environments. Sugata Mitra’s research Hole in the Wall formed the original ideas behind SOLES. You can find his TED talk here. Laura takes a deeper dive into wonder and inquiry with her students using the SOLE framework.

Glenn Young, District PE Helping Teacher and District Athletic Coordinator speaks on Motivating the Future Learner in Physical EducationGlenn explores the power of motivating young learners through the integrated use of instructional technology in the PE context.

Marilyn Carr, grade 5 teacher from Harold Bishop Elementary, shares her belief that Anything is Possible. Based on the book by the same name, Marilyn urges us to encourage our students. This would be the first time we have an Ignite presenter conclude her story by actually singing a song!

Jeff Unruh, grade 7 teacher from Pacific Heights Elementary tells his story of Learning to Share: A Twitter Discovery. You can also learn more about Jeff in this guest post, Guess What? That’s usauthored by George Couros.

What does great leadership look like to you? What are the implications for future change? These are just some of the questions posed by keynote presenters George Couros and Superintendent Jordan Tinney as they talk about Anticipating the Future and “going elbows deep into learning.”

Learning by Design, our district’s vision, happens when we take the time to listen to the stories of others who inspire us to be intentional architects and designers of deep learning experiences for the students in our classrooms.

Note: Thanks to all our presenters for sharing your hearts and minds with us.

Leap, Pull, Play: A Framework for Innovative Professional Development

Leap Pull Play Graphic

Creating engagement is not about driving a particular set of behaviors. It is much more about creating an environment in which people feel energized to do the best work of their lives.

Coles Hewett

Massive and global changes in the ways that we learn, connect and live dictate fresh approaches to professional development (PD). The confluence of accelerated learning and the vast array of possibilities with connected and engaged educators creates exciting and challenging conditions for changing practice. PD in a networked organization is fundamentally different from PD in the traditional hierarchy. The difference is that the focus is on exponential change created and promoted by networks of field-based educators committed to sharing their practice and spreading the change. These networks act in concert complementing the more formal structures of the organization.

Professional learning practices, innovation and social movements are inextricably linked. With ideas spreading exponentially, there is indeed an opportunity for a radical social movement among educators. For the purposes of professional learning, this can be best described as an increasingly rapid contagion of ideas, projects, stories and practices that spread. The movement becomes self-propelling, reaching critical mass and, over time, results in new behavioural norms. These norms become habitual and when widely adopted by members of an organization, shift the basic assumptions underlying the culture. The ultimate outcome: widespread adoption throughout the system, and tacit positive transfer of learning creating an enduring impact for all learners.


IMG_5313Effective PD is as individualized for teachers as is learning for students. In many respects, it is about creating the optimal conditions for teachers to flourish in their practice. We believe these conditions are created by embracing uncertainties, encouraging exploration, play and risk-taking with instructional practices. Indeed, this might be the most profound and wonderful time to be a teacher in education.  There is much opportunity to change the nature of learning, the path of our students, and ultimately, impact the world. At the heart of it all, educators want to make a difference and are poised in an essential position to do just that. In truth, many educators have been waiting for this time.


Our framework is a recursive cycle of action, attraction and shared learning that evolves as more and more educators adopt innovative approaches towards their professional practices. We call it Leap, Pull and Play. When applied at the school district level, the framework embodies guiding principles for PD that are leveraged across a systems context, such as:

  • exposing educators to innovative ideas (latest research);
  • offering multiple opportunities to experiment and explore;
  • focusing on evidence of student learning;
  • seeding innovative pilots based on professional inquiry;
  • keeping projects teacher-led, teacher-driven and school-focused;
  • building the capacity of teachers and administrators;
  • creating networks of learning communities;
  • maintaining commitments to ongoing staff development;
  • offering multiple projects aligned with district priorities;
  • adopting a strategy of diffusion for replication; and
  • sharing of learning through social media.


I jumped in with both feet and haven’t looked back.

Karen Lirenman

Where do we begin? Despite knowing that the loss of enthusiasm and disengagement of students is increasing and that there is an urgent need to adopt innovative ways of teaching, school systems and their educators struggle with getting started. Leap is a dramatic action that requires courage and determination to do things differently. Grade 1 teacher Nikki Leech best expresses it:

“The longer you wait the more scared you will be; sometimes you just need to take the leap.”

Nikki Leech

iStock_000009548300XSmallIndividually, and corporately, we need to take a leap to shift our view of self, our beliefs and our practices. Moreover, leap is critical to seeding the diffusion process across the system.

PD strategies in large systems need to create the following: opportunities to challenge the status quo, individual and organizational dissonance, and a compelling vision of a new future that is worthy of adopting. The leap requires courage, commitment and choice. Early adopters and innovators demonstrate their convictions as they springboard into action. They create a model of inspiration and compel others to also take the leap.

Organizational cultures that can embrace uncertainty are more adaptive and this is key in creating an environment where teachers can flourish. For professional learning to cascade across the system, organizations must build a supportive and permissive culture that encourages, acknowledges, validates and celebrates the leap into exploration of new ways of teaching. Multiple diffusion strategies, from the use of social media to creating networks of connected educators, allow the story to spread, creating a tipping point so that innovation, best practice, inquiry, and deep engagement become the norm in the schoolhouse.

System leadership acknowledges this risk-taking, supports early leaders, and provides recognition-creating opportunities to share successes. Highlighting centres of excellence, lead teachers, classrooms, and schools provides a window for others to realize it can be accomplished. When educators leap and are declarative they move their practices and their thinking from conformity to positive deviance, from incremental changes to exponential changes, and from ordinary to extraordinary.

How do we gather the courage to think in these big and bold ways? What creates the motivation and the desire to learn? How do we support teachers to be braver, bolder, and more declarative as we aim for exponential change? How do we pull the organization along in this new direction?


People have to be pulled to innovation. You have to craft activities that draw people to innovate.

Charles Leadbeater

According to John Hagel in his book The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motionprofessional learning is most effective when educators are pulled into their learning by the attraction of the opportunity for change. Pull allows us to harness and unleash the forces of attraction, influence and achievement[1]. Instead of central office pushing teachers to change, educators pull the learning and the requirements they desire to meet their needs. Educators are drawn into and pulled towards the innovation that they find attractive. This pull activates the adult learner’s choice, autonomy, engagement and commitment into the transformation process. “Pull platforms harness their participants’ passion, commitment, desire to learn, thereby creating communication that can improvise and innovate rapidly”[2]. The innovative opportunity acts like a magnet, pulling individuals and the collective organization towards a new way of being, understanding, and delivering their practice.

iStock_000027183263LargeHagel describes this change of pull as one of the big shifts in creating scalability. Leaders design opportunities for the organization to experiment, explore and take risks with their practice and structures for learning. A culture of innovation goes beyond giving mere lip service to good ideas but creates conditions so educators can translate ideas into action. Sometimes our motivation to learn lies dormant and it take exposure to others, to fresh ideas and altered practice to create a desire to learn. As educators take a leap towards new behaviours, they are pulled by the attraction inherent in the change. This pull, together with the leap, invites and encourages the rest of the organization to follow suit.

As Hagel identifies, “The power of pull will become the governing principle for success and those who learn how to use these tools and methods most effectively are the ones who will pull their institutions into a new era of higher performance and achievement, often through the use of edge practices at the core.” It is the invitation to innovation that attracts the educator that is prepared to be an edge player, innovating outside the norms of the organization. These innovative edge practices, as more and more become attracted by the pull, are moved from the outside of the organization into the centre.


Play doesn’t just help us explore what is essential. It is essential in and of itself.

Greg McKeown

According to Greg McKeown in his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, purposely designing opportunities and allowing educators to experiment, explore, take risks and play with their practice is fundamental. He indicates that play is important because it fuels explorations in three ways: broadening the range of options available to us; improving the brain’s executive functions like planning, prioritizing, anticipating, deciding and analyzing; and being an antidote to stress[3].

Red balloon blue skyColleagues come together, think/learn together, are inspired by experts, have conversations, wrestle with significant issues, and share what does and does not work. They explore and apply what they have learned and then share in multiple ways with their peers. When they are engaged in learning together, it becomes a form of play. Educators become inventive. Learning becomes fun and reinvigorating. The joy of learning returns to us and is echoed in our classrooms in our work with students. The joy of play and learning becomes contagious.

The significance of play is amplified in a social context of a shared learning experience and a shared supportive communitiy. This is where the diffusion strategy is activated and creates networks of educators committed to creating the best learning conditions for students. What is most important is engaging in the learning journey together.

In our context, this is really about the power of connected educators committed to a common purpose. It is creating the impetus for educators to begin identifying with and self-organizing a transformational movement. Creating and building social networks is a powerful strategy. Great minds, great ideas, and open sharing across boundaries create new opportunities for accelerated growth, inspiration, and impact.


The solution, which I have seen work astonishingly well, is a second system that is organized as a network…It makes an enterprise easier to run while accelerating strategic change. This is not a question of “either/or.” It’s ‘both/and:’ two systems that operate in concert, a dual operating system.

John Kotter

How do we influence the conditions for teachers to shift their practice to create authentic, rich, and deep learning experiences offering students voice, choice, ownership and inspiration? Where do we find the leverage points for schools/districts to adapt their organizational structures in order for learning to take place in a 24/7 digital world? The viability of our public education system requires today’s educator to wrestle with these questions, engage the whole organization in these essential conversations and create a bias for action that delivers results. Professional learning requires a systemic lens that looks beyond the classroom to the schoolhouse and beyond.

iStock_000027690504LargeIntentionally creating connections across the organization maximizes networks focused on relationships and results in more joy and satisfaction. However, it is the growth in numbers of participants, the depth of learning and the changed behaviour of participants that demonstrate the impact of these innovative approaches. This growth takes place when transformative practices from the edges move to the center.

The real test, however, and the true measure of a system’s approach to professional learning asks two fundamental questions: Does it change teacher and student learning? And, is it changing our institution of education? We need to think beyond the one classroom/one teacher pro-d strategy and look to the transformation of the whole organization. We are not settling for the status quo. Our vision needs to be much grander. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A social movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution.” We are in for a revolution, are you?

[1] Hagel, J., Brown, J.S., & Davison, L. The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion (2010). Deloitte Development LCC, Philadelphia, PA.
[2] ibid.
[3] McKeown, G. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (2014). Random House: New York, NY.

This blog post was part of CEA’s focus on the state of Teacher PD in Canada, which is also connected to Education Canada Magazine’s Teachers as Learners theme issue and The Facts on Education fact sheet, What is Effective Teacher Professional Development? It has been re-posted here.

This post was co-authored by Dr. Elisa Carlson and Dr. Donna VanSant. Both share a fascination for innovation, leadership, organizational health, school culture and system change.

Guess what? That’s us!

: The post below is reprinted with permission from George Couros and Jeff Unruh, a grade 7 teacher at Pacific Heights Elementary School. Jeff is the teacher that we are visiting and I am the colleague identified in the post. I had invited George to come to our district to do an environmental scan of our journey into innovation. I was interested in having “outsider eyes” and a “critical friend” provide me with feedback on our on-going work to improve student learning. This is what George wrote:


A Higher Chance of Becoming Great? The “Twitter” Factor

IMG_5158I walked into the room and I could tell right away.

This was a teacher I had never met and knew very little about, but the atmosphere in his classroom was great.  As I walked with my colleague, I asked her the question, “Do you think he is on Twitter?”  I wanted her to make an educated guess, and her thoughts were the same as mine; definitely.

How did we know this?

IMG_5148As I walked in, I saw unique seating spaces, posters all over the wall that focused on “taking risks” and encouraging students to think different.  The walls were also covered in information about “Genius Hour” and their recent “Maker Faire”.  At the time, the students were also learning how to play chess with a master player, who also happened to be a grandparent. Notice that there was no technology mentioned above, but just about a different learning environment.  There were multiple, amazing opportunities for learning in this classroom to reach students where they were at, and tap into their strengths and passions.

IMG_5160So when we asked the teacher if they were on Twitter, he mentioned that he was but he didn’t necessarily share that much online.  But it was his access to information that made things look differently in his classroom.  When I asked if he had seen an impact in his classroom from the use of Twitter, he wasn’t sure, but it was a type of “boiling frog” scenario.  The change could have happened so gradually that he did not notice the small steps that could have been made to where he was now.  Just being a “lurker” in that space though, had made a difference.

IMG_5140Now I am not saying that if you are NOT on Twitter, you are ineffective.  There might be several classrooms that look like the one I have briefly described that were designed by a teacher who may not be on Twitter, that receive their information elsewhere.  What I do know is that looked NOTHING like my classroom when I first started teaching, because honestly, I did not have the access to the same information that teachers do now.  Our opportunities have changed and people have taken advantage to benefit themselves, and more importantly, their students.

Isolation is now a choice educators make.  We have access to not only information, but each other. We need to tap into that.

Being on Twitter dIMG_5162oesn’t make you a great teacher any more than not being on Twitter makes you ineffective.  There are a lot of great teachers who do some pretty amazing things that do not connect online.

However, I do believe that having that access 24/7 to great ideas through the medium and the connection to other teachers increases your chances on being great.  If you really think about it,  how could it not?

Note: Thanks to George Couros, Jeff Unruh and Principal Sundeep Chohan for expanding our thinking. You will hear more from Jeff Unruh as our featured Ignite presenter at our next Learning by Design: Engaging the Digital Learner session. George will also be keynoting with Superintendent Jordan Tinney at that time as they look back at learning, look at the present, and predict going forward. It promises to be provocative. We will be streaming it live for those that want to join us.

The Sharing Continues

Tweet Ignited

Our Engaging the Digital Learner: Learning by Design series continues to be a motivational, inspirational and informative event for the 280 educators that join us each evening. The sessions are designed so we hear learning stories through four Ignite presentations, with table talk in-between, dinner for more continued conversation and then an opportunity to hear a keynote address. The seating arrangement typically includes three representatives from each school, three schools at a table and up to 10 in total. The teams are committed to all sessions with the intention that they take back their learning, share it with others, and experiment with new ideas around teaching and learning. What happens, however, is that the learning doesn’t take place just there in that room each evening. We have it livestreamed so others can watch it at home and even those that aren’t watching the livestream are following along our #sd36learn hashtag. Apparently we were so active in sharing our learning that night that our hashtag was trending during the session. It is fascinating to see how professional learning, in an era of technology, is now spilling out of its traditional boxes and spreading across organizations through the power of the internet and social media.

Nathan Horne is a PE teacher from Singapore that was on his spring break to visit relatives in White Rock. Our PE Helping Teacher Glenn Young reached out and asked if Nathan would be willing to do an Ignite for us. We were not disappointed! Here is his Ignite: Giving our Students a Physical Education for the Future.

Alyssa Becker, a Science teacher from Sullivan Heights Secondary shares with us her passion about travelling to new places with her students, Student Travel:

Curtis Weibe, a Teacher-Librarian from Strawberry Hill Elementary challenges us to Think Differently.

Each night I try to keep something that we are doing a bit of a surprise for the attendees. Bringing in young people, as young as grade 2, to present at Ignite was a wonderful and refreshing opportunity for us as educators to learn right from students. Jaslehna and Mya, two seven year olds from Woodward Hill Elementary School, share their message: You Are Never Too Young.

Our keynote presenter, Jan Unwin, works as the Superintendent of Grad Transitions for the B.C. Ministry of Education. Her presentation was outstanding and she encouraged us not to wait for the Ministry to make changes to legislation or curriculum but to do what we know is right for our students. In her own words, “We can’t wait for the Ministry of Education to clear all the brush. It has to come from you.”

I hope you find the opportunity to enjoy these stories and perhaps even show a clip to your colleagues or use one as a conversation starter at a meeting. We have so much we can learn from each other, let’s continue the sharing.

Note: Special thanks to Sarah Garr for her ongoing assistance with the Ignites each evening. Thank you to Karen Lirenman for providing us with her grade 2 students.

Share, Share, Share

Social media concept“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten):
1. Share everything…
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first workd you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”
― Robert Fulghum, in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

We learn from others. When we share it often requires us to reflect on our own understanding and practice about learning, teaching and leadership.  It clarifies our thinking, extends its reach and connects us to others. When we share, we expose part of who we are, we become vulnerable and what makes us human is revealed. Sharing our thinking creates a connection. Sharing allows us to be in a space of community together. I learned about the importance of sharing from other leaders in education, Dean Shareski, George Couros, Alec Couros and many more influential thought leaders that echoed the same maxim: Share, share, share.

Occasionally, I have invited other educators to write a guest post for me because they have something significant to say or I feel they have led an endeavour from which  we could all learn. Sometimes they decline. They are not ready to share yet because they do not feel that their work is finished, proven or successful. For me, sharing isn’t about identifying that we have reached an endpoint or perfection but that we have started a journey. I am not looking for exemplars of perfection but for those that are creating a learning lab for themselves and their students. Those learning labs and unfinished experiences create inspiration for others to grow in their learning as well.

We are getting better in our district at sharing our unfinished journeys. We are  willing to take risks to blog, tweet and even share in front of large crowds. Kudos to those that are stepping up to take those kinds of risks in front of a global audience. At our February Engaging the Digital Learner Series, we had five participants step up to tell their story in the form of an Ignite. We share their Ignite and their learning here. We hope you take a look!

Watch as Principal Iram Khan shares about Minecraft Mania:

New teacher Sarah Dalzell describes her No Stress story:

Suminder Singh, Tamanawis Math Department Head, challenges our notions of traditional instruction with a learning design that changes the structure and tools of learning through Vertical Spacing:

Sean and Vivian Yin, grade 6 Berkshire Park Elementary students, share Creativity in the Makerspace:

What is the impact when we share our learning? I can tell you. After Suminder’s talk, a teacher at White Rock Elementary promptly stripped her walls and windows to set them up so she too could experiment with Vertical Spacing in her class. The twins gave us a window into seeing how the experience of “playing” in a makerspace context had shaped their learning and allowed them to be creative. Their presentation was met with a resounding standing ovation. No wonder–10 year olds telling their story in front of 280 educators! The very next day, I had emails requesting more information on Makerspaces kits. Some principals even arranged to obtain kits for their teachers or for a teacher to spend a half-day visiting a site with a Makerspace in active operation. We now even have someone lined up to talk to us about the impact of exploring Minecraft in their class (stay tuned for more). And as I indicated in my introduction to Sarah Dalzell’s Ignite, her influence reached out beyond our walls to influence a young adult to pursue a future in education. Share, share, share.

We were also fortunate to be entertained, uplifted and challenged by Myron Dueck, author of Grading Smarter, Not Harder. He spoke to us about Creativity and Assessment. For me personally. I found his presentation encouraging and I appreciated having the opportunity to laugh as well. When he gave us real examples of assignments that students had completed that incorporated creativity, it was truly inspiring. I saw learning that I wanted my own children to experience. I encourage you to watch him here.

In the spirit of sharing our journey as learners, educators and a district, we hope you find these Ignites and our Keynote presenter helpful to your own growth. Perhaps you can use a clip from the Keynote, or show one of these Ignites at at staff or department meeting or workshop session as a potential discussion starter. I hope they create some inspiration!

Author’s Note: Special thanks to all our presenters for sharing their story. So nice to know that these presentations had an impact on changing practice in classrooms and on improving the learning experiences for students across our system. We look forward to more inspiration on March 23rd!

Engaging the Digital Learner: Learning by Design

Change is the end result of all true learning.
Leo Buscaglia

We were fortunate to kick off January 2015 with a return to our very successful Engaging the Digital Learner Series. Each year we try to find educational thought leaders that will challenge our thinking and encourage our growth as professionals. Participants attend in school teams and sit at tables so we can create opportunity for thoughtful conversation about practice and provide an opportunity for informal and formal networks to grow. All of our attendees are encouraged to find something to take away that they can experiment with in their classroom. With Ignites and a Keynote, along with an overactive and enthusiastic hashtag (#sd36learn) that shares our learning, each evening has become an inspiring touchpoint for educators across our district.

This year our first evening focused on Learning by Design as Superintendent Jordan Tinney and Deputy Superintendent Rick Ryan unveiled the district’s refreshed vision. The vision is anchored by a focus that explores new structures, the use of tools, and fresh ways of learning. It provides us with a mindset with which to think about our work as we move forward as a district. You can see their story here:

Every session we have been highlighting the innovative teachers that we have right in our own backyard who are experimenting with their practice. These brave educators share their passion through the form of an Ignite. The motto for an Ignite session is teach us but make it quick! (People are given the challenge of sharing their passion in 5 minutes using only 20 slides). Think of it like a haiku, a sonnet, or even a tweet. The form is pre-established and the challenge is to communicate your passion and message within that structure.  Ignite presentations, are designed to provide us with new information, explore unknown territory in teaching & learning, or give us an actual window into classroom and instruction that is taking place across our district.

We have some really amazing work taking place across the district and I am pleased to be able to share some of it here.

The Learning project shared by Johnston Heights principal Sheila Hammond.

Be a Superhero with teacher grade 7 teacher Ron Dorland.

Making the Shift featuring Elementary Helping Teacher Karen Fadum.

Innovation Fair: A Fun Way to Learn featuring grade 8 student Owais Kharadi.

I want to thank all of our courageous Igniters for sharing their learning. Their experiences epitomize and showcase Learning by Design in action. Thank you to Jordan Tinney and Rick Ryan for acknowledging, validating and celebrating the work of all our teachers through creating a truly inspiring new vision.

Note: Our video and audio will be better next time. We have learned from this attempt. Thanks for watching and we will share our next session soon.