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.

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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

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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

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NEW REALITIES

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.

OPTIMAL CONDITIONS

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.

FRAMEWORK FOR INNOVATIVE SYSTEM PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT 

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.

LEAP: DECLARATIVE ACTION AND COMMITMENT

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?

PULL: HARNESSING INFLUENCE AND ATTRACTION

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: SPARKING DISCOVERY AND EXPLORATION

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.

MAXIMIZING PROFESSIONAL LEARNING

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!


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Prologue
: 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:

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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.

Innovation in Action: Learning by Design

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Not only should we encourage kids to daydream, but also to jump-in and build those dreams. Dreaming is largely lost among adults drowning in self-imposed realities.                                                                                                    Ryan Lilly

 If you can imagine a solution, you can make it happen.

Jay Samit

Part of what we need to do to get students more deeply involved in school, is to involve their hands directly in service to learning.

Doug Stowe

The energy and excitement in the school was palpable and contagious. The school was so busy with guests, parents, people from Simon Fraser University and lots and lots of children from local elementary schools that one needed to be quite focused to see the many great things hidden in the little gym, the big gym and openly displayed in the school cafeteria. Students were sharing their learning with others and observers were intrigued, asking questions and just having fun seeing all the creative projects on display.

Banana DucksI had missed the school’s Innovation Week last year so I was pretty determined to make sure I visited this time. These grade 8 & 9 students did not disappoint and I was truly fascinated by some of their original ideas. I thought I would just share a few of these pleasures.

The Food Art table was fun. I was impressed because this student had taken the time to sculpt unique products using food. The banana ducks were entertaining as were many other creatively carved fruits.

IMG_3736The toe socks were just too funny. I think I found them intriguing because I always have cold feet. Her product was hand designed and sewn. She has even been careful to create a design that includes the option of being able to wear the socks with flip-flops.

 

IMG_3754Daniel has created a Lopter prototype. No more do parents have to worry about toddlers accidently locking themselves behind closed doors. With The Lopter, the door can be accidently shut by the child but this small insert prevents it from being locked with the child trapped inside. Clearly, this is a useful device for parents with young children. You have to love his short promotional video:

Daniel is also now one of the main photographers of the Surrey International Film Festival and has a winning short film he completed for the Surrey Homelessness Society.
Daniel’s friend, Jasper designed a fascinating project to dry out wet umbrellas. His powerpoint walks you through the steps he completed in creating his umbrella prototype.

This is a good idea for those of us that live here on what we affectionately refer to as the “wet” coast. I marvel at his ingenuity. Does it work? Perhaps not too much. Does that matter? Not really. Jasper has engaged in a thoughtful, systematic process to design, iterate, redesign and test his prototype. That’s real learning in action.

This is just a small, small sample that I experienced and found inspiring. I didn’t get a chance to see (and touch) Mohamed’s Arduino iTouch invention. He was just too busy explaining it and letting other’s test it out. I would have had to wait in line! His project was called  “italk.”  I  think he created a device to assist special needs people in  communicating.  He used Arduino and even contacted Australia to get the small little interface he needed.  As school principal Sheila Morissette indicated, ” it was quite impressive.”
I wonder if we would have seen all this brilliance if there hadn’t been this structure to redesign the opportunities for students to choose their own topic, explore a problem, ask their own questions, and design solutions? They had chosen and even, in some cases, created their own tools to communicate solutions or express their creativity.

Kudos to all the staff and students at Fraser Heights for designing new ways of learning that allow students to pursue their passions, solve real problems and share their solutions with the world. Truly, this is a place of Learning by Design.

A Window into Learning

We’re trying to boil it down to what do parents really want and need to know about a child’s progress in school? How can we give parents a window into class?…We believe traditional report cards are highly ineffective in communicating to parents where their children are in learning. If we can communicate this learning routinely to parents, then we see the need for report cards and the stamp of letter grade going way down.”

Dr. Jordan Tinney, Superintendent, CNN

A Window into a Child's Learning

Surrey Schools has initiated a project – Communicating Student Learning (CSL) – to evolve its student assessment practice and tools reflective of emerging educational philosophy and the Ministry of Education’s direction. Two district explorations have been launched – paper and electronic – to assess various potential assessment approaches, tools and implementation strategies that will ultimately become district best practice. This post is focused on our electronic trial—Making Learning Visible.

Background

For over a decade, Surrey’s elementary schools have been using a standard report card, designed by several school principals using Filemaker Pro. The report card is a list of grade specific Prescribed Learning Outcomes where student progress is indicated using a rating scale[1] and/or letter grades. Limited room on the report card exists for teachers to provide a summary of a student’s learning, often noting what the student has been doing well, in addition to potential areas for improvement. These report cards are distributed three times throughout the school year. Our practice represents a significant misalignment with what we know about Assessment and with the Ministry of Education’s new direction.

The Ministry of Education’s new Curriculum Transformation and Assessment,[2] Communicating Student Learning (Reporting) document states:

“Aligning curriculum, assessment, evaluation and communicating student learning approaches will be key in these transformation efforts. To date, consultations regarding communicating student learning have resulted in the following recommendations:

  • Shift from ‘reporting’ to ‘communicating student learning.’
  • Support meaningful communication between teachers, parents and learners.
  • Report on core competencies and key areas of learning.
  • Focus on learning standards (curricular competencies and content/concepts) in areas of learning (subjects).
  • Enable ongoing communication (with provincial guidelines and supports).
  • Maintain formal, written summative reports at key times in the year.
  • Use clear performance standards-based language.
  • Move toward meaningful descriptions/collections/demonstrations of student learning.”

The Ministry recommendations provide a foundation and guiding principles for our new direction.

In the spring of 2013, Surrey Schools officially initiated its exploration of evolving its practices and tools related to communicating student learning. The project is being guided by a District team of Learning Partners[3], with support from District Senior Leadership. Unofficially, the district had already been exploring other ways of documenting student learning electronically with a small group of teachers from across the district as we began to formulate a new vision for reporting practice. As we felt there was a serious disconnect between our current reporting practices and the Ministry’s new direction, we wanted to align our practice with a new vision.

Surrey School’s Vision

Our vision for long-term change resulting from this project is captured in this simple vision statement:

Making Learning Visible: Transforming learning through assessment.

Surrey School’s Electronic Assessment Goal

Our goal is to provide parents with a 24/7 virtual window into their child’s learning to encourage more active parent understanding and involvement as well as ensuring timely responses and intervention in order to maximize student learning.

  • Provide teachers with a better reporting process to communicate student learning.
  • Provide an opportunity to collect authentic snapshots of learning (audio, video and published blogs), to provide descriptive feedback and to enrich the parent communication experience.
  • Provide an electronic space for a three-way conversation (students, teachers and parents) about learning intentions, achievement and next steps in a child’s learning journey.
  • Students are actively involved in their learning through their own capacity to choose, share and reflect on the most important artifacts that illustrate their learning.
  • Provide an electronic option for teachers to collect evidence on a child’s progress and demonstrate growth over time.
  • Capitalize on the analytic capacity of technology to curate information and resources to provide timely learning support for students, teachers and parents.
  • Provide leadership in setting direction for the future implementation of the MOE curriculum transformation as it pertains to Communicating Student Learning (formerly referred to as Reporting).

The Project Plan

Integral to this process is the invitation to explore the use of formative assessment using an inquiry approach in the context of digital documentation. We asked teachers to commit to working as a collaborative team to explore inquiry questions on “reporting:” How can digital documentation and digital tools impact teachers and student learning? How can formative assessment and the continuous growth of students be communicated in a digital format that provides authentic examples? The investigation represents small teams of teachers across the district in both elementary and secondary schools committed to this action research. The project is ongoing.

Regardless of the tool or template, teachers are asked to communicate on key areas addressing literacy, numeracy, and social responsibility reflected through the lens of the core competencies (Thinking, Communicating, Personal & Social Responsibility) and including the content areas (eg. critical thinking in Social Studies).

About the Tool

The software selected for the Making Learning Visible pilot is FreshGrade, developed by a BC-based company. FreshGrade is a Web 2.0 tool that supports teachers (and students) in capturing student learning, creating a digital portfolio, providing feedback to students and communicating student learning to parents.

The tool can also assist in supporting personalized learning by analyzing student activity and achievement. The tool can potentially access curated resources and can prompt teachers on the next steps, based on an analysis of student data and recommend learning resources matched to individual student needs. Not all of these features are turned on in the program but are included as part of the roadmap. The program is designed to change the way assessment is understood and practiced, save teacher time in data collection and provide a much more robust window into a child’s learning. The FreshGrade tool provides a digital platform that takes advantage of technology to collect, assess, share and communicate student learning. In our partnership arrangement, the use of this tool allows the district to “own” the student data and ensure we can have some measure of control over the information. Teachers have been working with the company providing feedback for over two years now.

Outside of the project, there are teachers who have independently started using FreshGrade. This simple act of engaging with the platform, investigating and “playing” with the tool, is an important part of the innovation movement and confirming teacher interest and support of the tool’s application. We fundamentally believe that if the experience and product is effective that teachers will be drawn to its use.

Our findings our guided by the experience of actual practitioners—our teachers—the professional experts in the field. As they explore, we learn. As Antonio Vendramin, Principal of Cambridge Elementary describes, “More and more as I hear teachers reflect on MLV, the more I hear that this is beginning a transformation in assessment and pedagogy. Teachers are asking critical questions regarding learning evidence that is collected, what it reveals, and how it connects with learning intentions. Fundamentally, teachers are beginning to look at collected evidence and asking, ‘Where is the learning?’

Looking Forward

Elements by Lindsey Sterling: Used with permission, educational purposes only.

The district, as part of this CSL project, is undertaking this inquiry – Making Learning Visible – to explore whether digital documentation of student learning could become a new standard. Our teachers are at the front edge of transforming education through their practice. They are the champions. These teachers believe there is a better way to communicate student learning that aligns with our understanding and research. The district is taking steps to explore what is possible. In the words of Buckminster Fuller, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” We are creating a new model, because, truly, now is the time.

Note: This post is adapted from an Executive Briefing Report prepared last spring for Senior Team and co-authored by Dan Turner (@dj_turner), Director of Information Management Services, and Elisa Carlson (@emscarlson), Director of Instruction with the assistance of Marilyn Marchment of big think communications (www.bigthink.ca). Excerpts and videos are from the most recent presentation at the B.C. School Superintendent’s Conference (2014). For a complete view of the original Elements video, see here. This article is also cross-posted at wickedproblems.ca.

 

[1] Approaching Expectations, Minimally Meeting Expectations, Meeting Expectations, Exceeding Expectations.
[2] Ministry of Education: Curriculum Transformation and Assessment (curriculum.gov.bc.ca/assessment).
[3] Pat Horstead, Karen Steffensen and Elisa Carlson.

The Best & The Worst of Times


IMG_2545
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities

I left on a Wednesday morning flight and it wasn’t until I landed on the tarmac in Ottawa that I received a text message from my oldest saying, “I guess you’ve heard the news.” I hadn’t heard anything as my cellphone was off during the flight. My first thoughts were those of a mother, fearing there had been an accident to someone in the family at home. I quickly searched the news on my phone and found a gunman was in Ottawa. There was more than an accident; a young guard at the National Monument had been shot down. And yes, he had a mother. It was she who had lost her son in a a tragic and senseless shooting. “There is a man who would give his life to keep a life you love beside you,” says Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities.

IMG_2538It was a very surreal and eerie trip. As the chauffeur drove three of us from the airport to the Fairmont Chateau Laurier (right across, and I mean right across, from the War Memorial Monument where the murder had taken place), we noticed that although the city lamps were brightly shining there was hardly anyone on the deserted streets. Stores and restaurants were completely closed and darkened, their neon signs off. The city was in lockdown.

Our hotel was also in lockdown. The doors everywhere were locked, the street taped off with red police tape, police vehicles blocking off streets that were closed, reporters with cameras and microphones staged behind the red tape cordoning the hotel. We could not go in the front or side entrance but police directed us through a back door. Inside the lobby of the hotel and even boarding the elevators were police in bullet proof vests, guns tucked in holsters. At that point there was still rumor of a second gunman. The letter under the hotel door from the manager advised us of the circumstances and asked us to remain inside the hotel. From my room I heard sirens wailing and could see the lights from police cars through my window. The whole situation didn’t seem very Canadian; events like this don’t seem to take place in our quiet and reserved backyard. And for me, locked in the hotel, Ottawa was my backyard.

The next day lockdown was lifted and so we went on the scheduled school tours arranged by those organizing the Canadian Academic Leadership Summit. There were hardly any attendees, however, as almost all of the registrants from the remaining provinces cancelled their flights when the city went into lockdown. Those of us from BC and California had already left on flights and so we did not have the opportunity to cancel. Our gracious hosts, despite the national trauma the day before, continued to open their school doors, classrooms and hearts to us. There is something so normal about being in a school and about having children all in their places.

“It was the best ofWelcome. Turn on your devices. times, it was the worst of times…” In between all that oddness, visiting the schools was more than a pleasant distraction. We spent our morning at Mother Theresa High School and were greeted by student ambassadors that guided us through the school to the Learning Commons. It was there that we joined some staff and students for a First Nations Talking Circle. Led by the school secretary we each had the opportunity to hold the “talking feather” and provide an introduction of ourselves. The talking feather was then rotated to the students immersed in our circle where they each described their personal story of learning at the school.

Brilliant student created bannerUpon completion of the storytelling, the staff guided us through classrooms to ask teachers and students about the learning. In the English class, some students were studying Of Mice and Men and every student was engaged in exploring and learning about the novel in different ways. One student was studying the music of the era and then applying her understanding of the lyrics to explain the cultural background for the story. Another student was creating a movie trailer while a different student was writing an alternate ending. There wasn’t a student in the room completing the same task. Devices were everywhere because at this particular school all students bring a mobile device (iPad) with them. The school has back up devices for those that don’t have their own but basically everyone has a device on their desk. In many rooms, students were using them but in other classes students were engaged in group work or whole class work without accessing technology. The devices didn’t seem really noticeable as students and teachers were simply engaged in the learning process. The school purchases the licenses for the apps that students may want to use and some of the apps have also been created in-house. They also use Google Apps for Education. I did learn that the school does have “sticks” that students can sign out should they require wireless access at home to complete assignments. Overall, there is minimal district tech support provided and trained students are there to give a hand to students and staff.

IMG_2613The Senior Staff at the Ottawa Catholic School Board Office hosted us for lunch and a conversation about their journey moving their district into the 21st century. It was here that we had a chance to learn more about the district’s priorities and strategic plan, their organizational structure and departmental functions and their mode of both independent and interdepartmental governance. The district had made some pretty significant budget decisions that impacted all departments as they looked across their systems to find ways to funnel monies to newly determined priorities, many directly associated with technology.

IMG_2625On our afternoon visit we landed at St. Cecelia Elementary School, nicknamed the “School of the Jetsons.” This newly designed school appeared spacious, open and inviting. The Learning Commons had a completely exposed wall along the central foyer. The only separation was the curved bar with stools where chrome books lay out on counters and tables as options for incoming students. Glancing down the hall you could see groups of students working in “caves,” small alcoves with assorted furniture—comfy chairA corner in the Learning Commons.s, benches, tables—where students were spread out working on different tasks. Classrooms were structured in pods with a shared central area for students together in groups or for independent work. While the school has opportunities for whole group and direct instruction, we had arrived at a time of day when most were involved in individual or group work of their choosing and related to their personal interests. What were students doing? Some were reading in corners together, others were in a group watching a science-related video, others were using math tiles to explore patterns to extend their learning, some were standinA bucket of chrome books in each portable.g and manipulating shapes across a projected Smart board and others playing games, puzzles, or huddled together engrossed in learning conversations. There were chrome books, netbooks, desktops and iPads being used seamlessly throughout the building. They weren’t really noticeable as what was more evident was simply students engrossed in learning.

On Friday it was an intimate crowd of about a dozen of us. I was one of the speakers but it is significantly different when you are only speaking to a small room of people. I guess because it was such a small crowd we had opportunities for great dialogue with some pretty amazing and humorous people. I love learning and I particularly appreciate the opportunity to have a window into the ways and thinking of other districts. I found the goals, direction and plans of the district future-oriented, declarative and provocative. I found the flexible learning of the students inspiring. In between the visits, the lunches and sessions, however, it was the opportunity to engage in a rich dialogue with those from the school and district. The shared stories of their journey to a new future, their ongoing plans and challenges as they pursue creating great environments for learning was encouraging and kindled hope for our future.

I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out…” Charles Dickens.

We flew home late that afternoon as the lights began to shine across the city.

Surreal.

_______________________________________________________

Note: SpeciaExploring Google Glassesl thanks to our gracious and flexible Ottawa guide, Denise Andre (@deniseandreOCSB), Deputy Director of the Ottawa Catholic School Board, and the inspiring and amazing hosts from Discovery Education who organized the event. Author tries out Googles Glasses compliments of Summit Keynote Hall Davidson (@halldavidson).