Igniting the Passion: Celebrating Our Learning

“People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation.”
Joshua Heschel

Celebration is a choice: we choose to appreciate and value something that we feel is significant. It is an opportunity we create to acknowledge, appreciate and extend gratitude for the good things that are being done in schools–by both students and teachers. We are fortunate to be in a district where we can engage in new learning and transform education to better meet the needs of our learners. A collective of 300 educators gathered together to mark the occasion.

What is it that we are doing well? How do others see us? We asked some people both inside and outside our district this question.  How might they describe our district or what does meant to be part of our district? Their responses can be found here:

During the evening we had several presenters share with us their passion through the form of five minute Ignite presentations. Participants were limited to 20  slides that automatically moved every 15 seconds . The purpose is expressed in the motto, “Enlighten us, but make it quick!” We had the opportunity to learn from our peers and to engage in thoughtful conversations about our learning. Facilitators guided table groups around key questions that examined both our thinking on the presentation as well as how the topic might affect our future behaviour and teaching practice.  Thanks you to Robynn Thiessen, Sally Song, Shauna Nero, Antonio Vendramin, Karen Steffensen, and Jordan Tinney for sharing their passion. You can enjoy their live-streamed stories here.

We ended the evening with a video montage of students, teachers, administrators and out-of-district guests to help us with our celebration.

Author’s Note: Thank you to Helping Teachers @amboe_k, @shelagh09, @librarymall, @kowalyshyn, @ipadtestkitchen and Sarah Guilmant-Smith for planning and organizing the evening and supporting our projects. Thank you to Donna VanSant and Forrest Smith for their assistance with the videos.


Designers and Directors of Their Own Learning


“Collaborative inquiry that challenges thinking and practice involves people working together in meaningful ways to deepen understanding and challenges what they already know and do.”

S. Katz & L, A. Dack (2012)

iStock_000020925875XSmallWhat does it look like to engage in a journey to explore innovative learning as teachers and students? Chimney Hill Elementary school is an Innovative Learning Designs (ILD) project school. The ILD project started three years ago as a small pilot with 16 schools that were interested in exploring ways to transform student learning. Each school built its own proposal based on some guiding principles such as using formative assessment, collaborative inquiry, project based learning, etcetera. Teacher and student response to the project was overwhelmingly positive and so in Year 2 another 40 schools were added. Then, as additional funding became available, we worked to add yet more schools. The ILD project is now adding the last wave of elementary schools. By the end of the year, 101 elementary schools will be participants in this unique opportunity to transform student learning; Chimney Hill is just one of them.

The ILD projects are expressed differently in each school. One of the goals at Chimney Hill is to use technology to leverage learning in all areas of the curriculum and to increase student engagement. Their learning is tailored to the school context as they engage in collaborative inquiry around their learning questions. In all of the projects, teacher teams use a collaborative approach and authentic inquiry into student learning and teacher practice. Why? We recognize that this approach is regarded as the most effective form of professional development. “The evidence shows that effective professional learning (i.e. that which positively impacts on the learner and the teacher) consists of three basic features: enquiry; reflection and collaborative learning.” (see Harris & Jones).  All of the projects are designed with that understanding, leaving each community of educators to design their own priorities to anchor their learning.

How does a project like this reflect itself in student learning? Are teachers doing anything different? What does it look like at the school? As Principal Chris Baldry explains, “At Chimney Hill we seek to find sustainable ways to use technology to leverage student learning. Our intention is to use technology to transform student learning. Students are using technology to engage themselves in learning in ways that are unconventional, different.” The school has focused on cultivating an inquiry-based mindset where students design and are directors of their own learning.

Paul Langereis, the grade six teacher, has played a pivotal role in encouraging staff participation in the school’s journey. Together with his colleagues, they describe their learning travels:

Student learning has been amplified through the use of the project technology. Whether it is writing and responding to their learning through their blogs, skyping with authentic audiences around the world, or creating their own books, the students are deeply engaged in their learning.  While student engagement is important, the concept of focusing on creation rather than consumption is noticeable as well. Students are analyzing, evaluating, creating, and demonstrating their thinking through the use of technology. Blooms’ taxonomy is turned on its’ head as the thinking becomes both the entry point and primary purpose for learning.

The initial novelty of shiny, new technology fades as teachers begin to embrace the district focus on creation and digital storytelling. Chris Baldy describes it:  “Increasingly, iPads with creation apps such as Explain Everything, Book Creator, Coaches Eye, IMovie etc. are being used by classroom teachers. A grade 5/6 teacher recently used the app Explain Everything to demonstrate their knowledge of decimal fractions. Presentations ranged in time from 5 to 12 minutes.  Sometimes the diagrams and /or narratives of what the students were describing were rambling and unclear, other times they were very cogent. What was interesting watching them was one could see the metacognitive processes at work…Every day, students go to their teacher and ask, first of all, can they show their project and second, and most importantly, can they reopen their project so they can change something…. They realize mistakes have been made.” Self-evaluation, constant improvement, ongoing feedback, formative assessment and engagement are hallmarks of learning for these students.

Cord with knot.The Chimney Hill Innovative Learning Designs journey is two-fold: the teachers are reflecting together on their own practice while the students are engaging in deep learning. The two are in inextricably linked together.

Note from Paul Langereis: The movie  was made for the Surrey School District (SD36) to show how technology has changed students’ learning, and how teachers’ at this school have changed their instruction.  I would like to thank all the teachers, administrators, and students who helped this movie come together.  Without your help I would not have been able to take on this project.  I hope this movie provides viewers with a glimpse into what is happening at our school, and where we are going with the use of technology in the future.  Lastly, I would like to thank Kevin Amboe for this opportunity to showcase our school, and for providing me with a chance to challenge my editing skills!

Find out more about Paul Langereis at http://mrlclass.weebly.com

The Pilot: Communicating Student Learning

“The formative assessment process is lightning in a bottle. It costs nothing. You can put it to work for every grade level and every subject during every minute of every school day. This powerful learning process enhances the learning of those who are already excelling; jump starts and sustains learners who are smoldering with potential, and increases student achievement for all students.”            

 Moss & Brookhart, 2009

For a few weeks recently, news from our district was making a splash across local and national newspapers, radio and TV. Headlines (click on title to locate) read:

iStock_000034178866Small• Getting rid of letter grades? Pass or Fail
• B.C.’s Educational Reforms are running into Resistance
• Passing on Letter Grades: The Tradition or the Alternative?
• Dozens more Surrey Schools ‘scrapping’ letter grades.
• Surrey School District extends its ‘No Letter Grades’ program

Even our Superintendent, Jordan Tinney was featured on CBC National Radio (you can find it here). In response to the flood of attention, he also wrote a blog post on the topic: What do letter grades actually mean? (click here). Behind the scenes, what were the district, schools, and teachers doing?

As with most innovative projects in Surrey, an invitation was extended to interested elementary principals and teachers to participate in exploring more effective ways to communicate student learning. Volunteers were asked to consider if they were ready to engage in examining this notion. Participants were given some guidelines to judge whether or not their participation made sense with their current practice of teaching.  We were looking for teachers who were using Assessment for Learning practices, engaged in innovative teaching and learning, using performance standards and committed to the ongoing communication and involvement of their parents.

There were also some clear criteria for participation. The principals had to be willing to engage and support the pilot, there needed to be a parent communication plan (on-going, prior to reporting, at reporting time and post reporting) that would seek input and feedback from them. As well, teachers understood we were still required to use three formal reports and two informal reports as per the current regulation. We expected that in some schools, there might only be one or two teachers interested in volunteering for the pilot. If so, they were required to ensure that their process and their reporting times aligned with the rest of the school. The pilot teachers needed to be willing to develop and use an alternative template, to address all key areas of learning on the template (Literacy, Numeracy, Social Responsibility) and reflect the Core Competencies as they spoke to specific content areas (eg. critical thinking in Social Studies). We asked them to explore alternate ways of communicating achievement levels, to ensure documentation of student learning would be kept in the student file and to share their communication plan, implementation plan and template with the district. As a district, we would provide support (see slideshare below) through creating networking opportunities with other schools and assistance from District Helping Teachers.

When we extended this invitation in October we did not anticipate that five schools would jump into the opportunity for first term. David Brankin Elementary, George Vanier Elementary, Bear Creek Park Elementary, Sunrise Ridge Elementary and Rosemary Heights Elementary all rose to the occasion. In each of these schools, at least one teacher or a larger group (and in one case a whole school), began examining their assessment practices and thinking about the best way to provide parents, and their students, with meaningful feedback. As we prepare for a second term report, another twenty schools (again, not whole schools but at least one teacher at each school) volunteered to join the journey. As a district, we did not mandate a particular template or direct teachers in how the “report card” needed to be designed. We let teachers consider the possibilities using their professional expertise within the guidelines we provided. We felt that hands-on exploration would lead to some authentic, novel, and differentiated ways of viewing the challenge. We continued to focus on “the why;” the ultimate purpose for communicating student learning was to improve student learning. Finally, our intention was to provide our feedback to the Ministry of Education.

Each of the schools involved have developed very different ideas about what might work best for their parents. For some teachers, they completely redesigned the template to fit with the current changes in curriculum. Another school is exploring the question, “How might we provide parents with a digital window into their child’s learning?” using a beta Web 2.0 tool being co-developed with our freshgrade partners. And, another school is not altering the current standard district template but adding to it by providing parents with an additional report that includes students’ self-assessments, including their suggestions to their own parents about how their parents could better support their learning!

Permanent Marker with Check ListWhat can I tell you about the journey so far? As teachers recently shared at a meeting jam-packed with 90 educators: “this pilot gives us permission to do what we have already been doing,” “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity my whole career,” and “It has really turned our whole school focus on to what assessment for learning really looks like.” Confining student learning to a summary of a simple check box, and a few generic comments, is no longer the standard. Teachers are engaged in providing rich, descriptive feedback and students are developing ownership of their learning as they too add their own self-assessments. As a form of job-embedded professional development, it has teachers examining key questions about their practice in the context of what really matters for student learning. Our former Superintendent Mike McKay often challenged us, “When will what we know, change what we do?”  For us in Surrey, we continue to take up that challenge.

Author’s Note: The Elementary Communicating Student Pilot was designed by a committee of district staff, including: Karen Steffensen, Pat Horstead, and Christy Northway, all Area Superintendents, Karen Alvarez, District Principal of Early Learning and Literacy and myself. Thank you to all of them for their creative input into developing this pilot. It is still a work in progress. Thank you to Jordan Tinney, our Superintendent, for supporting this innovative adventure. Stay tuned as we share information about our Secondary Pilot soon.

The Curse of Eleven: Getting our Homework Done

Peek a boo
Tag. I’m it. Worst yet—I’ve succumbed to the dreaded virtual chain letter. I’m late to the party so I am hoping there will be no curse that lands on my family and me if I haven’t completed this on time. The rules: Tell 11 interesting facts about yourself and respond to 11 questions posted by your PLN friend (mine are from Sheila Morissette—are they still your friend if they tag you?) and tag 11 “friends” with new questions.

Eleven Interesting Facts about Me:

1. I grew up in Nelson, B.C.

2. We have a tradition for the letter “E”. My parent’s names were Ernie and Esme (Underhill). My brothers and sisters are: Elena, Eldon, Eve, Erik, Elyn, and me (Elisa). My husband goes by the name John but his first name is Erland. His dad’s name was Erland and his mom’s name was Emma. Our children all have “E” names: Elliott, Ethan, Elijah and Ellis.

3. I killed a bear. Really. Not quite with my own hands. Almost. The car killed the bear.

4. The best birthday present ever: My oldest son was born on my birthday.

5. I did grade 4 and 5 in one year.

6. When we were touring Rome we were robbed of all of our possessions, everything but what we were wearing.

7. I love Eggs Benedict. And, I am particularly fond of breakfast. Period.

8. I have a weakness for popcorn popped in a real pot on the stove. With butter. And salt. Several times a week. Really. I am going to take a break and make it right now.

9. I cut the hair of all the males in my house. Except for my husband. He has some standards.

10. I had to canoe across a moonlit lake to dig up a treasure chest hidden on the beach; it contained my engagement ring.

11. Sometimes I like to do fun and crazy things and try to get others to do them with me. Life is too short to be boring. We need to live a little outrageously every now and again.

The Eleven Questions Given to Me:

1.What are you reading now?

Like right now? This v•e•r•y moment? Like one thing? That thought makes me panic. I am never truly reading just one thing. I have just finished Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge by Henry Cloud. The book really gave me an opportunity to reflect on my own practice and things that I wasn’t doing well and needed to do differently. I have just cracked the cover to Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret: Why Serial Innovators Succeed Where Others Fail by Larry Osborne and I am re-reading (because I didn’t learn enough the first time) 8 Things We Hate About I.T.: How to Move Beyond the Frustrations to Form a New Partnership with IT written by Chief Technology Officer Susan Cramm. Her book is written for people like me to help us understand IT in organizations. In between those books, I am reading Sunday Brunch: Simple, Delicious Recipes for Leisurely Mornings (see number 7 above). Oh, and I sometimes read books recommended by my children ages 7, 10 15, and 17.  Should I stop now?

2. How do you stay current in your field?

I read books (see above). I talk to people. I attend conferences. I visit schools. I hunt down important topics on the Internet. I follow the blogs of thought-leaders. Sometimes I make my way to Chapters, Trinity Western University, UBC or Regent College bookstores to check out the lastest books attached to course syllabi in areas of interest. I most recently stopped at the Seattle Pacific University bookstore and snapped up Nancy Duarte’s Resonate.

3. Are you a camper or a hotel person? (Sheila Morissette loves camping.)


If there is a rattlesnake, I will find it.

If there is a rattlesnake, I will find it.

Camping? Is that what you do in a tent with four boys for every year of your married life? Is that what I did with my parents for every year while I lived at home? I can’t actually say I love camping but I do love adventure travel. If it requires a tent, and the adventure is worth it, I will take it on. I’ve camped across Canada to Newfoundland and back via the U.S. I’ve camped thirty consecutive days to the tip of the Baja Peninsula pitching tents on the best beaches around. I have tented the Grand Circle Route and seen sunrise and sunset painted in the skies. I have camped B.C.’s best: canoeing the Bowron Lake Chain, hiking the West Coast Trail, kayaking the Broken Group Islands, and running the Juan de Fuca Marina Trail solo. In between, we have explored many State, Provincial and National Parks as well. Hotels? I will do that too. In fact, sometimes I put my foot down and insist on it. Too many times camping, practically stepping on a rattlesnake in the desert, and I am ready for a real bed, crisp sheets, and walls between the outside world and me.

4.  What is the next conference you plan to attend?

I will be at the 4th Annual Summit on Education Technology for K-12 Schools, Universities and Colleges in Toronto.  I am presenting this session: Surrey School District: Create a Radical Social Movement to Shift Pedagogy and Deepen Learning with Technology.

5. What excites you about the New Year ahead?

Saying “No” to some things so that I can focus on the work that truly matters. “No” means “Yes” to other important priorities.

6.  Who introduced you to twitter and blogging?

I think it was Orwell Kowalyshyn (@kowalyshyn), our District’s Information Media Literacy Helping Teacher, who introduced me to the topic, Chris Kennedy (@chrkennedy), Superintendent of West Vancouver, helped me to see it in a leadership context and Dan Turner (@dj_turner), CIO for Surrey, who almost called me a hypocrite for having technology in my portfolio and no first hand experience with social media. Finally, my ah-ha moment came when Heidi Gable (@HGG), a consultant for our district, installed Tweetdeck on my laptop and explained the all-powerful use of #hashtags.

7.  Who would you most like to have dinner with?

My husband.

8. What inspires you?

Beauty, design, that which is unique, carefully crafted words, and crazy ideas.

Relax on a beach, anywhere.

Relax on a beach, anywhere.

9.  What do you do to relax?

A simple candle lit bath is good, a hard run on a trail, biking out River Road but, truly, a trip to a fantastic beach, some brilliant sun and a chance to do completely nothing is the absolute ticket.


10. Name a couple of bloggers who inspire you.

I find the stories from many, many of our own school district (#sd36learn) educators particularly inspiring because they are putting ideas into action (Think about the many new Learning Commons websites, genius hour applications, and inquiry-based learning).

11. What are you working on that excites you?

Transforming education. Creating a culture of innovation. Shifting teacher practice. Creating space for teachers to learn from each other. Providing opportunity for students to be engaged deeply in their learning.

Phew! I am done. And now I pass the virtual homework challenge on to my colleagues and possible “friends”. Tag—you are it!

Lisa Domeier de Suarez, T-L and IML Helping Teacher, @librarymall
Chris Hunter, Numeracy Helping Teacher, @chrishunter36
Kevin Amboe, IML Helping Teacher, @amboe_k
Chris Walton, LST Helping Teacher, @ipadtestkitchen
JB Mahli, SS Helping Teacher, @JB_Mahli
Hugh McDonald, elementary teacher, @hughtheteacher
Sheila Hammond, Principal, @sgmhammond
Karen Steffensen, Assistant Superintendent, @kstef2
Jordan Tinney, Superintendent, @jordantinney
Dan Turner, Chief Information Officer, @dj_turner
Brian Kuhn, Chief Information Officer, @bkuhn

No curses provided (although we may no longer be “friends”). See your super-challenging, thought-provoking and provocative questions below:

Your Homework–The Eleven New Questions:

1. What is your favorite piece of music and why?
2. What would your ideal gourmet dinner be?
3. Who are the three people that have mentored, coached or encouraged you the most throughout your career and how have they done so?
4. What do you prefer to do in your leisure time? (choose three)
5. Name your favorite fiction and non-fiction book. Why?
6. Who challenges (helps you to be better at what you do) you the most in your work? Elaborate.
7. If you could choose a colour that best described your personality, what would it be? Explain.
8. What drives you crazy?
9. If you could change one thing in the education system, what would it be?
10. What was the most important thing you will do today (work-related)? What is the most important thing you will do tomorrow (work-related)?
11. What part of your work are you most passionate about? Why?

My Top Three List for 2013 (with Apologies to Chris Kennedy)

Linus: ‘I guess it’s wrong to be worried about tomorrow, maybe we should only worry about today?’

Charlie Brown: ‘No, that’s giving up: I’m hoping that yesterday will get better!’

    Charles Schultz

I am inspired, yet again, by Chris Kennedy who leads the way with the Culture of Yes post wrapping up the “Top 3” for 2013 (click here). This is his tradition and he has blogged about this annually in 2012, 2011, and 2010.  He is a wonderful writer, brilliant thinker and inspiring leader. I tried to follow in his footsteps last year but wandered off the trail. You can see this in my own “Top 3” post last year (read here).  So here I am again trying to do some sort of penance, searching for some answers, scrambling for the profound in the midst of the profane.

My Top 3 Blog Posts:

Once I remembered my password (oh, my sorely neglected blog), I was able to log in and to check out my most popular posts from this past year. There weren’t a lot of posts to choose from but these three had a few more hits (nothing viral to jump up and down about):

1. Transforming Education: Creating a Radical Social Movement (transcript of my ConnectEd Calgary keynote provided here) .
2. Guiding Principles: What do we believe? (the foundation for our work described here)
3. Getting Under Your Skin: a review of Seth Godin’s book

Three Good Ideas That Spread Across our District:

1. Genius Hour: Time given to students to explore their own passions and share them with others that begins a transformational learning journey for students and teachers. When will Denise, Gallit and Joy publish their book?
2. Kiva: Classrooms are micro lending as little as $25 around the world to help alleviate poverty. This is an authentic opportunity for students to learn about personal and social responsibility. Thanks to @plugusin for getting us started.
3. Innovation Week: Inspired by Jesse McLean (@jmclean77) from Parkland School Division in Alberta, other schools and classrooms are beginning to try this concept in our own backyard (see Fraser Heights story).

Three New Promising Pilots:

1. Communicating Student Learning: Interested teachers across the district are engaged in creating an alternative to the standard reporting process and template (might just be my next blog post). Sample templates and resources were shared via the #sd36learn hashtag and internally through our SurreySchools.ca site.
2. Assessment Empowering Learners: Team leaders from eight schools being trained in deep formative assessment practices and facilitating inquiry groups at their own schools. The model developed is based on Dylan William’s work and includes a digital component connected to @freshgrade.
3. Tech4Learning: Existing school inquiry plans are examined to see how learning can be digitally enhanced to ensure the most effective use of technology for student learning. Only schools with substandard technology are eligible. As well, school teams respond to the question: How does your plan connect to the new B.C. Ministry of Education curriculum transformation and assessment document?

Three Great Books:

Books I am trying to read, should read, have started, half way through, want to finish, or have definitely finished:
1. Intentional Interruption: Breaking Down Learning Barriers to Transform Professional Practice (recommended by Assistant Superintendent Karen Steffensen (@kstef2)).
2. Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge (the word “boundaries” grabbed me but now the content has me reading it with my pink highlighter in hand—I have much to learn here).
3. Embedded Formative Assessment (being read by many, many teachers in our district). 

Things I Read that Mattered:

I was actually tired of the same old, same old leadership “stuff.” Instead, I nourished my soul by reading the newly translated 2 million Korean bestseller, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly. I escaped into literature to find some normal in the midst of what sometimes seemed an abnormal world. Reading kept me focused and gave me a place to hide (see next list). I love the well-placed word. 

Three Things I Didn’t Want to Know and I Am Not Going to Talk About:

1. The Untidy Business of Dying
2. The Slow Death March of Alzheimer’s Disease (my dad)
3. The Crippling Impact of Parkinson’s Disease (my mom)

Events that Challenged by Thinking:

1. Calgary ConnectEd Conference: Calgary was all about the brilliant transformative teaching demonstrated at the Calgary Science School and the cadre of radical educators determined to change their classrooms, their schools and, ultimately, the education world.  Relationships, connection, deep learning and fun—it was all found there.
2. IBM Executive Briefing: At the IBM conference I had a chance to get away (I needed it—see above list) and I found out about the “Treasure Wild Ducks” concept.  If IBM can do it; so can we. I am a wild duck and when treasured I do my best work (see post here).
3. Visit to Mooresville, North Carolina (ISTE award winning district):  Mooresville is described as the “best” school district in America (see here). North Carolina was an unexpected surprise; I learn so much from going other places–it informs my practice, challenges my thinking, and pushes me to do better work.  It was a privilege to be able to talk to district leaders, visit schools, ask principals questions, and peek into classrooms. I came back motivated to be much more aggressive about the work I do.  I began asking myself the questions: What truly is transformative learning? How do we define it? If we have district priorities, do we see evidence of them in individual classrooms? How can we support exponential, rather than incremental, change? Where can we take more risk? How can we best design strategies to create a domino effect? Where is the tipping point?

Tech-Related Projects that were Fun:

1. There’s An App for That!: Read the news article to see how we are changing the way we communicate with parents. It was fascinating to participate in the development of the SchoolLink app and see how business companies work in moving from idea to product. You can find it in the iTunes store (check it out here)
2. Connecting Staff: Giving feedback on the visual redesign of SurreySchools.ca Version 2 (Sharepoint 2013 upgrade). Design is an area of personal interest and having the opportunity to provide input to make something more attractive was fascinating. The new look and functionality launches at the end of January.
3. An Unusual Partnership: Collaborating with @freshgrade to see if there is a way to capture snapshots of learning and provide descriptive feedback in digital form. Speaking as a mother of four boys in school: When will I as a parent be able to have a 24/7 window into my child’s learning? 

Provocative Quotes that Need Action:

1. “What if we just jumped off the cliff and no longer bought textbooks?” queried Jordan Tinney, the new Superintendent of Surrey Schools who blogs here.
2. “We need moonshot thinking,” explained Orwell Kowalyshyn, Information & Media Literacy Helping Teacher in Surrey Schools on the process of moving from incremental to exponential system change.
3.  ”Are we looking for a killer app or do we have a killer pedagogy?” adapted from a conversation with David Vandergugten, Director of Instruction with the Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows School District.

Ricocheting in my Brain:

1. Priorities: “Before you try to come up with ways to stretch the clock and make more time, it’s important to figure out if the time you already have is being used to its greatest potential—that is, are you doing the right work?” Steven Katz and Lisa Ain Dack.
2. Technology Technical Support: “Teachers teach: IT makes tech invisible. That’s how the magic happens.”
3. Relationships: “The greatest tool we have at our disposal is the power of conversation.” Peter Shaw

My Disappointments:

1. ConnectEDBC– The Aspen/Follett System (am I allowed to say that?)
2. Content Management Systems
3. Learning Platforms
Instead of The Race to the Top it is The Race for the Best Digital Platform. Most of these, however, are focused on traditional learning, recording of data and reporting out. They do not seem to match up with the B. C. Ministry of Education’s new transformational curriculum.  Sigh.

Not Much of a Top Three, Is it?

There is a time for everything. 
I think 2013 was my worst year ever. Finding a Top 3 was a struggle. I am reminded of this timeless passage from Ecclesiates:
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance…”

The good news is that 2014 is on the horizon. I am ready. Look out. 

Next year will be better—I know it.

It will be a time to dance.


Treasure Wild Ducks: The Flight of Innovation


Innovation, in the true sense, is something that is applied. For CIOs (CEOs), one best practice they can help drive within their organizations is what we refer to at IBM as “treasure your wild ducks.”  This means that we must embrace new ideas and nurture those who think differently.
                                                                     Dr. Kaiserworth, bold mine

I have a number of Wild Ducks in my team and have come across many in my career in and outside of IBM. They don’t always stay in formation, but that’s the fun of flying with them.

Theresa Alfonso, IBM Manager

The IBM notion of treasuring the wild duck intrigues and surfaces a key inquiry question—how is treasuring the wild duck and leading the innovation enterprise alike?   IBM has one purpose: “Be essential” and offers nine key practices.  One of those is “Treasure wild ducks.” As soon as I saw it on Tom Vines, IBM Human Resources Vice-President’s slide, I had to ask: What does that mean? Treasure wild ducks?  His response: Those are the people who are “way out there”, the innovators, and we highly value them as they are central to IBM’s purpose.

In education, there are many teachers and administrators that are trying new ways of teaching, new ways of organizing and new ways of innovating. Despite an ever increasing knowledge of how to lead innovation, educators still struggle. There are strong organizational cultural and psychological barriers that stop leaders and others from moving from “thinking” about innovation toward “doing” and “sustaining” innovation.   Leading the pursuit of innovative ways can be lonely and isolating. Perhaps the wisdom of treasuring the wild duck will help navigate the WHY?

Former IBM Chairman Thomas J. Watson, Jr. first told the story behind the IBM practice of treasuring wild ducks.  ”In IBM we frequently refer to our need for ‘wild ducks.’ The moral is drawn from a story by the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who told of a man who fed the wild ducks flying south in great flocks each fall. After a while some of the ducks no longer bothered to fly south; they wintered in Denmark on what he fed them.  Kierkegaard drew his point: you can make wild ducks tame, but you can never make tame ducks wild again. One might also add that the duck that is tamed will never fly anywhere anymore.” – IBM illustrates this principle applied in their organization (see video).

What does the wild duck and innovation in a school district have in common?  How is innovation approached within an organizational culture?  How do leaders build teams that are most effectively innovative?  How do organizations support and treasure innovators?

At IBM, group think is debunked and they try NOT to tame their wild ducks. Instead, they consciously treasure them.  Innovation in a school district depends on individuals who are open to ideas, conflict and who are part of teams in which vigorous debate, dissent and discomfort exist.  Innovators require a culture of openness – to argument and ideas, experts and outsiders, the young and the new.  Innovation requires leaders with courage to fly alone.

Like the wild duck, the importance of understanding and treasuring the individual innovator resonates with any person who has attempted organizational change and innovation.  Specifically, the role of “innovator as leader” is called on to evoke and sustain disruptive positive change.  The individual is often perceived as behaving in ways which challenges status quo; contradicts group think and risks failure and isolation.  The flight path is complicated as change is navigated with enough order and enough ambiguity to sustain innovative behaviour throughout the organization.  Being an innovator is messy business.

Cultivating innovation within an organization requires a thoughtful approach.  Lessons from the wild duck inform the way.  The development of support processes encouraging diversity of thought is paramount to organizational health and essential for individuals who risk being innovators and dare to fly alone.  The IBM practice to treasure wild ducks expresses the vitality so necessary to sustain the individual innovative spirit, and promises enrichment for others who follow the lead.

Wild ducks sometimes can make organizations uncomfortable. They create cognitive dissonance and interrupt the status quo.  Others may want to tame them.  But Dr. Thomas Watson notes, “One might also add that the duck who is tamed will never go anywhere any more. We are convinced that any business needs its wild ducks. And in IBM we try not to tame them.”

In classrooms, schools and districts, there are many educators charting a new path, creating innovation, and flying wild and free.

Do we treasure these wild ducks?

I am one of them.

Are you?

Blogger’s Note: This post was co-authored by Dr. Donna VanSant (@vansantd) and Elisa Carlson (@EMSCarlson). Thank you to IBM and Thomas Vine, Vice President, Human Resources, for the inspiration for this post.

The Story of How I Found My Joy


Diana Williams with Bob Harris.

I have a confession to make.

I’m terrified of flying. After the harrowing experience of a “non standard landing” (translation: plane crash) I had had a difficult time with flying. If I had a choice between a three day camel ride or a flight, I’d take the camel. No question.

But this sunny Friday morning before the Thanksgiving weekend, there was nothing that could stop me from getting that airplane to San Fransisco.  I had to get there, the faster, the better! 

So as I was sitting at the back of the plane, trying to remain calm, my mind wandered back to where this all began…

“It started with a single tweet…”

I can remember so clearly the words of Bill Ferriter as he began his talk about teaching the iGeneration at our District Engaging the Digital Learner Dinner Series on a dark, cold evening in January.  This was my first year attending the dinner series and my first year as a “connected” educator.

I had already had the honor of learning from great thought leaders such as Alec Couros, George Couros, Dean Shareski, and Shelley Wright.  I had visited Apple Canada to learn about Challenge Based Learning.  I had connected with a peer group on Twitter, and learned about the passions of my colleagues such as Global Classroom (Robyn Thiessen), Genius Hour (Gallit Zvi and Hugh MacDonald) Voice and Choice in Primary (Karen Lirenman) and Authenic Formative Assessment (Anne Middleton) and was making huge changes in my teaching practice.   The leadership in the Surrey School District is doing such an amazing job of giving teachers and administrators opportunities to learn and grow.

I loved how my classroom was now a place of curiosity and connection.  Something was still missing though.  I had yet to find something that was truly my passion.  Bill spoke about authentic learning tasks and how from reading a single tweet about KIVA on Christmas morning, he had used the KIVA lending platform to engage his social studies students in real life learning about other cultures, poverty and social change through microfinance.  My jaw dropped.   This was truly where my heart lay.  I remember looking across the table at my Principal, Carrie Burton who shared a similarly stunned expression and blurted out to her, “we are so going to do this!”  And just like that, the next thing Bill said, “if any of y’all want to Skype with my KIVA club, we would be happy to.”

So of course we did!  It took me a little bit to work up the courage to email Bill and ask, but as I should have known, his offer was genuine.  He was authentic, down to earth and so approachable.   He offered resources and advice and soon my fantastic grade three group was ready to Skype with Bill’s club.  The Skype went really well and his club decided to send us a very generous gift card to help us get started.

As we worked on needs vs. wants, community services and culture from the grade 3 social studies curriculum using Kiva as our anchor point, we also experienced hands-on learning about micro lending by taking out a small loan to buy beads to make bracelets to sell as a Kiva fundraiser. (you can read the project details here)Over the course of a few months, my little Kiva Ninjas had made over 20 loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries, and their legacy continues today.  The fact that 8 year olds from an inner-city school in Surrey can bring opportunity and hope to someone half way around the world through their school work, fills my heart with joy.

 We had promised Bill’s SMS Kiva club that we would make a little video to share about our learning though Kiva as a thank you for the generous gift.  And, as luck would have it, my “connected educator” Vice Principal, Tia Henriksen had the perfect connection for us.  We had the great honor to work with Dean Shareski to make our video.  (You can read about our day here.) 

We recorded a song that we had re-written the lyrics to and then Dean taught us how to use green screen technology with Discovery Education video footage to tell our story.  (Another huge learning curve for me, you can read the blog post here) .

We uploaded our video to youTube,  and shared it with Bill’s club and our friends and families.

We tweeted out the link and made a fantastic connection to Kristen Goggin from Town School for Boys in San Francisco.  We learned together via Skype with her middle school students who had been doing amazing work with Kiva.  You can read her blog post here and see all the ways she is diving deep into Kiva with her middle school students–truly powerful teaching.

Somehow the engineers at Kiva saw the video and we got to Skype with Kiva Headquarters in San Francisco.   My grade three students did a fantastic job of preparing powerful questions and making meaningful conversation during the Skype call.  Not once did they ask if this was on the report card.  They didn’t care-they did their very best because it was real life and it mattered to them.

Real life learning.  Doing work that matters. 

Posing Kiva-Ninja style with Matt Flannery, Kiva founder & CEO

Which brings me back to the reason for the flight to San Francisco.  Through the Kiva Ninja video and the connections we made with Kiva headquarters, I was flown down to San Francisco to attend the first annual Kiva Summit and to facilitate the K-8 (Elementary) Educators working group.   They even showed our Kiva Ninja video!  Here is a photo of the founder and CEO of Kiva, Matt Flannery and I doing our Kiva Ninja pose before the video started.

And then he re-tweeted my tweet of the photo to 300,000 followers! (which I have to admit, was pretty cool!).

I will be detailing my four days in San Francisco on my blog soon, but in brief, it was the most amazing, diverse gathering of passionate, compassionate, altruistic, brilliant people.   The summit organizers gave us a space to come together to dream, wonder and to think big.  I am energized, inspired and humbled by the kinship of like minded people I was able to be part of over the course of the Summit.  I can’t wait to connect my new friends with my #sd36learn colleagues.

The summit attendees ranged from the Founder of Kiva, the president of Kiva, the passionate and hardworking Kiva staff and interns, to high school through college/university students, elementary, secondary, college and university educators to Stanford graduates, the President of Harvard’s Forum for International Development, film makers, international community development visionaries, to even Bob Harris: writer for Fox, CBS and TLC, 13 time winner of Jeopardy! and author of “The International Bank of Bob”-a book about his travels visiting Kiva loan clients in their home countries.

And the truly astounding part was they checked all their international awards and accolades at the door and were simply real folks who cared deeply about ending extreme poverty in our lifetime. They simply wanted to learn from everyone so they could help others have some of the same opportunities we simply take for granted.

And isn’t that what life is all about?  Learning?

The word Kiva means equality.  We are part of a generation where we can all truly be equals.  Take advantage of the opportunities the Surrey School District offers.  Attend workshops, ask questions, find your passion.  Only you can follow your dreams.   The opportunities are there, take them! 

And as Bill Ferriter so perfectly stated in a tweet just a few days ago:

“Education should prepare and empower students to change the world around them in meaningful ways”.

I whole-heartedly agree, Bill.  Let’s get to work.

Diana in San Francisco sharing her learning.

Note: Thank you to Diana Williams, grade 4 teacher at Bayridge Elementary, for writing this guest post.  Find out more about KIVA at www.kiva.org. Follow Diana at @teacherdiana1.  Special thanks to Bill Ferriter for inspiring learning across our district and for Dean Shareski for his masterful contribution.

James Ardiel Elementary: Our ILD Journey

Guest Post
Thank you to Iram Khan, the Vice-Principal at James Ardiel Elementary school for sharing their school’s Innovative Learning Designs journey.

James Ardiel had an eye opening and inspiring year. At the end of the last school year we were ecstatic to hear that we were one of the Surrey schools who were successful at a proposal for an Innovative Learning Design (ILD) Grant. Our principal and a few staff members proposed that we would work on the following question: How can the use of digital technology assist students designated with special needs in their attitude/engagement in learning and their academic achievement?

As we were putting in our order for the new school year, I have to admit our excitement moved towards all the iPads were going to get. We couldn’t wait to get our hands on all those babies!

At first it was all about the technology pieces, the iPads, projectors and wifi. I myself entered a huge learning curve of being thrown into the steps involved in the technicalities of maintenance, tracking and distribution. In particular, the lists of recommended apps were thrown at us from everywhere; all the possibilities were overwhelming.

Right from the beginning we were advised to be thoughtful about the apps that we bought. We struggled with the excitement, and installed apps that sounded great. Eventually, though, we agreed that if the app did not help with creating, collaborating, communicating, or developing critical thinking skills we would think twice about uploading it… Even if it was free!

Then, something magical happened. Because of the nature of the technology and the inspiring professional development the district provided, we were able to just let go and our students stepped up to the challenge. We could feel that our students understood the importance and the privilege they were being given… that this was not “normal”. They did not want to disappoint, they wanted to prove to us that we made the right decision to let go. Believe me, this was a really difficult thing for us to do especially since a Kindergarten class was involved. What if they break something, what if they mess it up, what if they are silly and get off task, what if they behave inappropriately online? The more I heard and stated “student led learning… it’s all about the students”, it became a mantra. Everything our tech team decided on came from this philosophy.

We were there to facilitate 21st century learning and it was exhilarating for our students and us. Some highlights were students participating in project based learning, genius hour, blogging, class websites and mystery Skype.

Another indirect result of the ILD grant was collaboration. The grant encouraged us to collaborate with other staff members and students. Teachers directly involved with the grant offered assistance to those who wanted to introduce the new technologies to their classes. Students collaborated with each other and reached out to other students beyond their fellow classmates. Students and teachers reached out to experts around to world to help them in their learning. The library became a “learning commons”.

Which brings us to the ILD grant celebration project. Of course, the tech team teachers could not do it… we handed it over to our students to show us how the ILD grant changed their learning this year. Plus, they knew how to use the creative apps better than us!

A small group of girls were chosen to produce the iMovie below. They took pride in what they were doing, and understood how important it was. As I made myself a fly on the wall, I heard them discussing criteria for students that would be able to speak on behalf of the school, what parts to cut out of people’s responses, what the audience would like to hear, etc. One questions in particular I loved was; “Well you know everyone thinks he’s cute, but all he is talking about is Angry Birds and Star Wars. What does that have to do with school and how the grant changed his learning?”

Here was critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity all working together! This project was just one example of the many that occurred throughout the year. So, did the use of digital technology assist students designated with special needs in their attitude/engagement in learning and their academic achievement? YES, but it clearly went beyond this group of students!

It has been an amazing year due to the ILD grant. It definitely has been a catalyst for all of us to reflect on the way we teach and the way students’ learn. We can’t wait for the next school year, when we can just hit the ground running.

Enjoy our iMovie!


We are just scratching the surface: Panorama Park

Guest Post: Lucky Kalair, Grade 6/7 Teacher at Panorama Park Elementary

Panorama Park’s Innovative Learning Design Story: A continuing journey of reflecting and sharing….
we are just scratching the surface.


Context: School with a population of 350 students, high ELL
Prior to ILD:
• slow wireless connection, limited experience with iPads, only a couple of DocCams, no ATV, MacBooks…

Post ILD: updated wireless connection, 40 iPads, updated MacBook cart,
5 ATVs, majority of classrooms have DocCams,…

Inquiry Question: How will focusing on digital storytelling and the implementation of WEB 2.0 tools increase student engagement and increase student communication skills?

As a result of the ILD project, the teaching practices of teachers have changed and enabled us to focus on student-directed learning. The ILD project has promoted greater reflecting, sharing, and co-learning with our students; we have focused on creating learning environments that are student centered with learning as the focus.  The technology has complemented the learning piece and has helped to increase student engagement and increase student communication skills.

Some of the things that happened at our school as a result of the ILD project include:

1. Transformative teaching/learning
• reflecting, questioning, sharing, exploring, experimenting, designing, and creating–>we are all learners–> co-learners
• moving from paper/pencil–>multimedia – voice, sound, visuals
• inquiry based –>uncovering curriculum–>more content choice-
• scaffolding and modelling thinking/learning–>adjusting our teaching/learning
• focusing on the process of learning
• engaged learners – student centered learning environment
• making thinking visible –>technology complements the learning
• empowering students–>greater student choice/voice/input
• partnership with students – reciprocal teaching – third space

2. Connecting/Collaborating/Sharing: Co-learning/Connecting with  students
• Digital Storytelling – iMovie trailers, KeyNote, PowerPoint, Book Creator, Popplet, Puppet Pals, ….
• WEB 2.0 Tools – Weebly – student web pages, teacher web pages, blogging, Glogster, Kidblog, iPadlet, Today’s Meet, Prezi, Skype, Twitter, PLN, publishing work on YouTube
• reflecting using blogging
• shift in learning/teaching–>student centered – they own their learning
• becoming co-creators, co-designers, co-architects of learning
• exploring ePorfolios –>documenting progression of learning
• presenting/sharing…communicating

3. Focus on: Differentiated Learning
• more voice/choice to represent learning – visuals, pictures, recording voice
• greater student ownership–>greater student motivation
• power of choice = students working at their level
• empowering students – building self-confidence

4. Personalized Learning: (‘How to use technology to enhance and magnify learning…’ – Neil Stephenson)
• increases student motivation and accountabiity
• how students want to learn, what they want to learn, how they represent their learning, how they share their learning
• Genius Hour, iMovie trailers…learning is relevant and meaningful and the technology piece complements the learning
• more content choice –>caliber of work improves–>shift in learning

5.  Assessment for Learning – AFL
•embedded in the learning process –>ePortfolios – the process of learning
•giving students opportunities to share and create using multiple options
•reflecting, self-reflections, peer feedback…blogging, collaborating, and discussing summative assessment …ePortfolios=progression of learning
• student-teacher conferences/presentations

6. ILD Team:
• blogs for reflecting/sharing —>3 teachers
• Twitter – #sd36learn #panopanthers –> 5 team members contributing
• share at staff mtgs, ILD mtgs – informal/formal, assemblies, pro-d

7. Next Year:
• building student ePortfolios – exploring Evernote, Google Docs,..
• Skype projects, global connections,…
• Blogging – Weebly/Kidblog •expanding Twitter PLN •staff mentoring
• student tech leaders as mentors for staff
• pro-d  •visiting other classes/schools   •PBL ….authentic learning
• conferencing/sharing with other classrooms/schools

8. Other Highlights and accomplishments in our first year of ILD:
• focusing on digital storytelling including: creating, designing, and sharing
• buddy activities
• students planning and discussing – reflecting, questioning, and exploring
• using manipulatives and technololgy
• Glogster – multiple options for sharing learning
• Genius Hour – Inquiry Learning – Wonder Qs – choice and voice
• creating iMovie Trailers – composing and sharing
• using Web 2.0 to collaborate ideas and content
• peers learning from peers – excited to explore blogging to represent their thinking and learning
• communicating with parents and peers – creating class and student web pages
• enhancing learning with Prezi
• students, teachers, and parents collaborating
• representing learning in a variety of ways
• brainstorming on Padlet
• participating in a Webinar – building, discussing, and creating together
• Skyping about careers
• using critical thinking skills
• creating simple digital portfolios using Weebly, exploring Kidblog
• self-reflection and self-assessment….peer feedback
• empowering students – learning together
• building confidence and self-esteem
• providing instant, descriptive, and specific feedback
• Many of our students would ask:
     • When can we start the next Genius Hour project?
     • Could we stay in at recess to finish our work?
     • Could I do an extra project?
     • Could we use the iPad or MacBook?
     • Could we make an iMovie trailer? Keynote?

During our first Webinar/Skype activity on careers, many grade seven students stayed in at recess to continue working on this activity. During LST, students were excited and motivated to track their reading speed. Students are asking about when can they blog next, excited about providing/receiving feedback from their peers. These are just a few examples of how some of our students became intrinsically motivated to learn new concepts. Again, learning was the focus with students being at the center, while the technology enriched the learning experience. Since teachers and students are co-learning together, there is positive energy being created and that is promoting collaboration, creativity, inspiration, and sharing.

Whether it be digital storytelling or Web 2.0 activities, students have confidently, eagerly, and successfully showcased their learning, with emphasis on: choice, voice, and collaboration.  With increased opportunities for ‘choice’ in a student-centered learning environment, it is evident there is greater student participation, ownership for learning, and increased levels of engagement and motivation. This is exactly what Shelley Wright@wrightsroom focused on at the second Engaging the Digital learner series presentation.

A student-centered learning environment has enabled our students to improve: fluency skills, confidence, speaking, and writing skills. By giving students choices and opportunities to share their learning using a wide array of multi-media apps and platforms – iMovie, Popplet, Educreations, Keynote, Class weebly webpage, Explain Everything, and Kidbog, engagement levels increased. This helped to enhance student responsibility and accountability for their learning.

The learning curve has been steep for many of us; however, it is because of our Innovative Learning Designs inquiry project that we have seen the above outlined accomplishments. Wow – amazing that none of this would have happened without ILD! Reflecting back, it amazes me that we had no comprehension of any of the above at the beginning of the inquiry process in September. ILD has had a tremendous  impact on the learning of our teachers and students at Panorama Park. It has been a wonderful learning journey for all of us, and we look forward to continuing to enrich and enhance our learning experiences next year as co-learners with our students and each other.

Below is a video clip that we shared at our ILD sharing session: Snapshots of staff and students, at Panorama Park, co-learning about Digital Storytelling and using WEB 2.0 tools.

On behalf of Panorama Park’s ILD team, I would like to sincerely thank Elisa Carlson and the IMS team for supporting, guiding, and inspiring us on this fabulous learning journey. You are an amazing team – thank you!!