My Top 3 for 2015 (with apologies to Chris Kennedy)

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The best work that anybody ever writes is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing him, always.

Arthur Miller

I tried not to do it but I couldn’t resist. I have parodied Superintendent Chris Kennedy on two previous occasions, taking his masterful Top Three List and brutalizing it a bit with my own satirical Top Three. I did this in 2012, and 2013. In 2014 I wrote a half-baked caricature but did not have the nerve to publish it. Now we are in 2015 and he has published his Top Three again (see here and read his first). I was waiting for it. I cannot keep my cheek in check. Even in this form, please note, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” (Charles Colton).

My Top Three Blog Posts

Here are most read posts for 2015, as gleaned from my followers.

  1. Reporting in a Digital Age
  2. A Window into Learning
  3. Innovation in Action: Learning by Design

But, I have to tell you the stats are absolutely pathetic. It is a wonder I post anything at all. The social media honeymoon just might be over. I note that the second most read post this year (2. A Window into Learning) was even published last year, in December 2014. At that, the post Treasure Wild Ducks: The Flight of Innovation continues to be the most popular piece and that was published way back in November, 2013.

Top Three Blog Posts I Would Like to be Writing

Chris seems disappointed more people are not blogging. He gives no explanation for why there is less blogging but leaves us hanging for a “next post” (unintended irony) on that topic. With no excuses–I expect to find him unpacking it for us in the New Year. And I would like to point out, I, at least, have excuses. I have not even started the blog posts that I would really like to finish. I would if I had time. I would if I could think clearly. I would if I didn’t have an inbox full of email. I would if I didn’t have four children underfoot (even Chris could have used that one). Posts that keep swirling in my head:

  1. Scaling Up: Chasing the Unholy Grail of Transformation
  2. Research Results from a District-Wide Learning Commons Implementation
  3. Passion, Purpose and People: The Interlocking Keys to Excellence

The Top Three Regularly Used Education words (that show we still don’t really know what we are talking about)

  1. Transformation
  2. Innovation
  3. Personalization

See also “scaling up” referred to above. Pardon my cynicism.

Top Three Videos I Have Watched

First of all, I would like to know when people have time to watch all these TEDx videos? I am still relishing the same animated movies from previous years.

  1. How to Train a Dragon
  2. How to Train a Dragon 2
  3. Despicable Me

I feel better AND I am inspired by the sheer art and beauty of them. Sometime I will find a list of the Top 10 videos for Educators, make some popcorn (or melt some butter and sprinkle it with popcorn) and then watch them all.

The Top Three1 Stories People will be talking about in BC in 2016 (see also above category regularly used education words)

  1. Reporting (aka Communicating Student Learning).
  2. Transformation.
  3. Innovation.
  4. Personalization.
  5. Scaling Up.

The Top Three2 Things I Learned This Year

  1. Hard Work Isn’t Always Enough
  2. Excellence is in the Eye of the Beholder
  3. Timing is Everything
  4. Professional Learning is Never Done
  5. Sometimes You Need to Let it Go

Top Three People/Things That Inspire Me

  1. Good Friends: They help me to “let it go”
  2. My Staff: They are amazing at what they do
  3. The Quiet: Silence in the swirl of work & home is treasured

The Top Three Books I Am Still Working On

  1. The Genius Hour Guidebook by Denise Krebs & Gallit Zvi
  2. The Innovators Mindset by George Couros
  3. Accelerate (XCR8) by John Kotter

Top Three Professional Highlights for 2015:

  1. New Staff Members: Karen Fadum (@mrsfadum) and Joe Tong (@teachertong), both Communicating Student Learning Helping Teachers, Shauna Nero (@MmeNero), Modern Languages Helping Teacher and Maryanne Kempthorne (@Maryakem), new Manager of Learning Resources. You should follow them all on twitter–they are great additions to an already amazing #sd36learn Education Services Team!
  2. A Window into My Child’s Learning: Having my own son get a digital portfolio (via @freshgrade) was an unexpected surprise. I’ve been working on this partnership for three years and when it reaches  my own child who attends school in another district–that’s personally and professionally rewarding. I get my own parent view!
  3. Learning from Others: Finding out how other leaders do their work  in other districts in B.C. and across Canada, inspires me.

Leaders I Admire:

  1. Dean Shareski (because I won a coveted #deanie award and he is a most gracious and giving man)
  2. Chris Kennedy (I continue to be inspired and learn from his work)
  3. Many Woman Leaders (some identified in this provocative post)

To sum up the 2015 year can be a daunting task. To follow the high bar set by Chris Kennedy in his blog Culture of Yes is impossible. I have blogged, though, at last.

And a big thank you to those of you that take the time to read my posts. Thanks for your patience with me as I continue to learn what it means to push the boundaries of innovation, attempt to transform education, personalize learning for both students and teachers, communicate that learning to wider audiences and scale up these changes across our district and beyond.3

I will be, forever, a dreamer.

 

Footnotes:
1Did I mention I have a Numeracy problem?
2Numeracy continues to be a challenge.
3Guilty, I am.

Producing Quality Assessment in Digital Portfolios

 

The digital portfolio embraces the challenge of making learning visible and mirrors quality assessment where the learning and student choice, voice and ownership are central and core. How does one capture quality assessment evidence and produce an ongoing digital portfolio for every student? The point is not to regulate but to re-orientate what we know about quality assessment practice and to systematically uncover and capture what is essential in communicating student learning. It is no longer about standardization of reporting but about the personalization of the learning journey. Where are students now? Where are they going? And how are they going to get there?

Back to schoolDigital Portfolio: Fit for Purpose
A central purpose of all assessment is to understand where learners are in their learning at the time of assessment with the objective of improving their learning. https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/assessment. The digital portfolio is an ideal “fit” for this purpose. At its best it is formative, relevant and accessible. The crafting of the digital portfolio provides meaningful, collaborative learning and feedback and invites active involvement and engagement for both student and parent. (Karen Fadum, 2015. FRAME https://mrsfadum.wordpress.com/2015/10/26/where-is-the-learning-guidelines-for-using-digital-portfolios-to-communicate-student-learning/)

Guiding Principles for What Teachers and Students Include
Throughout the learning process, teachers and students intentionally focus on gathering evidence of learning that demonstrates student growth and helps to guide both instruction and learning moving forward. “What is captured and shared should show students’ learning over time, changes and growth in their ability to communicate, think and build their capacities of self as a learner.” http://abvendramin.com/2015/07/09/digital-portfolios-moving-beyond-the-glorified-scrapbook/

My GoalsIn collecting evidence the teacher role is thoughtful observer, listener, and designer. Quality documentation reflects the design of teaching/learning tasks which are well constructed, process-centered and open-ended inviting students to think, question, reflect and assess their own learning. Together teachers and students engage in setting criteria and uploading exemplars which allow for ongoing, timely, descriptive feedback for students and parents. The carefully shared decisions about WHAT to make visible not only helps students assess their growth but also helps them understand how to improve and move forward toward their learning intentions and goals.

Three important guiding principles should be considered when selecting documentation, artifacts and evidence (http://kellivogstad.com/2015/08/31/digital-portfolios-making-the-learning-visible/). It is important that what is made visible links with quality assessment practices and demonstrates student growth and learning.   Vogstad recommends: (1) Documentation which shows growth over time through revisited curriculum tasks or experiences, demonstrates concrete change in abilities, skills, behaviours, attitudes, and understanding; (2) Artifacts which invite student reflection and analysis of student learning incorporating the thinking operations of observing, comparing, contrasting, analyzing, hypothesizing, imagining, and making conclusions; and (3) Evidence that demonstrates student behaviour and growth in the three core competency areas: thinking, communicating ideas, and personal/social development, reflects meaningful and relevant learning across all curriculum areas and provides opportunities for students to show their learning in a variety of ways.

iStock_000058616460_SmallThere are four practical ways for teachers to categorize and organize
documentation (see Vogstad above). Two of the Same – Student completes two of the same tasks which are documented over a period of time. For example, an impromptu write completed in October, and one completed in January; the two similar artifacts invite observations and comparisons, demonstrating student’s growth and learning. Showing the Knowing – Demonstrations/process-based sharing: student presents or “walks” through an activity, task, or process, explaining thinking, strategies, connections, decision making, problem solving skills, and understandings. Celebrating the Learning – Documented student artifacts show skill and ability reflecting criteria of success. May include performance standard descriptors or task generated criteria; comments are made based on observed evidence that meets criteria. Communicating the How and Whys – The fourth component documented by the teacher provides parents accessing the documentation a lens through which they can understand and support their children’s learning. Descriptions and explanations about the curriculum activities are documented which inform, instruct, and communicate the big ideas, learning intentions, purpose, and goals behind the artifact. 

Dissonance and Hard Work
The exploration of communicating student learning using the digital portfolio is not without its challenges and has created some uncomfortable feelings of dissonance. At this stage there are probably more questions than answers and yet, educators are attracted to the opportunity to develop better and more meaningful ways to motivate students and communicate with parents using the digital platform.

The “hard work” is to continue the search for learning which is visual, fresh and aligned to elements of quality assessment. This forces teachers to think deeply about the design of activities and the ways they document, assess and share what they see. As designers, teachers are key to transforming the learning.

IMG_5313The Search for Delight
As teachers and students become more comfortable with using digital portfolios, students learn to search for their own evidence of their learning, upload artifacts and provide their own reflections on their growth–signalling the opportunity for them to have choice, voice and ownership and to produce their own brand of creativity.

The personalized learning journey depicted by visible artifacts and essential documentation produces quality moments which quite frankly register delight. On the part of the student, parent and teacher there has been powerful recognition of the influence of the well-crafted digital assessment. The evidence is formative, relevant, accessible, meaningful, and engages students in live, authentic action. And, the personalized learning journey has only begun.

~     ~    ~   ~  •  ~   ~    ~     ~

Research Note ~ Elements of Quality Assessment Pertaining to Digital Portfolios.

It is no longer about standardization of reporting but about the personalization of the learning journey. Where are students now? Where are they going? And how are they going to get there?
•  “What is captured and shared should show students’ learning over time, changes and growth in their ability to communicate, think and build their capacities of self as a learner.”
•  Communicating student learning to students and parents is for the most part formative and demonstrates student growth and learning.
•  Effective feedback is timely, ongoing, specific, descriptive, relevant, accessible and engaging.
•  The student role is an active one. Students assess and celebrate their own learning and understand steps toward improvement. Student choice, voice and ownership are central and core.
•  Assessment has a profound impact on motivation and well-being of student.
Results of assessment are used to monitor and adjust teaching and learning.

Note: Special thanks to Dr. Donna VanSant (@vansantd) for assisting in the consolidation of the thinking and contributions of myself and the others identified in this post. Thank you to the many #sd36learn teachers who have been embracing this learning journey and contributing to our understanding as an organization.

Reporting in a Digital Age

If you change the way you teach, you change the way you assess, and if you change the way you assess, you change the way you teach.

Tammy Hartmann, Principal, Ocean Cliff Elementary School

Problem Report Cards Glass Shattering 2Our district has been looking at and changing the way we communicate student learning for several years now. We recognized in an evolving societal context that our current reporting system was antiquated, not reflecting the realities of new research on assessment practices nor the possibilities offered in an expanding digital landscape. Our problem was multi-faceted: an antiquated report card platform, an archaic checklist approach to learning, misalignment with the BC Ministry of Education’s Redesigned Curriculum and changing understandings of quality assessment practices. Nor did our current system take advantage of a socially networked and connected world with new possibilities for sharing information.

Which train do you want to catch? 2Since 2012 we have been using digital portfolios in partnership with the company FreshGrade. In our first year we were part of their beta pilot, giving them our feedback as they developed the platform. In our second year, it became a pilot for teachers to use as an alternative form of communicating student learning. Last year, and this, we gave teacher’s the freedom to use it as one of three reporting options available in the district. We have a very exciting new non-digital template available as well so teachers have the opportunity to choose which new practice they want to try on. We made a commitment to not force change but to give teachers opportunities to learn more about assessment and reporting practices both digitally and non-digitally. The former, however, is the focus of this post.

As we explored sharing student learning through a digital window, we had key questions that drove our learning. In today’s context, we wondered if we could…

  • communicate student learning in more powerful ways?
  • communicate student learning to increase student success & engagement?
  • use technology to highlight student learning & thinking?
  • change “reporting” to fit with what we know about quality instruction, learning & assessment?

We wanted to consider, what are the possibilities in a new world?

  • How can we leverage this digital tool to transform learning?
  • How can we encourage & direct the conversation?
  • Who is telling and shaping the story?
  • Can we create a new story and a better way of “reporting?”

It is important to note that central to our thinking has been keeping the role of the teacher clear: We know that no web 2.0 tool, no program, no paper template transforms learning. Teachers transform learning.

As we engaged in our learning journey as a district, more and more questions would emerge to push our thinking. Are we making learning visible? What is the evidence of learning? Full stop. These latter two questions are perhaps most significant for those embarking on this journey.

Once you begin to look at digital portfolios, it creates the opportunity to examine student learning and explore what quality assessment looks like in a digital context. For us, it is not about posting cute pictures or entertaining videos, nor is it about overloading a portfolio with endless artifacts that fail to communicate the learning journey. The focus is on evidence of learning that demonstrates student growth and helps to guide both instruction and learning moving forward. We recognize that as teachers, we are learners on a continuum of understanding as well. There is the first step of accomplishment from uploading an artifact and conquering the technical piece of the platform to progressing to understanding how to gather artifacts that actually show student learning and incorporate important descriptive feedback. As teachers and students become more comfortable with using digital portfolios, students can actually learn to search for their own evidence of their learning, upload artifacts and provide their own reflections on their growth–signally the opportunity for them to have choice, voice and ownership. Student engagement quickly accelerates the motivation and interest in learning.

We have shared our journey with others internally, locally and abroad at evening sessions, workshops, and conferences as well as through social media. Our most recent event is at the Learning Forward Conference in Washington, DC. As part of sharing our journey—imperfect as it is—we wanted to include some of the learning that has taken place while growing in our understanding of this new form of digital reporting. To learn more about what it means to actually show the learning, we have several helpful blog posts that we reference in our district (click on the title to access):

Where is the learning? by Karen Fadum, a Communicating Student Learning Helping Teacher (Instructional Coach) with Education Services.

Moving Beyond the Glorified Scrapbook by co-authors Antonio Vendramin, Principal, and Kelli Vostad, Vice-Principal, Cambridge Elementary School.

Making the Learning Visible by author Kelli Vostad, Vice-Principal, Cambridge Elementary School.

e-Portfolios in Language Classes by author Shauna Nero, Modern Languages Helping Teacher (Instructional Coach) with Education Services.

For more information about e-portfolios for language teachers, you can read Le portfolio numérique et FreshGrade by Shaun Nero.

If you want to know more about how we started off when it was first a pilot, the description is found here: The Pilot: Communicating Student Learning.

A Window into Learning, is adapted from an Executive Briefing presented to the District Senior Team and co-authored by myself and with Dan Turner, Director, Information Management Systems, and describes our adventure and rationale for moving into digital portfolios.

Thanks to Kelli Vogstad for the helpful descriptions for ways to make learning visible using portfolios. Her document of Guiding Principles is an easy one pager for teacher reference. You can download it here: CSL Making Learning Visible Guiding Principles Vogstad.

This video uses the words of famous thinkers, leaders in the field of assessment and the words of those who have lived the experience in our district. We often use this at the end of a session as a way to encourage new thinking about assessment practices. (Music Credit: “Shadow by Lindsey Sterling).

We have a multitude of other documents that we have developed to support the scaling up of this project, everything from powerpoints to a planning tool for teachers and even a guide for parents. (Click here to download the Digital Portfolio Parent Guide). A big thank you to the #sd36learn educators in our district (many are mentioned above) who have been creating these documents “just in time.”

There are other educators across our province who are also doing significant work with Digital Portfolios. You can read more from Ian Landy, Principal of Sorrento Elementary, on his website. You can read more about Kindergarten/Grade 1 teacher Michelle Hiebert’s journey with e-portfolios on her website as well.

Innovation is messy signpost 2Your are welcome to contact us if you would like more information.

The more we can do to help travel this uncharted path together, the lighter the load for all.

Maker Day at Princess Margaret Secondary

Guest Post: Thank you to Zale Darnel, and his colleagues, for contributing this guest post.

On September 28, 2015 Princess Margaret Secondary School held a “Maker Space” workshop and it was amazing! Here is our story and some pictures.

With ninety educators in attendance, some from our school and some of our local elementary schools the learning commons was buzzing with people and excitement. What made the day even more fun was that not everyone was familiar with what “Maker Space” meant.  As teachers arrived and saw the tools, materials and supplies, you could feel the enthusiasm in the room. This was going to be a hands on day and right away everyone was enthused.

StoryboardThe process started with us forming our groups and looking at our design scenarios. For our challenge we gave the groups a choice of two scenarios, “Mobility in an aging society” and “Food in a cold climate.” We spent the first hour talking design and finding the issues with the problem.   This on its own was interesting as different people in the group brought their perspectives and ideas. The teams worked to find the problem and ideas that worked toward solutions and, once a “design” was settled on, the work of “Making” could begin. Each group was given a “kit” with objects that they needed to work into their design as well as access to group materials and a tool station.

teachersattableThis is where the real fun began!! Everyone was so excited and engaged in learning. The learning commons was alive with people moving, creating, cutting, building and just having fun. For two plus hours everyone worked expressing their creative ideas and having a great time. I saw colleagues drilling and cutting that had never use a drill or a saw before, people sitting on the floor building like little kids and people helping each other express their ideas for others to see. I even saw our administrators getting into the fun using a rotary tool and passionately searching for supplies. Everyone was engaged and having fun, we could have worked at “Making” all day, no one wanted to stop! However, as our two hour build time wound down everyone frantically worked to finish their prototypes and make any last minute improvements.

BoxNext came a chance to look at everyone’s creations. I thought the building part was the most fun until I saw what everyone made. WOW–was I amazed! Out of the two scenarios that were given the room was split about 50/50, which made it even cooler to see all the different ideas. We all had a chance to walk around and talk to each group about what they built and why and was I impressed!!! People came up with designs and ideas that I would never have thought of; it was fascinating to see. I found myself absolutely enthralled looking at everything and touching it to see how it all worked. I had so many questions, but I wasn’t the only one. Each “prototype” creation had large crowds gathered around asking questions and commenting on how awesome their ideas were.

FruitsVegetablesAs the day finished, several teachers’ commented that it was one of the best professional development days ever! Many even said they could see themselves using the ideas of “Maker Space” in their classrooms.   But the best comment I heard at the end of the day was, “I didn’t know this was so much fun, I thought we would be listening to someone else speak or be on computers all day.”

ThumbsUpOur Maker day was a huge success! I would like to thank our Pro-D committee, our Administration, the ITA for helping fund the event and Susan and Deb from UBC for presenting and leading the day.  We are all looking forward to using the concepts more in our secondary classes and having visits from our local elementary schools to have younger students learn in our maker space as well.

Thank you to everyone who participated and to everyone that made this possible. What a great experience!

The Structures of Innovation

 

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.

Steve Jobs

Historical ruins in Philadelphia

Historical ruins in Philadelphia

I have a fascination with structures. Whether these are the physical structures of cityscapes, the formal systems in organizations or the informal structures hidden in organizations, how they are created, used, morph, disappear and replaced, intrigues me. The structures, in schools and districts, are the patterns and frameworks through which innovation and system change move. There is the visible and the invisible—each part playing a powerful role in system transformation. In the work we do, it is the structures that can give us opportunities for change, coherence, meaning and, ultimately, reorganization. Never underestimate the power of an intentional, strategic and well-designed structure to transform the learning environment.

The old reflected in the new

The old reflected in the new

At the start of this past summer I travelled to Philadelphia. The city has a unique backdrop of historical and contemporary significance. It has deep roots with one of the oldest original settlements together with the home of Benjamin Franklin in juxtaposition with contemporary skyscrapers such as the Comcast building. Wikipedia described it citizens in the early twentieth century as “dull and contented with its lack of change”, but the city, and the people, as demonstrated at the International Society of Technology Education (ISTE) Conference, has been transformed into one of the top 10 US cities to visit and a hub of 21st century learning.

Jordan Tinney, Superintendent, Elisa Carlson, Director of Instruction and Dan Turner, Director of IMS
Jordan Tinney, Superintendent, Elisa Carlson, Director of Instruction & Dan Turner, Director of IMS

This year’s conference brought the added excitement of our district receiving the ISTE 2015 Sylvia Charp Award for District Innovation in Technology for our commitment to technology planning focused on transformative learning. We are the first school district in Canada to win this prestigious award. In early summer, we were recognized on an international stage among 20,000 peers. It took intentional and strategic structures—both formal, informal, and hidden–to get us to that place in the spotlight. Our technology ecosystem incorporates the key structures that allow the organization to become a learning place of significance.

Surrey Schools is considered a national leader by educators and Chief Technology Officers alike for its initiatives in planning, building, and integrating technology into education. Whether it is our Innovative Learning Designs strategies, our Learning Commons conversions, our Makerspaces movement, the Making Learning Visible e-portfolio partnership with FreshGrade, or our social media branding, our learning is carefully crafted in organizational structures, requirements, and guiding principles that create the conditions for learning to flourish.

Our technology ecosystem aligns to a shared technology vision that replaced isolating silos with collaborative cross-discipline teams and, more recently, to a refreshed transformative district vision for learning: Learning by Design (LbD).

The Ecosystem Structure

The Ecosystem Structure

The ecosystem emphasizes collaboration and engagement within a progressive governance model, integrating five essential components: Leadership, Professional practice, Schoolhouse, Technology toolbox and Partnerships. At the heart and centre of our ecosystem is the learner.

The technology ecosystem infuses and promotes innovation in the classroom, professional inspiration and learning, building school communities and networks, the transformative use of technology tools, and optimal planning efforts tied to appropriate resource allocation.

Our teachers transform learning in their classrooms and schools. Through technology, they are creating personalized opportunities for authentic student engagement and deep learning that go beyond the cursory completion of prescriptive learning outcomes. Technology has helped teachers create fresh opportunities for student voice, choice and ownership that are grounded in the core competencies of critical and creative thinking, contemporary forms of communicating and real ways of expressing personal and social responsibility.

Organizational design + Infrastructure

Organizational design + IT Infrastructure

Our transformative change was fueled in 2010 by the district’s strategic requirement for school-site specific learning plans to accompany any hardware requests. These plans included learning-focused questions, professional learning opportunities, collaborative inquiry teams of teachers and the explicit sharing of learning through social media. All of those requirements were predicated on an Information Technology (IT) infrastructure that was foundational for these organizational changes. The IT department, beginning over a decade prior, had worked systematically to create the hidden structures, networks, wiring closets, bandwidth and more, which made new forms of learning possible.

The Sylvia Charp Award acknowledges our systemic approach to the diffusion of pedagogical practices that are underpinned by teacher-led inquiry and embedded learning. It also recognizes the professionalism and commitment of teachers engaged in the process of continuous improvement, supported by the districts nurturing ecosystem. And finally, the Award acknowledges the collaborative work of the Education Services department’s focus on learning with an IT department that is committed to both anticipating and removing the barriers to that learning.

IMG_5367 (1)What’s next for us? We will build capacity within the system to create new and ever evolving structures, provide appropriate tools and experiment with new forms of learning. We will continue to share our stories, learning and inspiration with each other (#sd36learn) and our peers around the globe. We will provide opportunities for teachers to “see” into each others’ classrooms, observing, reflecting, exploring and playing with new notions of teaching and learning. These classrooms and schools will act as Learning Studios and Learning Labs where the exploration, play and sharing of practice on a peer-to-peer level is nurtured.

The district’s strategic organizational structures, together with the tools we use, the technology infrastructure, resources and learning support, will help us to further understand, embrace and expand this intentional learning by design across the system. Surrey School’s technology ecosystem – with our learners firmly at the centre – continues to create and build the capacity for our continued learning evolution.

 

Note: For more information on the District’s strategic work on transforming learning, see cover article in October issue of T.H.E. Journal. Thank you to Dan Turner (@dj_turner), Lisa Domeier (@librarymall), and Jeff Unruh (@unruh_j) for participating in with T.H.E. Journal photoshoot. For more information on the district’s IT department, see wickedproblems.ca.  See Superintendent Dr. Tinney’s (@jordantinney) blog at jordantinney.org for related stories. Big thanks to the #sd36learn tribe who are creating, designing and living the change. You have been my cheerleaders.

Our Journey into Pedagogical Documentation


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For me it’s been a simply good day.

Celebrate the Tribe

 

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

Dean: Yes and yes.

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

Dean: I’ll figure something out.

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

Dean: Whatever you need…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

A Parting Gift: An Outsider’s Perspective

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

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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.