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Learning Labs: Incubators of next practice

Innovators inspire....learning labs Ryan 2In our school district, secondary schools have been invited to participate in the Learning Lab Project. The Learning Lab is designed as a learning laboratory where teachers are able to creatively innovate and explore new forms and structures for learning. Learning Labs are an opportunity to commit to being innovative in practice and to share that learning with others across the district. These are not “lead” schools but places of experimentation and incubators where good ideas can come alive.

The Learning Labs concept is more than creating or developing a space–it is about the people connected and committed to the concept. Upon googling the term, many are directed to ideas for makerspaces, breakout rooms with equipment, design spaces, etc… that have been created by many different organizations as part of their buildings. However, the Learning Lab concept can include these types of spaces but the intention and focus is on a larger picture school-wide, where what we would call “learning studios” (individual classrooms where innovative practices may be happening already) can be philosophically connected to a larger “learning lab,” where a group of teachers is committed to incubating innovative practices with collective visions.

At the end of the day the motivating factor is the needs of our learners for the future (and as many are seeing the redesigned curriculum as fuel to propose structural changes)  – the learning lab invites (and in some way gives permission) for us to manipulate the structures (for some this may be timetabling, courses in subject areas, class schedules, etc…) and tools that exist in schools. We are interested in “next practice” – connected to our district priority practices and district vision – so the learning lab concept is a model to scrutinize some of the boundaries or roadblocks that may sometimes get in the way of innovation.

What does this vision of the Learning Lab look like?

The Learning Labs provides an opportunity for educators to co-create redesigns of learning environments over a two-year period, intentionally manipulating the variables of tools, structures, and learning to design new opportunities for learning for both students and teachers. The term ‘lab’ implies practice and experimentation, not perfection. “The lab classroom is an in-house professional development model that takes place in a host teacher’s room during the normal school day” (Houk, 2010). It provides a context for all teachers to experience in-depth, sustained professional growth within a collaborative learning community.

Dream Big 2Innovative edge practices (like learning labs, learning studios, on-site coaching, demonstration schools and departments) become the seeds which with participation and acceptance flourish, moving these practices from the edges of the organization into the centre. The skillful role of teacher-leaders as builders of these inclusive learning structures is paramount to transformation. Teachers are architects of the learning environment, creating innovative structures and making use of tools that invigorate the learning process and deepen student engagement.

Guiding questions as those in our district consider a Learning Lab application for their school (secondary focus):

  • Do we have a core team (at least five teachers from multiple disciplines and one administrator) who will work closely to create a Learning Lab proposal for our school and make a formal commitment to this project?
  • Will our core team work together to connect our practices in accordance with our co-created Learning Lab proposal?
  • Is our school community ready to accommodate the flexibility required for potential structural changes?
  • Are we dedicated to being edgeplayers by demonstrating, sharing, and innovating openly outside the perceived norms of our school?
  • Are we committed to documenting our learning process, reflecting on our practice, and sharing our learning, both successes and failures?
  • Are we committed to promoting a collaborative culture – one that opens the doors of our classrooms to visitors, encourages others to apply “next practices,” and provides ongoing professional learning opportunities.

What is the school team committing to?iStock_000019906938XSmall

Phase 1: Creation of Anchor Design 

Schools commit to adopting a learning lab structure, an ideal incubator for testing new instructional methods and structures that more closely examine personalized learning and enhance deep student learning and engagement:

  • Schools pursue “better” and “next” practices that align with district priority practices of curriculum design, quality assessment, instructional strategies, and social and emotional learning.
  • Schools scrutinize past and current structures of instruction and engage in shared learning where the expectation is peer-to-peer coaching as a normative practice in the school.

Phase 2: Showcasing and Embedding Learning

  • Schools commit to an open door environment, hosting outsiders and colleagues to enable others to participate vicariously in the learning journey. The open door can provide alternative pathways to new understandings through unstructured visits for others to “see practice in action.”
  • Schools commit to offer structured visits, allowing opportunities for educators to question practice, observe learning, debrief learning, apply new strategies, and connect through ongoing networked touchbacks.

Structural Supports: Time, Resources, Expertise, Research

  • Time: The most valuable support that teachers can have is time to focus directly on their own learning as professionals and together with their colleagues. The school is encouraged to find ways to institutionalize and formalize learning time into the school’s structure. In addition, the school and the district may jointly provide funding to release teachers to focus directly on the learning lab concept.
  • Resources: The district may provide start-up materials and resources to support the use of alternate “tools” for learning. The district will also supply supplemental funding for the team to deploy in support of their model.
  • Expertise: The district may provide some expertise to support the Learning Lab but the Learning Lab is designed to build capacity at the school level so that the expertise resides among the learning lab team who will support each other in their learning journey. A helping teacher (instructional coach) may support the school team with conversations and planning.
  • Action Research: The school is expected to participate in the district’s Action Research program in order to provide an opportunity for school groups to engage in self-reflection, examine their impact on student achievement, and share their school’s learning across the system. Schools will explore and investigate measures of impact in consultation with a Helping Teacher.

The Learning Lab concept has been in development in the district
for over a year.  We are just now launching it at the Secondary level. In district focus groups held over the last two years, we heard over and over from educators that they want to see how the Redesigned Curriculum looks implemented in schools. We now have four Elementary Schools experimenting with this Learning Lab idea, with Cambridge Elementary actively up and running as a host school.  These Learning Labs provide educators with the opportunity to see some of these new ideas in education in action.

What would be really unique is if there were one or two other secondary schools in other districts that would consider adopting this model as well so we could network across our districts. Our learning would be amplified as we expanded our network with other innovative educator teams in other districts. Just a wild dream–but what a great opportunity for learning and pushing us all forward in transforming the learning agenda. Anyone in?

~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~

Blog Post Notes: The Learning Lab concept was developed by Elisa Carlson with the consulting support of Donna VanSant (Healthy Ventures). Thanks to Helping Teacher Joe Tong for his editorial assistance in refining the concept and whose words are also part of this post. As well, we want to acknowledge the contributions and feedback of Helping Teachers Alicia Logie and Iain Fischer for pushing our thinking on this topic. Appreciation goes to Helping Teacher Karen Fadum for helping supporting the embryonic development of the concept at the Elementary level. Thank you to Antonio Vendramin (Principal) and Kelli Vogstad (Vice-Principal) at Cambridge Elementary School for being the test case of early adopters.

Engaging the Digital Learner: Learning by Design

Design creates culture Quote
Our district continues to push the boundaries in understanding how to engage the digital learner in more effective ways. We have not achieved success but acknowledge and appreciate that this is a on-going journey. This is the notion behind our district’s vision of “Learning by Design.” We are the intentional architects and designers of these new learning experiences, places, spaces, and endeavours. Our work is deliberate, meaningful and challenges the status quo. Teachers takes risks, try, experiment, and repeat. What a privilege to learn from their stories.

At our dinner series in February, we were fortunate to hear from three outstanding educators, and a student, as they shared their passions in trying to make their classrooms and learning more meaningful. You can find their stories here:

Communicating Student Learning featuring teacher Beverley Bunker from Crescent Park Elementary School. Great comments, including this one: “Student voice was no longer optional, it was assumed.”

Applied Learning = Fun! featuring Zale Darnel a technology teacher from Princess Margaret Secondary School but now most recently hired to the Education Services as a Helping Teacher for Curriculum & Innovation.

You can also read his guest post here: Maker Day at Princess Margaret.

Our third presenter was a 13 year old grade 8 student from SAIL (Surrey Academy of Innovative Learning). She provides a snapshot of what it means to be in the STEMX program through her presentation on Learning by Design.

Our fourth presenter was from Fraser Heights Secondary, teacher Jessica Gonsales “Ownership: I put that shift on everything!”
n”

Jessica’s courage to design learning in new ways continues to be an inspiration for others across our district. We are grateful for the leadership she provides!

Bill Rankin PictureAs part of our dinner series, we were also fortunate to hear from Bill Rankin, one of Apple’s premier educators. His presentation is available to Surrey educators on the SS.ca hub at my internal blog Engaging the Digital Learner 2016: Learning in a New Age. Staff must be logged in to access this video.

A big thank you to all our #sd36learn educators for joining us at our February session. We look forward to May’s event with Jennie Mageira (@MsMageira) and more of our own Ignites.

Thank you to the Education Services Curriculum & Innovation Helping Teachers for organizing this event!

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.

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.

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

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NEW REALITIES

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

Coles Hewett

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

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

OPTIMAL CONDITIONS

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

FRAMEWORK FOR INNOVATIVE SYSTEM PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT 

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

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

LEAP: DECLARATIVE ACTION AND COMMITMENT

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

Karen Lirenman

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

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

Nikki Leech

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

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

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

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

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

PULL: HARNESSING INFLUENCE AND ATTRACTION

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

Charles Leadbeater

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

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

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

PLAY: SPARKING DISCOVERY AND EXPLORATION

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

Greg McKeown

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

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

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

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

MAXIMIZING PROFESSIONAL LEARNING

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

John Kotter

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

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

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


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


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

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