Category Archives: Inquiry

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.

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.

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.

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

Leap Pull Play Graphic
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.

The Sharing Continues

Tweet Ignited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share, Share, Share

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

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

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

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

Watch as Principal Iram Khan shares about Minecraft Mania:

New teacher Sarah Dalzell describes her No Stress story:

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


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

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

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

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

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

Innovation in Action: Learning by Design

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

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

Jay Samit

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

Doug Stowe

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

The Best & The Worst of Times


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

Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surreal.

_______________________________________________________

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