Category Archives: Elisa Carlson

In the Land of Possibilities


Education is facing some important questions and exploring ways that ensure our students have the very best chance to be successful in the world and the society that lays ahead–a world we can’t even begin to imagine.

One of the questions we need to ask is if the present curriculum, the way it is presently constructed, is serving our teachers and our students well?  Or, is there some ways that we can construct, organize and imagine curriculum so that it allows for the flexibility and choice that better meets the needs of teachers and students?  Perhaps, it is time to transform curriculum and organize and construct it in a way that allows teachers to better teach to students’ needs and shape curriculum to better fit the contexts of their community.  Perhaps curriculum might not only support students in developing the important skills, processes and competencies but also fully encourage them to delve into and explore their passions.

We are all wondering what the changes and transformation to curriculum in B.C. might look like?  While students were lining up to head back into class the first day of school, we at the Head Office were learning about some of the possibilities. Pat Horstead, Assistant Superintendent, and on the Ministry of Education’s Curriculum Advisory Team, was presenting the overarching conceptual framework and “big ideas” behind these changes.  Her slideshare below provides a solid overview.


One of the first key ideas that Pat was clear about is that we are working “In the Land of Possibilities.” These changes are being explored, discussed, modified and adapted constantly as input and feedback is provided by many academics, teachers, principals, district staff and parents. It is about creating the possible and the ideal and making it real for both students and teachers.  Many of us are aware it is a work in progress as at least five of Surrey’s Helping Teachers were in Victoria for several days with different teams during the summer working on exploring possibilities and ways to better capture the important big ideas of their disciplines: Math, Science, Physical Education, Health and Career and Fine Arts curriculum. When they arrived back to work in September these teachers were excited about the curriculum changes and thrilled to be playing a key role in providing their expertise and input into the future direction of B.C.’s curriculum transformation. We look forward to entering the land of possibilities.

You can find out more about these changes in the document, Innovation: Transforming Curriculum and Assessment.

Thank you to Pat Horstead, Assistant Superintendent, for her contributions and editorial assistance with this post.

We Are Launched!

We have launched. Today it is official. We have a new district website: You can see it here. But it is much, much more than simply a website.  We have a place where schools can organize their staff bulletins, post key information and engage in on-going conversations in an electronic format.  It is a place where teachers can organize their classes and students can contribute to their learning. It is a place where students can post to their own blogs or get involved in on-line classroom discussions. It is a place where parents can have a view into the classroom and an enhanced opportunity for home/school collaboration and parent involvement. This is a Surrey-made version of Sharepoint. West Vancouver, Vancouver, Maple Ridge and Coquitlam school districts also use this platform. I think it is used in Toronto and many other Canadian school districts as well. Each version is different. The goal of is to connect us, improve communication and sharing and create opportunities for collaboration in easy-to-use, intuitive and relevant digital learning spaces.  For us as users, it will be only as powerful as we choose to dive in and make it.

I have dived in. I have my own page where I have organized information that is important to me and that I need to share with others. I have posted exemplars of school plans for moving digital literacy forward in our district. I have groups I have started. This will allow me to communicate key information to those for whom it matters most. The information is easily accessible and not confined to attachments sent via emails. It is a place where I am starting to house links to important websites and video clips that I think might be useful for me and for others. And, it is a place where I am collaborating with others through shared groups and documents. I know that I can collaborate this way through Google docs (and I do that) but I can also collaborate this way through our district site. I find it easy and convenient.  I can work on a document anytime, anywhere AND I can set up an alert so I know when someone in my group has made a contribution, altered or added to the document.  I haven’t set alerts on all my groups but I have it in those groups where I want to ensure that I know if something has changed. For example, if my Superintendent has posted a new article for members of Leadership Team to read, I want to make sure I see it.

When I sign in to use, I have a ME page. It recognizes that I am a Director of Instruction. I realized that I wouldn’t really understand all that this platform could do unless I was able to sign in both as a teacher and a student. I wanted to know what would allow both teachers and students to do and what the experience might feel like for them. Although I had sat through demonstrations and been told about the capacities of, it is not the same as doing it yourself.  Thus, I became the test teacher Ms. Roberts and the student Alan Mahal in the test setting. Here’s what I learned.

What does it do for me as a teacher? As a teacher, my classes are conveniently pre-loaded. All my student information is connected from BCeSIS to my class. I do not have to enter any data. As well, it is updated when students transfer out and or move schools.  I can provide an overview of who I am as a teacher, share my course outlines, make announcements, include key calendar information, post assignments, collect assignments, share links, have students engage in discussion and keep their own personal blogs. Not only are my students seeing this information, but their parents can see it as well.  As a teacher, I can control how much of this information I want to include and to what degree I want to make it public to others.  I can also create my own group for key teachers in my school or across the district with whom I want to share information, lesson plans, or links to resources.

Students can also tailor their own pages. They can decide what to include in their profile: their picture, links of interest, shared documents and more. They also have a space to create groups for collaborating, they can engage in discussions as well as the opportunity to write in their own blog space. 

Our new platform is an exciting opportunity to try something new this school year. Teachers who may have felt reluctant to bring their classes into a digital space have a controlled, easy and simple way to try it. Now that the launch is official, the website is available to staff, students and the general public. It is just the beginning as there are many more improvements planned (better support for iPads, for example) for  It is worth exploring. For me, it is about my learning and how I choose to dive into the water. Sink or swim, I’m in.

Thanks to the team at IMS (and @dj_turner) for all their work in putting together The project has been 3 years in the making. Special thanks to Project Leader Peter Schmit for walking me through its features.



Self-regulation and our “emotional wake”

I have a problem with self-regulation. This is not a true confession over my gambling, nicotine or drinking addition. I actually have none of those. What I do have is a problem wrapping my head around the concept of self-regulation. I am trying to understand it as an educator and as a parent too. As a mother of four boys, self-regulation is of interest to me. I think therein lies the challenge.  I am trying to find its place in my own life as well.

What is self-regulation? Understanding self-regulation and its application in our profession can be a little tricky. According to Stuart Shankar, “In the simplest terms, self-regulation can be defined as the ability to stay calmly focused and alert, which often involves – but cannot be reduced to – self-control.” He expands more in the full article here.

Wikipedia (see here) does a good job of defining Self-Regulation in Learning and then gives examples of self-regulation in practice in the classroom.  For example, “In the area of literacy instruction, educators can teach students the skills necessary to lead them to becoming self-regulated learners by using strategies such as reciprocal teaching, open-ended tasks, and project-based learning.” It also connects to assessment. This is useful. This is important for teaching.

The concept of self-regulation is not just important for learners. As professionals, it has implications for us as well. I am reading Conversations for Change: 12 Ways to Say It Right When It Matters Most by Shawn Kent Hayashi. This book comes highly recommended by Nancy Hinds, the former Profession Development Coordinator for the BC Teacher’s Federation. It is a key reference for our joint work with the Surrey Teachers’ Association in a project called Continuing the Conversation. The author of the book is clear that our ability to be emotionally intelligent is dependent on our ability to self-regulate. She asks: What is the “emotional wake” we leave people feeling with? At the end of a staff meeting? In a hallway conversation? On the phone? Are others excited about moving forward on a project? Do they feel discouraged? Not heard? How do we read the social cues of others? Can we see and read their emotional wake? She challenges the reader to learn how to manage their own emotional wake and that of others to influence organizational directions positively. “Being aware of the emotional wake we are leaving with others creates better working relationships. When we know what motivates others, we can focus on creating conversations that will inspire and move toward creating the results we desire” (p. 18). It is all about creating conversations for change. I want to be intentionally creating positive “emotional wakes” in my organization.

The ability to self-regulate, whether you are a professional or a student, is critical for success. Shankar believes that, “So compelling is this vision that one might go so far as to argue that if IQ was the major psychological construct of the 20th century, in the 21st century it will be self-regulation…” (manuscript pending publication). On August 24th Stuart Shankar will be in our district to explain the concept of self-regulation and its practical application in the classroom.  Hopefully, my problem with understanding self-regulation and how it applies to my world—as an educator, professional and mother—will be resolved. This is a life-skill for all of us; I have much to learn.

Leading expert, Stuart Shankar is speaking on Calm, Alert and Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation, on August 24th in Surrey, B.C. It is open to all interested participants. For more information or to register, click here.  2012-08-15

When Learning Hurts

Educators are asking each other the following questions: “How has this year and this learning journey been for you? What has been the most important thing you have done this year? What’s the best thing you’ve done this year?” I struggle to put it in words, to be authentic and to even share the real truth. Do I want people to know? And why? I want to write something truly noble and glowing about the wonder of the year and my own profound, wise and deep reflection on the experience. Alas, I am recovering from the onslaught. I am walking, running, lifting weights, and turning pages in books but not really reading them. And I am generally burying myself into my family and time alone. What makes it so difficult is I have no inspiration to give—me, in my position, have struggled in the learning curve.

I will say right up front that this year was too difficult for me. I found it painful and intense. How’s that for honesty? I had so much to learn at times it was way too overwhelming. I had too many responsibilities to juggle and didn’t feel I could do anything well. My goal has always been to exceed expectations and to make a difference in the work that I do. On top of that my actual personal mission statement, “joyfully obeying the call” didn’t seem to be anchoring my world. I was losing most of the joy in the intensity of the workload and spent many days struggling to be grateful. I had a difficult time navigating all the relationships and since I wear my heart on my sleeve I would often feel personally hurt over matters that should not have seemed so significant. I have worked hard as a teacher, vice-principal and principal but never as hard as I have this past year to survive being a Director of Instruction.  In some respects, it is but an act of grace that I have made it through the year.

Now we need to place that previous paragraph in its proper context. I do love my job. I love being in a position to encourage innovation, system change and organizational learning. This is the best part of my learning journey. I work with a team of fabulous helping teachers that are committed to supporting teachers in their learning and making significant change happen. These teachers are amazing. I have learned so much from them. They guide me in the work I do. They are the experts. Our work is driven by the need to make a difference with students. We do this by ensuring the work is school-based, teacher driven and teacher-led. I believe that deep changes to our education system will come from the professionals in the field.  And I do believe we are at a critical junction where both structural and pedagogical changes are needed. My job is to support that work. I am passionate about it.

So what is the most important thing I have done this year? Learning. Learning for myself and for others. I love learning and I love inspiring learning in others. I love creating opportunities for teachers, and administrators, to innovate, play, learn, explore and improve their practice. When teachers fall in love with learning, it spreads to their students. I am most excited when schools, administrators and teachers push the boundaries of “traditional schooling” and begin to explore ways to make learning more engaging for students. This is happening in our district. For me, when I hear from the field, of the work being done, that is deeply gratifying. So this is the paradox of what has also made my learning journey so difficult this past year. It is an antinomy of sorts.  I stand stretched and sometimes yanked between it.

And then what are the best things I have done? I realize these are things I have actually personally not “done.” They are initiatives that I have helped support. Others have done the real work. They deserve the credit.  Here are a few that come to mind:

• I am very excited about the early numeracy aboriginal project. This is a field study and we have not blogged about it yet. I think it is potentially ground breaking and “the first of its kind” work.

• Working strategically with IMS to get wireless across the district & hardware into hands of teachers & students was the game changer for teachers and learners. We hear that everywhere we go.

• The Engaging the Digital Learner Dinner Series was a significant catalyst for learning across the district. It sparked the beginning of publicly introducing twitter to educators and promoting the use of our hashtag (#sd36learn) as a way to promote best practice. The purposeful use of that hashtag has exploded.

• The Innovative Learning Designs project has breathed new life into the practice of many educators. More than one educator declared this was the most personally exciting year of the past twenty+ they have spent in the profession.

• I could talk about the SS11 e-text project as a turning point—a project that is truly more about shifting pedagogy than e-texts.

• And I could say a great deal about Teacher-Librarians as well. I do believe they have a strategic role to play in the future—if they choose.

These are points of hope for transformation in teaching and education. “When will what we know change what we do?” challenges Mike McKay, our district Superintendent. I see these as significant leverage points in that journey to action. So the best things I have done are reflected in the work of others. And what makes them the best is that they truly are moving practice forward.

As much as my learning this past year was intense, overwhelming, and difficult, it was equally exhilarating. I aspire to be a linchpin in the organization: finding new answers, new connections and new ways of getting things done. I like to dream big and make it happen. There is significant work to be done in education. I do feel like we are at a critical junction. It is my dream to help create the leverage points that will tip the whole district, the whole system, to create learning communities for students that are authentic, personal, real and connected to the wider global community. We are the experts. We can move the system to effectively meet the needs of learners. Many of you reading this post are already doing that. Others are poised to tip. I know that; I have heard your stories. What I ask, moving forward, is: Will you be a linchpin too?

Thanks to everyone’s support this past year and for your ongoing commitment to your own learning and that of your students.  May peace, hope, love and joy befriend you on your summer holiday! 

Playing in the New Sandbox

I have been playing in a new sandbox. I have been trying out our district’s site (click on graphic to make it larger). This is a new Sharepoint platform that is designed to bring people in our organization together and create some efficiency around our work. School districts like West Vancouver, Vancouver, Coquitlam, and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows all use this same platform, although I understand each district’s version is quite different.

People might not know but our platform went through a “silent” release last week (Oops~I don’t think I am supposed to share that publicly). That means all teachers and staff can now access their own internal web page. I had access earlier but hadn’t really taken time to “play” in the site. I decided, however, that if I was going to figure out the vision of this thing (connecting us as educators and providing us with a forum for collaboration) I better get in and make the vision happen.  It seemed to me that the only way to really do that was to set up a “group” and invite some educators to play along with me.  Here is how I am moving the sand around in this new box and what I am thinking as I explore it.

1. It’s all about connecting our learning.
For me, the group section of is the most interesting feature; it holds both the promise and potential for deep learning by connecting educators. I started exploring by setting up a group for my f2f Network (see below).  I chose to make this group closed so that no one else could see the site (or my mistakes!). I would prefer to “play” and experiment with a small group before I launch wider to ensure I design something that is useful for others.

I wrote a description for the group on the site itself. I added what I thought might be the most useful features. I posted a Special Announcement (Last session for the 2011/12 year), a regular Announcement (Don’t forget to pick up your book, The Connected Educator, before you leave our session), I listed emails for key contacts external to our group, and posted the invitation to our session as a Shared Document. That was just the front page that set the context for our group.

2. It’s all about sharing resources.
Have you ever scrambled at the last minute to find just the right video clip to kick off a discussion, presentation or staff meeting? This could be a solution. In the Resources Tab, I included description of its purpose: a place to find useful links, videos, quotes, etcetera so we might have a “toolkit” of resources at our fingertips. I started by posting the New Brunswick video on 21st Century Learning and the video on the Murmuration of Starlings. We used the latter to discuss our leadership and how when one of us moves it triggers others to move as well. There are more clips to be posted and I’m hoping others in the group will begin to add them as well.

3. It’s all about sharing the wisdom.
One of the purposes of this group was to keep me connected to the field. I wanted the ideas and needs of others to inform my work. We can now use the Discussion Board as a way to facilitate these conversations.  In the Discussion tab, I included a description of its purpose. I posted my first question on the Discussion Board: How can we encourage the development of organic networks focused on learning? There may be more provocative questions but that one represents my current wondering. I believe in the power of networked educators and want to facilitate that across the district. We learn best when we are connected to others that have the same burning questions as us. I look forward to insights from my network.

4. It’s about playing.
As much as it might be about my work and my learning, it is also about “playing” in the sandbox with others as we explore the journey together.  When one frames their “work” as “play,” it feels different. It can be more about bringing a playful attitude to the exercise, being more open to possibilities, less critical about what we don’t like or isn’t working, and a commitment to making it fun. For me, it is about finding joy in the work I do and appreciating the work of others in the same sandbox. I know I can be the first to see the glass half empty and therefore I have to choose my frame of reference. I articulate this carefully because I know I need to work hard at bringing this very attitude to everything I do.

I am curious to see how others in our organization will make this platform work for them and their own networks. I see a place for principals and vice-principals to do their planning in the sandbox. I see opportunity for teams across the district, whether engaged in The Numeracy Project or The Innovative Learning Designs (Phase 1 & 2) or something else, to connect. Grade 1 teachers across the district could link in here and share their lesson planning and ideas about improving student learning. Anyone engaged in collaborative inquiry can record their journey and make it a place for sharing their joint thinking about their purposes. There is great possibility in the dream. We can connect, we can collaborate and we can “play” in the sandbox together.

Are you ready for it? is currently in “silent” release. The Go Live date for both external and internal users is August 20th. 

Dropping the Gloves

It was one year ago today and I only did it because someone dropped the gloves. The Director of Information Management Services (@dj_turner) challenged me. How can you lead a portfolio with technology when you don’t know anything about social media? About Facebook, Linked in, Twitter, etcetera? It was something like that—perhaps not phrased quite as nicely. That was at the stage when he, and the IML Helping Teachers, were still drawing diagrams on paper representing this wireless thing. The whole technology piece was foreign to my world. If you drop the gloves on me, however, you better look out (I am a wee bit competitive). I effectively tossed it back, pointing out that I would have more followers than him in short order. And then, I jumped in. Here’s what happened:

1. The First Six Weeks: Boring
At first, twitter didn’t make sense and I wasn’t impressed. After I was given the hands-on demo at work (this is how it looks), I went home and signed on to twitter while my 12 year old supervised over my shoulder.  I read the tweets, found a few followers, and then sent a few tweets. I really thought it was a bit of a waste of time. It wasn’t until six weeks later, after I made a personal commitment to check in and tweet at least once daily, that I begin to see some possible value. I was finding links to articles and research that were both interesting and timely for my own learning.

2. A Pivotal Moment: Useful Information
Probably the most helpful moment came when Heidi Gable (@HGG) set me up with Tweetdeck on my desktop and laptop. Finally I could have meaningful columns designed for my personal needs and interests. I followed the Superintendent list and columns that were specific to my school district along with topical hashtags that were of interest to me. We set up a column for my mentions and direct messages. Everything was easy to see at a glance and required a minimum investment of time. I repeat, “a minimum investment of time.” I was converted. Why hadn’t anyone shown me this sooner?

3. The Real Understanding: Power
I had heard about hashtags because our IML Helping Teacher, Orwell Kowalyshyn (@Kowalyshyn), spoke about them at our district sessions and gave me a list of the most popular ones. I put it to the side of my desk because I didn’t really get it. I kept moving this paper around to a different corner of the desk wondering when I would get around to figure it out. I had too many other things to do and it didn’t seem all that significant. And then somewhere there was the “aha” moment and I understood the power of the hashtag both for sending out information and finding it. When I tweeted, it only went to my limited followers. When I tweeted with a hashtag, it was going out on a list to others interested in following that topic. Ideas were moving to those that most wanted to hear and act on them. The power is in the hashtags.

4. The Crazy Unexpected Happened: Real Relationships
I didn’t anticipate the “social” piece of using this media. I met Tia Henriksen (@henriksen) via Twitter. That may sound funny given that she is a vice-principal in my own district but since we have over 225 administrators, it is difficult to actually know everyone. Somehow our tweets connected and I invited her come for coffee in my office at the end of last August. We birthed a few district ideas through that coffee conversation and I have an ally in the work I do. Others, like @sheilamoris, @abvendramin, @dchila, have also played a similar role. It is also through twitter that I have connected to teachers in my district and actually have some perspective on what is happening in the field. I met Karen Lirenmans (@Lirenmanlearn) via twitter and besides visiting her classroom we have actually gone for a run together. I could add many other people to this list, both administrators and teachers. I never anticipated connecting to people through this media in a way that would actually result in building what I would consider meaningful relationships. There are no barriers on twitter. I have a network and it is real.

5. The Moral Purpose: Best (& Next) Practice
There was this strange exchange of tweets with David Wees (@davidwees). Then I think I sent him a direct message and said I would like to meet him (which was a bit bold of me) but I was engaging in a faceless conversation and actually wanted to meet the author of these tweets. He came all the way out from Vancouver and met me in my office in Surrey. We had a thought-provoking conversation about math and many other things. But the singular most important message he left me with was his vision of twitter for BC Educators: Imagine if we could use twitter to forward ideas about best practices in teaching all across the province?  It echoes in my head. Can you imagine? How might we transform the work we do? How might we provide the best possible learning experiences for our students? Could we do this in our district? Could we all learn together? I am now intentionally living the dream.

6. The Leadership Piece: It’s All About the Influence
I have some background and training in leadership, formally it is a Doctorate in Educational Leadership.  I simply see social media (of which twitter is one example) as a way to change the world. We spread good ideas that connect to the passion of others to make a difference. For me, in my corner of the world, I will use it to “live the dream” and support the work of schools–both teachers and administrators that are pushing their practice forward. Regardless of our positions, we all have the potential to exercise leadership. For us in education, it is a hand in glove fit for the work we do.

So with one year under my belt, I can say that dropping the glove was truly an effective motivator for me. And as for the challenge, if we are looking at the head count for followers, I am winning.  But really, the head count doesn’t matter at all. The real win is what I have gained. I have learned so much. I have connected to real people. And I am a better educator, a better leader, and a better human being for having done so.  I have won indeed.

Special thanks to the many educators on twitter, in Surrey and beyond, that have contributed to my learning. You keep me in touch, you connect me to the reality of the classroom, you encourage my work and you give me the advice I need to hear. Thank you.

The Co-Blogging Writing Experiment


The Tunnel in Hidden Valley

Co-blogging with my son for spring break was an experiment. Typically when we go on a really long adventure vacation I would stash drawing and writing journals in the car along with books, games, snacks and toys. As we have camped across Canada as well as to the tip of Baja California, we have designed ways to keep the four boys busy. I have always found it difficult, however, to actually motivate any of the boys to write. They have never been that interested. This time I decided to get a little sneaky about it. I asked my one son if he wanted to do a blog with me about the vacation. I would write from my point of view and then he could write from his perspective. He thought it was a good idea. As well, he was responsible for choosing the blogging platform and designing the layout. I made some suggestions, none of which he followed. He is independent and stubborn, just like his mother. I note that this child has not yet had the opportunity to blog in school. He is in grade eight. When he asked if he could do a blog for one of his classes, his teacher said “No.” She wanted a paper copy of his assignment. So, it made sense that he would blog for us as a family. And what was the result? Here are some observations.

1. He was motivated to write. He actually appeared to be interested in writing.  I did not have to nag him. As a parent, that was wonderful. I’m sure he appreciated it as well. And for me, he was writing. It worked. The technology itself was motivating for him. He has kept written scrapbooks before on trips but this was different.

2. He was writing more than I would normally see. I think it helped that this was just a journal reflection. I was not interested in the quality of his work; I was more interested in having him write.  My son is in French Immersion and research has indicated their writing skills can lag. It was just important to me that he record words on the page (or screen, to be precise).

3 We talked about the act of writing. This conversation was natural in this context and seemingly invisible but important. We talked about how exaggeration can make things more interesting for the reader. We talked about storytelling and the importance of opening and closing lines. We even discussed what makes a good title. As we went, sometimes I could see him make the appropriate changes to his own writing.

4. It was an opportunity to build our relationship. We had a new and different kind of connection. He was excited to review his statistics at the back of the blog. “Mom, did you know someone from Vietnam is reading our blog?” he would announce. Or, “Mom, right now two people in Canada are reading our blog.” Or, “Most of the people reading the blog are using mobile devices. Eighty-two percent are using some kind of Apple device.”  On blogger, there are all sorts of interesting statistics that he could explore and then share with me. Of course, it helped as well when he wrote something that was particularly funny (eg. his suntan lotion entry), that captured our family perfectly and would send me into peals of laughter.

5. He had a chance to experience the “social” aspect of the Internet. Thanks to some kind colleagues, a few people wrote comments in response to his writing. Of course, he was sent an email each time he received a comment. “Mom, did you know someone just commented on my blog.” That is reinforcing!

6. We could share our experience easily with other family and relatives. Again, this allowed us to keep connected. Although we were not face to face with these people, they had a sense of shared experience with our adventures. This, too, builds relationships.

7. It gave us a family record of our trip. As parents, we are committed to making memories with our children. Adventure vacations expand their horizons and our own.

The co-blogger in a slot canyon

Finally, I asked my son for his observations on the co-blogging experiment. Here are his responses:

Mom: What did you like best about co-blogging?

Son: I liked making if funny and seeing the stats.

Mom: Was it easier then keeping a paper journal?

Son: Probably, because I could just delete mistakes; it was more convenient, faster and easier to store. I knew I wouldn’t lose it.

Mom: What did you learn from doing it?

Son: I learned how to write better, how to use technology, how to make things funny, how to exaggerate and be sarcastic and how to use hyperbole.

Mom: How has your writing changed?

Son: I wanted to capture the reader’s interest by the title, the beginning and the ending. I might want to make the ending like a surprise or really funny.

Mom: Would you do it again?

Son: Yes, in fact, we should do it every vacation. You and me co-blog.

You can’t ask for much more from a teenage son!

From my perspective, the co-blogging experiment worked. My son wrote and he enjoyed doing it. The co-blogging adventure made learning meaningful for both of us. The fact that the journal was authentic, that others could read it and interact with him had a big impact on him. I also think the notion of “co-blogging” itself, with his mother, was powerful. And truly, this time out, technology did make the difference.

Postscript: Our family’s exploits are recorded here: ArizonaPhoenix. Comments are most welcome!

A Movement for Radical Social Innovation

Think of yourselves as a movement not attached
to the union or the government.
Charles Leadbeater

I was fortunate to attend the BC School Superintendent’s Winter Conference along with over 425 other attendees. I heard from Charles Leadbeater, Larry Rosenstock, John Abbott, Geoge Abbott and Bruce Beairsto. It was Charles Leadbeater’s comments, however, that were the most provocative. His presentation was called Innovation at Scale: Strategies for Radical Social Innovation. I also heard him speak at a CoastMetro session earlier in the morning. There were 150 people, including teachers and parents, in attendance at that morning event. Some key thoughts from all three of his sessions resonated for me.

Your vantage point determines what you can see…” was the opening slide. Our own organizational and system blinders often insulate us. Much like horses, we keep our focus away from the crowds and anything that might distract us from our purpose. He encouraged us to take ourselves out of education and have conversations about innovation with others. When we are consumed by racing down our own tracks, we fail to see what is happening around the world. Education and innovation look different elsewhere. The conversations with others in other professions, in other fields, in other business, and in other places, can enrich our own understanding. As tweeted by Cale Birk, “When we innovate, need to look sideways at other fields. We are too protected in our Ed cloistered life.” A wider vantage point, as we consciously and intentionally remove our blinders, allows us to create a more compelling and urgent vision. Leadbeater emphasized, “Just doing more isn’t enough. You have to do more, better and different. It is the different that is key.” It is strikingly different elsewhere.

See yourselves as mobilizers of the community rather than administrators of the system,” urged Leadbeater. He challenged us to move beyond pockets of innovation to transforming the whole field. He proceeded to ask us, “How do we increase this community’s capacity to learn?” How do we create large-scale system change? What are the tools at our disposal? Radical social innovation is most successful when it is a movement connected to a committed community that is driven by a compelling vision. Think of yourselves as a movement and not a system. We are the mobilizers of that community.  Who is leading this transformation? Our movement will be educators in the field that are engaged in shifting their pedagogy and collaborating with other educators in this pursuit.

People have to be pulled to innovation. You have to craft activities that draw people to innovate.” Are we doing that in our district? Your district? Who is crafting these activities that will draw educators—administrators and teachers alike—into the movement? Are we creating a pull to a new way of leading? Teaching? Learning? It isn’t about a push; it is about a pull because it is connected to a meaningful, authentic, moral purpose. We are creating a future for our own children. My son in kindergarten loves school. His favorite activity is “centre time.” My son in grade 3 loves math and gym. My two oldest boys, however, in grade 8 and 10, have “mixed emotions” about school and sometimes find it “boring.” The love for learning that characterizes young children—needs to be replicated for all students. Who will do that for my two oldest? Must we wait until it is too late for them?

Leadbeater made reference to the C’s in Innovation. These are composed as a series of questions, causing us to reflect on our own leadership practice.

Crisis: Is there a crisis–a sense of urgency for this change?

Curiosity: Have we created a space for educators to be curious and explore?

Connections: Are we working in combination with others? Are we creating connections with others, with ideas, with the past and the future?

Conversations: Are we having a conversation with others about this? Who is in the conversation? Who is hosting it? Where do we have our best conversations?

Challenge: Are we prepared to challenge ideas, ask stupid question, pursue useful deviants, and support the move to the future?

Commitment: And have we (that would be both you and me) made a commitment?—“You don’t learn to swim standing on the side of the pool.”

Co-creation: Can we co-create? Are we open to innovating for, with and by others? Who can you adopt? Who do you follow? And who is following you?

The C’s allow us to think strategically about our efforts.

I had the privilege of attending a powerful conference with world-class speakers. For that I am deeply grateful. But along with that privilege comes the responsibility to do something with the knowledge I have gained. If it doesn’t change my practice, then it has merely been a fascinating, titillating but somewhat empty intellectual exercise. That simply isn’t good enough for me. I want to create the movement. Are we creating mere pockets of innovation or can we scale it up to a radical social movement? I am committed to jumping in the pool. Will you join me?

Innovative Learning—For Teachers, For Students and For Me

I have the privilege of visiting schools. Once a week I head out for a site visit with Dan Turner, the Director of Information Management Systems (IMS), to the Innovative Learning Designs schools. We send a list of questions out to the principals ahead of time. For example, Where is the integration of technology working well? Do you have any evidence it is impacting student learning? Are you and your students using social media? Is BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) happening at your school? If not, help us understand what the barriers might be to encouraging this practice? And, how can you move BYOD forward at your own school? How are you (as administrators) using technology to accelerate your own learning? How are you using your own use of technology to impact your staff? The district has created a potential cadre of digital coaches (technology facilitators, teacher-librarians and administrators) at every school in Surrey. How can you use this cadre to help push practice forward? What are the challenges, if any, from a technical point of view (equipment maintenance, wireless, internet speed, technical support)? Although we send out a list of questions ahead of time, we also let the administrators know that the visit is intended to be a “learning conversation.” They are welcome to invite any staff member to join us or to have us take a tour of classrooms instead. Sometimes the conversations supersede the questions with the exciting stories of staff and student learning.

There are so many things I have learned. I have been amazed at the work of our teachers–their excitement, their enthusiasm and their willingness to experiment and push the boundaries of their own learning. I also have a much greater appreciation for my administrative colleagues. Their leadership, sometimes seemingly silent in the current political context, is still so clearly evident.  Both teachers and administrators are anchored in keeping student learning at the centre. Truly, I am humbled by the work and dedication of both.

1. Teachers are learning.
Although I have only visited about half a dozen schools, already themes seem to be emerging. Here is what I have noticed:
The Hillcrest Elementary grade seven teacher was clear, “It has totally revolutionized how I teach. I am not at the centre. The kids are at the centre.” As she further described it, “Being part of the project has forced us to be accountable for our learning.” “The younger generation has inspired us to play.” And, they are “bringing their world to us.” For many teachers, it has revitalized their passion for learning and their love for teaching.
2. Teachers are learning, together.
We have discovered that teachers are leading the learning. The strength of this teacher-leadership was clear at MJ Norris Elementary. Teachers are sharing their learning in collaborative sessions.  The same is true at other schools. They are meeting afterschool, at lunch or in the morning to explore their questions, together. They are inquiring into their work and how they define their best practice, together. The opportunity to be part of the initiative has created the impetus to ask the key questions, together: What are the learning intentions? What do we want the students to know and do? In what way might the technology help us achieve this? Teachers are owning their own learning as they help their students to own their learning. They are all doing it together.
3. Students are engaged.
At Cindrich Elementary, the students were described as “leaning into” their learning. The intense engagement was “incredible.” “Teachers have not had a single behavior problem.“ The output of students has been remarkable. George Vanier students have been experimenting with Genius Hour (you can read about it on twitter). At Hillcrest Elementary, students have created amazing websites for their Science projects. Perhaps, however, what is most remarkable is that the students, after creating the rubrics for their assignments, have asked to revise their rubrics as they have discovered they no longer describe their learning. The power of assessment and descriptive feedback is clearly at work; student ownership of their learning is profound. At George Vanier Elementary, after the students learned how to create their own websites, one of the students even built a website for his dad’s company. That’s authentic and practical learning that has clearly transferred to the real world!

Although I have only been to one third of the schools involved in this initiative I am already amazed at the learning—for both students and staff—that is taking place. I am not naïve to believe that this is the result of the project, or the result of the technology—it is actually about the passionate commitment of teachers working together to improve student learning.  I am just privileged to be a witness.

To Gel or Not to Gel

Some days I just want a really good gel pen and a brand, spanking-new journal notebook. Those are the days when I am tired of hearing about, talking about, and learning about technology. It can all be a bit overwhelming. I think some of the people that tweet and blog have some genetic predisposition to using technology. I do not. I have to work at it. And, for me, it is frustrating. It seems that things never actually behave the way I want them to. I will give you an example. I wanted to create the background to my Twitter profile. I read about it in a book. I tried to follow the directions and three hours later (on a Saturday mind you) I gave up. I paid $4.99 on my Mastercard to get it to behave. I didn’t want to do it that way. I wanted to do it myself.

Okay, another story. So I decided it would be a good thing to follow some of the people in my district who were blogging. As a Director of Instruction, with technology in my portfolio, that seems important for me to do. And frankly, some of these people are posting great material (see Peter Johnston). Unfortunately, what happens is I often miss their new posts. In order to get these posts, I need to subscribe to their blog (if they have included that feature). I was finding it cumbersome to subscribe to blogs as it clutters up my mailbox, which is already protesting over too many emails (and, frankly, I like a clean email inbox, too). So I decided to learn about Google Reader. I put all the blog URLs into Google Reader so I could then create an RSS feed to my Flipboard on my ipad (I may not even be using those terms right in that last sentence!). Now, I love my Flipboard. It helps me manage the flow of information. And, at a quick glance, it allows me to get all the information I need, whether it is catching up on twitter or following blogs.

Of course, this is not the end of the story. I wanted to create a summary paper of all the recent posts that educational leaders in Surrey schools were creating. I felt it would encourage others and they might realize their colleagues are also posting good information. I have seen others do this through or summify.  This seemed like a reasonable goal. I googled the directions, watched a video, read some FAQ—all of which I found very time-consuming. In the end, I created a paper for the #sd36learn hashtag. That was not my goal but it gave me a chance to practice. I still haven’t created the summary paper of Surrey blogs but I am waiting to see if summify will fit the bill. Actually, I tried summify but it isn’t working as I hoped. The gracious people behind it responded to my tweet for help and gave me additional instructions. Unfortunately, it isn’t generating what I had envisioned.  I will have to find some other tool (another day, when I am not feeling so overwhelmed).

Which all brings me to a point. (You were beginning to wonder, I bet.) I am not the only one that finds it laborious to use technology. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it is the most rewarding part of my job.  However, some of us are just challenged. Yes, technically challenged. And I guess that is why it is important for us to pay attention to the learning needs, styles and interests of our colleagues. It works best for me when someone actually shows me what to do (just in time, when I want and need to learn). Then I need them to watch me try to do it myself. I describe this as hand-over-hand (and, please, do not do it for me because if your hands are on the device, I am not learning). Then, they need to release me to do it on my own.  That works best for me.  And, personally, l would like them to check back with me later because my brain feels overstuffed and in between I actually sometimes forget how to do things.

We need to keep this in mind as we provide support to educators. They need to do it themselves, we need to provide the right tool for the their purpose, they need just-in-time training and we need to continue the gradual release of responsibility (with plenty of patience). Remember, those of you reading this post probably have a natural attraction towards technology. We need you to help those of us that don’t. And, finally, please be patient with our learning or we might just throw in the towel and return to our gel pens.