What do we believe? We have some guiding principles that have anchored our digital learning journey as a district. Our vision has grown and is best represented through our Digital Learning Principles. Below is a short form of the “baker’s dozen,” a series of belief statements that guide our work. These principles, outlined in the district strategic technology plan, grew over time. The principles are grounded in research about good teaching and learning.
1. Begin with a learning plan
We abolished the district’s traditional hardware replacement strategy and replaced it with a learning-centered strategy. Schools have to provide a forward-thinking, smart learning plan through an application process to ensure schools have the commitment and readiness to move learning and teaching forward in their schools. No grounded plan means no hardware.
2. The learning plan anchored in twenty-first century pedagogy
Key priorities for learning are identified at the outset: authentic learning tasks, descriptive feedback, inquiry learning, differentiated instruction, critical thinking skills, virtual and face-to-face collaboration, student voice and choice, and technology as a tool. The impact on transforming pedagogy? “It has totally revolutionized how I teach. I am not at the centre. The kids are at the centre,” explains Anne-Marie Middleton, Grade 7 Teacher at Hillcrest Elementary.
3. Action grounded in collaborative inquiry
Each application is team-focused and anchored in a job-embedded model of collaborative inquiry. Teams of teachers are engaged in studying meaningful questions about student learning and their own practice. Teachers own their own learning.
4. Evidence of student learning required
The district expects schools to share their organizational and individual learning and that of their students. Participants are required to report out using a flexible template to tell their story of learning. These digital stories provide the inspiration, advice and resources for other schools also embarking on a digital learning journey.
5. Learning focus for all
While students are at the centre of our raison d’etre, we recognize that in organizations everyone is a learner and that we are all co-learners together: students, teachers, support staff, and administrators can equally share in the learning journey.
6. Empower teacher exploration months before student deployment
Teachers need time to experiment and play. Teachers need time to learn. We provide both devices and opportunity for staff development. Foundational idea: “Professional development is the hallmark of every successful technology implementation,” outlined in the report commissioned by the National Coalition for Technology in Education & Training.
7. Teacher-led, teacher-driven and centralized to the school house
The district is not dictating the direction. Schools, and teachers, decide their learning needs based on their school context. The result and our experience, we have gone from push to pull. As educator Fraser Speirs declares: “I am no longer pushing technology at teachers. They are demanding this technology in their classrooms.”
8. Linking staff development opportunities across the system
Many educators are involved in two-year inquiry projects which include release time as well as a commitment to on-going learning with colleagues at their schools. Educators also have the opportunity to attend an inspiring dinner series with thought leaders in the field of educational technology, as well as after school workshops on topics as diverse as digital storytelling and moviemaking. In all cases, we focus on the learning, and not the tool.
9. Transformative practice shared and promoted via social media
We created our own hashtag: #sd36learn. We promote it and encourage the educators to keep the focus on learning, best practice, sharing resources and building connections. We acknowledge the words of Daniel Pink on the power of social media: “…the deepest, most enduring impact of social media might be on learning.”
10. Intentionally encouraging a radical social movement
Our goal is transforming education. Our diffusion strategy is creating networks of educators committed to creating the best learning conditions for students. As educators take risks, explore, experiment and play with their practice, we want to support their efforts. Creating a tipping point is key: “If you want to bring a fundamental change in people’s belief and behavior… you need to create a community around them, where those new beliefs can be practiced and expressed and nurtured,” underscores Malcolm Gladwell.
11. Multiple projects/people supporting the same ideals all across district
We intentionally create a culture of innovation in practice by seeding pockets of innovation all across the district. Whether it is an Innovative Learning Designs project, a Learning Commons transformation, Making Thinking Visible, Out of Their Heads or a SS11 e-text initiative, they are all opportunities to focus teachers on shifting pedagogy to better embrace the ideals of curriculum transformation.
12. Mobile learning + the new electricity
Based on the key trends identified in The Horizons Report, we made a decision to focus on mobile devices. That decision meant that providing a quality wireless solution together with upgrading Internet links were top priorities for all our schools. We want to create opportunities for students to learn on any device, anytime, anywhere.
13. Education requirements leading technological shifts
Whatever technological changes are taking place around the world, we know the needs of learning should set direction for how technology is provided. All technology decisions are to be made in service of the needs of learners and educators.
Thanks to the many educators in our Innovative Learning Designs projects that contributed to our learning. Thanks as well to the members of the three focus groups that responded to our questions as we explored ideas such as: what works well, what needs improvement, where to next? Your insights enable us to move forward on the continuous improvement journey. The guiding principles themselves were developed and refined by a team: Helping Teachers Orwell Kowalyshyn (@kowalyshyn), Kevin Amboe (@amboe_k), Lisa Domeier (@librarymall), IT Director Dan Turner (@dj_turner) and myself.