Tag Archives: Dan Turner

Reflection: The Vehicle for Continuous Improvement

Reflection can help deal with ambiguity, stress and change. In our work, we often have to cope with new, unique problems we have not met before. The ability to reflect is essential to recognising and confronting the uncertainly we feel as we try to deal with these problems.

All this means that reflection is not a bland or innocuous process—it is central to becoming a powerful, critical professional who is prepared to challenge the way things are done.

Quality Improvement Agency for Lifelong Learning

This past week was mind-bending in a multitude of ways. Our district was fortunate to have Bill Ferriter from North Carolina present as part of our Engaging the Digital Learner Series: Going Deeper. Bill encouraged teachers to be innovative with their practice and to ask students to do work that truly matters. Bill challenged us to create highly engaged learning spaces to meet the needs of the iGeneration. The impact of his message on the audience of 280educators was electrifying. Even our district’s twitter feed was working overtime as educators responded to the session, sharing their learning in the room.

For me, there was an ironic juxtaposition between encouraging educators to push the boundaries of their practice, connecting students to others around the world to solve real and meaningful problems while simultaneously pausing to examine our practice in the light of Internet safety and privacy issues.  The timing was coincidental but we (Dan Turner, Director of IMS and myself) had invited Alec Couros to come to our district to examine our practices and give us advice on the work we are doing. Alec is a well-regarded Professor of Education Technology at the University of Saskatchewan, a sought-after presenter, and a thought leader on navigating the digital highway (see here). Together, we are looking at important questions, such as:

  • What does governing a progressive, innovative, digital, 24/7, 21st century learning environment look like?
  • How can we create safe, collaborative environments for student and staff to personalize their learning while maximizing the use of Web 2.0 tools?
  • How can we navigate the risks successfully?
  • What are the checks and balances we need moving forward as a district?
  • What safeguards need to be in place to ensure the “walled garden” provides safe opportunities for students to become responsible digital citizens?
  • Conversely, outside of the “walled garden,” what safeguards need to be in place to ensure students become responsible digital citizens?

If the world is indeed our classroom–we can now see and almost touch it through technology–we need to ensure we are preparing students to navigate the digital landscape both safely and successfully.  We also want to make sure that we are using technology for meaningful work and not for mere digital entertainment.

Alec Couros was collecting data on this visit. We were approaching the questions and our dilemma through a case study analysis. We arranged for him to visit some lead schools and teachers (George Vanier Elementary, Johnston Heights Secondary and Bonaccord Elementary) to find out how their students were engaging in the digital space and what safeguards were in place. We want to find a way to put systems into place to ensure ALL of our schools are engaging in best practices navigating the new digital frontier.  We did not want to select schools where we knew they were doing it “right” but schools where they were stretching the boundaries of their practice. We also had Alec interview selected individuals (Helping Teachers, IMS staff and Senior leaders) that could provide him with a snapshot of the burning issues or concerns that arise when you release students and teachers to learn using 21st century ideals.

I was fortunate enough to attend many of these interviews. Teachers and administrators described what the students in their classes and schools were doing. Teachers are providing amazing learning experiences for students. The dialogue was rich. The conversations frank. Dilemmas were discussed and potential solutions explored.  Not all of the questions were comfortable for us. Sometimes we need to be a little uncomfortable. It provides us with the motivation to change. When you invite an expert in, there is a large measure of vulnerability that goes along with that. The learning for all of us at the table was valuable and thought provoking.

For me personally, having someone examine our work in the district was a reflective exercise on my leadership. I had the “should have” experience. I should have communicated more. I should have provided more guidance. I should have demonstrated more leadership when I knew things needed to be done. I should have spent more time doing XX. I should have delegated other duties and made these ones a priority. I should have spoken up at critical meetings. Why didn’t I insist that some of these matters were important and we needed to find agreement and resolution as a district?  If principals and teachers do not know or have the information they need to ensure students are educated appropriately, we in district positions bear that responsibility. Clearly, I should have carved out time to stop and think about the work on a larger scale rather than rush from meeting to meeting to attend the urgent as opposed to that which is truly important. “For many practitioners, doing swallows up learning” (see Joy Amulya, italics mine). I needed more of a reflective pause to determine what really mattered.

Of course, I have excuses. I could make lists of them. At the end of the day, however, the responsibility for guiding the educators in our district rests on my shoulders as a Director of Instructor with Technology in my portfolio. I share that responsibly with other Senior Leaders but, for the most part, the buck stops at my doorstep. Having had the opportunity for some sleep, some family distraction, some unrelated reading, a longish run in the fresh air, a late afternoon nap—I can now step back and see it more objectively. Dissonance and a “should have” experience is not such a bad thing; it will motivate me to ensure we come out at the other end in the best possible position we can be in. Even the Wikipedia entry on Reflective Practice notes, “In particular, people in leadership positions have a tremendous development opportunity if they engage in reflective practice” (italics mine).

At the end of Alec’s time with us, he will prepare a white paper (of sorts) and we will have recommendations to help move us forward. I look forward to benefiting from his expertise (and of those he interviewed). We hope it is a document that other districts might find valuable as well. Our goal is to continue to be innovative, providing rich learning opportunities for students and teachers that make sense for our generation of learners. We do this is the context of continuous improvement. As we engage in “deeper forms of reflection, it becomes possible to identify learning edges, those questions or issues that an individual or group is seeking to understand in order to advance their work” (see Amulya).  I want to be on the learning edge to push the boundaries of what we can do in education. We engage in reflective practice as a form of purposeful learning (see Amulya). It drives us to action and is the vehicle for continuous improvement. I look forward to the journey.

The Digital Foundations of Teaching & Learning

Recently we presented an in-service to the Board of Education on The Digital Foundations of Teaching and Learning: Preparing for a Future that is Here Today.  An abbreviated slideshare is included below. We also showed some fabulous video clips but we will save those for another post. The presentation was anchored in a metaphor and image of fire.

“Technology IS just a tool, like a stick. Many new technological developments made sticks more effective as a weapon (barbs, bows, attachments, etc. but as long as the stick was still being used to harm other people, I would argue that there was nothing truly transformational about the technology. But when sticks became a way to create fire, THAT was innovative and progressive. I would argue that the same could be said of modern technology.” Gord Holden

In Surrey, we are using technology to TRANSFORM teaching and learning. We are creating fire.Digital Foundations Presentation


We identified the Shifts that are Impacting Education globally, some of which include:

1. Mobile learning: Students are carrying powerful and easy to use computers in their pocket. Creating  any device, anytime, anywhere learning opportunities for students to engage and construct deeper knowledge. As a district, we are encouraging Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) opportunities by making our networks easier to connect with wirelessly.
2. The New Electricity: This is the new wireless. We think about it as the new electricity. We take it for granted, just like turning on a light switch in our homes. Our students have and want instant internet access 24/7.  The number and types of wirelessly capable devices is exploding, provisioning a wireless network that can support this growth is both strategic and vital to supporting expanded flexibility in every learning space.
3. Web 2.0:  Students are no longer passive recipients of knowledge transmitted via the internet but are co-constructing that knowledge with others in a variety of easy to access and use online software tools.
4. 21st Century Learning:  Sometimes referred to as personalized learning, it often focuses on the four C’s: Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, and Critical Thinking.
5. Teacher as Co-learner: The teacher is no longer the sage on the stage but the guide on the side. Their role as facilitator is key and increasingly they learn together with students.
6. Social Media:  Social media now provides instant connection to others. It is driving increased student engagement and a  new participatory and synergistic culture where everyone can have a say and contribute.

These trends are shaping the transformation of how we teach and how students learn. To fully equip our students for their future, we need to keep these shifts in mind.

The BC Ministry of Education describes it as “Learning Empowered by Technology.” Note that it is the learning that comes first, not the technology. The mandate is to encourage the smart use of technology, provide improved access to digital tools and resources

The wise use of technology for learning was endorsed in a research paper that examined high performing districts across Canada. Technology played a crucial role in moving these districts forward. As Dr. John Morton expressed, “We have lots of good school districts in the country, we have just a few great school districts, getting from good to great is a quantum leap, technology plays such a key role in that.” We are good but if we want to take that quantum leap from good to great, we need to embrace and leverage technology for learning. We are on the journey of embracing technology in our district.

So how are we doing that as a district? One of the goals has been to ignite a fire among teachers, administrators and schools for learning using technology. Our guiding principle has been that no one receives new hardware without having a staff development component linked to it. We have read many studies on the implementation of technology in schools. Successful deployment of hardware to schools requires an accompanying staff development component for teachers. Schools that are involved in any of our projects have staff development opportunities included. During job action, this has was difficult to accomplish, however, we have clung to this as fundamentally important.

Here are some of the fire starters we have initiated in the district:

We provided many learning opportunities to help feed their fire for learning. Highlights included the

  • Engaging the Digital Learner Dinner Series,
  • The Digital Discovery Series for Administrators,
  • Information Media Literacty (IML)  Bootcamp,
  • Teacher Librarian (TL) Bootcamp,
  • Administrator Digital Coaches Bootcamp,
  • many school specific Bootcamps,
  • Surrey Ed Camp, and
  • study groups across the district exploring digital learning.

We also consciously encouraged the use of Social Media to promote and encourage best practice across the district. Our hashtag #sd36learn is a conduit for rich conversations about student learning.

When we talk about The Digital Foundations for Teaching and Learning, it is important to mention the new role that Teacher–Librarians are playing in this digital landscape. Teacher-Librarians are the new digital guides, helping both teachers and students navigate the digital highway. We have also begun to make the move from print to digital resources.

All of the work we do is grounded with staff development. Staff are learning, not just how to use the hardware itself, but how to ensure the tools are in service to learning. The key is not just using the tools to duplicate the same learning activities that you might have done without the technology but to use the tools to transform the learning experience so students are engaged in learning that extend their thinking in new ways.

To light a fire across the district and transform teacher pedagogy and student learning requires oxygen. As a department, Ed Services cannot light learning without this fundamental and basic element. When we look at The Digital Foundations for Teaching and Learning, none of this can happen without the life-giving oxygen that our IMS department provides. Just as oxygen is invisible, so is the work of IMS. Do I understand bandwidth? No, but I know that it is absolutely essential to the Discovery Education video-streaming pilot. Do I know why ADSL lines in schools are archaic and what the new wireless is all about? No, but I know that when we tried to observe a demonstration lesson with gizmos for a class of 30 grade 7s, we met the spinning wheel of death and were unable to use these digital learning simulations. The students could do them at home, but not at school. If teachers experience barriers to technology, they give up. We need to ensure we have the necessary infrastructure so that the use of technology is seamless for both students and teachers. Oxygen is a mystery to me but essential for moving the work of the district forward. The more we expect of technology, and the easier it gets for us as educators, the more complicated it gets at the invisible, molecular level. We take that for granted. Our focus is on teaching and learning but without the oxygen as infrastructure, we cannot move from good to great. Investments in the oxygen, or infrastructure of technology, are necessary and allow for us to embrace technology and move the district forward from good to great.

At the start, we compared technology to a tool, like a stick. A stick can be used like a weapon or to build a structure but it was not in itself transformative in nature. It is only when we use technology, like a stick, to create fire, that it can truly become transformational for learning. There are hot spots in this district where matches have been struck. We are taking all these sticks, the pieces of technology, and using them to transform teaching, personalize learning and accelerate achievement. We are creating a fire for learning in Surrey.

The in-service to the Board of Education was a collaborative presentation by Dan Turner, Director of Information Management Services and Elisa Carlson, Director of Education Services.