Tag Archives: education

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 paper.li 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.

The Paradox of Work & Joy

I just want time to do my one life well.
Ann Voskamp


What does it mean for me to set my sights upon the coming year? My commitment as an educator, whether teacher, principal or Director, has always been to make a difference from where I stand. I do not want to wait for some better opportunity, for some day when the grass is greener or when I can be on the other side where the pastures are more fertile. I want to make the difference now. It is never a tomorrow ideal. We choose each and every day to make a difference regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Regardless. No excuses. No second chances. No waiting for a better day. Or, dare I say it, a peaceful political context. Or a less toxic work site. Or when relationships are better. Whatever the circumstance, real leadership digs deep, strategizes, pursues alternative courses of action, and finds a way toward the better future.  Real leadership does not let the vision go stale. No excuses. Real leadership creates opportunities for others to flourish and become the best they can be…as educators, as students, as colleagues. For me, it is all about leadership. My leadership. The leadership of those around me.

I want to create an environment where others can excel at what they do. I want to give people the support they need to do their best learning. When educators are learning they become excited about their new understanding and it becomes contagious, an enthusiasm that spreads to others. I believe that means creating opportunities for teachers to be inventive, to experiment, to create and to play with their teaching. (And, yes, I said play). Being engaged in our work is just as important for us as it is for our students.

If we look at the ideas of Daniel Pink (Drive), Martin Seligman (Flourish), and Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (Flow), the same threads are woven through their writing. Daniel Pink talks about autonomy, mastery and purpose as being key to motivation. In Seligman’s theory of well-being, he refers to positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning (purpose) and accomplishment as being central in allowing people to flourish. Csikszentmihalyi (1990) goes as far as to say this:

It does not seem to be true that work necessarily needs to be unpleasant. It may always have to be hard, or at least harder than doing nothing at all. But there is ample evidence that work can be enjoyable, and that indeed, it is often the most enjoyable part of life.

While some may find his notion of work and joy paradoxical; it doesn’t have to be so. It is about defining your purpose, and pursuing it with passion. We can do that in an organizational context. We find the match between our personal passions and the organization’s goals. It is what creates organizational health, a place where people want to come to work, want to do their best, and want to make a difference. I think that when teachers are given the opportunity to focus on their learning, refine their craft, ultimately students benefit.

What will be my focus? What do I want to do? And you? What will be your focus? Will it be a year of excuses? Waiting for a better time? Or will you make a difference each and every day?

The Real Flip: Where Students do the Math

Bill Gates dismisses it – this belief that children can construct their own understanding of mathematics. Many educators disagree.

John Van de Walle’s student-centred approach? Marilyn Burns’ insight into how children learn math? The rationale in the WNCP curriculum? The beliefs of the BCAMT? Gates would dismiss them all.

More importantly to me, he would dismiss the successes that Surrey teachers and students experience when teachers let go and give students a chance to do the math. “Letting go” does not mean students are left to discover the Pythagorean Theorem on their own. The role of the constructivist teacher is to get students mentally ready to work on a task, listen, provide hints, and facilitate discussion.

Instead, Gates supports the Khan Academy and the flipped classroom model. In this model, students watch a video at home so that they can get one-on-one homework help at school. Sometimes, flipping proponents claim that this model frees the teacher up to have students do real problem solving. With all the press that the flipped classroom is getting, there is surprisingly little anecdotal evidence of this actually happening.

Gates, Khan, and others have missed the point. Problem solving isn’t something you do after you have learned a concept. That’s practice. Students should solve problems not to apply but to learn new mathematics. The flipped classroom model removes teachers from the most important part of teaching – the introduction of new concepts.

Suppose the proverbial teacher across the hall doesn’t buy in to “all that constructivist stuff” and is considering flipping his or her classroom. Here are three questions that I would ask:

1. Does teaching = telling? (See how I made that a math question?)

I understand if the general public views teaching as simply delivering content, it’s probably what they experienced as learners. Teaching, like real estate, is one of those careers that everyone thinks they can do. I guess I expect my fellow educators to know better. I thought we no longer viewed children as empty vessels to be filled with knowledge. I thought we were moving away from seeing curriculum as topics to “get through.” I thought we were moving towards an emphasis on the mathematical processes. Earning badges online seems like a giant step backwards to me.

2. When you are explaining a new concept, is the interaction between you and your students important?

I have a confession to make. For most of my career, I have used a teacher-centred approach. Still, even in this traditional lecture format, students were given opportunities to ask me clarifying questions or check their understanding with a neighbour. I was able to pick up on subtle non-verbal cues and adapt my lesson on the fly. Throughout my career, all of my attempts to improve my teaching have me moving towards a more student-centred approach, not searching for a more efficient way to deliver a lecture.

3. How does replacing a one-size-fits-all lecture with a one-size-fits-all video meet the needs of all of your students?

 Flipping proponents exclaim, “Kids can pause and rewind videos! They can watch them over and over again!” Yeah. But it’s still the same video. This reminds me of the time I was lost in Naples. I asked a local for directions to the train station. He patiently repeated, in Italian, the directions to me several times. I was still lost. Last year, Dr. Marian Small spoke with almost 100 secondary math teachers from Surrey about differentiating instruction. Surrey teachers are beginning to use her two core strategies: open questions and parallel tasks. The ultimate goal of differentiation is to meet the varied learning needs of all students, not to have students complete a series of videos at their own pace.

My final objection to the flipped model is that it is being held up as revolutionary. Assigning a video lecture for homework, and then working on 1 to 49 odd in class instead of watching a lecture in class, and then working on 1 to 49 odd for homework should not be considered a revolution in math education. (If this flip did result in higher scores on standardized tests, does it matter?) We know that real change is difficult. Flipping a classroom isn’t – all that is needed is a tablet PC.

I would like to redefine what flipping a classroom means. My idea of a flipped classroom would be one in which students, not the teacher, are doing the math. Instead of teacher-created videos, the tools of my flipped classroom would be chart paper, felt markers, and sticky notes.

Technology will also play a role. In Surrey, secondary science/math teacher Blair Miller uses video, in the style of Dan Meyer, to ask engaging questions. His students use Vernier Video Physics, an iPad app, to analyze functions. His students interact with dynamic applets that he has created using GeoGebra.

These are effective uses of technology. This is a revolution that I can get behind.

 
Special thanks to Numeracy Helping Teacher Chris Hunter for this post. You can visit his blog at http://reflectionsinthewhy.wordpress.com/ or reach him at @chrisHunter36.

Want to learn more? Chris recommends the following:

• The Wrath Against Khan: Why Some Educators Are Questioning Khan Academy by Audrey Watters
• Khan Academy and the Mythical Math Cure by Sylvia Martinez
• Khan Academy: My Final Remarks by Frank Noschese
• Khan Academy Does Not Constitute an Education Revolution, but I’ll Tell You What Does by Steve Miranda
• Khan Academy Is Not the Progressive Model You Are Looking For by Tom Barrett
• It’s a Video Library, Not a Revolution by Diana Senechal
• Content Delivered, Captain. Full Speed Ahead by SD36 Helping Teacher Amy Newman

Who is blogging in Surrey schools?

Blogging in School District #36 seems to be a rather recent phenomenon. Rick Fabbro might have been one of the first administrators to begin blogging as his first post (Rich Babbles) goes back to November 10, 2010.  Many others began blogging but most of them only within the last 8 months. Seven of the administrators blogging belong to the Innovative Learning Designs project. Three of the others are in my f2f Network group. All of the blogs are different in purpose and style but what I find fascinating is the window they provide into each author’s world, their area of expertise or their school and their view of education.

Many teachers have been keeping class blogs or wikis longer. You just have to love Teacher-Librarian Colin Sexton’s library page, The Panther Den, and his terrific tweets where he advises students to: “Forget Santa” and “get your picture taken with Buck the Christmas Library Duck!”  The hot bed of blogging appears to be Sullivan Heights Secondary where many of their teachers are keeping their own websites, wikis, or a department web site. It is that same school that has at least 60% of their teachers on twitter. I have to admit, I personally have learned so much from these posts and from the tweets of these educators.

Of course there are students that are posting on blogs, too. Sometimes I’m not too swift and I had to read someone’s comment to figure out this grade one student’s post in Karen Lirenman’s class: “we have a I paiied.” Yes, they do have an iPad!

Here is a list of some of the administrators and a small sample of teachers blogging in our district. I invite you to check them out!

Leadership Team:
• Mike McKay http://mikemckay.ca/
   Superintendent of Schools
• Rick Fabbro http://www.rickfabbro.com/
   Assistant Superintendent
• Elisa Carlson http://innovativelearningdesigns.ca
   Director of Instruction, Education Services

Administrators:
• Sheila Morissette http://viewfrommyschool.wordpress.com/
   Principal, Fraser Heights Secondary School
• Peter Johnston http://beprincipaled.org/
   PrincipaL, Earl Marriott Secondary School
• Tia Henriksen http://henriksenlearning.wordpress.com/
   Vice-Principal, Bear Creek Elementary
• The Admin Team http://sullivanadmin.blogspot.com/
   All Administrators, Sullivan Heights Secondary School
• Sheila Hammond http://sheilahammond.wordpress.com/
   Principal, Johnston Heights Secondary School
• Rob Killawee http://killawee.wordpress.com/
   Vice-Principal, Johnston Heights Secondary School
• Margaux Molson http://www.tamanawis.com/newsite/?cat=8
   Principal, Tamanawis Secondary School
• Gloria Sarmento http://frankhurtprincipal.blogspot.com/
Principal, Frank Hurt Secondary School
• Faizel Rawji http://rawji.wordpress.com/
   Principal, Senator Reid Elementary School
• Arlene Geres arlenegeres.blogspot.com
Principal, Old Yale Road Secondary School
• John Horstead http://horstead.wordpress.com/
   Principal, Frost Road Elementary School

Helping Teachers Blogging:
• Orwell Kowalyshyn http://surreylearn.wordpress.com/
   Information Media Literacy Helping Teacher
• Amy Newman http://dancingwithelephants.ca/
   Research & Evaluation Helping Teacher
• Chris Hunter http://reflectionsinthewhy.wordpress.com/
   Numeracy Helping Teacher
• JB Mahli         http://www.jux.com/surround/global/users/~courageouslearning/quarks
   Social Studies Helping Teacher
• Jan Gladish http://jglad1.wordpress.com/
   Aboriginal Helping Teacher

Some SD36 Teachers Blogging:
• Karen Lirenman http://learningandsharingwithmsl.blogspot.com/
• Nicole Painchaud
http://painchaudopinion.blogspot.com/2011/12/sharing-in-educational-playground.html?spref=tw
   (on the above are links to blogs for most of the departments at Sullivan)
• Sullivan Heights Secondary Athletics wikis       http://sullivanathletics.wikispaces.com/
• Colin Sexton     http://fcweb.sd36.bc.ca/~sexton_colin/pantherden/main222.htm
• Alyssa Becker http://lysmekah.blogspot.com/
• Hugh McDonald
http://mcdclassroom.weebly.com/mr-mcds-blog.html

The list above is incomplete. I know many other teachers have blogs or wikis they use with their students. I am sure I have missed many teachers and possibly some administrators as well. My apologies. If you are keeping a professional blog and you are an SD#36 educator, please feel free to send me a note so I can begin keeping a list. Blog on!

Creating Fire

Tonight we launched our Digital Discovery Series.  This is a three-part series that focuses on helping leaders understand their role in moving student learning forward in a digital age. Our three key themes are Using Mobile Devices, 21st Century Learning and Social Media. We had 220 educators in the room.

What did the evening look like? Our Superintendent Mike McKay gave an opening address and then Bryan Hughes, a Teacher-Librarian and Apple Distinguished Educator kicked off the series. He focused on showing us what you could do with an iPad.  For my part, the messaging included this quote from Gord Holden. It’s a long quote but it resonated for me.

 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 the same could be said of modern technology. Replacing the product of the printing press with an ebook is arguably more effective, but not transformational. I fear that a LOT of effort and satisfaction is being gained by taking words, reformatting them into a digital space, and thinking the job has been done. Please, at best one is taking a club and making it into a mace. There is nothing transformational about this, so please stop using this word until it is applicable. The use of words is of course valuable as a means of transmitting knowledge that cannot be gained otherwise. Methodology-wise, it is the poor cousin though to what might otherwise be learned through experiencing. Granted, there are numerous situations where this might be the only reasonable avenue, but folks, with today’s technology, much of what we want students to learn can be experienced by them virtually. To turn away from this, to dismiss it, to let one’s fear of this become a paralysis that prevents pursuing the possibilities is to abrogate our responsibility to exploit the best possible means of supporting student learning. Behind this door are miracles waiting to happen, open the doors of education while the students are still willing to knock on it. Until you do, technology will remain a tool, but not a progressive or transformational one.

During dinner the table groups focused on discussing the two questions: What does technology look like in your school? How might you use technology as a lever to transform instruction and impact student learning? If you want to see how the evening went, you can refer to our district’s twitter hashtag #sd36learn. A table of secondary school principals tweeted this: @sheilamoris: Table 4 says best workshop in 10 years! Digital discovery series #sd36learn

Sharon Cohen, our Deputy Superintendent, brought the evening to a thoughtful close. She challenged us to think about what one thing, with one colleague, we might be able to do within one week, to stretch our digital learning. Many people at the tables made a commitment to do that. We look forward to the learning that will take place before our next session. And as people walked out the door, we handed them a QR code and instructions for what to do with it. You can find it here: http://transformingstudentlearning.wikispaces.com/

Have fun!

Ipads: Six weeks in the classroom

How are the iPads being used in our district? I sit on the District Technology Advisory Committee (DTAC), which makes key decisions about directions in technology. The Superintendent posed the question and I needed to find the answer. We have twelve schools in the Innovative Learning Designs (Digital Focus) pilot. I did a quick email survey of the principals. The responses represent the perspective of the principals of the schools–as seen from their vantage point. At the time of the survey, we were just six weeks into the school year.

1. Are the mobile devices being used on a regular basis (defined as 3 to 5 times a week)? If so, please give a short description of how. If not please indicate why?

The devices were being used regularly in 11 out of the 12 schools. In some schools, such as Frank Hurt Secondary, the students were using them daily. At Johnston Heights, the iPads were also being used daily by the students in the 21st Century Learning Module. These students use them in an integrated program of studies that includes SS 11, Math 11, English 11 and Theatre/Leadership. At a site visit to this school, the principal made the opening statement, “ The teachers say they can never go back.”  The teachers’ experience of teaching, using an integrated curriculum and collaborating as a team, has totally changed their teaching.  The teachers’ experience is not a result of the iPads, but the technology has created a leverage point for change in the design and delivery of student learning. As Sheila Hammond explained, “It is having a huge impact on all the teachers involved in the project. The iPads are the technology tool, but the integration of curriculum and collaboration time is having a more significant impact. The iPads have broadened the teacher’s perspective on teaching for the 21st century.” Thanks to Rob Killawee, JH Vice-Principal for preparing the following video.

Each of our elementary schools uses the iPads differently, depending on the educational focus of the school team. For George Vanier Elementary, the iPads are being used with the younger primary students and special needs individuals. At Hillcrest Elementary, the intermediate students are using them to create personal collages while one of the classes is embarking on a personal inquiry project.

2. What impact do you perceive it is having on teacher practice (your personal perspective)?

The iPads are creating an opportunity for teachers to engage in “professional dialogue and sharing.” Antonio Vendramin reflected, “It’s definitely getting people to think about alternative approaches—effective and transformative integration rather than simply doing the same activity but with a different tool. The project has also enhanced discussion and collaboration, since there are no true experts, and we are all venturing into unchartered territory. There is much to be learned from everyone.” Another principal concluded that, “Teachers are working and learning together.”

3. What impact do you think it is having on student learning (your personal perspective)?

One principal described the iPads as “absolutely motivating.” The same theme came from many other schools with students identified as “very excited and eager to use these devices.”  One principal noted, “It is forcing them to think and act differently.”  Another principal analyzed it this way,  “This technology allows many points of access. The children ‘satellite’ their discoveries and bring each other (and their teacher along as they discover new and engaging ways to demonstrate their learning…”

Throughout the comments, the themes that emerged were increased teacher collaboration, teacher exploration and student engagement.  The project design, along with the iPads, were creating an opportunity for individuals—both students and teachers—to explore learning in new ways. For only six weeks into the school year, the journey has been pretty amazing.

Ramping up innovation: Leading Learning

The culture of YES!  Chris Kennedy’s turn of phrase resonates with innovative leaders.  He has, in a simple way uttered words that override the formal part of the school organization.  The word YES opens doors and minds and feels like an exhilarating call from the informal side of the organization where innovative ideas are sparked—this energy is seductive.

YES attracts, multiplies and creates a critical following and it is the work of the leader to navigate, not only the spirit of the new direction but to keep the “spark” of the idea ignited carefully leading through the dangerous waters of the formal system.

The formal system does not intend to dampen the spark but in reality is designed with checks, balances, regulation, and particularly in education, is built to withstand a critical and unfriendly public.

NO is louder than the YES. The noise is deafening, wearing and can numb best intentions. In addition the formal system has its gatekeepers whom lurk in doorways. Once again it is not their intention to stop innovation but they have learned it is safer to abide by the rules. It is our relationship with the gatekeepers that exhaust our efforts.

What are our answers?  How can leaders sustain the energy to continue to push upstream?  Could we also find a champion like a Chris Kennedy who can help us find a simple and magical turn of phrase and lead us through the dangerous waters while keeping the spark alive!  Tall order!  Are you our champion?

Thank you to Dr. Donna VanSant for contributing this guest post. Donna (@vansantd) is a former Surrey Helping Teacher and is currently a Facilitator/Coach with Healthy Ventures.

Can we strategize innovation? A teacher responds

“Yes, we can strategize.  It is an uphill battle as it does require going against the status quo (or at least much of the current status quo).
I believe we are moving in that direction and there are two forces that are allowing this move.
1.  We are modelling permission to fail.  Exploring next practices won’t land on the promising practice the first time.  One of my best teaching examples of this was working with a project having students create persuasive videos.  They did all the planning, scripting, and recording to a video camera.  The last stage was to turn it into a newscast with iMovie.  The computers were not cooperating so we tried for 2 blocks and then abandoned the plan.  While they were disappointed, all of the learning goals had already been met.
2.  Removing hurdles and empowering innovation.  The directions we have moved in the District have a strong flavour of removing hurdles.  At the same time, we are providing technology opportunities to explore new technology.  We have provided loaner equipment for several years.  My experience is that once schools dig in and see personally the potential in the classroom, it is just a matter of getting the resources that live in the school to allow further innovation.  One of the best moves from the Maine 1 to 1 laptop project was to provide teachers the laptops 1 year before the students.  In Surrey we have used a similar model by providing the iPads to teachers 4 months before schools.
Can we strategize innovation? Yes.
Are we strategizing innovation? Yes.
Does strategizing require continuous energy to keep it in motion? Yes.
Is the work worth it? Yes.
Has a portion of the status quo moved? Yes.”
The above is a guest post from Kevin Amboe (@amboe_k), Information Media Literacy Helping Teacher with School District #36. He writes in response to the question in an earlier post that asked the question: Can we strategize innovation?

 

Finding the Triangular Space

Do we need innovation in education?  What are the skills that children will need to prosper in their future? Charles Leadbeater (2011) and many others suggest that reproducing knowledge will become secondary to the ability to apply “knowledge in inventive ways in novel contexts.” We won’t be providing students “with access to a fixed stock of knowledge” but getting them to tap into “flows of knowledge that are constantly changing.”  These “flows of knowledge” are accessed through collaborative networks. This is why, according to Leadbeater, we need innovation in learning: to help us find the “triangular space between what we have, what we need and what is possible.” If this is true, we need a better understanding of what this might look like. He suggests nine ingredients (which are summarized here):

  • Learning must be an active process where the learner applies knowledge in a new context.
  • The learner’s motivation and engagement are critical.
  • The learning should be personalized rather than standardized.
  • Learning should include a collaborative process.
  • Learning should require adopting the right approach and principles to solve complex problems.
  • Descriptive feedback should guide the learning throughout the process.
  • Learning requires a demanding structure but should move to become increasingly a self-regulated process.
  • Learning should take place in a wide variety of settings.
  • Master teachers will be required to design these kinds of learning conditions.

If you look at this list, how does it fit with your vision of education?  Do these principles live in our classrooms? Are some more prominent than others? Is there a colleague down the hall that creates learning conditions where these ingredients are present? Do we talk about these ideas in the staffroom? In the schoolhouse? Is there something here that resonates for you?

This post is adapted from Charles Leadbeaters’ article Rethinking Innovation in Education: Learning in Victoria in 2020 (Draft January 2011). Thank you to Superintendent Mike McKay who shared this article as one of his assigned readings for the Global Education Leaders’ Program.