Tag Archives: innovation

Learning Labs: Incubators of next practice

Innovators inspire....learning labs Ryan 2In our school district, secondary schools have been invited to participate in the Learning Lab Project. The Learning Lab is designed as a learning laboratory where teachers are able to creatively innovate and explore new forms and structures for learning. Learning Labs are an opportunity to commit to being innovative in practice and to share that learning with others across the district. These are not “lead” schools but places of experimentation and incubators where good ideas can come alive.

The Learning Labs concept is more than creating or developing a space–it is about the people connected and committed to the concept. Upon googling the term, many are directed to ideas for makerspaces, breakout rooms with equipment, design spaces, etc… that have been created by many different organizations as part of their buildings. However, the Learning Lab concept can include these types of spaces but the intention and focus is on a larger picture school-wide, where what we would call “learning studios” (individual classrooms where innovative practices may be happening already) can be philosophically connected to a larger “learning lab,” where a group of teachers is committed to incubating innovative practices with collective visions.

At the end of the day the motivating factor is the needs of our learners for the future (and as many are seeing the redesigned curriculum as fuel to propose structural changes)  – the learning lab invites (and in some way gives permission) for us to manipulate the structures (for some this may be timetabling, courses in subject areas, class schedules, etc…) and tools that exist in schools. We are interested in “next practice” – connected to our district priority practices and district vision – so the learning lab concept is a model to scrutinize some of the boundaries or roadblocks that may sometimes get in the way of innovation.

What does this vision of the Learning Lab look like?

The Learning Labs provides an opportunity for educators to co-create redesigns of learning environments over a two-year period, intentionally manipulating the variables of tools, structures, and learning to design new opportunities for learning for both students and teachers. The term ‘lab’ implies practice and experimentation, not perfection. “The lab classroom is an in-house professional development model that takes place in a host teacher’s room during the normal school day” (Houk, 2010). It provides a context for all teachers to experience in-depth, sustained professional growth within a collaborative learning community.

Dream Big 2Innovative edge practices (like learning labs, learning studios, on-site coaching, demonstration schools and departments) become the seeds which with participation and acceptance flourish, moving these practices from the edges of the organization into the centre. The skillful role of teacher-leaders as builders of these inclusive learning structures is paramount to transformation. Teachers are architects of the learning environment, creating innovative structures and making use of tools that invigorate the learning process and deepen student engagement.

Guiding questions as those in our district consider a Learning Lab application for their school (secondary focus):

  • Do we have a core team (at least five teachers from multiple disciplines and one administrator) who will work closely to create a Learning Lab proposal for our school and make a formal commitment to this project?
  • Will our core team work together to connect our practices in accordance with our co-created Learning Lab proposal?
  • Is our school community ready to accommodate the flexibility required for potential structural changes?
  • Are we dedicated to being edgeplayers by demonstrating, sharing, and innovating openly outside the perceived norms of our school?
  • Are we committed to documenting our learning process, reflecting on our practice, and sharing our learning, both successes and failures?
  • Are we committed to promoting a collaborative culture – one that opens the doors of our classrooms to visitors, encourages others to apply “next practices,” and provides ongoing professional learning opportunities.

What is the school team committing to?iStock_000019906938XSmall

Phase 1: Creation of Anchor Design 

Schools commit to adopting a learning lab structure, an ideal incubator for testing new instructional methods and structures that more closely examine personalized learning and enhance deep student learning and engagement:

  • Schools pursue “better” and “next” practices that align with district priority practices of curriculum design, quality assessment, instructional strategies, and social and emotional learning.
  • Schools scrutinize past and current structures of instruction and engage in shared learning where the expectation is peer-to-peer coaching as a normative practice in the school.

Phase 2: Showcasing and Embedding Learning

  • Schools commit to an open door environment, hosting outsiders and colleagues to enable others to participate vicariously in the learning journey. The open door can provide alternative pathways to new understandings through unstructured visits for others to “see practice in action.”
  • Schools commit to offer structured visits, allowing opportunities for educators to question practice, observe learning, debrief learning, apply new strategies, and connect through ongoing networked touchbacks.

Structural Supports: Time, Resources, Expertise, Research

  • Time: The most valuable support that teachers can have is time to focus directly on their own learning as professionals and together with their colleagues. The school is encouraged to find ways to institutionalize and formalize learning time into the school’s structure. In addition, the school and the district may jointly provide funding to release teachers to focus directly on the learning lab concept.
  • Resources: The district may provide start-up materials and resources to support the use of alternate “tools” for learning. The district will also supply supplemental funding for the team to deploy in support of their model.
  • Expertise: The district may provide some expertise to support the Learning Lab but the Learning Lab is designed to build capacity at the school level so that the expertise resides among the learning lab team who will support each other in their learning journey. A helping teacher (instructional coach) may support the school team with conversations and planning.
  • Action Research: The school is expected to participate in the district’s Action Research program in order to provide an opportunity for school groups to engage in self-reflection, examine their impact on student achievement, and share their school’s learning across the system. Schools will explore and investigate measures of impact in consultation with a Helping Teacher.

The Learning Lab concept has been in development in the district
for over a year.  We are just now launching it at the Secondary level. In district focus groups held over the last two years, we heard over and over from educators that they want to see how the Redesigned Curriculum looks implemented in schools. We now have four Elementary Schools experimenting with this Learning Lab idea, with Cambridge Elementary actively up and running as a host school.  These Learning Labs provide educators with the opportunity to see some of these new ideas in education in action.

What would be really unique is if there were one or two other secondary schools in other districts that would consider adopting this model as well so we could network across our districts. Our learning would be amplified as we expanded our network with other innovative educator teams in other districts. Just a wild dream–but what a great opportunity for learning and pushing us all forward in transforming the learning agenda. Anyone in?

~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~

Blog Post Notes: The Learning Lab concept was developed by Elisa Carlson with the consulting support of Donna VanSant (Healthy Ventures). Thanks to Helping Teacher Joe Tong for his editorial assistance in refining the concept and whose words are also part of this post. As well, we want to acknowledge the contributions and feedback of Helping Teachers Alicia Logie and Iain Fischer for pushing our thinking on this topic. Appreciation goes to Helping Teacher Karen Fadum for helping supporting the embryonic development of the concept at the Elementary level. Thank you to Antonio Vendramin (Principal) and Kelli Vogstad (Vice-Principal) at Cambridge Elementary School for being the test case of early adopters.

Anticipating the Future

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The future depends on what we do in the present.

Mahatma Ghandi

 

Our district is exploring our vision of Learning by Design. We are examining how manipulating the variables of traditional structures, simple & complex tools, and learning strategies can deepen the learning experience for students.We create these important conversations through the Engaging the Digital Learner Series. The event is designed to expose our educators to different ideas, new frames for thinking, practical applications of innovative practice and inspirational speakers.

This past week our evening was punctuated with inspiring stories from four teachers who shared the ways they are experimenting with their practice. From “trying on” new teaching strategies, such as SOLES or Maker Spaces, to believing that anything is possible and preparing students for a future in physical education, each of these teachers shared their thinking and their challenge for us as individuals. Our keynote presenters, George Couros (District Principal of Innovation from Parkland SD) and Superintendent Jordan Tinney, had us anticipate the future as they examined new ways of learning and leading.

The educators in the room represent teams of three from some of our schools. They sit at tables with other teams and engage in structured conversation in response to the presentations.  Table seating remains constant each evening so relationships can develop, informal networks can be established and community can be built. When you have over 5,000 teachers in your district, creating opportunities for connecting allows us to humanize and personalize the organization.

Each evening is live streamed (we had a teacher from Singapore following along and tweeting into our #sd36learn stream) and the videos are included here. Our purpose is to share our learning with not just our own community but with educators across the world so we can all learn from each other. There are no district borders to separate our commitment and passion to make schooling for our students the best it can be.

Laura Mayer, grade 6 teacher from North Ridge Elementary School, shares her story of  her experimentation with Self Organized Learning Environments. Sugata Mitra’s research Hole in the Wall formed the original ideas behind SOLES. You can find his TED talk here. Laura takes a deeper dive into wonder and inquiry with her students using the SOLE framework.

Glenn Young, District PE Helping Teacher and District Athletic Coordinator speaks on Motivating the Future Learner in Physical EducationGlenn explores the power of motivating young learners through the integrated use of instructional technology in the PE context.

Marilyn Carr, grade 5 teacher from Harold Bishop Elementary, shares her belief that Anything is Possible. Based on the book by the same name, Marilyn urges us to encourage our students. This would be the first time we have an Ignite presenter conclude her story by actually singing a song!

Jeff Unruh, grade 7 teacher from Pacific Heights Elementary tells his story of Learning to Share: A Twitter Discovery. You can also learn more about Jeff in this guest post, Guess What? That’s usauthored by George Couros.

What does great leadership look like to you? What are the implications for future change? These are just some of the questions posed by keynote presenters George Couros and Superintendent Jordan Tinney as they talk about Anticipating the Future and “going elbows deep into learning.”

Learning by Design, our district’s vision, happens when we take the time to listen to the stories of others who inspire us to be intentional architects and designers of deep learning experiences for the students in our classrooms.

Note: Thanks to all our presenters for sharing your hearts and minds with us.

Guess what? That’s us!


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Prologue
: The post below is reprinted with permission from George Couros and Jeff Unruh, a grade 7 teacher at Pacific Heights Elementary School. Jeff is the teacher that we are visiting and I am the colleague identified in the post. I had invited George to come to our district to do an environmental scan of our journey into innovation. I was interested in having “outsider eyes” and a “critical friend” provide me with feedback on our on-going work to improve student learning. This is what George wrote:

———————————————————————————————-

A Higher Chance of Becoming Great? The “Twitter” Factor

IMG_5158I walked into the room and I could tell right away.

This was a teacher I had never met and knew very little about, but the atmosphere in his classroom was great.  As I walked with my colleague, I asked her the question, “Do you think he is on Twitter?”  I wanted her to make an educated guess, and her thoughts were the same as mine; definitely.

How did we know this?

IMG_5148As I walked in, I saw unique seating spaces, posters all over the wall that focused on “taking risks” and encouraging students to think different.  The walls were also covered in information about “Genius Hour” and their recent “Maker Faire”.  At the time, the students were also learning how to play chess with a master player, who also happened to be a grandparent. Notice that there was no technology mentioned above, but just about a different learning environment.  There were multiple, amazing opportunities for learning in this classroom to reach students where they were at, and tap into their strengths and passions.

IMG_5160So when we asked the teacher if they were on Twitter, he mentioned that he was but he didn’t necessarily share that much online.  But it was his access to information that made things look differently in his classroom.  When I asked if he had seen an impact in his classroom from the use of Twitter, he wasn’t sure, but it was a type of “boiling frog” scenario.  The change could have happened so gradually that he did not notice the small steps that could have been made to where he was now.  Just being a “lurker” in that space though, had made a difference.

IMG_5140Now I am not saying that if you are NOT on Twitter, you are ineffective.  There might be several classrooms that look like the one I have briefly described that were designed by a teacher who may not be on Twitter, that receive their information elsewhere.  What I do know is that looked NOTHING like my classroom when I first started teaching, because honestly, I did not have the access to the same information that teachers do now.  Our opportunities have changed and people have taken advantage to benefit themselves, and more importantly, their students.

Isolation is now a choice educators make.  We have access to not only information, but each other. We need to tap into that.

Being on Twitter dIMG_5162oesn’t make you a great teacher any more than not being on Twitter makes you ineffective.  There are a lot of great teachers who do some pretty amazing things that do not connect online.

However, I do believe that having that access 24/7 to great ideas through the medium and the connection to other teachers increases your chances on being great.  If you really think about it,  how could it not?

Note: Thanks to George Couros, Jeff Unruh and Principal Sundeep Chohan for expanding our thinking. You will hear more from Jeff Unruh as our featured Ignite presenter at our next Learning by Design: Engaging the Digital Learner session. George will also be keynoting with Superintendent Jordan Tinney at that time as they look back at learning, look at the present, and predict going forward. It promises to be provocative. We will be streaming it live for those that want to join us.

A Window into Learning

We’re trying to boil it down to what do parents really want and need to know about a child’s progress in school? How can we give parents a window into class?…We believe traditional report cards are highly ineffective in communicating to parents where their children are in learning. If we can communicate this learning routinely to parents, then we see the need for report cards and the stamp of letter grade going way down.”

Dr. Jordan Tinney, Superintendent, CNN

A Window into a Child's Learning

Surrey Schools has initiated a project – Communicating Student Learning (CSL) – to evolve its student assessment practice and tools reflective of emerging educational philosophy and the Ministry of Education’s direction. Two district explorations have been launched – paper and electronic – to assess various potential assessment approaches, tools and implementation strategies that will ultimately become district best practice. This post is focused on our electronic trial—Making Learning Visible.

Background

For over a decade, Surrey’s elementary schools have been using a standard report card, designed by several school principals using Filemaker Pro. The report card is a list of grade specific Prescribed Learning Outcomes where student progress is indicated using a rating scale[1] and/or letter grades. Limited room on the report card exists for teachers to provide a summary of a student’s learning, often noting what the student has been doing well, in addition to potential areas for improvement. These report cards are distributed three times throughout the school year. Our practice represents a significant misalignment with what we know about Assessment and with the Ministry of Education’s new direction.

The Ministry of Education’s new Curriculum Transformation and Assessment,[2] Communicating Student Learning (Reporting) document states:

“Aligning curriculum, assessment, evaluation and communicating student learning approaches will be key in these transformation efforts. To date, consultations regarding communicating student learning have resulted in the following recommendations:

  • Shift from ‘reporting’ to ‘communicating student learning.’
  • Support meaningful communication between teachers, parents and learners.
  • Report on core competencies and key areas of learning.
  • Focus on learning standards (curricular competencies and content/concepts) in areas of learning (subjects).
  • Enable ongoing communication (with provincial guidelines and supports).
  • Maintain formal, written summative reports at key times in the year.
  • Use clear performance standards-based language.
  • Move toward meaningful descriptions/collections/demonstrations of student learning.”

The Ministry recommendations provide a foundation and guiding principles for our new direction.

In the spring of 2013, Surrey Schools officially initiated its exploration of evolving its practices and tools related to communicating student learning. The project is being guided by a District team of Learning Partners[3], with support from District Senior Leadership. Unofficially, the district had already been exploring other ways of documenting student learning electronically with a small group of teachers from across the district as we began to formulate a new vision for reporting practice. As we felt there was a serious disconnect between our current reporting practices and the Ministry’s new direction, we wanted to align our practice with a new vision.

Surrey School’s Vision

Our vision for long-term change resulting from this project is captured in this simple vision statement:

Making Learning Visible: Transforming learning through assessment.

Surrey School’s Electronic Assessment Goal

Our goal is to provide parents with a 24/7 virtual window into their child’s learning to encourage more active parent understanding and involvement as well as ensuring timely responses and intervention in order to maximize student learning.

  • Provide teachers with a better reporting process to communicate student learning.
  • Provide an opportunity to collect authentic snapshots of learning (audio, video and published blogs), to provide descriptive feedback and to enrich the parent communication experience.
  • Provide an electronic space for a three-way conversation (students, teachers and parents) about learning intentions, achievement and next steps in a child’s learning journey.
  • Students are actively involved in their learning through their own capacity to choose, share and reflect on the most important artifacts that illustrate their learning.
  • Provide an electronic option for teachers to collect evidence on a child’s progress and demonstrate growth over time.
  • Capitalize on the analytic capacity of technology to curate information and resources to provide timely learning support for students, teachers and parents.
  • Provide leadership in setting direction for the future implementation of the MOE curriculum transformation as it pertains to Communicating Student Learning (formerly referred to as Reporting).

The Project Plan

Integral to this process is the invitation to explore the use of formative assessment using an inquiry approach in the context of digital documentation. We asked teachers to commit to working as a collaborative team to explore inquiry questions on “reporting:” How can digital documentation and digital tools impact teachers and student learning? How can formative assessment and the continuous growth of students be communicated in a digital format that provides authentic examples? The investigation represents small teams of teachers across the district in both elementary and secondary schools committed to this action research. The project is ongoing.

Regardless of the tool or template, teachers are asked to communicate on key areas addressing literacy, numeracy, and social responsibility reflected through the lens of the core competencies (Thinking, Communicating, Personal & Social Responsibility) and including the content areas (eg. critical thinking in Social Studies).

About the Tool

The software selected for the Making Learning Visible pilot is FreshGrade, developed by a BC-based company. FreshGrade is a Web 2.0 tool that supports teachers (and students) in capturing student learning, creating a digital portfolio, providing feedback to students and communicating student learning to parents.

The tool can also assist in supporting personalized learning by analyzing student activity and achievement. The tool can potentially access curated resources and can prompt teachers on the next steps, based on an analysis of student data and recommend learning resources matched to individual student needs. Not all of these features are turned on in the program but are included as part of the roadmap. The program is designed to change the way assessment is understood and practiced, save teacher time in data collection and provide a much more robust window into a child’s learning. The FreshGrade tool provides a digital platform that takes advantage of technology to collect, assess, share and communicate student learning. In our partnership arrangement, the use of this tool allows the district to “own” the student data and ensure we can have some measure of control over the information. Teachers have been working with the company providing feedback for over two years now.

Outside of the project, there are teachers who have independently started using FreshGrade. This simple act of engaging with the platform, investigating and “playing” with the tool, is an important part of the innovation movement and confirming teacher interest and support of the tool’s application. We fundamentally believe that if the experience and product is effective that teachers will be drawn to its use.

Our findings our guided by the experience of actual practitioners—our teachers—the professional experts in the field. As they explore, we learn. As Antonio Vendramin, Principal of Cambridge Elementary describes, “More and more as I hear teachers reflect on MLV, the more I hear that this is beginning a transformation in assessment and pedagogy. Teachers are asking critical questions regarding learning evidence that is collected, what it reveals, and how it connects with learning intentions. Fundamentally, teachers are beginning to look at collected evidence and asking, ‘Where is the learning?’

Looking Forward

Elements by Lindsey Sterling: Used with permission, educational purposes only.

The district, as part of this CSL project, is undertaking this inquiry – Making Learning Visible – to explore whether digital documentation of student learning could become a new standard. Our teachers are at the front edge of transforming education through their practice. They are the champions. These teachers believe there is a better way to communicate student learning that aligns with our understanding and research. The district is taking steps to explore what is possible. In the words of Buckminster Fuller, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” We are creating a new model, because, truly, now is the time.

Note: This post is adapted from an Executive Briefing Report prepared last spring for Senior Team and co-authored by Dan Turner (@dj_turner), Director of Information Management Services, and Elisa Carlson (@emscarlson), Director of Instruction with the assistance of Marilyn Marchment of big think communications (www.bigthink.ca). Excerpts and videos are from the most recent presentation at the B.C. School Superintendent’s Conference (2014). For a complete view of the original Elements video, see here. This article is also cross-posted at wickedproblems.ca.

 

[1] Approaching Expectations, Minimally Meeting Expectations, Meeting Expectations, Exceeding Expectations.
[2] Ministry of Education: Curriculum Transformation and Assessment (curriculum.gov.bc.ca/assessment).
[3] Pat Horstead, Karen Steffensen and Elisa Carlson.

The Rock & The Whirlpool: Navigating the Dilemma Dance

Photo Credit: SergioTudela via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: SergioTudela via Compfightcc

It is clear that the challenge lies in the transition zone. This is a risky space. It can be chaotic and confusing with so many different ideas competing for attention. And it can feel an uncomfortable and under-valued place for many professionals.
                                                    .G. Leicester, D. Stewart, K. Bloomer & J. Ewing
 
Book cover Good Copy 2Transforming education requires strategic conversation in navigating the tensions that exist in the transition zone of change.  In Transformative Innovation in Education: a playbook for pragmatic visionaries, the authors distinguish between three systems: the current dominant system, incremental innovation and transformative innovation. They liken it to universal mass education, personalized education and open access education.  Or think of it as: business as usual, pockets of innovation, and radical innovation on the fringe of the system. Most innovation is the simple continuous improvement of existing structures. For truly transformative innovation to take place, the authors believe that we need to move beyond  incremental or pockets of innovation.
 
When we look at the school system, the old and the transformative new are often expressed as clear-cut dichotomies.  These are the tensions we sometimes fail to acknowledge that exist. In order to sustain innovation and move to radical transformation, these frictions must be navigated.

Tensions in the Landscape
(adapted from Transformative Innovation in Education)

Tensions in the Landscape 2a
You need to find the sweet spot where you “combine the best of both values.” This is the thinking of Charles Hampden-Turner, a systems theorist that believed “you can have your cake and eat it too. ”When we look at these tensions we often think either/or.  Sometimes we fail to recognize that two opposing systems can have great value in and of themselves.  There is inherent rigidity in the polarity that exists within organizations that are navigating change. “We need to think both/and. That requires a less familiar style of thinking—wrestling with dilemmas.”

Photo Credit: Today is a good day via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Today is a good day via Compfight cc

He generally describes the dilemma as an immovable “hard” rock value on one end and the irresistible force of the “soft” whirlpool on the other end.  The trick is not to hang on to one exclusively but to create a dilemma dance between them. In Transforming Education they describe it, “like tacking a sailing boat against the wind.” You may need to turn from one to the other in order to get to your destination. As you sail your boat or engage in the dance, however, you need to be mindful of five possible end points.

Stick to the rock and you become a dinosaur and die out. Stick to the whirlpool and you come a mythical unicorn. Compromise and you are like the ostrich with your head in the sand. Worse yet, “If you get stuck in the zone of conflict you end up as Dr. Doolittle’s push-me-pull-you.” The goal is to dance to the resolution space in order to soar like an eagle. This is the creative learning and development that happens “outside the box.”

Animals in Transformative Innovation jpeg
Whether the transformative innovation is changing the traditional report cards, implementing new cutting-edge curriculum, or shifting the inherent nature of teaching and learning—a strategic dance through the complexity of the layered dilemmas is required. The authors encourage educators to ask themselves: Who does this impact the most? What is the worst thing that can happen?  Wondering aloud together frees educators to think, feel and act differently in response to the apprehension associated with change. These are strategic conversations that help manage risk.

How can pragmatic visionaries avoid becoming permanently mired in the schism? In the book, the authors suggest avoiding the tension as a simple choice (yes/no) and treat it like a dilemma. To help wrestle with the tension ask the questions:

iStock_000032050524Small• What is the solid and unshakeable value in the current system?
• What is the core value central to the new system?
• Identify some typical compromises that sweep the tension between these values under the carpet.
• Articulate the tensions that can break out into conflict between the rock and the whirlpool.
• “Seek creative resolution:
a) What can the rock offer the whirlpool without compromise?
b) What can the whirlpool offer the rock without compromise?”

Engaging in a conversation about the dilemma between the rock (control and standards) and the whirlpool (freedom of choice) can ensure innovation is grounded in effective practice. Wrestling the tension using the dilemma of the dance metaphor allows us to ask the question: “What ideas do we have to get the very best of both worlds (values)?” Pragmatic visionaries recognize deep conflict and search for ways to navigate through the zones. Whether teaching in the classroom, leading in the schoolhouse or supporting through central office, transformative innovation in education requires us to do just that: this is where 1 + 1 = 3.

~ • • • • • • • ~

Note: Review of Transformative Innovation in Education: a playbook for pragmatic visionaries written by Graham Leicester, Denis Stewart, Keir Bloomer, and Jim Ewing. The authors write about the framework for transformative innovation they have used with schools in Scotland. Guiding educators and schools through thoughtful reflection and careful conversations has empowered these schools to engage in transformative innovation.

Igniting the Passion: Celebrating Our Learning

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“People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation.”
Joshua Heschel

Celebration is a choice: we choose to appreciate and value something that we feel is significant. It is an opportunity we create to acknowledge, appreciate and extend gratitude for the good things that are being done in schools–by both students and teachers. We are fortunate to be in a district where we can engage in new learning and transform education to better meet the needs of our learners. A collective of 300 educators gathered together to mark the occasion.

What is it that we are doing well? How do others see us? We asked some people both inside and outside our district this question.  How might they describe our district or what does meant to be part of our district? Their responses can be found here:

During the evening we had several presenters share with us their passion through the form of five minute Ignite presentations. Participants were limited to 20  slides that automatically moved every 15 seconds . The purpose is expressed in the motto, “Enlighten us, but make it quick!” We had the opportunity to learn from our peers and to engage in thoughtful conversations about our learning. Facilitators guided table groups around key questions that examined both our thinking on the presentation as well as how the topic might affect our future behaviour and teaching practice.  Thanks you to Robynn Thiessen, Sally Song, Shauna Nero, Antonio Vendramin, Karen Steffensen, and Jordan Tinney for sharing their passion. You can enjoy their live-streamed stories here.

We ended the evening with a video montage of students, teachers, administrators and out-of-district guests to help us with our celebration.

Author’s Note: Thank you to Helping Teachers @amboe_k, @shelagh09, @librarymall, @kowalyshyn, @ipadtestkitchen and Sarah Guilmant-Smith for planning and organizing the evening and supporting our projects. Thank you to Donna VanSant and Forrest Smith for their assistance with the videos.

 

My Top Three List for 2013 (with Apologies to Chris Kennedy)


Linus: ‘I guess it’s wrong to be worried about tomorrow, maybe we should only worry about today?’

Charlie Brown: ‘No, that’s giving up: I’m hoping that yesterday will get better!’

    Charles Schultz

I am inspired, yet again, by Chris Kennedy who leads the way with the Culture of Yes post wrapping up the “Top 3” for 2013 (click here). This is his tradition and he has blogged about this annually in 2012, 2011, and 2010.  He is a wonderful writer, brilliant thinker and inspiring leader. I tried to follow in his footsteps last year but wandered off the trail. You can see this in my own “Top 3” post last year (read here).  So here I am again trying to do some sort of penance, searching for some answers, scrambling for the profound in the midst of the profane.

My Top 3 Blog Posts:

Once I remembered my password (oh, my sorely neglected blog), I was able to log in and to check out my most popular posts from this past year. There weren’t a lot of posts to choose from but these three had a few more hits (nothing viral to jump up and down about):

1. Transforming Education: Creating a Radical Social Movement (transcript of my ConnectEd Calgary keynote provided here) .
2. Guiding Principles: What do we believe? (the foundation for our work described here)
3. Getting Under Your Skin: a review of Seth Godin’s book

Three Good Ideas That Spread Across our District:

1. Genius Hour: Time given to students to explore their own passions and share them with others that begins a transformational learning journey for students and teachers. When will Denise, Gallit and Joy publish their book?
2. Kiva: Classrooms are micro lending as little as $25 around the world to help alleviate poverty. This is an authentic opportunity for students to learn about personal and social responsibility. Thanks to @plugusin for getting us started.
3. Innovation Week: Inspired by Jesse McLean (@jmclean77) from Parkland School Division in Alberta, other schools and classrooms are beginning to try this concept in our own backyard (see Fraser Heights story).

Three New Promising Pilots:

1. Communicating Student Learning: Interested teachers across the district are engaged in creating an alternative to the standard reporting process and template (might just be my next blog post). Sample templates and resources were shared via the #sd36learn hashtag and internally through our SurreySchools.ca site.
2. Assessment Empowering Learners: Team leaders from eight schools being trained in deep formative assessment practices and facilitating inquiry groups at their own schools. The model developed is based on Dylan William’s work and includes a digital component connected to @freshgrade.
3. Tech4Learning: Existing school inquiry plans are examined to see how learning can be digitally enhanced to ensure the most effective use of technology for student learning. Only schools with substandard technology are eligible. As well, school teams respond to the question: How does your plan connect to the new B.C. Ministry of Education curriculum transformation and assessment document?

Three Great Books:

Books I am trying to read, should read, have started, half way through, want to finish, or have definitely finished:
1. Intentional Interruption: Breaking Down Learning Barriers to Transform Professional Practice (recommended by Assistant Superintendent Karen Steffensen (@kstef2)).
2. Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge (the word “boundaries” grabbed me but now the content has me reading it with my pink highlighter in hand—I have much to learn here).
3. Embedded Formative Assessment (being read by many, many teachers in our district). 

Things I Read that Mattered:

I was actually tired of the same old, same old leadership “stuff.” Instead, I nourished my soul by reading the newly translated 2 million Korean bestseller, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly. I escaped into literature to find some normal in the midst of what sometimes seemed an abnormal world. Reading kept me focused and gave me a place to hide (see next list). I love the well-placed word. 

Three Things I Didn’t Want to Know and I Am Not Going to Talk About:

1. The Untidy Business of Dying
2. The Slow Death March of Alzheimer’s Disease (my dad)
3. The Crippling Impact of Parkinson’s Disease (my mom)

Events that Challenged by Thinking:

1. Calgary ConnectEd Conference: Calgary was all about the brilliant transformative teaching demonstrated at the Calgary Science School and the cadre of radical educators determined to change their classrooms, their schools and, ultimately, the education world.  Relationships, connection, deep learning and fun—it was all found there.
2. IBM Executive Briefing: At the IBM conference I had a chance to get away (I needed it—see above list) and I found out about the “Treasure Wild Ducks” concept.  If IBM can do it; so can we. I am a wild duck and when treasured I do my best work (see post here).
3. Visit to Mooresville, North Carolina (ISTE award winning district):  Mooresville is described as the “best” school district in America (see here). North Carolina was an unexpected surprise; I learn so much from going other places–it informs my practice, challenges my thinking, and pushes me to do better work.  It was a privilege to be able to talk to district leaders, visit schools, ask principals questions, and peek into classrooms. I came back motivated to be much more aggressive about the work I do.  I began asking myself the questions: What truly is transformative learning? How do we define it? If we have district priorities, do we see evidence of them in individual classrooms? How can we support exponential, rather than incremental, change? Where can we take more risk? How can we best design strategies to create a domino effect? Where is the tipping point?

Tech-Related Projects that were Fun:

1. There’s An App for That!: Read the news article to see how we are changing the way we communicate with parents. It was fascinating to participate in the development of the SchoolLink app and see how business companies work in moving from idea to product. You can find it in the iTunes store (check it out here)
2. Connecting Staff: Giving feedback on the visual redesign of SurreySchools.ca Version 2 (Sharepoint 2013 upgrade). Design is an area of personal interest and having the opportunity to provide input to make something more attractive was fascinating. The new look and functionality launches at the end of January.
3. An Unusual Partnership: Collaborating with @freshgrade to see if there is a way to capture snapshots of learning and provide descriptive feedback in digital form. Speaking as a mother of four boys in school: When will I as a parent be able to have a 24/7 window into my child’s learning? 

Provocative Quotes that Need Action:

1. “What if we just jumped off the cliff and no longer bought textbooks?” queried Jordan Tinney, the new Superintendent of Surrey Schools who blogs here.
2. “We need moonshot thinking,” explained Orwell Kowalyshyn, Information & Media Literacy Helping Teacher in Surrey Schools on the process of moving from incremental to exponential system change.
3.  “Are we looking for a killer app or do we have a killer pedagogy?” adapted from a conversation with David Vandergugten, Director of Instruction with the Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows School District.

Ricocheting in my Brain:

1. Priorities: “Before you try to come up with ways to stretch the clock and make more time, it’s important to figure out if the time you already have is being used to its greatest potential—that is, are you doing the right work?” Steven Katz and Lisa Ain Dack.
2. Technology Technical Support: “Teachers teach: IT makes tech invisible. That’s how the magic happens.”
3. Relationships: “The greatest tool we have at our disposal is the power of conversation.” Peter Shaw

My Disappointments:

1. ConnectEDBC– The Aspen/Follett System (am I allowed to say that?)
2. Content Management Systems
3. Learning Platforms
Instead of The Race to the Top it is The Race for the Best Digital Platform. Most of these, however, are focused on traditional learning, recording of data and reporting out. They do not seem to match up with the B. C. Ministry of Education’s new transformational curriculum.  Sigh.

Not Much of a Top Three, Is it?

There is a time for everything. 
I think 2013 was my worst year ever. Finding a Top 3 was a struggle. I am reminded of this timeless passage from Ecclesiates:
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance…”

The good news is that 2014 is on the horizon. I am ready. Look out. 

Next year will be better—I know it.

It will be a time to dance.

 

Treasure Wild Ducks: The Flight of Innovation

 

Innovation, in the true sense, is something that is applied. For CIOs (CEOs), one best practice they can help drive within their organizations is what we refer to at IBM as “treasure your wild ducks.”  This means that we must embrace new ideas and nurture those who think differently.
                                                                     Dr. Kaiserworth, bold mine

I have a number of Wild Ducks in my team and have come across many in my career in and outside of IBM. They don’t always stay in formation, but that’s the fun of flying with them.

Theresa Alfonso, IBM Manager

The IBM notion of treasuring the wild duck intrigues and surfaces a key inquiry question—how is treasuring the wild duck and leading the innovation enterprise alike?   IBM has one purpose: “Be essential” and offers nine key practices.  One of those is “Treasure wild ducks.” As soon as I saw it on Tom Vines, IBM Human Resources Vice-President’s slide, I had to ask: What does that mean? Treasure wild ducks?  His response: Those are the people who are “way out there”, the innovators, and we highly value them as they are central to IBM’s purpose.

In education, there are many teachers and administrators that are trying new ways of teaching, new ways of organizing and new ways of innovating. Despite an ever increasing knowledge of how to lead innovation, educators still struggle. There are strong organizational cultural and psychological barriers that stop leaders and others from moving from “thinking” about innovation toward “doing” and “sustaining” innovation.   Leading the pursuit of innovative ways can be lonely and isolating. Perhaps the wisdom of treasuring the wild duck will help navigate the WHY?

Former IBM Chairman Thomas J. Watson, Jr. first told the story behind the IBM practice of treasuring wild ducks.  “In IBM we frequently refer to our need for ‘wild ducks.’ The moral is drawn from a story by the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who told of a man who fed the wild ducks flying south in great flocks each fall. After a while some of the ducks no longer bothered to fly south; they wintered in Denmark on what he fed them.  Kierkegaard drew his point: you can make wild ducks tame, but you can never make tame ducks wild again. One might also add that the duck that is tamed will never fly anywhere anymore.” – IBM illustrates this principle applied in their organization (see video).

What does the wild duck and innovation in a school district have in common?  How is innovation approached within an organizational culture?  How do leaders build teams that are most effectively innovative?  How do organizations support and treasure innovators?

At IBM, group think is debunked and they try NOT to tame their wild ducks. Instead, they consciously treasure them.  Innovation in a school district depends on individuals who are open to ideas, conflict and who are part of teams in which vigorous debate, dissent and discomfort exist.  Innovators require a culture of openness – to argument and ideas, experts and outsiders, the young and the new.  Innovation requires leaders with courage to fly alone.

Like the wild duck, the importance of understanding and treasuring the individual innovator resonates with any person who has attempted organizational change and innovation.  Specifically, the role of “innovator as leader” is called on to evoke and sustain disruptive positive change.  The individual is often perceived as behaving in ways which challenges status quo; contradicts group think and risks failure and isolation.  The flight path is complicated as change is navigated with enough order and enough ambiguity to sustain innovative behaviour throughout the organization.  Being an innovator is messy business.

Cultivating innovation within an organization requires a thoughtful approach.  Lessons from the wild duck inform the way.  The development of support processes encouraging diversity of thought is paramount to organizational health and essential for individuals who risk being innovators and dare to fly alone.  The IBM practice to treasure wild ducks expresses the vitality so necessary to sustain the individual innovative spirit, and promises enrichment for others who follow the lead.

Wild ducks sometimes can make organizations uncomfortable. They create cognitive dissonance and interrupt the status quo.  Others may want to tame them.  But Dr. Thomas Watson notes, “One might also add that the duck who is tamed will never go anywhere any more. We are convinced that any business needs its wild ducks. And in IBM we try not to tame them.”

In classrooms, schools and districts, there are many educators charting a new path, creating innovation, and flying wild and free.

Do we treasure these wild ducks?

I am one of them.

Are you?

Blogger’s Note: This post was co-authored by Dr. Donna VanSant (@vansantd) and Elisa Carlson (@EMSCarlson). Thank you to IBM and Thomas Vine, Vice President, Human Resources, for the inspiration for this post.

What’s your rock?

I want to be a linchpin. Seth Godin says, “Every organization needs a linchpin, the one person who can bring it together and make a difference.” Can we create an organization of linchpins committed to making a difference? And he adds, “What will make someone a linchpin is not a shortcut.  It’s the understanding of which hard work is worth doing.” What is the most important work? Which hard work is worth doing? Do we have clarity and laser-like focus on what truly counts?

My personal goal is to transform education. I have a rock in my office that I keep on my desk. My goal is written with a black sharpie across the rock. I have intentionally used this to guide my work and remind me of my focus. My goal is broken down further into two key pieces so when I speak of transforming education it looks like this:

  • Continue to create and support opportunities for Curriculum Transformation (ie: personalized learning, 21st century learning).
  • Use technology as a tool to leverage change in pedagogy in order to transform teaching.

Essential to achieving my goal is building capacity across the organization. For me, this fits. I am fundamentally addicted to learning. I have a thirst for knowledge that is inherent in my being. I do believe that when others are equally engaged and passionate about their own learning, it has the potential to transform the organization and the classroom. When we find what we are passionate about, when it is connected to a higher purpose (making a difference with students), we are released to maximize our potential. The enthusiasm for learning, for growing, for improving, is infectious. It spreads across the organization, across the school, and into the classroom. Students reap the benefits.

At a recent meeting with some district staff and external guests, I brought my rock for “show & tell.” I used it as a symbol to talk about what is important in my work, and the work of the district. I also talked about it in connection with our district. I do feel that if we can transform education in Surrey (the largest district in the province), that we can transform it in other places as well. I see our district as a potential “tipping point.” Do it here, do it in a big way, and it will overflow and tip out to the rest of the province. In some respects, it is embarrassing to share one’s deeply personal goal with others in this fashion. I try not to feel self-conscious but it feels like one is undressing a bit of one’s soul, of what is at the essence of one’s being, in a room full of strangers. I do like to dream big but I don’t always like to share that out publicly. Others might think I am crazy. But, that being said, I would rather be crazy and adventurous than live my life in a stalemated routine of sameness. The “bleeding edge” suits me quite fine.

I have people standing on my rock. How do I know this? They are committed to the same work as me. We do it together. Our Superintendent has described his view of the purpose of our organization: “Building Human Capacity.” I would consider that his rock. And I stand on his rock as well as my own. What is your rock? And whose rock do you stand on? Does the clarity of your focus help drive your actions? We are inundated with the urgent that we sometimes lose sight of what is most important. Let’s bring clarity to our work. Which is the hard work worth doing? What’s your rock?

 

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.