Tag Archives: learning

When Learning Hurts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end of wonder and the age of whatever

I had the great fortune to be with the Surrey management team at a presentation by Michael Wesch. I have viewed his The Machine is Us/ing Us many times and I had no idea that this was the guy who made the video. That was a pleasant surprise as I simply love the style and the messages that he brings. The next great piece was that I enjoy watching presentations by ethnographers or specialists in culture. For whatever reason, they seem to be in-tune with audiences, they care and it shows. Michael was a fun and inspiring presenter. I laughed, I learned, and I left with good questions in my mind.

Good company, good food, good presenter – so what did I hear as the main messages that fine morning? This post is simply a reflection on what I heard, what it meant for me in my work and life and perhaps to generate a bit of dialogue with others.

The big thing that stuck with me was his challenge to “how do we get students to a permanent state of wonder”? A place he called “investigative wonder” – simply wanting to know more. Something I would call a voracious pursuit of knowledge. How might we instill that in children?

He went from there to talk about students who have that state of wonder and how they see a myriad of tools at their disposal. Those without wonder just see tools as distraction and entertainment. This was a key message he gave around technology in that he seemed to say that without that permanent sense of wonder, we will only look for technologies with all their capabilities, as simply items to entertain us.

Michael said that if you want to know if students have this sense of wonder – then look at the questions they ask. Wonder emerges when you:
· Quest
· Embrace vulnerability, and
· Invite connections.

This description reminded me of something I wrote a while ago that described great teachers. I wanted to go back, write some more and talk about how, in some way, great teachers helped inculcate a sense of wonder in their students. They did it by just they above list….they quested with you. They were “along for the ride”. They embraced their own vulnerabilities as teachers and then they invited connections with students that were more than just connections with content. These connections were about relationships, wonder, and a journey together.

The next piece I got from Michael was about how we express ourselves through interactions. This was a very strong connection for me in that this rang true. We all work with people every day and the only reality we have is perception of who we are as colleagues and leaders. This struck a chord for me in that I thought that the act of writing, even blogging, isn’t just communication or professional development – it is identity work.

Michael views media not just as tools. He talked of how media mediate relationships and how we connect with each other. Media and the medium itself are far more significant than just a tool. This was interesting in that we so often hear that “technology is just a tool” – he would disagree or at the very least want to extend this dramatically.

He argues that forms of media could open things up to us but they do not always. Forms of media could open us up to things but do they? He talked of the decline in empathy and the danger that technology can permit us to NOT:
· Quest
· Embrace vulnerability
· Invite connections

We looked at how we need to get messages to our children/students about who we expect them to be. He was concerned that our tools are shaping us in ways we have not yet fully appreciated.

When he created the video A Vision of Students Today, he asked students about their views on education. They said that to learn is to acquire information. They did not see beyond to a capacity for critical thinking. They had a very narrow view of learning and this surprised him. He was hoping to find more and to help his students reach out.

We then were shown fantastic examples of students using technology to go beyond, to create, to make connections, and to make a difference. Michael feels that the first really good start to an educational experience is having a burning question, something that sticks in people’s minds. We need projects that grab students, use simulations, games, other techniques to build engagement. There were great examples shared of real problems, designed with a community and leveraged by technology. Even those students who once isolated themselves, like Hunter Browning found that we need the knowledge that others hold. We need to reach out, to collaborate, to innovate together.

In the end, I took two main things from Michael:

· People are longing for the power of “us” – opportunities to reach out, to collaborate, share, and celebrate together. He said he didn’t make his video go viral, millions of people did. Everyone should celebrate this.

· Technology is not a tool – it is so much more because of its incredible power to leverage collaboration and connections. It can be used to quest, to embrace vulnerability and to make connections, but the real power is in using this ability to resolve real-world problems that start with a great question and a sense of wonder.

In the end, I thought back to that age old question of the great teachers I had. I have my list, as others do and I’ve described them in many ways. I think the bottom line is that no matter who they were, they helped instilled a sense of wonder in me. What a gift that we should look for in every teacher and in every child.

Special thanks to Jordan Tinney, Deputy Superintendent of Vancouver, for this guest post. Jordan will be joining Surrey Schools in August as the new Deputy Superintendent. 

Learning Leads Technology: Chief Apple Educator Speaks

Last week, I was fortunate to be invited to lunch with Stephanie Hamilton, one of Apple’s chief educators, based in Cupertino, California. What I found most profound was that her message echoed much of what we are trying to do in this project with our pilot schools. What was her key point? “We must lead with the learning and not with the technology.” She had a number of other pivotal messages but I want to reflect on the points that resonated for me.

     “Mobile devices,” she stressed, “are intended to personalize learning.” We have the opportunity to support students, whatever their struggle, whatever their interests, in more personalized ways. Whatever their issue, there is likely an app or an application that can help them. Schools cannot provide a one size fits all approach. She touched on differentiated instruction and the need to move towards deep engagement for our students. Our district has the same focus for this project. She challenged us with important questions: How does technology change the nature of the task? How can we give students more control of their learning?

     The use of technology is no longer about digital integration but about transforming the learning task. She used the work of Ruben Puentedura, a researcher from Maine, and his technology implementation continuum as a point of reference. The best part, however, was when she walked us through explicit examples of student tasks, describing how they looked for each of his four stages, from enhancement to transformation. I found that part the most valuable because that is what teachers need to see. We need real life examples of the transformative use of technology. These provide us with models to help chart our way.

     “Teachers need to move from being master teachers to master learners,” she emphasized. I really liked her description of the future of schools.  She described schools historically as factory models of learning with teachers as content experts and then contrasted that with schools in the knowledge economy where teachers are the providers of context and students have the opportunity to be “free agent learners.” Her quote from Seymour Papert seemed quite apropos, “ The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.”

     Finally, she made some pointed observations about our failure as educators to take advantage of the promise that technology offers. Some of the issues about technology and its integration were the same issues twenty, even thirty, years ago. She referenced the book Switch by Dan and Chip Heath: “For things to change, somebody somewhere has to start acting differently.” Fullan talks about this notion, too, “Research on attitudinal change has long found that most of us change our behaviors somewhat before we get insights into new beliefs. The implication for approaching new change is clear.” I realize that it isn’t about changing people’s beliefs, it isn’t about providing people with a list of reasons for why technology may help us, it really is about putting my own toe in the water. I have come kicking and screaming into the digital world because it became part of my portfolio. I knew I had a responsibility to model the way. I may not have wanted to learn about it but now it is become one of the most rewarding parts of my job. It has impacted my professional learning in a way I couldn’t have imagined. It had to start with me. I had to learn first. I am changing my behavior (trying out technology) and then letting the beliefs follow. We need to provide teachers with the support to do the same. It is about our behavior, our experimentation, and putting our toe in the water. What do you need to do? How can you support those that are willing to take the first step? It is when we learn ourselves, that we can transform the learning of our students.