Tag Archives: personalized learning

A Movement for Radical Social Innovation

Think of yourselves as a movement not attached
to the union or the government.
Charles Leadbeater

I was fortunate to attend the BC School Superintendent’s Winter Conference along with over 425 other attendees. I heard from Charles Leadbeater, Larry Rosenstock, John Abbott, Geoge Abbott and Bruce Beairsto. It was Charles Leadbeater’s comments, however, that were the most provocative. His presentation was called Innovation at Scale: Strategies for Radical Social Innovation. I also heard him speak at a CoastMetro session earlier in the morning. There were 150 people, including teachers and parents, in attendance at that morning event. Some key thoughts from all three of his sessions resonated for me.

Your vantage point determines what you can see…” was the opening slide. Our own organizational and system blinders often insulate us. Much like horses, we keep our focus away from the crowds and anything that might distract us from our purpose. He encouraged us to take ourselves out of education and have conversations about innovation with others. When we are consumed by racing down our own tracks, we fail to see what is happening around the world. Education and innovation look different elsewhere. The conversations with others in other professions, in other fields, in other business, and in other places, can enrich our own understanding. As tweeted by Cale Birk, “When we innovate, need to look sideways at other fields. We are too protected in our Ed cloistered life.” A wider vantage point, as we consciously and intentionally remove our blinders, allows us to create a more compelling and urgent vision. Leadbeater emphasized, “Just doing more isn’t enough. You have to do more, better and different. It is the different that is key.” It is strikingly different elsewhere.

See yourselves as mobilizers of the community rather than administrators of the system,” urged Leadbeater. He challenged us to move beyond pockets of innovation to transforming the whole field. He proceeded to ask us, “How do we increase this community’s capacity to learn?” How do we create large-scale system change? What are the tools at our disposal? Radical social innovation is most successful when it is a movement connected to a committed community that is driven by a compelling vision. Think of yourselves as a movement and not a system. We are the mobilizers of that community.  Who is leading this transformation? Our movement will be educators in the field that are engaged in shifting their pedagogy and collaborating with other educators in this pursuit.

People have to be pulled to innovation. You have to craft activities that draw people to innovate.” Are we doing that in our district? Your district? Who is crafting these activities that will draw educators—administrators and teachers alike—into the movement? Are we creating a pull to a new way of leading? Teaching? Learning? It isn’t about a push; it is about a pull because it is connected to a meaningful, authentic, moral purpose. We are creating a future for our own children. My son in kindergarten loves school. His favorite activity is “centre time.” My son in grade 3 loves math and gym. My two oldest boys, however, in grade 8 and 10, have “mixed emotions” about school and sometimes find it “boring.” The love for learning that characterizes young children—needs to be replicated for all students. Who will do that for my two oldest? Must we wait until it is too late for them?

Leadbeater made reference to the C’s in Innovation. These are composed as a series of questions, causing us to reflect on our own leadership practice.

Crisis: Is there a crisis–a sense of urgency for this change?

Curiosity: Have we created a space for educators to be curious and explore?

Connections: Are we working in combination with others? Are we creating connections with others, with ideas, with the past and the future?

Conversations: Are we having a conversation with others about this? Who is in the conversation? Who is hosting it? Where do we have our best conversations?

Challenge: Are we prepared to challenge ideas, ask stupid question, pursue useful deviants, and support the move to the future?

Commitment: And have we (that would be both you and me) made a commitment?—“You don’t learn to swim standing on the side of the pool.”

Co-creation: Can we co-create? Are we open to innovating for, with and by others? Who can you adopt? Who do you follow? And who is following you?

The C’s allow us to think strategically about our efforts.

I had the privilege of attending a powerful conference with world-class speakers. For that I am deeply grateful. But along with that privilege comes the responsibility to do something with the knowledge I have gained. If it doesn’t change my practice, then it has merely been a fascinating, titillating but somewhat empty intellectual exercise. That simply isn’t good enough for me. I want to create the movement. Are we creating mere pockets of innovation or can we scale it up to a radical social movement? I am committed to jumping in the pool. Will you join me?

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!

Social Media: Busting Down Schoolhouse Doors

Someone laughed at me the other day. Two consultants sent by the Ministry of Education were interviewing several of us about technology, infrastructure, and personalized learning (whatever that means—although I do note they were asking us to define it). I made a statement about Social Media and a colleague jokingly mocked me for my expertise given that I have been on Twitter since April 26th.  That’s almost two months and I think it should count for something! However, now I want to set the record straight. I am not quite the neophyte that everyone assumes. Since I’m desperately trying to catch up, I stumbled on this historical fact in The Social Media Marketing Book (selected by me for its short text and many graphics). Social networking began in the mid-eighties with the introduction of electronic bulletin board systems (BBS). And that’s when I remembered. I was in my first or second year of teaching at D.W. Poppy Secondary when I hooked up my Social Studies 9 class with a class from Prince of Wales Secondary. Our students were engaged in an electronic discussion.  And even back then, I remember that challenge of trying to design questions to encourage student thinking rather than a frivolous exchange of information. The Prince of Wales teacher at the time was doing some very innovative things and, I believe, went on to win what might have been a Premier’s Teacher of Excellence award.

Here we are almost two decades later (yes, I’m dating myself) and it is interesting how sophisticated Social Networking has become. Twitter is totally different that the BBS I remember. No amber text on a black background. The flexibility and ease of use is remarkable. I like how I can choose to retrieve the information most relevant to me. It is only recently that I have found Twitter to be of any value. I feel like I have scored when I find a link that takes me to a really provocative read. I want my thinking stretched. It is becoming, for me, a form of professional development. It is about my learning.

And, I suppose, that’s it. It’s about the learning: for me, for teachers, and for students. And just like two decades ago, it can be a frivolous exchange or a chance to sharpen our thinking. So it’s about the thinking too. It’s all in how we, as educators, take advantage of it. The back cover on the book encourages the reader to take “advantage of social media for your business or organization.” How do we harness it for schools and for students?  I know teachers are using it—I’ve read about it on Twitter and in blogs. Perhaps, it’s really about busting down the schoolhouse doors. Whether it’s Twitter or some other form of Social Media, we can market it for our own purposes. So the learning can take place anywhere, any time, any place.

It’s Not All About the Technology

I wasn’t really planning to get into this technology “thing.” When I received this new job I discovered technology was part of my portfolio. I tried to give it away. Other parts of my portfolio were siphoned off to members of the Leadership Team (eg. French Languages, French Immersion), but I ended up “stuck” with it. The Deputy Superintendent said something about it needing my vision. I wasn’t really sure what that meant since I’m not an early adopter, a geek or anything bearing any resemblance to a digital native.  I’m the parent that hasn’t had a functional T.V. in our home for over twenty years. Yes, our four boys have grown up without the distraction of television. Ours has been a household of print. Books. Books. And more books. And rather than being glued to a screen of any sort we’ve opted for walking, biking, hiking, and running out in the fresh air. Truly, anything with technology of any substance has not been a significant part of my world. That could be a bit of a blessing in disguise.

So here I am, learning to tweet, blog, and send messages on my blackberry in the middle of meetings.  Now I usually take my laptop with me wherever I go (although its much too heavy for my liking). I’m in the middle of my own immersion plan. I’m buried in reading other districts’ technology plans, trying to get grounded in what 21st century learning really means and experimenting with social media tools. I ask stupid questions of my ICT Helping Teachers (What’s a pingback?) and beg them not to teach me one more thing (“Elisa, have you listened to a podcast yet?”). I understand what it means to be digitally overwhelmed.

In the midst of this, I’m also trying to understand the technology requirements of our schools. What are the burning issues? What are their needs? How does this relate to transforming teaching and learning?  It’s in this context that I was particularly impressed with David Warlick’s piece  on 21st century learning. He is worthy of quoting:

“21st century learning has nothing to do with iPads, iPod Touches, or any piece of technology.  The only thing that is one to one that we should be concerned with is equitable access to rigorous, relevant, and irresistible learning experiences that reflect and harness the times, environment, and ultimate goals of the learning.”

And then he follows it with this. Twenty-first century learning

“…is an experience that is responsive. Learners are not simply passive vessels to be filled.  They are players within a game that plays back.  It is inquiry fueled. It provokes conversations that factor in the learner’s identity and measures his standing. It inspires the personal investment of time and skill. ..and it is guided by safely made mistakes.”

Don’t you just love that? It certainly helps me keep the technology piece in perspective.

Innovate with students at heart

What does it mean to be part of an innovative project? To innovate is to behave in ways that are contrary to the norm. Innovation is the creation of something new from experimentation and study. The Innovative Learning Designs Project is an opportunity for teachers to experiment with their teaching in the context of the 21st century. This project allows teams of teachers to explore new ways of teaching that take advantage of digital tools and the “screenager” mindset. How can we create the best teaching and learning experiences for students? What instructional innovations have the greatest impact on student engagement and learning? What conditions will allow students to take greater ownership of their own learning? As educators, where will our own learning be in this two-year journey?

I have to say I was particularly impressed with the applications we received for this project and the depth of thought invested in developing school action plans. I learned a great deal that I want to share here.

The most powerful tool we have is our brains.  Scherer (2011) emphasizes, “Engagement isn’t a focus on entertainment; it is about brain activity. Is each student’s brain fully engaged?” Teachers were clear that the project was not about the regurgitation of facts but the opportunity for students (and teachers) to transform their thinking by creating new knowledge and understanding. We leverage technology on the digital highway to stretch student thinking. Technology, “…does not drive the learning—the learning intentions come first.” Technology enhances those learning intentions but it is the thinking that is central to improved learning.

It is not about the i-candy (ie, the iPad, iPhone, iPod touch). One school summed it up this way: “From the perspective of the school and the research team members, it is critically important that everyone understands what this research project with the integration of the iPads CANNOT become. The iPads will NOT be used as toys, entertainment devices or as distractions from the learning tasks in the classroom.” And the researchers could not have been more clear that their focus is on improving student learning. How will they do that? By engaging their learners in the four C’s of 21st century learning: communication, critical thinking and problem-solving, creativity and innovation, and collaboration.

Student thinking and learning has shifted. For example, “Students today are texting, emailing, tweeting, face booking, blogging, video chatting, and playing realistic games with others across the country or across the world for extended periods of time. They are familiar with receiving instant, real time action and updates.” Teachers in the project recognize they, “need to explore ways to use students’ digital knowledge to enhance learning, and to use these tools to motivate students.”  When we understand their world, we can hijack their digital interests for our own learning objectives.

Finally, teachers make a fundamental difference in the lives of students. The work of teachers is critical. A good teacher can take an activity or lesson and make it a powerful learning experience.  But it is not just about what a good teacher does with lesson design–it is also about the relationship between student and teacher. For those students that struggle and have disengaged from the system, a thoughtful, caring teacher that understands their world—in this case, a new digital world–can have a powerful impact. No matter how much we innovate in this project, when we keep students at the center of our work and in the centre of our hearts, it is then that we will make the difference.