Tag Archives: professional learning

Leap, Pull, Play: A Framework for Innovative Professional Development

Leap Pull Play Graphic

Creating engagement is not about driving a particular set of behaviors. It is much more about creating an environment in which people feel energized to do the best work of their lives.

Coles Hewett

Massive and global changes in the ways that we learn, connect and live dictate fresh approaches to professional development (PD). The confluence of accelerated learning and the vast array of possibilities with connected and engaged educators creates exciting and challenging conditions for changing practice. PD in a networked organization is fundamentally different from PD in the traditional hierarchy. The difference is that the focus is on exponential change created and promoted by networks of field-based educators committed to sharing their practice and spreading the change. These networks act in concert complementing the more formal structures of the organization.

Professional learning practices, innovation and social movements are inextricably linked. With ideas spreading exponentially, there is indeed an opportunity for a radical social movement among educators. For the purposes of professional learning, this can be best described as an increasingly rapid contagion of ideas, projects, stories and practices that spread. The movement becomes self-propelling, reaching critical mass and, over time, results in new behavioural norms. These norms become habitual and when widely adopted by members of an organization, shift the basic assumptions underlying the culture. The ultimate outcome: widespread adoption throughout the system, and tacit positive transfer of learning creating an enduring impact for all learners.


IMG_5313Effective PD is as individualized for teachers as is learning for students. In many respects, it is about creating the optimal conditions for teachers to flourish in their practice. We believe these conditions are created by embracing uncertainties, encouraging exploration, play and risk-taking with instructional practices. Indeed, this might be the most profound and wonderful time to be a teacher in education.  There is much opportunity to change the nature of learning, the path of our students, and ultimately, impact the world. At the heart of it all, educators want to make a difference and are poised in an essential position to do just that. In truth, many educators have been waiting for this time.


Our framework is a recursive cycle of action, attraction and shared learning that evolves as more and more educators adopt innovative approaches towards their professional practices. We call it Leap, Pull and Play. When applied at the school district level, the framework embodies guiding principles for PD that are leveraged across a systems context, such as:

  • exposing educators to innovative ideas (latest research);
  • offering multiple opportunities to experiment and explore;
  • focusing on evidence of student learning;
  • seeding innovative pilots based on professional inquiry;
  • keeping projects teacher-led, teacher-driven and school-focused;
  • building the capacity of teachers and administrators;
  • creating networks of learning communities;
  • maintaining commitments to ongoing staff development;
  • offering multiple projects aligned with district priorities;
  • adopting a strategy of diffusion for replication; and
  • sharing of learning through social media.


I jumped in with both feet and haven’t looked back.

Karen Lirenman

Where do we begin? Despite knowing that the loss of enthusiasm and disengagement of students is increasing and that there is an urgent need to adopt innovative ways of teaching, school systems and their educators struggle with getting started. Leap is a dramatic action that requires courage and determination to do things differently. Grade 1 teacher Nikki Leech best expresses it:

“The longer you wait the more scared you will be; sometimes you just need to take the leap.”

Nikki Leech

iStock_000009548300XSmallIndividually, and corporately, we need to take a leap to shift our view of self, our beliefs and our practices. Moreover, leap is critical to seeding the diffusion process across the system.

PD strategies in large systems need to create the following: opportunities to challenge the status quo, individual and organizational dissonance, and a compelling vision of a new future that is worthy of adopting. The leap requires courage, commitment and choice. Early adopters and innovators demonstrate their convictions as they springboard into action. They create a model of inspiration and compel others to also take the leap.

Organizational cultures that can embrace uncertainty are more adaptive and this is key in creating an environment where teachers can flourish. For professional learning to cascade across the system, organizations must build a supportive and permissive culture that encourages, acknowledges, validates and celebrates the leap into exploration of new ways of teaching. Multiple diffusion strategies, from the use of social media to creating networks of connected educators, allow the story to spread, creating a tipping point so that innovation, best practice, inquiry, and deep engagement become the norm in the schoolhouse.

System leadership acknowledges this risk-taking, supports early leaders, and provides recognition-creating opportunities to share successes. Highlighting centres of excellence, lead teachers, classrooms, and schools provides a window for others to realize it can be accomplished. When educators leap and are declarative they move their practices and their thinking from conformity to positive deviance, from incremental changes to exponential changes, and from ordinary to extraordinary.

How do we gather the courage to think in these big and bold ways? What creates the motivation and the desire to learn? How do we support teachers to be braver, bolder, and more declarative as we aim for exponential change? How do we pull the organization along in this new direction?


People have to be pulled to innovation. You have to craft activities that draw people to innovate.

Charles Leadbeater

According to John Hagel in his book The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motionprofessional learning is most effective when educators are pulled into their learning by the attraction of the opportunity for change. Pull allows us to harness and unleash the forces of attraction, influence and achievement[1]. Instead of central office pushing teachers to change, educators pull the learning and the requirements they desire to meet their needs. Educators are drawn into and pulled towards the innovation that they find attractive. This pull activates the adult learner’s choice, autonomy, engagement and commitment into the transformation process. “Pull platforms harness their participants’ passion, commitment, desire to learn, thereby creating communication that can improvise and innovate rapidly”[2]. The innovative opportunity acts like a magnet, pulling individuals and the collective organization towards a new way of being, understanding, and delivering their practice.

iStock_000027183263LargeHagel describes this change of pull as one of the big shifts in creating scalability. Leaders design opportunities for the organization to experiment, explore and take risks with their practice and structures for learning. A culture of innovation goes beyond giving mere lip service to good ideas but creates conditions so educators can translate ideas into action. Sometimes our motivation to learn lies dormant and it take exposure to others, to fresh ideas and altered practice to create a desire to learn. As educators take a leap towards new behaviours, they are pulled by the attraction inherent in the change. This pull, together with the leap, invites and encourages the rest of the organization to follow suit.

As Hagel identifies, “The power of pull will become the governing principle for success and those who learn how to use these tools and methods most effectively are the ones who will pull their institutions into a new era of higher performance and achievement, often through the use of edge practices at the core.” It is the invitation to innovation that attracts the educator that is prepared to be an edge player, innovating outside the norms of the organization. These innovative edge practices, as more and more become attracted by the pull, are moved from the outside of the organization into the centre.


Play doesn’t just help us explore what is essential. It is essential in and of itself.

Greg McKeown

According to Greg McKeown in his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, purposely designing opportunities and allowing educators to experiment, explore, take risks and play with their practice is fundamental. He indicates that play is important because it fuels explorations in three ways: broadening the range of options available to us; improving the brain’s executive functions like planning, prioritizing, anticipating, deciding and analyzing; and being an antidote to stress[3].

Red balloon blue skyColleagues come together, think/learn together, are inspired by experts, have conversations, wrestle with significant issues, and share what does and does not work. They explore and apply what they have learned and then share in multiple ways with their peers. When they are engaged in learning together, it becomes a form of play. Educators become inventive. Learning becomes fun and reinvigorating. The joy of learning returns to us and is echoed in our classrooms in our work with students. The joy of play and learning becomes contagious.

The significance of play is amplified in a social context of a shared learning experience and a shared supportive communitiy. This is where the diffusion strategy is activated and creates networks of educators committed to creating the best learning conditions for students. What is most important is engaging in the learning journey together.

In our context, this is really about the power of connected educators committed to a common purpose. It is creating the impetus for educators to begin identifying with and self-organizing a transformational movement. Creating and building social networks is a powerful strategy. Great minds, great ideas, and open sharing across boundaries create new opportunities for accelerated growth, inspiration, and impact.


The solution, which I have seen work astonishingly well, is a second system that is organized as a network…It makes an enterprise easier to run while accelerating strategic change. This is not a question of “either/or.” It’s ‘both/and:’ two systems that operate in concert, a dual operating system.

John Kotter

How do we influence the conditions for teachers to shift their practice to create authentic, rich, and deep learning experiences offering students voice, choice, ownership and inspiration? Where do we find the leverage points for schools/districts to adapt their organizational structures in order for learning to take place in a 24/7 digital world? The viability of our public education system requires today’s educator to wrestle with these questions, engage the whole organization in these essential conversations and create a bias for action that delivers results. Professional learning requires a systemic lens that looks beyond the classroom to the schoolhouse and beyond.

iStock_000027690504LargeIntentionally creating connections across the organization maximizes networks focused on relationships and results in more joy and satisfaction. However, it is the growth in numbers of participants, the depth of learning and the changed behaviour of participants that demonstrate the impact of these innovative approaches. This growth takes place when transformative practices from the edges move to the center.

The real test, however, and the true measure of a system’s approach to professional learning asks two fundamental questions: Does it change teacher and student learning? And, is it changing our institution of education? We need to think beyond the one classroom/one teacher pro-d strategy and look to the transformation of the whole organization. We are not settling for the status quo. Our vision needs to be much grander. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A social movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution.” We are in for a revolution, are you?

[1] Hagel, J., Brown, J.S., & Davison, L. The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion (2010). Deloitte Development LCC, Philadelphia, PA.
[2] ibid.
[3] McKeown, G. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (2014). Random House: New York, NY.

This blog post was part of CEA’s focus on the state of Teacher PD in Canada, which is also connected to Education Canada Magazine’s Teachers as Learners theme issue and The Facts on Education fact sheet, What is Effective Teacher Professional Development? It has been re-posted here.

This post was co-authored by Dr. Elisa Carlson and Dr. Donna VanSant. Both share a fascination for innovation, leadership, organizational health, school culture and system change.

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 Year of Wonder: Riding the Wave of Learning

My staff describe it as a “year of wonder.” Sometimes we call it a tsunami and just want to ride the wave without crashing. Other times we refer to it as a fire beginning to flame across the district. We consider it as seeding pockets of innovation we want to take root and spread organically as connected and rooted networks. We liken it to Leadbeater’s “radical social movement.” The Global Educational Leaders program, refers to this as a strategy of diffusion. These are all metaphors to help us understand our work. Supporting teachers in their own learning is central for me. When teachers are passionately engaged in their learning (and when I am passionately engaged in my learning), it spills over to the students. It transforms us all. So just what were the pieces in this “year of wonder?”

 Innovative Learning Designs (Phase 1)
A year ago we announced the 18 schools that were awarded grants as part of the Innovative Learning Designs schools (ILD), Phase 1. I started my blog for this purpose. These grants provided a set of iPads (this was our first push to go mobile and begin to encourage BYOD) along with open wireless (this was start of getting our Board to fund Open Wireless across the district) for each school. The grant, however, was focused on learning and not hardware or wireless. I write about it here.

The Engaging the Digital Learner Series
We realized that as educators we needed to find a way to engage our learners. We designed a series open to both Administrators and Teachers entitled Engaging the Digital Learner. We managed to have four evening sessions in the midst of job action that were truly amazing. We had Chris Kennedy, David Warlick, David Vandergugten and Joe Morelock keynote this series. You can read about it here.  Again, the series exceeded our expectations and we had fabulous feedback. Teachers were hungry for this kind of inspiration and information. We kept the groups at the same tables throughout the series in the hopes that some key contacts would be made and that it might spawn other organic connections across the district. And, it did.

The Digital Discovery Series
This series ran parallel to the one above. We provided iPads to all administrators. The Superintendent and Deputy were key in making that happen. Part of the decision to do this was because some administrators were not interested in or providing much leadership in the area of digital integration in the schools. We needed to find a way to capture their interest and educate them to become technology leaders. We also wanted them to use it to encourage their own professional learning It led to the launch of our three-part dinner Digital Discovery Series (George Couros spoke at one, Alec Couros spoke at the other and Bryan Hughes did the first one as a bootcamp). Details are here. Our district hadn’t done anything like this in a long time and the administrators were very appreciative. We had tons of excellent feedback on this initiative.

Cadres of Digital Champions
We created Cadres of Digital Champions (a team of three educators at every school). We provided iPads to every Teacher-Librarian and Technology Contact at every school so they could join forces with Administrators in providing some interest in digital literacy.  We were, however, limited by job action in how this manifested itself. We also left it up to the schools and these teams to determine how, and if, they chose to work together. It was about creating the opportunity should others choose to step into it. Find out about it here.

Core Digital Coaches
From the above group, we asked for volunteers that wanted to become a core team of Digital Coaches to provide support to their larger group. Remember, we are a very large school district. There are 124 schools in our district so that meant we had 124 Technology Contacts, close to 100 potential Teacher Librarians and over 225 Administrators.  When we requested volunteers we were overwhelmed with interest. We picked sixty people (20 admin, 20 T-Ls, 20 Tech Contacts, 20 Administrators) to be our core team of Digital Coaches. They are supposed to support and help mentor the others. In return, we provided them with advance training and opportunities to be involved in other initiatives. We also see them as our way of keeping our ears open to the needs of the field, consulting them for key advice along the way.

“Movers & Shakers” 
We are starting a “movers & shakers” group. We planned this last spring but couldn’t activate it during job action. These are the teachers providing leadership in the area of technology across our district that are not necessarily involved in any projects. Digital Coaches and Cadre members are intentionally excluded from this group. We looked for teachers that were providing school and/or district leadership in the area of digital integration. We wanted teachers that were making active use of social media to spread ideas about best practice. Our purpose is to recognize, acknowledge and provide them support. We also want them, in return, to continue to provide leadership and mentor others. This is a mixed group of forty teachers. Our first initiative is to bring them together for a session with George Couros.

Teacher Librarians Navigating the Digital Space:
We are encouraging our T-Ls to become Digital Impressarios. We are also now receiving applications from at least 12 librarians who want to move further along the spectrum into becoming a Learning Commons.  Many of them are already doing this. We are just finding a way to provide them with additional support. The interested T-L’s have submitted applications and will be announced mid-June. Next year they will meet together and explore what it means to be a learning commons in our context. They will define this work together. Lisa Domeier (@librarymall) and Sarah Guilmant-Smith, have been the key Teacher-Librarian Helping Teachers behind this work.

Out of Their Heads:
We have two Fine Arts schools in our district that our now jointly collaborating on a project. You can read more about the project and its anchoring philosophies at their website. Amy Newman (@amnewish), District Helping Teacher, was instrumental in its development.

Making Thinking Visible:
We have 9 teachers (across schools) that are part of an innovative, one-to-one project called Making Thinking Visible. This is a different project in that the teachers were hand-picked for being excellent teachers but most of them were not necessarily engaged in the digital space (except for one of them—Karen Lirenman). We want to see what happens when outstanding teachers begin to add technology to their practice….There is no website for that project. It is still in its infancy.  We refer to it as a “field study.” Christy Northway, District Principal (Literacy and Early Learning) is working with these teams.

Innovative Learning Designs (Phase 2):
We just announced another 40 elementary schools as part of ILD, Phase 2. We are scaling up our very first initiative. We refined our application process to make sure we were more explicit about our district’s guiding framework (collaborative inquiry, assessment, differentiated instruction). We also anchored it in twenty-first century literacy and kept it school–based and teacher driven. The applications submitted were amazing. You can read about it here.

E-text Project:
We also wanted to dip our toe into the digital realm and make some shifts from print to digital resources. While we are not necessarily fans of e-texts (they are still in their infancy), we felt we might leverage this to shift practice. JB Mahli (@JB_mahli), Social Studies Helping Teacher, initiated this project. We have a video about it embedded in the blog post.

We have also promoted the use of twitter as a way of furthering conversations about best practice. This is the purpose of the #sd36learn hashtag. You can read about my own personal journey with twitter here. The post was just published in the BCPVPA provincial journal that goes out to all BC administrators in our province.

There are many, many other creative projects that come out of the Education Services department that are also innovative: The Numeracy Project, the Early Numeracy Project, the Secondary Focus project, etc. For this post, I have just described the key ones that have a digital component.

How have others viewed these initiatives? Kevin Amboe (@amboe_k), IML Helping Teacher, described this past year this way, “While an incredible challenge with being a bargaining year and essentially work to rule most of the year, we also moved this district further forward in inquiry, innovation and collaboration than I have seen in the past 8 years doing this position.”

Amy Newman, Research & Asssessment Helping Teacher, describes her own journey, “on a personal note, involvement in some of the technology innovations has moved me from an interested bystander to an active engaged and eager participant- hooked on twitter, excited to be blogging and working with teachers on these blogs, as well as sharing all kinds of learning with teachers at all levels. I actively seek out and curate new ideas apps and strategies related to learning through technology and it has transformed my thinking, my learning and shifted my mindset.”

And as Kevin reflects, “the pace of inquiry, innovation, and collaboration was like a river rushing through a canyon. I am hoping that we can either find a back eddy to rest or that we reach the delta. This has been an energizing year, but I don’t think the pace is sustainable.” We are seeking ways as District staff to support this work in a way that continues to build capacity at the school level. If we have met our diffusion strategy successfully, we will soon be able to step back and let the work that launched itself go viral of its own accord.


Thank you to George Couros (@gcouros) for prompting this post. He requested a summary of what we were doing in our district. After he read it, he asked that it be made public for others to access.

Thanks to the whole team of amazing Helping Teachers who have created and supported this new work.

Thanks to the IMS Department (and @dj_turner) for allowing us to ride this tsunami.

And some stats compliments of their department: Surrey School District has 124 schools, 4,000+ teachers, 70,000 students, 8,000 laptops(mac/pc), 11,000 desktops(mac/pc), almost 4,500 iPads, 60 IT professionals, 25+ Helping Teachers,  and daily priceless moments…

Playing in the New Sandbox

I have been playing in a new sandbox. I have been trying out our district’s SurreySchools.ca site (click on graphic to make it larger). This is a new Sharepoint platform that is designed to bring people in our organization together and create some efficiency around our work. School districts like West Vancouver, Vancouver, Coquitlam, and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows all use this same platform, although I understand each district’s version is quite different.

People might not know but our platform went through a “silent” release last week (Oops~I don’t think I am supposed to share that publicly). That means all teachers and staff can now access their own internal web page. I had access earlier but hadn’t really taken time to “play” in the site. I decided, however, that if I was going to figure out the vision of this thing (connecting us as educators and providing us with a forum for collaboration) I better get in and make the vision happen.  It seemed to me that the only way to really do that was to set up a “group” and invite some educators to play along with me.  Here is how I am moving the sand around in this new box and what I am thinking as I explore it.

1. It’s all about connecting our learning.
For me, the group section of SurreySchools.ca is the most interesting feature; it holds both the promise and potential for deep learning by connecting educators. I started exploring by setting up a group for my f2f Network (see below).  I chose to make this group closed so that no one else could see the site (or my mistakes!). I would prefer to “play” and experiment with a small group before I launch wider to ensure I design something that is useful for others.

I wrote a description for the group on the site itself. I added what I thought might be the most useful features. I posted a Special Announcement (Last session for the 2011/12 year), a regular Announcement (Don’t forget to pick up your book, The Connected Educator, before you leave our session), I listed emails for key contacts external to our group, and posted the invitation to our session as a Shared Document. That was just the front page that set the context for our group.

2. It’s all about sharing resources.
Have you ever scrambled at the last minute to find just the right video clip to kick off a discussion, presentation or staff meeting? This could be a solution. In the Resources Tab, I included description of its purpose: a place to find useful links, videos, quotes, etcetera so we might have a “toolkit” of resources at our fingertips. I started by posting the New Brunswick video on 21st Century Learning and the video on the Murmuration of Starlings. We used the latter to discuss our leadership and how when one of us moves it triggers others to move as well. There are more clips to be posted and I’m hoping others in the group will begin to add them as well.

3. It’s all about sharing the wisdom.
One of the purposes of this group was to keep me connected to the field. I wanted the ideas and needs of others to inform my work. We can now use the Discussion Board as a way to facilitate these conversations.  In the Discussion tab, I included a description of its purpose. I posted my first question on the Discussion Board: How can we encourage the development of organic networks focused on learning? There may be more provocative questions but that one represents my current wondering. I believe in the power of networked educators and want to facilitate that across the district. We learn best when we are connected to others that have the same burning questions as us. I look forward to insights from my network.

4. It’s about playing.
As much as it might be about my work and my learning, it is also about “playing” in the sandbox with others as we explore the journey together.  When one frames their “work” as “play,” it feels different. It can be more about bringing a playful attitude to the exercise, being more open to possibilities, less critical about what we don’t like or isn’t working, and a commitment to making it fun. For me, it is about finding joy in the work I do and appreciating the work of others in the same sandbox. I know I can be the first to see the glass half empty and therefore I have to choose my frame of reference. I articulate this carefully because I know I need to work hard at bringing this very attitude to everything I do.

I am curious to see how others in our organization will make this platform work for them and their own networks. I see a place for principals and vice-principals to do their planning in the sandbox. I see opportunity for teams across the district, whether engaged in The Numeracy Project or The Innovative Learning Designs (Phase 1 & 2) or something else, to connect. Grade 1 teachers across the district could link in here and share their lesson planning and ideas about improving student learning. Anyone engaged in collaborative inquiry can record their journey and make it a place for sharing their joint thinking about their purposes. There is great possibility in the dream. We can connect, we can collaborate and we can “play” in the sandbox together.

Are you ready for it?

SchoolSchools.ca is currently in “silent” release. The Go Live date for both external and internal users is August 20th. 

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

• 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
   (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

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!

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.