Tag Archives: transformation

The Structures of Innovation

 

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.

Steve Jobs

Historical ruins in Philadelphia

Historical ruins in Philadelphia

I have a fascination with structures. Whether these are the physical structures of cityscapes, the formal systems in organizations or the informal structures hidden in organizations, how they are created, used, morph, disappear and replaced, intrigues me. The structures, in schools and districts, are the patterns and frameworks through which innovation and system change move. There is the visible and the invisible—each part playing a powerful role in system transformation. In the work we do, it is the structures that can give us opportunities for change, coherence, meaning and, ultimately, reorganization. Never underestimate the power of an intentional, strategic and well-designed structure to transform the learning environment.

The old reflected in the new

The old reflected in the new

At the start of this past summer I travelled to Philadelphia. The city has a unique backdrop of historical and contemporary significance. It has deep roots with one of the oldest original settlements together with the home of Benjamin Franklin in juxtaposition with contemporary skyscrapers such as the Comcast building. Wikipedia described it citizens in the early twentieth century as “dull and contented with its lack of change”, but the city, and the people, as demonstrated at the International Society of Technology Education (ISTE) Conference, has been transformed into one of the top 10 US cities to visit and a hub of 21st century learning.

Jordan Tinney, Superintendent, Elisa Carlson, Director of Instruction and Dan Turner, Director of IMS
Jordan Tinney, Superintendent, Elisa Carlson, Director of Instruction & Dan Turner, Director of IMS

This year’s conference brought the added excitement of our district receiving the ISTE 2015 Sylvia Charp Award for District Innovation in Technology for our commitment to technology planning focused on transformative learning. We are the first school district in Canada to win this prestigious award. In early summer, we were recognized on an international stage among 20,000 peers. It took intentional and strategic structures—both formal, informal, and hidden–to get us to that place in the spotlight. Our technology ecosystem incorporates the key structures that allow the organization to become a learning place of significance.

Surrey Schools is considered a national leader by educators and Chief Technology Officers alike for its initiatives in planning, building, and integrating technology into education. Whether it is our Innovative Learning Designs strategies, our Learning Commons conversions, our Makerspaces movement, the Making Learning Visible e-portfolio partnership with FreshGrade, or our social media branding, our learning is carefully crafted in organizational structures, requirements, and guiding principles that create the conditions for learning to flourish.

Our technology ecosystem aligns to a shared technology vision that replaced isolating silos with collaborative cross-discipline teams and, more recently, to a refreshed transformative district vision for learning: Learning by Design (LbD).

The Ecosystem Structure

The Ecosystem Structure

The ecosystem emphasizes collaboration and engagement within a progressive governance model, integrating five essential components: Leadership, Professional practice, Schoolhouse, Technology toolbox and Partnerships. At the heart and centre of our ecosystem is the learner.

The technology ecosystem infuses and promotes innovation in the classroom, professional inspiration and learning, building school communities and networks, the transformative use of technology tools, and optimal planning efforts tied to appropriate resource allocation.

Our teachers transform learning in their classrooms and schools. Through technology, they are creating personalized opportunities for authentic student engagement and deep learning that go beyond the cursory completion of prescriptive learning outcomes. Technology has helped teachers create fresh opportunities for student voice, choice and ownership that are grounded in the core competencies of critical and creative thinking, contemporary forms of communicating and real ways of expressing personal and social responsibility.

Organizational design + Infrastructure

Organizational design + IT Infrastructure

Our transformative change was fueled in 2010 by the district’s strategic requirement for school-site specific learning plans to accompany any hardware requests. These plans included learning-focused questions, professional learning opportunities, collaborative inquiry teams of teachers and the explicit sharing of learning through social media. All of those requirements were predicated on an Information Technology (IT) infrastructure that was foundational for these organizational changes. The IT department, beginning over a decade prior, had worked systematically to create the hidden structures, networks, wiring closets, bandwidth and more, which made new forms of learning possible.

The Sylvia Charp Award acknowledges our systemic approach to the diffusion of pedagogical practices that are underpinned by teacher-led inquiry and embedded learning. It also recognizes the professionalism and commitment of teachers engaged in the process of continuous improvement, supported by the districts nurturing ecosystem. And finally, the Award acknowledges the collaborative work of the Education Services department’s focus on learning with an IT department that is committed to both anticipating and removing the barriers to that learning.

IMG_5367 (1)What’s next for us? We will build capacity within the system to create new and ever evolving structures, provide appropriate tools and experiment with new forms of learning. We will continue to share our stories, learning and inspiration with each other (#sd36learn) and our peers around the globe. We will provide opportunities for teachers to “see” into each others’ classrooms, observing, reflecting, exploring and playing with new notions of teaching and learning. These classrooms and schools will act as Learning Studios and Learning Labs where the exploration, play and sharing of practice on a peer-to-peer level is nurtured.

The district’s strategic organizational structures, together with the tools we use, the technology infrastructure, resources and learning support, will help us to further understand, embrace and expand this intentional learning by design across the system. Surrey School’s technology ecosystem – with our learners firmly at the centre – continues to create and build the capacity for our continued learning evolution.

 

Note: For more information on the District’s strategic work on transforming learning, see cover article in October issue of T.H.E. Journal. Thank you to Dan Turner (@dj_turner), Lisa Domeier (@librarymall), and Jeff Unruh (@unruh_j) for participating in with T.H.E. Journal photoshoot. For more information on the district’s IT department, see wickedproblems.ca.  See Superintendent Dr. Tinney’s (@jordantinney) blog at jordantinney.org for related stories. Big thanks to the #sd36learn tribe who are creating, designing and living the change. You have been my cheerleaders.

A Window into Learning

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

Dr. Jordan Tinney, Superintendent, CNN

A Window into a Child's Learning

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surrey School’s Vision

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

Making Learning Visible: Transforming learning through assessment.

Surrey School’s Electronic Assessment Goal

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

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

The Project Plan

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

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

About the Tool

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

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

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

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

Looking Forward

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

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

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

 

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

The Rock & The Whirlpool: Navigating the Dilemma Dance

Photo Credit: SergioTudela via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: SergioTudela via Compfightcc

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Today is a good day via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Today is a good day via Compfight cc

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ • • • • • • • ~

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

Igniting the Passion: Celebrating Our Learning

iStock_000014927638Small
“People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation.”
Joshua Heschel

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

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

    Charles Schultz

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

My Top 3 Blog Posts:

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

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

Three Good Ideas That Spread Across our District:

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

Three New Promising Pilots:

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

Three Great Books:

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

Things I Read that Mattered:

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

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

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

Events that Challenged by Thinking:

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

Tech-Related Projects that were Fun:

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

Provocative Quotes that Need Action:

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

Ricocheting in my Brain:

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

My Disappointments:

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

Not Much of a Top Three, Is it?

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

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

Next year will be better—I know it.

It will be a time to dance.

 

What’s your rock?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Insanely Great Learning: Are we creating it?

Do we have insanely great learning? What does it look like? Can we describe it using the power of story? Can we act as if this is going to be a transformational year for our classroom, our school, and our organization? These are the challenges from Nigel Barlow, author of the book Re-Think: How to think differently and keynote speaker at the recent Apple Canada Educational Leadership Institute. I was fortunate to hear Nigel speak on innovation in leadership and how to be more adventurous in achieving your goals.

“You can create or invent a more successful future for your organization,” encourages Nigel Barlow. The key is to have a possibility mindset where you think, “Why not?” or “What if?” rather than “Yes, but…” Steve Jobs wanted to create “insanely great products.” Design was important to him and the team at Apple. They wanted to design the icons to be so aesthetically pleasing that people would want to lick them off the ipad.  The image sticks with you. Can we create our vision of the future of learning with the same kind of intense metaphor? Can we write the future of learning as a series of stories? What would “insanely great learning” look like for students? And what does “insanely great teaching” look like? Am I providing “insanely great leadership?”

In our work, do we use the power of story to invent the future? As Barlow states, “Stories communicate the future in a way that bulletin points will not do.” He gives the example of the Good Samaritan. Jesus could have used a mission statement like “Be kind” but instead chose to invoke the power of the story. Story has an emotional and visionary impact. Story can touch our hearts and minds and move us in such a way that we want to live the story.

In Barlow’s session, we did not work on creating a mission or vision for our organization. Instead, he walked us through some story instructions for “Inventing our Future.” We worked in teams at our table to identify the most inspiring and exciting ideas that struck us during the Institute.  We were to record these and use them as the ‘Ingredients Of Our Story.’  This was a crucial step to the story. Then the group had to choose a viewpoint from inside or outside the school (eg. student, teacher, parent, etc.) and weave our ideas into a brief ‘Day in the Life’ set ahead two years in time.  He asked us to ensure it was achievable but push out the boundaries, to use humour and creativity and focus on attitudinal and behavioural changes. The teams shared out at the end of the session, either reading the stories or showing the movies that each group had created. It was some intense work but allowed people to invent a future that capitalized on some of the fabulous ideas we had explored throughout the conference.

I met with a small group recently and used Nigel Barlow’s ideas to talk about Creating a Legend for Insanely Great Learning.  The slideshare includes some of his ideas and also two links to videos where Barlow shares his ideas.

This was an opportunity for those in the room to think about their work in fresh ways.  One leader found the session “therapeutic…very refreshing.” Another participant described it as “just what they needed.” The session was designed to be an opportunity to create some dissonance, push against some organizational stereotypes and ponder some different possibilities. We need to take more opportunities to pause and think about our work in reflective ways that allow us to move forward. It was fascinating to see how one principal in the room was already creating the story of the future. She was learning iMovie: filming teachers and students in their great learning moments as a way to capture the story of her school going forward.

What does insanely great learning look like? Can you tell the story? Are you living the story? Is this a transformational year for you, your class, your school and the district?

Perhaps T.E. Lawrence was more prophetic that we realize:

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

Dream on.

Credit for the ideas in this post go to Nigel Barlow. Thanks to Apple Canada for inviting me to the Educational Leadership Institute. Thanks to Donna Vansant for her help in pulling some of these pieces together for presentation to my f2f network.

Who Owns the Learning?

In too many cases, we bolt new technologies on top of current learning tools in the standard learning environment, which effectively means we give our kids a thousand-dollar pencil.


Alan November

In Alan November’s new book, he asks the crucial question: Who Owns the Learning?  This well-designed title intentionally creates some cognitive dissonance for us as educators. Who does own the learning? Have you asked yourself that question? Whether we are teachers, principals, district consultants or district administrators: Who owns the learning?  How would you answer that?

Alan November then goes on to describe how we can prepare students for success in the Digital Age. He has two central ideas: students need ownership in the learning and they must have purposeful work.  It is no different for students than for us as educators. He cites Daniel Pink’s work in Drive as key to understanding how this motivates all of us to do high quality work.

November uses the analogy of a farm to create a model for changing education. In the old days, children were required to participate in meaningful work that contributed to the family’s success. He suggests that we need to think of the classroom as a Digital Learning Farm. This requires using technology to change the nature of the roles and relationships between educators and students. He gives three first steps to get started:
1. Increase the autonomy of students.
2. Publish student work to a global audience.
3. Create a community of contribution within the classroom.

For students to own their learning, they need important student jobs that are meaningful and prepare them for success in the future. He outlines four key roles for students: tutorial designers, student scribes, student researchers, and global communicators/collaborators. As teachers create the learning environments where students can flourish in these new roles, students become contributors to the curriculum, engaging in problem-solving, critical thinking and global communication. This is the new Digital Learning Farm.

He is clear that, “Simply adding technology—the thousand-dollar pencil—to the current highly prescribed school culture won’t help very much.” It is the changed roles and relationships that are paramount. Central to this, from my perspective as well, is the power of the teacher in creating these learning conditions. It is the teacher who designs these powerful learning opportunities. As he emphasizes, the role of teacher as guide, mentor, facilitator, and instructor has never been quite as critical in shifting the learning. It is the teacher who shows students how “to use information and communication technologies to innovate, solve problems, create, and be globally connected. “

Who owns the learning? It is a question worth asking.

Thanks to Amy Newman (@amnewish) who recommended this book. Schools in the Innovative Learning Designs project have been sent a copy of this book along with The Connected Educator. Antonio Vendramin, Principal at George Vanier,  also writes about Alan  November here

 

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…