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Archive for April, 2011

Today, I am presenting at the Ontario Public Supervisory Officials’ Association Annual Conference (an equivalent group to the BC Superintendents Association) on their theme of Leading and Energizing Learning.

My presentation includes passages from my Opening Day presentation last fall in West Vancouver, the TEDxUBC presentation in October and a talk on personalized learning I gave in November. It is a wonderful opportunity to highlight some of the current, innovative practices in our district.  It is also about revisiting where we have been over the past 12 months, and an opportunity to begin specifically mapping where we need to go in the next 12.  Hopefully, the presentation will pull together a range of themes I and others in our district have been talking about, writing about and working together on over the year.

While I know sharing the slides of a presentation never really does the presentation justice, here is the slidedeck:

Here are the key messages I want to convey:

  • While we have a very strong system which produces excellent results, the status quo is not an option
  • West Vancouver — with its strong history of private schools — creates a unique set of circumstances different from most other areas of the province
  • We talk a lot about technology, but the first step is to develop learning plans and then we can determine how technology will support these plans
  • We have made tremendous strides with supporting teachers, but a lot more needs to be done
  • The biggest change for us over the next 12 months will be giving students greater ownership of their learning
  • We (as leaders) need to model the way

And, as the title of this post states, it IS about the team and not the tools.  We have an exceptional group of teachers and administrators leading the way in West Vancouver, with a supportive and progressive Board of Education, actively engaged parents, and students who are thirsty for relevant and engaging experiences.

It is truly an honour to tell our story.

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In an earlier post, Parents as Participants, the initial impetus came from A Vision for 21st Century Education, a document released last December that made the argument — the roles of students, teachers and parents need to change as our education system evolves. Over the past two months, each of our schools has considered what “parents as participants” to improve student learning would look like in their schools, and meetings have been held with students, staff and parents.

Here are some of the common themes and suggestions that have emerged:

  • Share expertise with class / school (guest speaker)
  • Volunteer (in class or with extra-curricular)
  • Engage with newsletters / websites / blogs / planners, etc.
  • Show interest in your child’s work and answer their questions (help but don’t do the work)
  • Give your child descriptive feedback
  • Build relationships with teachers and other adults at school
  • Educate yourself on the changing classroom (and rethink what you know about school)
  • Encourage healthy behaviours at home (eating, sleeping, time management, boundary setting)
  • Jump in with technology alongside your child
  • Extend the learning outside of class hours (family trips, extension activities, etc.)
  • Model that you are a learner, for your child
  • Communicate regularly with school
  • Value the administrators’, teachers’ and staffs’ professional roles in your child’s school
  • Help set learning goals for your child (co-planners)
  • Foster independence

Here is one particularly clever and thoughtful summary from Bowen Island Community School. Thanks to Jennifer Pardee (Principal) and Scott Slater (Vice-Principal) for sharing it:

In thinking about “Parent as Participant” we were thinking of a performance which had:

1.   Parent on Stage, Modelling

  • Model an interest in school by reading Newsletters, Website, Twitterfeeds, etc.
  • Model Lifelong Learning by sharing with students what they are learning themselves and perhaps
    doing their own readings about topics in school
    Model Citizenship by joining PAC or volunteering in other ways
  • Share expertise with classes

2.   Rehearsal, Coach

  • Answer questions about homework and discuss ‘big ideas’ of learning
  • Show interest in both the process of creating and the creation itself
  • Remember that it is the student’s performance and that while the parent can help, it is they who have to be able to perform alone

3.   Parent in Audience, Child on Stage (stage = assignment/authentic transfer task) Audience

  • Stay in your seat and give them some space
  • Read what your child writes, clap for it, make the writing/reading experience a performance with the accountability a performance entails

4.   Backstage / Connector

  • After the performance, give more descriptive feedback than simple applause: what did they do well, what do they think they need to work on to get better, what will they do differently next time.
  • What connections can be made between the show/learning, and other aspects of experience?
  • Ask child, what can you do now? Where can you go next?

5.   Next Show: Facilitator

  • If the child knows where they want to go next, help them — family field trips, etc.

Idea: for parents to take time in their busy lives to be deliberate as coaches and models for their children; to explain to them not just how they support learning and the school in general, but why, and in doing so impress the point of the importance of education and the need for numerous influences on learning.

This is an important conversation we look forward to continuing, and we would like you to help continue the conversation.


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I was reminded last week of a video I saw when I was in Grade 4 at Woodward Elementary School – the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest:

I remember being sucked right in.

Of course, the tools have changed. In recent years, Alan November has done a great job of sharing the web equivalents of the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest in:

All About Explorers

Dog Island Free Forever

Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus

Victorian Robots

Just as so many of us learned how to find the author, publisher and other pertinent information with books and magazines, these skills are more important than ever. I was convinced that we were winning this battle, but several visits to classrooms lately, and through conversations with students, I’ve come to the conclusion that we  need to do more to reinforce the idea that just because “Google” puts it at the top of the list on a search, doesn’t mean it is any more valuable that the other results. As we unleash more students in one-to-one situations in an era of personally-owned devices, information literacy is just as important now as it was when we learned how to find the author of a book.

Again, Alan November is helpful with this. Some of the skills he advocates for include:

One way I have seen this done (in a Grade 6 class in our district) was that the teacher required students using a website for a project to not only give the URL but also include WHO wrote the information on the site, WHAT the purpose is for the site, WHEN the site was last updated, WHERE the information comes from and WHY the information is useful for the project. This is inline with the suggestions that come from Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators.

Information literacy is not new, but the tools have changed. As the number of devices continue to increase, and we put them in kids’ hands at younger ages, we need to be sure that information literacy is a key aspect of our instruction.

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I had the wonderful opportunity to read several essays written by Grade 6 and 7 students in the West Vancouver School District about how Canadians can promote peace in the world. Our “new generation” does understand that technology can play a key role in this.

Here is an excerpt from Sayeh (Grade 7 student):

We, as Canadian students, have the privilege of being educated and the right to speak up for global issues. Therefore, we can promote peace in the world by raising awareness in nations where people cannot speak up for their rights. You might not believe it, but it’s the reaction of the rest of the world which makes these brutal governments rethink their actions. And now, the generation of youth in these suffering nations has new ways to spread their message to the rest of the world and connect to our youth through advanced technology and social media. With these new communications, learning can occur quickly and the message can be spread.

Sayeh recognizes there is much more to social media than Facebook with her
friends. She sees social media as having the power to influence change around the world.

Genevieve, (Grade 6 student) also recognizes this potential when she discussed how young people can make a difference:

How, you ask? We live in a technology generation, and we can use it! All of us can email our MP, our Premier, and our Prime Minister. We can let them know about issues that are worrying us and about what we want them to do about it. We can use websites such as YouTube to tell people around the globe about issues that we want the whole world to know about, and to get them to be concerned and help those affected. We can create websites; write blogs, or use twitter and Facebook to contact people! There are endless possibilities.

Genevieve breaks down the stereotype about how young people spend their time online. This generation is growing up recognizing they can use technology to help promote change. We are a well-educated and connected country, province and district; these students are absolutely right that we have the ability to leverage social media networking to help promote change. We have a long way to go, but with the reflective thinking of Sayeh and Genevieve, it is evident we are on our way to embedding the powerful, positive use of technology with our kids.

Thanks to Tara Zielinski for sharing these essays with me.

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As a follow-up to The Digital Coalition which considered the power of our network to lead the evolution in K-12 education, I want to focus on one of the most common presentation themes – our own children.

I first encountered the approach in a discussion by Will Richardson about five years ago and, since then almost every presenter I see, hear, or read  about educational reform, evokes the example of his or her own school-aged children at some point during the presentation. I saw it last fall when Brett Conkin explained what attracted him to take on the TEDxUBC project, to our District Principal of Technology and Innovation, Gary Kern, who speaks about his three school-aged children. And, in many of my own discussions about system change, I often reference my own kids.

There’s a very good reason why we do so. It boils down to this – we are deeply concerned that, left to the natural progression of such things, it will take 10 to 20 years to bring about the changes we believe are needed. At that rate, our own children will not benefit from the change. This is the urgency that is driving many of us.

Yet, this urgency for change is not currently reflected in the larger community. After all, we have an outstanding system and we have a familiar system. Parents see a system that closely resembles the one they attended as a student and that is reassuring. I know I am reassured by the similarities in my kids’ schooling to mine, but I also realize that their world is vastly different from the one I graduated into 20 years ago.

We – many of us who blog and tweet on the topic on a regular basis – are between the ages of 35 and 50 (yes, I know this is a sweeping and slightly exaggerated generalization). We are established in our careers, many of us have moved into positions of teacher/administrative leadership and we have young families with children in the system now. We applaud the systematic evolution of the educational system, the growing student engagement and the increased relevance in learning.

But if it doesn’t happen quickly enough, our own kids will miss out on the benefits.

It is this that drives a lot of our urgency. I am a bit selfish — I want the system I believe in, and envision for my own kids. I also want it for your kids; and all kids — but it is not okay with me if it takes another decade until we embrace digital devices in schools, it is not okay if we continue to perpetuate schooling as a 9-3 activity, and it is not okay for me as a parent to not have greater engagement.

I know we are in the midst of something big. And to be clear, there are amazing things happening in our schools. That said, it is GO time, for our kids, and for all kids.

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Right or wrong, the word “coalition” carries with it sinister connotations these days in our run-up to the May 2nd Federal Election, but taken to its true definition, the concept of a coalition has enormous potential for all of us connecting here in the digital space. I feel part of a digital community that has dozens of regular contributors and, from time to time, swells to hundreds and even thousands of people who are passionate about education.

Speaking from the standpoint of my own learning network, we are an eclectic mix. We are students, teachers, school-based administrators, district administrators, elected officials, ministry personnel, parents and others in the community. The core group of my network is based in British Columbia, but it also draws on expertise from across Canada and around the world. Within the group are some who are very connected to formal structures of influence (union leadership, parent council chairs, etc.), yet it also includes others who provide valued insights from the viewpoint of unrelated fields. Our group has both public and private school staff working side-by-side to improve our system. We also have the attention of traditional media outlets which follow our thoughts and discussions. We are quite a group!

Nevertheless, as we have all mused about the system over the last several months, I realize how much we do have in common in our thinking. While we disagree around the edges of some issues, we have much more that unites us than divides us.

So, I have been wondering:

How do we move from being a connected network to becoming a group of influence?

How can we aggregate our thinking in a way that has influence in the larger community?

A couple posts related to this have struck me lately. I loved reading the inaugural post from 4 moms 1 dream; a great example of a grass-roots movement to help rethink schooling. I was also struck by Jason Leslie’s recent post where he pondered  the kind of education he wants for his children. Pretty exciting stuff.

I do worry, at times, that the digital space tends to reassure the engaged and converted rather than expanding and recruiting new input for our group.

Of course, there are efforts to do just what I am writing about. This summer, I am planning to participate in  Unplug’d – The Canadian Education Summit which examines this issue from a Canadian perspective. Many reading this will also likely be attending Edcamp Vancouver which is a great bypass of traditional structures and hierarchies.

I just think there is more we can be doing to take advantage of our group on a provincial or more local stage. We have all the traditional partners represented in our community, we are supported by outside experts and we are passionate and committed to a great system.

So, instead of waiting for someone else to produce something that we respond to, how can we take the lead?

I don’t think we realize how powerful our digital coalition is or can be.

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