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Archive for February, 2012

Each school and school district has their amazing stories about the people who are there, and it is particularly wonderful when those on the outside shine a light on excellence in the system.  While there are many candidates who are deserving of an award, I would like to share the powerful and individual stories of three award winners from our school district; their stories are powerful, but the stories also transcend the winners, and speak to the wonders we see each day in our schools.

Arlene Anderson is a recent winner of the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence.

I have written a post about Arlene before (here), in describing our technology innovators in classrooms across West Vancouver.  The press release around her Award for Teaching Excellence well describes her as the ”techno-wiz teacher–librarian [who] inspires students and…reinvents [the] school library. If the school is an atom, the library is its nucleus where energy and enthusiasm fuel ideas.”

Arlene is always learning; she has made efforts to be familiar with, and lead, the use of noodle bib to help students create annotated bibliographies, wikis and voice threads. She has led staff in the development of scope and sequence for technology, and in understanding the importance of crediting the correct source, finding the original source of information, as well as understanding how to determine if the source is accurate or not.

She is also a side-by-side teacher with her colleagues, as in working with a science teacher to teach students how to create a wiki, find correct information on the Internet and check sources. In this project, there were five classes: the first group of students wrote out their research on a wiki, the next group checked the sources/accuracy then added information, the third group also checked and added…etc., and when all five classes had spent time working on these wikis, they had created a powerful document on body systems. Each class had a group of students working on each topic.

Arlene models the way for teacher librarians, at the heart of our schools, embracing technology to support students and their learning.

Diane Nelson  has been awarded one of Canada’s Outstanding Principals, as recognized by the Learning Partnership.

Diane is the founder of the West Vancouver School District’s Premier Sport Academies, which include hockey, soccer, tennis, baseball and golf.  Diane is a dedicated, well-respected advocate for today’s youth. Along with her 28 years of experience in education as a teacher and administrator, Diane has obtained her Bachelor of Education, Diploma in Counselling Psychology, and Master’s degree in Educational Administration, all from the University of British Columbia.

In my letter of support for Diane, I wrote:  “In my role as superintendent I receive many accolades for the success of our academy programs. I am often asked what others can do to build these programs. The answer is, they need to clone Diane . . . . Diane’s vision, passion, perseverance, work ethic, and ability to connect to kids, parents and the community are why her programs have been so successful, and why we hear from dozens of families every year that she has changed lives . . . she is leading change in public education.”

I love how Diane has taken her passion for teaching and learning and combined it with her passion for sports.  From an idea, she has built one of the most innovative learning experiences in the province; students and parents regularly rave about how their experiences with Diane have been some of their most powerful schooling experiences.  The letter of support from Hockey Academy parent, Denise Cotton, is further testimony to Diane’s teaching excellence:  “The Premier Hockey Academy developed by Diane has been a life-transforming experience” for her son, who now plays in the Western Hockey League. “Diane Nelson has most definitely made a unique contribution to education in Canada. She is a visionary, developing sports academies that are a perfect blend of academic excellence, personal growth and athletic development. It is no wonder that she has waitlists annually for enrollment in her academies.”

Caulfeild Elementary School received Honourable Mention, for the Ken Spencer Award that focuses on innovation in K-12 education. Caulfeild was selected from well over 100 applications for this recognition.

Caulfeild has been on an intense journey over a very short time. Facing challenges of declining enrollment, and ongoing conversations about its school signature, iDEC was born – a commitment from students, staff and parents to create a school-wide innovative learning experience marrying the best of what we know about good teaching and learning, the student-centric approach of inquiry-based learning, and embracing the technology of the world of today.   iDEC provides a digital environment that supports any technological device and platform.  From Kindergarten to Grade 3, teachers are embedding student ownership into their digital learning, everyday, with the help of Smartboards and iPads. By Grade 4, students will be able to bring their own electronic device into the classroom, and student webpages will serve as a central area for their learning and participation, where they solve problems, are creative, and participate positively in the school community.  With thanks to Principal Brad Lund, the entire staff, and the support of our parent community, Caulfeild Elementary is generating interest around the country for its innovative programming.  When people first engage in the program, what they leave with is an understanding of what “‘power of the people’ can mean – and people are the key to this educational transformation.

I see excellence in the school system everyday.  The stories of Arlene Anderson, Diane Nelson and Caulfeild Elementary School are repeated across the district everyday. Public education in West Vancouver, and across the province is blessed with amazing people committed to doing great things for kids everyday.

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It is easy to talk about what could be, what should be and what other people could do.  Instead, I would like to share what I have done, and what we are trying to do, as we engage in and embrace this learning evolution.

I began my career trying to emulate the teachers I remembered most, and through the stories I remembered from my school experiences.  The teacher was mixing content, stories and weaving a narrative. While hardly an actor, there was something about the performance of teaching I really did enjoy. I would organize the desks in a circle, and while this was great for students to engage with each other, it also gave me centre stage.  I was very focussed on the lesson plan and activities in the classroom.  I saw myself as the expert, and it was up to me and the textbook to help students understand the content. Now, here is a true confession — I loved being the ‘sage on the stage’. In my Social Studies and English classes I would often retell the stories my memorable teachers had told me.

As I became more comfortable, I tried to allow students more of an opportunity to tell their stories.  I worked to create situations where students could simulate the real world.  In History class this might have been a United Nations role-play lesson, or reviewing a series of case studies in Law class. Students loved the examples drawn from the “real world”.  In Law, we would study cases making headlines in the news, and other Social Studies’ classes leant themselves ideally to current events.  I loved the relevance that came from these lessons, as well as the engagement.  Combining my lectures with hands-on activities, like putting Louis Riel on trial, led to an even richer teaching and learning experience.

More recently, I have tried to not only simulate the real world, but give students opportunities in the real world. I often describe it in simple terms as moving to real-real, instead of fake-real (mock trials, case studies etc). My most concrete example of this is one I have shared previously (here) and presented at TEDxUBC:

Lately, I have seen many other wonderful examples of real world teaching. Delta District Principal, Neil Stephenson, shared a number of stories from his experience in Calgary, including this one (here) where Grade 9 students visited local universities in Calgary to convince young voters to go to the polls in their 2010 Civic Election. In our district, there are also many wonderful examples, like the Cypress Park students who participated in real world inquiry around clean water (link to video).  Another example is Larry Rosenstock, who presented twice  last month challenging the audience with the power of his work at High Tech High in San Diego (link to video).  And, although challenging, this push to real world inquiry is very exciting; when given the chance, learners love to engage in the world, and not only to be told about what’s going on in the world or through role simulation.

It is simplistic to think one method of teaching can replace another, and it is disrespectful to conclude there haven’t been wonderful real-real examples in our schools for hundreds of years.  But the move to personalized learning, the focus on “the 7 C’s”, and the power of technology to allow us to do things not possible before, have really changed the dynamics.

There is no doubt, when working with students or adults, all three experiences will come into play. There is a time for a teacher to be on stage, a time for learners to simulate the experiences of the world, and a time for learners to be part of the real world.  The irony is not lost on me that I often present a lecture in a teacher-centric approach to adults championing the value of teacher guided/facilitated learning.  And, if you saw the video attached to my last post, it was very much in the “sage on the stage” tradition.

I went into teaching, in part, to replicate the experience I had from the very best teachers in my school.  As our world changes, and notions of student engagement change, it is challenging to teach students and adults in ways that run counter to much of what I experienced growing up. This, for me,  is one of the great challenges of the profession today – adjusting the practices at the core of who I am as a teacher to better engage students for a world that is not the one of my youth.

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Trying  to do something new or different can be a real challenge sometimes.  Last week I had the opportunity to teach a class to students at Gleneagles Elementary School and West Bay Elementary School, and to share my story about how I started blogging. I also had the opportunity to learn about their work and their own digital writing.  The work at Gleneagles is part of a teacher inquiry project that focussed on the following question:

Will students include more meaningful detail and perspective in their weBlogs by focusing on social issues as their ‘purpose for writing’ and will continuous feedback, in the form of threads, lead to deeper understanding of a given issue?

The classroom was both face-to-face and virtual, and teaching students I couldn’t see was new and challenging.  Teachers are accustomed to reading a student’s body language, and receiving cues from the class.  Half of the students were in front of me at Gleneagles, but the other half were viewing the class on-screen at West Bay via Lync, and it was a one-way video.  The students could ask questions, but I didn’t feel the same connection as when they are in front of me, in a room, or at least when I can see them on video.

Of course, the whole topic was quite new for the students as well.  We all agreed that even two years ago, there would have been no way we would be having a conversation about digital writing and blogs; what it meant to have a personal brand, and what kind of topics we would write about if we were going to share our ideas with classmates, or the world.  Out of the presentation came a number of excellent questions:

  • Why do you blog versus using an alternative platform to share your message/knowledge?
  • Where do you get your ideas/inspiration for your many blogs?
  • How do you create an effective blog?
  • Where/how do you find the time to blog so frequently?
  • When you started blogging, were you inspired by anyone/anything in particular?  Do they continue to influence your thinking?  If so, by what/whom?
  • Do you follow other bloggers and use their techniques/messages as a model for your own?
  • How do you decide on the graphics, pictures, and links you embed when there seems to be so many to choose from?
  • How often do you post?  Why?
  • Do you believe the good connection with your readers is because of your transparency as a writer?

It is a different way to think about writing, and I often say that I think in blog posts.  When I sit in a meeting, I write my notes around themes that may later become posts; I can think of the visuals that might go with the words, and this is so different from only a few years ago.  I have started dozens of posts, which may or may not become a blog at some point, but they have helped me organize my thinking.  While I write about one post a week, I think about hundreds. It was great to hear students discussing the stories they would like to tell, because we all have stories; we all have our own powerful narratives to share.

Toward the end of the session, one of the excellent discussions was about commenting. I offered that when I comment on other blogs I try to expand on an idea raised by the writer, perhaps give a different point-of-view, or add additional information the writer, or other readers, may find interesting or valuable.  I am hopeful some of the students who participated in our session last week will do just that with this post — extend and reach out with all of your learning.  So, what did you find interesting/valuable? What are you going to do next?  What questions do you still have?

Thanks again to the students of Gleneagles and West Bay for your engagement.

Thanks also to Colleen Denman for session photos, and all of the teachers and administrators who were involved in organizing and setting up the session.

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IF YOU RECEIVE THIS POST VIA EMAIL YOU MAY HAVE TO OPEN THE WEBSITE TO ACCESS THE SLIDESHOW BELOW.

I have to give this post my usual preface that these slides are part of the presentation I am giving on innovation in K-12, but only one part of the story.  Today, I am part of an event hosted by Simon Fraser University, Targeting Technology for Maximum Student Benefit.  I won’t cover the ground I have covered before as the scenario and other background on the event is available (here), as well as from a substantial post I recently wrote on the appeal of one-to-one devices in the classroom and equity (here).

Beyond this and going forward, there are a few key points I would like to emphasize as we look at my assumptions and thinking on what we should and shouldn’t be doing:

Some assumptions for the next 5 years:

  • Teachers and schools are status quo (sense of community/social-emotional learning)
  • Learning, not technology, is the driver
  • Good writing (and what we often call “the core” curriculum) still matters
  • Complex problems often have a simple solution
  • External inventions (like the iPad) will continue to impact what we do, and we have no control over this!
  • Teachers need to know where to begin: “personalization” and “digital literacy” are broad and ambiguous terms, so we need to narrow the framework
  • We can’t wait for the decisions of others. It is “go” time. Now

What We Would Do:

  • Start at Grades 4–7 (if a middle model, maybe Grades 6-8), over time, the “sweet spot” will extend from Grades 4–10 depending upon school organization
  • Develop a personally owned devices strategy addressing equity
  • Focus on a web environment/space for learning/personalization with a common structure to change the norm of how we do business
  • Nurture great leadership with administrators and librarians
  • Have our learning leaders become digital learning leaders
  • While it may not be a popular decision to give teachers access to portable devices before students, it is often necessary in the case for change
  • Find the “simple thing” that challenges the norm, changes our thinking, and helps make technology “sticky”; it could be digital writing, or digital content, portfolio, or . . . .
  • Link technology to physical activity, and the visual and performing arts; it is not just about language arts – integrate, integrate, integrate!

What We Wouldn’t Do:

  • Distributive Learning, – we want all classes to be blended classes. There are others who are experts in Distributive Learning, so, let a few do it well for the students who need it, and we will focus on what we can do for all students
  • Allow technology to solely report to the business side of the organization
  • Go slate crazy. iPads do not lend themselves to creation and participation in our text-heavy world. They are more (at least, so far) about consuming information, and we want to create content creators
  • The ‘drill and kill’ and the ‘shiny new thing’ syndrome; instead, we would focus on good teaching and learning. If the technology isn’t good learning, don’t use it
  • Try to be something for everyone – because we need to truly focus on supporting student learning. While it is nice to say there is an interactive whiteboard in every classroom, to what education end?
  • Have a strategic plan; we would have a learning plan, and invest in infrastructure and pedagogy, but prescription with technology (particularly devices) is almost impossible

With that preamble and a very brief explanation, here is my slidedeck.  If you would like to use any of the slides, you can download the presentation from SlideShare.

If you are reading this in the presentation room, or from around the world, please feel free to join the conversation on Twitter at #bcedsfu.

Update:  You can download the Twitter conversation today (over 850 tweets) by clicking on this link:   BCEDSFU Chat

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The beginning of February is generally seen as the midway point of the school year; it also marks the midway point of our first year in the West Vancouver School District, where our school and district leaders have turned to blogging to connect with their school communities.  At a recent principals’ meeting we took a look at some pretty amazing statistics, including about 250,000 page views on their blogs since September, emphasizing how powerful a tool this can be in connecting with a local and global audience.

And just what have some of  our educator leaders been writing about lately?

Director of Instruction, Lynne Tomlinson, recently wrote about Inquirydom in describing some of the challenges as we embrace inquiry and innovation:

There is a danger in overusing educational jargon and too often, good ideas and purposeful, relevant pedagogy are watered down to a shrink-wrapped version of their former selves.  As educators, we are well aware of the “pendulum swing” of learning models over time and it is important to think critically about the reasons why we may want to embrace any changes to our programs, large or small.

Kalen Marquis, teacher-librarian at Bowen Island Community School guest-blogged for Principal Jennifer Pardee and described the value of digital dialogues:

Used purposefully, Digital Dialogues may enhance the development of important skills and provide timely access to useful information and time-tested knowledge. Used wisely, they may facilitate ongoing inquiry and gradually develop the broadest awareness, deepest understanding, and most inspirational and transcendent wisdom.

Chantal Trudeau, Principal at Ecole Cedardale, wrote about the careful work that often happens at elementary school level to integrate curriculum, particularly when it comes to combined classes:

Teachers do not ‘cover’ a curriculum, they teach students. Teachers plan their instructional program meticulously to ensure that the Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLO) from the Ministry of Education are taught to their students at their level of ability. . . . In the elementary years in particular, learning and instruction often take place in an integrated fashion and do not always stay within the boundaries of a particular subject area.

Darren Elves, IB Coordinator at Cypress Park Primary School, looked at how we teach learners to ask good questions, and the important value it plays:

At a time when our government is looking at better defining the parameters of 21st century learning and teaching, it is my belief that the students’ abilities to explore the key concepts by acquiring and practicing a range of questioning skills will further enable them ‘to be active participants in a lifelong journey of learning’.

Scott Wallace, Principal at Gleneagles Elementary, recently described play and its importance in school.  Reflecting on a recent workshop staff participated in, he shared five key concepts of the Play is the Way program:

  • Treat others as you would like them to treat you
  • Be brave — participate to progress
  • Pursue your personal best no matter who you work with
  • Have reasons for the things you say and do
  • It takes great strength to be sensible
Val Brady, Principal at Hollyburn Elementary, blogged about a topic that regularly comes up with parents — anxiety and how we can help.  Her post was informative, full of resources, and reassuring as a normal behaviour:
Anxiety is a normal emotional state that we all experience at various times in our lives. Anxiety serves as a means of protection and can often enhance our performance in stressful situations.  It is closely related to fear, which is another normal and necessary emotion that everyone experiences.
Rockridge Acting-Principal, John Crowley, linked the recent announcement on UBC shifting to a broad-based admission system to the important role of “The Other Part of  School Life.”:
I encourage you all to challenge your child to be involved outside of the classroom, to develop the perseverance and leadership skills that come from working with other students, and work on that essential skill called “finding balance”.
And Sentinel Secondary Principal, Jeannette Laursoo, highlighted the amazing experience a number of Sentinel students had at the recent Model UN Conference in New York:
At the conference, Sentinel students became members of a crisis committee and represented the viewpoint of their assigned country when faced with a pressing issue or event.   They discussed, debated, and solved the issue.  For example, Aeron Westeinde, was on the Modern Day Haiti Committee, which was responsible for rebuilding Haiti from the ground up.  They developed programs to improve security, education, agriculture and irrigation within the country.

These are just a few snapshots of what is being written, and how staff are being more transparent with their own learning, and the learning in their schools. Some themes emerge, ones we see elsewhere including the role of early learning and self-regulation, the power of digital learning and the interest in inquiry-based study.  What is also clear in so many of the posts, is the powerful experiences students are having — personalized learning is alive and well in West Vancouver.

The blogs are a great celebration of community – curious students, engaged and passionate teachers, thoughtful and visionary school and district leaders.

For a complete list of the West Vancouver School District blogs, please see (here).

Thanks to all who have engaged with us this year.  We appreciate being able to share, and to continue to share, our learning with our local and global communities.

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