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Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

Ignite-The-Fire-Within

The idea of affiliation in education is shifting.  While we still connect to traditional structures by role (unions, associations, etc.) and by where we work (schools, districts, etc.) the digital world is challenging these traditional associations as being paramount and this may be necessary to build the coalition to bring about the shifts many are looking for in our education system.  I am convinced that we need a third point of reference to bring about education transformation.

In the BC context, transformation will never take hold if it is seen to belong to the Ministry of Education, the BC Teachers Federation, the BC Superintendents, BC Principals, or any one district.  We do need another space where people from all groups can come together and work together.  What does this look like?  For a couple of decades we have seen the power of how the Network of Performance Based Schools in BC has been an amazing influence over what happens in classrooms.  The group is not seen as being owned by anyone or any group — the group belongs to the group and it is guided by the work.  Somehow, we need something similar given the larger shifts currently happening in education in BC.

And, I am thinking about this idea of affiliation because of my participation this past week in Ignite Your Passion for Discovery — the brain child of Dean Shareski. Last Wednesday night about eighty-five people, passionate about education, gathered at Relish GastroPub & Bar from 7 to 10 pm to talk about passion in education. There were 14 presenters who had exactly five minutes (20 slides/15 seconds each ) to share their passion.  In between presentations there were exchanges for great networking.  You could walk around the room, and it had a greater sense of community and was more connected than any staff meeting I have ever been a part of.  Almost everyone knew each other from Twitter  – some had met in person, but for many it was a first meeting.  This is the new world of affiliation — people connected not by role, not by location, but by passion.  It is these types of coalitions that are going to bring about shifts and change in education.  People were inspired and also reminded they are not alone — others are trying to do similar things.  The digital space is still so young, but what I saw were people picking up their digital relationships face-to-face and then were almost eager to get home and continue digitally; the digital and the face-to-face interactions had each enhanced the quality, depth and care of the connections.

Our profession will not be mandated into meeting the needs of modern learners but the power of networks and new thinking around affiliation can help diffuse the work.

I had the real pleasure of being one of the speakers last Wednesday.  I have shared by slides and the video of my presentation below (If you receive this post via email you may need to open up the website to view).  This will give you a sense of the event.  My presentation is based on a blog post that I wrote a couple of years ago about swimming.

Slides (thanks to Bob Frid who took many of the amazing photos I used):

 

Video (thanks Craig Cantlie for videoing the event):

I had recently attended a conference – the kind where a ballroom of people listen to a keynote for an hour – and do that over and over.  Comparing the two events I know which was more influential in moving the conversation forward.  We need to find new ways to affiliate – more Ignites, more TEDx Events, more EdCamps.  The future of changing education is through networks.

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blogging

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern would be impressed – this post is somewhat a blog post about a blog post about blogging.

I had a recent email exchange with Janet Steffenhagen (Janet is the former Education Reporter with the Vancouver Sun and currently blogs for the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (BCCPAC)) about the state of educational blogging. She had been planning to highlight BC Superintendents blogging and noticed there seemed to be fewer blogging today than three years ago. I offered some of my thoughts in her post, Blogging Challenges for Superintendents, and listed below:

- Blogging is hard. You have to dedicate time on a regular basis to writing and it is not part of a traditional pattern for most people. It is also just hard to “put yourself out there”.
- There is uncertainty about what to write. Some Superintendents use it as a journal (like Monica Pamer in Richmond) to tell stories; others use it more for district news (like John Lewis in North Vancouver). There is no one right answer, but it is hard to determine “what” the Superintendent should write about. I have always tried to be broad – some of what I write is what I see in our district, some is what I think about education trends and some is future-focused in areas that may not be directly linked to education.
- If you don’t have an audience, it can be discouraging. With so many people joining the blogging community, it can be hard to gain an audience. While the role of Superintendent will immediately get some traffic, the numbers may be small to start. One has to see blogging as at least as much about the personal reflection to find it fulfilling.
- If you blog and don’t participate in the digital community, you likely won’t stick around. I would see some people blog but would not follow this up by engaging via Twitter or even responding (or soliciting) comments on the blog. The community is part of the power. Some who blog are really just writing newsletters online.
- The job action. I think it was hard to figure out just what to say during the strike, and very few district leaders blogged. The few who were engaged in social media often got targeted as the face of BCPSEA (B.C. Public School Employers’ Association) and at times the government, so may have thought there was no need to put themselves through that unnecessary backlash. For those new to the community – even in senior district roles – this can be intimidating. Nobody likes to be publicly criticized.

Shortly after this email exchange, I read a new article from Will Richardson, Eight New Attributes of Modern Educational Leaders. Will argues, “A new breed of educational leader is emerging from all parts of the globe. It’s a leader that fully understands the fundamental challenges to traditional teaching and learning that the new interconnected, networked world is creating. It’s a leader that also sees the amazing opportunities that abundant access to information, people, and technologies is bringing to all of our learning lives.”  Will sees the eight attributes of modern educational leaders as being:

1. They are connected to and engaged in online networks.
2. They are makers with (and without) technology.
3. They are innovators and support innovation.
4. They are models for learning both online and off.
5. They see curriculum as strategy.
6. They facilitate an “ever-evolving” vision for teaching and learning in their schools, with (or without) technology.
7. They are literate in modern contexts.
8. They know “learning is the work.”

It was a timely reminder from Will, and as much as I was giving Janet a series of reasons why leaders might not engage in modern learning, Will reminds us that it is our responsibility to be engaged — so I think it is not about any particular role like a superintendent, principal or teacher — we all need to be modern learners. No excuses.

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keep-calm-i-m-a-history-teacher-16

Despite the speed at which our system and profession is changing, some aspects haven’t changed at all. I do think there have been major shifts over the last several years in West Vancouver, particularly with the proliferation of digital access and commitment to inquiry, among other factors.

Listening to Will Richardson at Computer Using Educators of British Columbia(CUEBC) during the last couple of weeks had me thinking and revisiting some of my early blog posts. Will has been someone I have been learning from for more than a decade. Before the Culture of Yes, I was blogging as a school principal in Coquitlam and also teaching AP European History. One of the early pieces I wrote (early fall 2006) was Teaching History in a Time of Change and reprinted below:

Teaching History in a Time of Change by title alone implies that there may be a time of stability around the corner. There isn’t.  And it is not the change that is frightening, challenging, and exhilarating – it is the speed with which this change is occurring that is frightening, challenging, exhilarating, and, more importantly, remaking our profession.  The advancements in technology and the exponential speed at which they are happening may make our current times the most dramatic for teaching and learning history since the invention of the printing press.

There are some givens that go along with the change:  within the next few years every one of our students will arrive with a laptop or similar gizmo, all information will be on the internet, and all of our students will be connected everywhere, all the time, to the entire world. These changes are not up for debate – they are already becoming a reality in some jurisdictions. The only thing that can be debated now is how quickly they will happen and just how they will redefine the teaching of history everywhere.

I know it is risky to say this too loudly, but in short, these changes mean that teaching history the old way, whatever that has been or still is for each of us, is dead.  Everyone can now get all the facts, whenever they need them, from wherever the source of information resides.

Within just hours after the shooting last month at Dawson College in Montreal, hundreds of Wikipedians were creating the story of the event as it occurred. From first hand accounts to summaries of news stories – in the hours and days following the shooting the entry at wikipedia.org was updated thousands of times. History is being reported, clarified, analyzed, summarized, interpreted and reinterpreted in real time. In addition to the upheaval of traditional timelines for these activities, the hierarchies of historians are gone and everyone can now be an expert or, at the least, a verifiable eyewitness and commentator to events as they occur.

Canadian Idol crowned its latest winner last month. In the voting, close to four million Canadians, mostly younger technologically literate Canadians, mostly using cell phones, mostly using text messaging, voted for their favourite candidate in the final two show-down that crowned Eva Avila the winner.

Wikipedia and Canadian Idol are not isolated – they are products of the new ways in which young people interact.  The new technology tools are making learning more personal – you can read first-hand blogs from around the world. The tools are also making learning more communal – young people are active contributors in the online world, finding their voice through participation in often very complex online and digital communities.  Today’s students live in a world of convergence and collective intelligence, living in a participatory culture in which learning is no longer an individualistic endeavor.

During the recent conflict in the Middle East, young men and women from Israel and Palestine were trying to understand what was really happening in their countries.  Instead of turning to traditional news sources, they turned to one another for firsthand perspectives (link no longer active).  Who should we be teaching students to believe, the bloggers or the news establishment?  More importantly, how do we ensure students take a critical and analytical view to all sources?

So not only are the tools changing, but the students we are teaching are changing too.  As Marc Prensky so nicely describes, our students are the digital natives and we are the digital immigrants. There was great comfort when we controlled the information. Now the students are better with the tools used to access the information than we are.  The traditional teaching / learning continuum is gone and it is time for the new teaching to begin.  The challenge for all of us is to take the tools that our students are using and find ways to use them in our daily teaching.

What are 10 things we can all go back to our classes Monday and do to start meeting the challenge?

  • have students share information through social bookmarking such as del.icio.us
  • create instant messenger class lists on MSN or a similar chat service
  • have students build a wiki (collaborative website) for your class / school
  • assign students to post an assignment to the web so they don’t just get feedback from their teacher but their peers and even complete strangers
  • download Skype (a service that allows your computer to act as a phone) – have a conversation with a student across the country for free
  • read a blog created by a student in another community
  • begin to podcast lectures (audio recording files posted to the internet) or listen to others who have already done so
  • stop banning websites and start educating students on how to use them
  • put everything on the Internet – and share it with as many people as possible
  • ask the digital natives to help the digital immigrants

Embracing the new tools is not about technology, it is about reality, our students’ reality. So, what are the key challenges for History teachers in this time of rapid change?

  • continue to embrace high standards, while vehemently rejecting standardization – tests are less important than ever
  • recognize that the role of the teacher is being redesigned – no longer are we the ones with the answers at the front of the room
  • drop our protectionist tendencies as we continue to work to meet students where they are instead of asking them to come to us

In this time of rapid change teachers are more important than ever, but only if we change at the same speed as the world in which our students are living.  We have a duty to teach students the power of the new tools and how to use them – we need to lead them into the world of learning History 2.0.

Rereading this post, I laugh at some of the tools mentioned – so many have come and gone. Of course, it is not about the tools.  The conclusions and the key challenges I have identified, do largely still remain.  It was also so exciting to recently learn about the amazing work happening in our classrooms in West Vancouver and across the country, and recognized through the 2014 Government of Canada History Awards.  For the same reasons I found it so exciting to be a teacher and a learner in 2006, I find it even more so true today.

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Seth on Sorting

sorting

Much of what Seth Godin blogs about is food for thought, but every now and again he writes something that really strikes a chord with me and I need to put it in context. His recent piece on The wasteful fraud of sorting for youth meritocracy is just such a piece. He takes up a conversation that seems to be gaining more attention as we question the purpose of school and how we approach learning for students, both in and out of school. In part, I am drawn to the post because I nod my head in agreement while reading it and, in part, because it really challenges all of the structures we have created around schools.

Godin argues students are being taught our world is one in which people are picked based on performance. When it comes to activities like school sports and music, those running the programs might point out “that their job is to win, to put on a great show, to entertain the parents with the best performance they can create.”

Godin challenges this and asks:

What if we celebrated the students who regularly try the hardest, help each other the most and lead? What if we fast tracked those students and made it clear to anyone else willing to adopt those attitudes that they could be celebrated too?

What if you got cast, tracked or made the cut because you were resilient, hard-working and willing to set yourself up for a cycle of continuous improvement? Isn’t that more important than rewarding the kid who never passes but still scores a lot of goals?

We do try to do this, and it seems we are trying harder now than even a decade ago. More and more, students are being compared and sorted on past performances rather than with of the students who sit next to them in class. Of course, old habits are difficult to break. No matter how much we say as teachers and parents we value the work habits as much as the letter grades (or even more),  our eyes quickly scan to the A and B grades before looking at the G and S grades.

And just what is this system doing? Godin says:

If you get ahead for years and years because you got dealt good cards, it’s not particularly likely that you will learn that in the real world, achievement is based as much on attitude and effort as it is on natural advantages. In the real world, Nobel prizes and Broadway roles and the senior VP job go to people who have figured out how to care, how to show up, how to be open to new experiences. Our culture is built around connection and charisma and learning and the ability to not quit in precisely the right moments.

This is challenging stuff. I am reminded of Mike McKay’s question, “When will what we know change what we do?”  While we know what Godin says to be true, we are very slow to change our system.  We (me included) like many of our school rituals — from the music concerts to sports matches — showcase the students we feel are the most talented.

Godin’s final challenge, “What is school for?”  is like this piece on sorting, a great conversation starter.

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What is Smart  A TEDx West VanccouverED presentation.

I have been tasked with answering this question, “What is Smart?” for my short TEDxWestVancouverED talk today.  The essay that is a basis for the talk is a final collaboration I wrote with my dad this past July.  The slides are at the bottom and I am sure the video will be up in a couple of weeks.  

‘Smart’ just isn’t what it used to be.  It is actually becoming passé.

In a world of knowledge scarcity, being smart was very important. Those who were smart were the people with knowledge. Others would seek out those who were smart. Smartness was in the hands of the few.  This is not just the world of centuries ago, but this was the world I grew up in.

We know who the smart people were:

  • Political leaders
  • Professors
  • Doctors, Lawyers and Teachers
  • And Jeopardy Champions – I am sure “Who is Ken Jennings” is the answer many would have given when asked about someone who was smart

Largely, these were the people who were the keeper of the facts, the smart ones with the information who would share it with others.

In school, it was those who could recall the facts, and particularly those who could recall them quickly.  If you could memorize your multiplication tables you were quickly labelled as “smart”.  Smart was a product of a system based on sorting – some kids were smart, and the other kids were . . . well, we didn’t really call them anything aloud, but the implication was that they were less than smart. And in the traditional school smart hierarchy – the matching of provinces and capital cities along with the ability to memorize weekly spelling words was the apex of smartness.

Of course, the last 20 years have moved us away from a world of knowledge scarcity to knowledge abundance; now, all manner of information is available to everyone. For better or worse, we no longer look to our political and intellectual leaders for their all-knowing guidance, we quickly check what they have said with what we read on Wikipedia, Web Doctor MD or other online information available to us.

And even our leader of smarts, Ken Jennings, was outsmarted by a computer. . . . Damn you Watson!

Really, the value of smart is not only about the move from a world of knowledge being scarce to it being abundant . . . . we are devaluing the word ourselves.  We have:

  • Smart phones
  • Smart cars
  • Smart Meters
  • And even a Smart Planet.

The word “smart” was reserved for the few, for the special, and now we attach it to the objects in our pockets.  When we say someone is smart it ends a conversation, it doesn’t start one.  The word has become greasy.  Smart has become fast food.

We are actually at a turning point in the history of smart. We either need to abandon the word for newer, more apt descriptions of the qualities and traits we value, or come to a new understanding of the word that is reflective of what we now value as smart.

And, in our schools, especially if we listen to Psychology Professor Carol Dweck, we need to get away from so often using the word, to rather encourage effort, continual improvement and a growth mindset and abandon ranking and sorting.

So, there is a good question – what is smart?  But there is also another good question, Is being smart relevant and does it still matter?

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waves-15

About five years ago we started discussions in our district about modernizing the classroom. At that point it was really a discussion about creating a level playing field with technology in our schools.

The First Wave

What emerged from the discussions was the view of a modern classroom starting with wireless access across all schools. At the classroom level all teachers were provided with digital devices. We took a different approach from the past and elsewhere when staff were given a choice about what devices they needed — some selected iPads, others MacBooks and still others chose PC netbooks or tablets. In addition, each classroom, from Grades 4 to 12, was also equipped with a projection device. These were not huge shifts, but they created some equity and it also built the groundwork for the student bring-your-own-device program. This program has taken hold throughout the district, in some schools as early as Grade 4, but largely implemented in Grades 6 to 12. Currently, most schools have a plan for students bringing devices and engaging them in the classroom.

The Next Wave

The next wave will continue to have a digital influence, but the modern classroom is far more than a ‘digital’ classroom. Of course, these are not things with clear start and stop timelines, so in some schools the final projectors are still being installed and student device programs are being finalized.  As schools have more students with devices, we will need to revisit our work and make further improvements to items like Wi-Fi access. So, for the next wave, I see four trends emerging:

1)   Rethinking the common spaces. Most notably, rethinking libraries as learning commons areas. Schools see these areas as places that can symbolize and epitomize some of the changes we are seeing with how we access information and organize learning.

2)  Refreshing the web environment.  The portal of 2010 has become clunky and dated.  We are looking to create secure spaces to make student publishing easier, and we are looking for ways to ensure the web tools our students and staff are working with outside the school day are available during the school day and part of our core systems.

3)  Self-regulation is influencing our classrooms.  I have written often about Stuart Shanker and the influence he is having, as well as the self-regulation work in our school district.  This can translate into fewer posters on the wall, different kinds of lighting, quiet areas in the classroom for some students and a variety of desks and chairs to improve  environments for learners – another important understanding about how young people learn.

4)  Outdoor learning spaces.  We now see many school and community gardens connected to curriculum, as well as schools interested in outdoor shelters or other structures to allow for more formal teaching out-of-doors. Combined with outdoor learning programs, these shifts are definitely altering how we view classrooms as strictly being an indoor activity.

The modernized classroom is a digitally rich classroom and as this first wave continues alongside the second wave, we will see more students with devices and more technology benefiting student learning.  As mentioned, the modern classroom is much more than kids with computers – from common spaces with less of a library look and more like Starbucks, to flexible classrooms with different furniture to ‘classrooms’ being outdoors, the modern learning environment is an evolving and dynamic place.

It will be exciting to be part of this shift.

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QUestu

I often hear feedback like “I really like what is happening with inquiry and project based learning, but my kids need to be prepared for university, and university is never going to change.”

Well,  last week we loaded up the bus with all of our school principals and vice-principals and headed up the highway to Quest University in Squamish.  Quest has been receiving quite a bit of attention lately and here is why.

Quest University is a private, non-profit liberal arts and sciences university which opened in 2007.  From an initial enrollment of about 70 students, it now boasts a population of about 700 (it is fully subscribed). But what is grabbing the attention of students and parents is how different the university structures its programs.

Students take one course at a time. For three-and-a-half weeks students focus on a single course with at least five hours of class time per day. The benefit around this set up is that it makes it easy to take field trips local or abroad — there is nothing else to worry about.  Students are in classes of 20, and walking through the school one sees tables of 21 – one for the professor and student to sit at for their discussions.

In their second year, students spend an entire block with 15 students and a tutor to figure out what question they are going to think about and focus on for the next two years. We heard  Quest’s President, David J. Helfand, speak about one of the questions a student came up with, “What’s the best way to educate a child?” The student then spent their third and fourth year focusing on this one question. In this example, the student read Maria Montessori and spent a month in a Montessori school; they also read Rudolph Steiner, and spent a month in a Waldorf School; then read John Dewey, and spent a month in a public school.

Students take a series of courses around their passion with a huge emphasis on experiential learning.  To date, the majority of students also study abroad and Helfand sees it as a goal that all students spend some time studying elsewhere as part of their study program.

Even the application is very different with students having to submit an original creation (some sort of passion project), along with an essay. Students who are successful in this stage of their application then move on to an interview process and final decisions are made on students acceptance.

Helfand knows a good deal about the traditional university having come to Quest from 34 years of teaching at Columbia University.  He joked during his talk that he was not all that fond of nature and looked forward to returning to the concrete of New York. He also said that he wouldn’t go back to a world of semester-long courses and individual departments.

The vision he has helped realize gives emphasis to the words of Sir Ken Robinson and his much-loved TEDx presentations.

When a small group of individuals gets together and pools their talents to work on a difficult problem and comes up with an innovative solution, in university, it’s called cheating. In life, it is called collaboration and is highly valued, but in class, it’s forbidden. (Sir Ken Robinson as quoted by David Helfand)

While acknowledging that although it is happening slowly, Helfand envisions what is happening at Quest spreading.  More universities are curious about what is going on. Student reviews at Quest are off the charts — clearly, something is going on.

The work that Helfand and Quest are heading sends an interesting message to those in K-12.  We often shy away from making some of these bold changes in our system; hiding behind a belief that since universities are not changing, we also need to stay the same. Of course, as we see with Quest, those questioning the structures of learning are not limited to K-12 or higher education; there is opportunity for growth in both systems. We are now part of a larger learning transformation not governed by any particular age or school level.

To see and learn more about David Helfand and Quest, below is a TEDx presentation he gave in West Vancouver just over a year ago:

 

 

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