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Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

desk

It seems I can’t go a week without hearing someone say that “sitting is the new smoking.”  And I have one of those rather terrible city commutes – often over an hour each way – that is a lot of time sitting.  So, I have been intrigued watching the furniture revolution happening in offices and in schools.  I took the plunge last August and got a Varidesk.  It is an adjustable desk that will rise so you can stand and work and lower so you can sit and work.

And . . .. I wouldn’t go back.

What I have learned:

  • I never lower the desk.  I did a little bit when I first got the desk but it was done more as a novelty.  I leave it so I can stand and work.  If I want to sit, I unplug my laptop and sit in a chair.  I don’t stand all-day but I am definitely standing for the majority of time I am in my office.
  • The standing desk has increased my productivity.  I find I am far more focused and engaged when I am standing at my desk.  I have always been someone who likes to move when I work, so I will work intently for several minutes and then stretch / walk and then get back to work.
  • I have less back pain.  In the post-40 year-old world of mine, like many I have developed a series of regular aches and pains. Standing has lessened my back pain and overall I have far less pain than from sitting for long periods of time.  It did take a little getting used to the first couple weeks, standing all day, but it is now just my routine.  Having a gel mat to stand on also really helped.
  • I get more “steps”.  This may mean very little to many of you but I am very conscious about my daily step count that is linked to my FitBit.  Just by working standing-up I will get a couple hundred steps an hour – rather than the zero I get sitting.
  • I still have to do a better job of being conscious about my posture.  Especially in the afternoon I will lean on the desk when I work, and probably just replacing the problems of sitting with a different set of problems.

I find the efforts around learning spaces in our schools to be fascinating.  I love the variety of options we are giving students from bouncy chairs, to standing desks to quiet spots in the corner.  I have visited a number of classrooms at both elementary and secondary that are creating a variety of desk options and also looking seriously at how they use space for learning.  It is not just our schools that are looking at standing desks.  Here is a recent story on the use of standing desks at New Westminster Secondary School and a CTV story on their use across North America.

The changes in our classroom are clearly much more than just technology.

And admittedly as a sample size of one, I am finding the standing desk has really changed how I work – helping my health and making me more productive.

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Entrepreneurship1

You won’t find a lot of people suggesting we need fewer opportunities for creativity in our schools. That said, often people are slow to make the link that efforts around entrepreneurship are really creativity initiatives.  Discussions around improving student learning often focus on core academic areas, and yes, these are important, but we need more than that.

I have been very taken by discussions about entrepreneurship.  I know I held a traditional view of entrepreneurship, that the area of study was really about creating people for the world of business.  And yes, this is important, our schools are about so much more around the skills and qualities we want and the citizenship we want to foster.  My views around entrepreneurship have shifted.  I am persuaded by Yong Zhao, for example, who argues, “Bold entrepreneurs, bright new ideas and world-class colleges and universities . . . are what every country needs and more importantly, what the whole world needs to succeed.”  Zhao and others link closely the notion of creativity with entrepreneurship.  And it makes good sense.

Over the last couple of years, we have introduced three specific new opportunities that link young people to entrepreneurial opportunities:

Early Entrepreneurs:   In this program, participating classrooms each get a $100 micro-loan as startup capital, and asked them to raise funds for charity. Rather than running typical fundraisers such as asking for pledges, these classes used the money to start their own small businesses such as building bird houses to sell at a local market, selling green smoothies on Fridays, and creating family friendly events. These students were using their own creativity and imagination to turn our initial $100 loan into thousands of dollars for charity link to other established programs.  There is a great story of this at work at Lions Bay and their loan that turned into almost $1800 raised for building a school in Kenya through Free the Children.

Entrepreneurship – Ignite Your Passion:  We offer a number of programs for grade 6 and 7 students after school hours taught by secondary school teachers that allow these young learners to explore their passions in areas often not covered in-depth at the elementary grades.  One of the very successful offerings has been entrepreneurship.  As the course outline describes, “This course will empower the next generation to explore their interests in business, leadership and innovation. Students will have the opportunity to engage in topics such as leadership, communication, marketing, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship; culminating with developing their own business. Entrepreneurship students will gain real-world, leadership, and public speaking skills plus a confidence to take risks while exploring their interests and passions.”  One day I was there, I learned about Free Kicks – a soccer camp that was being run by a grade 7 student at Gleneagles Elementary School for younger learners at the school.  It was an amazing example of real world leadership at work.

YELL (Young Entrepreneurship Leadership Launchpad):   I have said in a number of venues, that the future of schooling looks like YELL.  It is real world experience for our high school students that does not just simulate real-life but is real-life. The program is “a hands-on, experiential accelerator for high school students interested in gaining knowledge and developing experience in all areas of business and entrepreneurship. In addition, YELL helps students interact with others across the school system with like-minded individuals, helps to build a community based framework to enhance innovation and provides a learning and development structure to foster innovation and advancement for future generations.”  The program is offered for students in grades 11 and 12.  It started in West Vancouver two years ago, spread to Coquitlam and Richmond this year, and is looking to grow to other school districts in BC and beyond over the next few years.

From Early Entrepreneurs with students as young as kindergarten, to Ignite offerings at the end of elementary school to YELL with our passionate senior students we are being far more explicit around entrepreneurial skills.  These on top of already established programs in these areas that continue to thrive.

It is not just about building business leaders but about the crucial skills we are seeing in these programs – we see our students gain confidence, collaborate and solve problem together and grow as leaders.   The types of skills we need to be highlighting for our students as they enter a world that is changing so quickly.

To come back to Yong Zhao, as we move forward, “We will need a lot more entrepreneurs and creative talents to develop new industries, new products and services and new solutions to the many challenges facing humanity.”

Finally, here is the slidedeck for my latest presentation, “Why we need entrepreneurial kids”:

(If you receive this by email you may need to open the website to view the slides)

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river-349387_1280

I was pleased to contribute to the recently published paper – Shifting Minds 3.0 – Redefining the Learning Landscape in Canada.  The paper is authored by Penny Milton, the former long serving  head of the Canadian Education Association, and had contributions from more than twenty superintendents across the country, among others.

I have written before about the value of a national conversation in education.  Despite falling under the mandate of provincial governments there is huge value in building a learning network across the country.  As we embrace a post-standardized world, learning from jurisdictions across the country is essential, as we want all students in our country to be well prepared for the rapidly changing world.

There have been a number of papers written in recent years on the shifts in learning that we are seeing, and that we need to see, and I have given a lot of blog space to the great work I see on a regular basis in West Vancouver.  What is particularly valuable about the Shifting Minds 3.0 document is that the same conversations, the same areas of attention, and the same urgency, are being seen and felt across the country.   The work is both exciting and daunting:

The challenge for school district leaders is to extend the transformation to all classrooms and schools. Whole-system reform requires conditions that support educators in examining and reshaping the foundations on which their practice is built (leadership and management, as well as teaching) . . . Because education is complex and the stakes for students are high, a dual strategy of both improvement and innovation can offer a reliable way to maintain stability while enabling forward momentum.

The dual strategy notion of innovation and improvement is one we often talk about in West Vancouver.  Yes, the world has changed and the skills our learners need are changing.  But this change is within a context of having one of the highest performing systems in the world.  We are moving from a place of strength so stability must be alongside momentum.

It is interesting to see the work in British Columbia in the context of the country.  In reading this document, I get the sense that we are ahead with much of what we are doing.  The document describes three governance models and management approaches and we see all three in BC:

Central direction involves stakeholders in an iterative relationship of policy design and local implementation. This approach has raised academic achievement across the majority of schools. Success depends on feedback loops, with leaders and practitioners learning from and adjusting strategies as needed. Central direction can promote improvement in schools, but it limits innovation.

Non-intervention approaches allow school districts to respond to local contexts without the pressure of specific school improvement policies. In these cases, the central authority encourages rather than mandates the change. Some districts have been able to innovate under these conditions; others less so.

Enabling or permissive approaches encourage or support experimentation and innovation at the district and school levels. Some may enable innovation by the simple absence of a prescribed regulatory framework; others may develop specific innovations—for example, in curriculum or assessment. The advantage of this approach is that it allows the province to learn and try out alternative policy designs before attempting to replace one significant policy with another.

We also see all three of these approaches at work locally in West Vancouver.  We have spent a lot of energy  trying to foster enabling and permissive approaches, but it is important to use all three depending on the initiative and the circumstances.

Finally, the shifting system drivers described in the document are very useful.  It is not that the shifts are new, but it is an important reminder of their interconnectedness.  We are definitely shifting learning environments and pedagogies and working hard on shifting governance.  We are getting strong leadership from the province on shifting curriculum.  I see shifting assessment and citizen and stakeholder engagement, of the six, as the two we have the most work to do.  Very important to see they all must work together (double-click to open graphic in a full-page):

www.c21canada.org wp content uploads 2015 05 C21 ShiftingMinds 3.pdf

I encourage you to read the full document.  There are many documents on the topic of the shifts in education, from many organizations with many intended audiences.  This one nicely describes the challenge needed by those of us at a systems level.  It is an important challenge for us to continue to take on.

As the paper concludes, “change is inevitable; transformation is possible. System leaders create the conditions for transformation by encouraging leadership at all levels, imbued with the very attributes we are aiming to develop in young people—creativity, inquiry, collaboration, calculated risk taking, reasoned problem solving, and the capacity to learn from experience and face the next challenge.”

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http://avaxhome.ws/blogs/igor_lv

You can call it a passion project, a portfolio, a capstone, a demonstration of learning – heck call it anything you want. More and more, as I see these type of expressions of student work at the end of school years or the end of school careers, I am becoming convinced they should be regularly part of our system.  And, in fairness, more and more they are the new normal in our schools.

Just over a decade ago there was a major push to move in this direction with the short-lived Graduation Portfolio.  There are numerous reasons why it was abandoned.  Two lessons I took from the experience, were 1)  at the time the technology was not good enough to do what we wanted in terms of documenting learning and it became a paper-heavy process and 2) a cumulative portfolio or project should not be simply the checking off of boxes as tasks are completed, it needs to be more meaningful.

There are numerous different examples of these demonstrations of learning in West Vancouver schools.  Some of these presentations are built into programs.  We currently have four International Baccalaureate (IB) Programs  in West Vancouver – two at the Primary Years level (PYP), and one at both the Middle Years (MYP) and Diploma levels (DP).  In each of these programs students have a structure to bring their learning together.  In the MYP Program, our Rockridge grade 10 students present an exhibition of their personal projects.

At Westcot Elementary, the Passion Projects represent seven months of exploration,  discovery and learning. Students are given one afternoon each week to pursue any area of interest. Nearly 100 grade 6 and 7 students follow their passions, blog about their progress and ultimately present to the school community in a culminating exhibition. Whether the finished product is a graphic novel, a fundraiser for school supplies for underprivileged children or an animated short film, students are encouraged to reflect upon the process each step of the way.  In this photo ( Credit – Cindy Goodman), Grade 7 student Rory Scott demonstrates the quarter pipe ramp for skateboarding he built for his project.

Westcot elementary passion projects

The most recent version of this type of learning I have seen in action in the Advanced Placement (AP) Diploma.  These grade 11 and 12 students take two courses – AP Seminar and AP Research. These courses see students doing team projects, research based essays, and public presentations – all in a context of student choice.  Students that take and score 3 or higher on 4 AP courses and complete the Seminar and Research course receive the AP Capstone Diploma.  The Capstone Diploma is being piloted in a limited number of Canadian schools, including Sentinel Secondary in West Vancouver.

As we look out over the next five years, it would be wonderful if all of our students get a chance to pull together their learning – ideally at least once in the elementary grades and again during their high school career.  As we work in the system to break down thinking of learning in content based compartments, there needs to be an opportunity for all our students to share their learning across curriculum and from inside and outside of school.

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Simple Job Market Advice

advice

Whenever I find myself speaking to students working their way towards a degree in education, someone will turn the conversation to the state of the job market.  And the truth is, in recent years, it has not been very good.  In British Columbia there are a number of factors that have led to a limited number of jobs for new teachers.  From district budget reductions, to declining enrollment, to fewer than expected teacher retirements, to huge numbers of candidates going through teacher education programs.  With this, I feel the angst of those graduating, looking for the little advantages that might help them secure a job.

I was recently speaking with elementary and middle school student teachers at the University of British Columbia, and gave some off-the-cuff advice, that I think is worth sharing more widely.

So, just what should a student teacher do?

1) Be Damn Good!

The explosion of teachers looking for work means that we get dozens (or sometimes far more) applicants on every position.  Our schools never have to settle for average candidates.  I am blown away by the quality of teachers being hired.  So, first and foremost, if you want a job, you better be good.

2)  Get Involved!

This can look really different from person to person, but it is really about playing up and sharing your passions.  Maybe it is coaching the volleyball team, or helping with the school musical, or sponsoring the chess club or being a lead on the school professional development committee – or a combination of them.  The parts around the classroom are some of the best experiences for students and teachers.  It is about seeing teaching as more than a job.

3) Connect!

It has never been easier to connect.  I feel like a broken record but all new teachers should get on Twitter, find at least five blogs to regularly follow, and consider starting a blog themselves.  And the power of the network is not just digital, student teachers transitioning into new teachers should connect into school district and multi school district teacher networks.  I know in West Vancouver, and I am sure it is true elsewhere, our professional opportunities are open to all – and that all includes student teachers and new teachers who might not have classroom teaching positions yet.

One more piece I shared when I met with the student teachers at UBC was an updated digital story (below) that I shared as a welcome to our amazing profession:

 

There are definitely things that can be discouraging in our profession, but whenever I have a chance to speak with those just coming into our profession I am left with so much hope – it is an exciting time for teaching and learning.

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mobile-devices1

I have been teaching in a couple high school classrooms recently, and I have been reminded that students on small hand-held internet devices can be distracted and distracting.  I am being intentional in not using the word phone.  For almost all of us, the devices we call phones are primarily used for other functions.  I know for me, the phone is maybe the fifth or sixth most popular use for my small internet device.    I don’t think the discussion is about phones vs. tablets vs. laptops rather it is about what functions are best done with what size of device.

For more than a decade I have been advocating students bringing internet-ready devices into the classroom.    I have said things like, “phones are great, if that is all students have, they should bring them.”   And this is still true.

I have also regularly said, “If students have a phone and can’t afford a laptop, their families should really consider making a different (better) decision that could benefit the child’s learning.”  I know families have invested in phones for a variety of reasons and safety is a reason I often hear.  Well, get a cheap phone for emergencies and take that money for the iPhone contract, and invest in a laptop or tablet.

Back to my recent reminders.  I will focus on one particular class of grade 11 and 12 students I was working with.  We were having a discussion around leadership in the digital age.  And I have to be honest, the students on their small devices were driving me crazy!   I could see the students were distracted, and in turn, this was very distracting for me and others.  They were texting away with students in the room and outside the room, only periodically engaging in the lesson.  Now, I know it is partly my fault.  If my lesson was more engaging, the students would not have been so easily distracted.  I also could have done a better job of classroom management.  I also know that in our efforts around students bringing their own devices, the journey has not, nor will not, be linear in terms of how students use devices in their classrooms – we are in shifting times.

At our District Parent Advisory Council Meeting this past week we had a great discussion around technology that included a high school teacher and a grade 10 student.  As the student reminded us, “When kids are on their phones they are usually not doing school work.”  Heck, when adults are on their phones it is more likely for social rather than business.  I have always been a believer in the key role of adults to model technology use and it is hard to suggest kids just need to behave differently when so often we see parents busy checking their Facebook or Twitter feeds.    The power of devices in school is usually around what is possible to create, and with the small handheld devices, in schools they are almost exclusively consumption devices or texting machines.

So, the advice of the last decade does stand – that any internet device that gets you in the game is good.  But it is also true that some devices are better than others and we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking devices like iPhones are changing learning.  I am a bit “old school” and like to type on a keyboard so my advice when asked about what one should get for their child is probably a laptop, or a tablet with a keyboard.  More and more other specs matter less, and work lives in the cloud – it is about getting to the internet.

And what else was I reminded in teaching classes where all students have technology; technology does not making teaching easier, but it does make it very different.

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grades

There is a debate in education around the relationship between grading and learning. Many of our teachers and schools have shifted the ways that they give students feedback – focussing more on constructive comments for improvement and less on grades. Of course, this has been met with some concern. For so long, schools have been using grades as something of a sorting system, and while also a learning system, the sorting often took priority as students marks were used to make comparisons.  And of course, with almost all of our students looking towards post-secondary education in our community, grades do matter.

Our teachers and schools are committed to getting better at how we communicate student learning. Like many BC school districts, we have been piloting new reporting documents this year, and next year both Kindergarten and Grade 4 will be running district-wide reporting pilots. The goal of this work is to take the best information we have about student learning, and have that reflected in what we share out to parents and students.  In my last post, I referenced FreshGrade, that presents a new way of communicating student learning.  It is one of the tools our teachers are beginning to use to break down traditional way of reporting – moving reporting away from being an event but rather an ongoing dialogue.

I was recently reminded of the challenge of assessment, grading and reporting  with a story told to me by a colleague in the district about her daughter, currently in Grade 6, who attends a school in another district. Her story is a common one that I hear about assessment practices, and one worth sharing.

In this particular story, the class was asked to develop some speaking notes on a topic and deliver a 3-5 minute spoken presentation. Her daughter practiced for several days behind closed doors, working hard to ensure that she could deliver the presentation in the allotted time, as points would be deducted for presentations that were either too long or too short. She felt prepared and really enjoyed the research and work involved in putting it together. She even shared some of her ideas with classmates in the days prior to the delivery, and they talked about their shared concerns and strategies to overcome the usual pitfalls of public speaking. It was a great project, with one very big downside.

When she had delivered the presentation, her mother asked how it had gone. “Well, I don’t have my grade yet, but people asked questions and two of my friends said that I did really well.” She was pleased about the positive feedback and talked about her own impressions of the project.

The following day, her daughter returned home, locked herself in her room, and examined the grade and evaluation sheet in private. It was not what she had hoped to see, and she was not eager to share it with the family.

This story illustrates our challenge. We want assessment to help improve learning, but for this student, as soon as the grade was given, the learning stopped. Instead of being a stop on a learning journey – this became a story about ranking and sorting.

While parents love to hear that “Sophia is a pleasure to teach,” timely and constructive comments that help parents understand how they can support at home the work in the classroom is far more useful.

There are no easy answers, but this is an important conversation we are having in our schools and across the province as we look for better ways to assess student learning.

A previous version of this post was originally shared in my Superintendent’s Message that was published earlier this month for the West Vancouver School District e-newsletter, the Learning Curve.  

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