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Archive for the ‘Professional Development’ Category

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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Calling all bloggers  – Leadership Day 2014   Dangerously Irrelevant

When Scott McLeod asks you to do something, it’s difficult to say “No”.  He is one of those connecting leaders in education.  The following tweet showed up in my feed this week:

Scott M

So, this is my first time participating in #LeadershipDay14 discussing leadership with digital technologies in education. It has been, and continues to be, a journey that takes me to different places on many levels. The following is a list of 10 things I have and continue to learn as a teacher, principal and now superintendent:

1)  More and more it is not digital leadership, it is just leadership. Just as digital literacy is giving way to literacy and digital citizenship is becoming simply citizenship, digital leadership is really just leadership. We live in a digital world, so it would be virtually impossible for educational leadership to not embrace the role technology is playing in our learning, teaching and in our schools today.

2)  You are never done.  There are many leaders, schools and districts that mistakenly embrace technology plans with the belief that one can implement technology like it is a thing — some sort of program.  Digital is a journey — the educational tools we use on that journey continue to evolve.  So, there will always be something else or new to learn.

3)  Digital doesn’t make things easier. I have said this before in different contexts, but there is still a belief digital technologies make teaching easier, or learning easier. They don’t — they make it different. However, when everything connects, digital tools allow learners to do things that could not be possible without digital tools.

4)  Listen carefully to the skeptics.  Those who question and challenge are an important part of the process. Yes, some will challenge for strictly political reasons, while others enjoy being the dissenting voice. My experience with those most closely involved in education, particularly teachers, is they will do amazing things if they think they are the right things for kids.  The culture needs to be developmental not judgmental.   If you have many skeptics — come back to why the effort is good for kids.

5)  Always start with learning goals.  Please don’t set out to have an iPad in the hand of every student as your ultimate goal. We want students to be connected learners. Now, let’s figure out how to make that happen.  And while you are doing this — also be sure you have a plan for equity. If digital tools are the answer for the learners who can afford them, we better figure out how we can put them in the hands of all learners.

6)  Make sure teachers have the tools.  I think almost all districts across North America are at least thinking about a plan to include personal devices in the classroom. This is great news.  But, before students walk into classrooms with devices, make sure you have a plan for teachers to have devices as well. We have the responsibility to ensure our staff have the tools they need to go where the kids are.

7)  You can’t microwave change.  All teachers, all schools, and all districts must go through the process. Yes, it can be frustrating that change is not happening as fast as a leader might hope for, or that the digital transition is lagging.  There are ways to support and encourage it, but trying to force the change will ruin it.

8)  Embrace the uncertainty.  I never trust people who speak with certainty about what schools will be like in five years, or what role technology will play. Same, with those in education who self-gloss themselves as technology or social media gurus.  I think we can be pretty sure about the skills our kids will need, but the rest is really uncertain and that is okay. Technology will not ensure our kids are prepared for the future, but we can be sure that in five years technology will play a greater role, not a lesser one, in our schools and in our world.

9)  Whatever you do — model it. If you want kids to blog, then the leaders need to be blogging. If you want schools to go paperless, then the district office needs to go paperless. And, if you want classes to be more learner-centred, the same should be true for staff meetings.

10)  For leaders — surround yourself with people who will push you and make you uncomfortable. There is nothing worse than being satisfied with status quo. Finding leaders who will take risks is not easy, but they are out there. We need them in our district offices and in our schools.

Community is the greatest part of the educational journey. From those who I work with everyday, to the amazing digital community, there are so many of us trying to figure out the way forward — part of that is doing our best for all of our kids in this digital world.

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002

This past weekend I participated in my first virtual conference.  The Discovery Education Spring Virtual Conference was a free professional learning event for educators.  Of course, virtual conferences are nothing new, they happen in many professions and there are numerous opportunities like the Global Education Conference and the Learning Revolution Conference.  They are still new for many educators and, while I had heard of these events before, this was new learning for me.

A collection of observations:

  • It was the first time that I gave a keynote presentation from my dining room table.  It was wonderfully convenient but I also felt quite disconnected.  Trying to passionately share my material speaking into my computer without any feedback from a live audience was challenging.

 

  • The technology is good, but not perfect.  Livestream, which hosted all of the presentations worked well, but there were some hiccups during the day making logging-in challenging.  I also owe a huge thanks to Steve Dembo who assisted with setting me up for my presentation and was troubleshooting before and during the event.  I found myself far more stressed about the technology than the content for the presentation.

 

  • I was first up in the morning (6:00 a.m. on the west coast) and did ‘attend’ a variety of sessions throughout the day.  I liked being able to start in one and if it wasn’t quite for me to leave and find another that was.  There were a number of concurrent, live sessions participants could choose from at the event.

 

  • I found that even though the sessions are archived immediately, I do like to see the live presentation.  There is something about the shared experience of people, even if not face-to-face, all participating at the same time.

 

  • The social elements make these events very powerful.  Through an online chat on the host website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, there were amazingly rich conversations and sharing throughout the sessions.  It was great to be able to connect over the #DENVirtCon  hashtag.

 

  • While it was somewhat of a lonely experience for me, I think part of the power of the event for many participants was the ability to conference across schools, districts, communities and North America to learn and engage with educators, and taking what they were learning online and processing it face-to-face. There were sessions being hosted in many locations.  I think finding a way to make the online experience a blended experience (a mix of online and face-to-face)  is key in making online learning experiences “sticky”.

 

And some conclusions:

  • There are definitely some new models interfacing with professional learning. From Edcamps to TEDx events, to online conferences, these events are challenging the traditional conference format.  I actually don’t know how long the traditional conference can survive.  There is a place for events built on networking and connections, but those built around expert presentations where educators spend hundreds of dollars to sit in a large hotel events room may find it difficult  to survive.

 

  • I am blown away by how many passionate teachers will give up a Saturday for their own learning.  I saw it this past weekend, also at EdCamp and a variety of other events.

 

  • DENVirtCon featured presentations from across North America and largely, we are trying to do similar things.  This may be a sweeping generalization, but the efforts we are making and the system we are aspiring to does appear to be similar in many areas — particularly, with an uber-engaged group of educators.

 

  • I found DENVirtCon to be inspiring and I learned some things I can use this week — can’t ask for much more!

 

 

Here is a link to a video archive of my presentation and below are my slides:

 

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dennis sparks

I started my teaching career in the infancy of the Internet information age. At the time, information on how to improve one’s practice was scarce.  I relied heavily on books, monthly magazines, face-to-face professional development opportunities and the advice and mentorship of colleagues. Over the first several years of my career a few individuals became key influencers. I am sure it is similar in other professions, but I would look to several educational leaders with great awe and admiration — they were the “rock stars” of education in my books.  The list was quite short. There was Barrie Bennett (he is responsible for me using and overusing the place mat activity); Richard DuFour (Mr. Professional Learning Communities); Bruce Wellman and Laura Lipton (when I stand away from the item I am talking about to separate myself from the data, they are responsible) and Dennis Sparks (his regular articles for the National Staff Development Council were a source of information and inspiration).  If I were building a Mount Rushmore for my education gurus, they would definitely be the leading candidates.

I have had the chance to interact with each of them in recent years, and it was with nervous anticipation when I responded to a recent interview request from Dennis Sparks.  In the Internet age, many education authors who have made their living off of books and presentations have struggled to figure out a new model. Why I love Dennis (and others like Bruce Wellman and Grant Wiggins) is they have embraced the blogosphere where they share information for free knowing that it will actually increase their credibility and ability to secure presentations, or sell books.

Dennis has a great blog here and he “gets” it; as on his blog and on Twitter he is fully engaged with his audience. I shared some of my thinking with Dennis, which he published in a recent post.  You can read the full post here.  Below, I have reprinted some of his questions and my answers:

What are the two or three most important things you’ve learned about school change from participating in it, observing it, or studying it?

I have learned that every school needs to go through its own process.  It can’t be speeded up because we need to have the conversations. We can’t microwave school growth and evolution.

Context really matters – from where schools are located, who is on the staff to what the history is of a school.  In particular, we need to honour a school’s history.

I would also say that every little encounter matters.  As a school leader a meeting might be a low priority for you, but it may be the most important meeting for the person you are with.  You build credibility with the little things.

What would you say to a principal or teacher leader in his or her first year on the job?

Smile and listen.  As nervous as you might be in the new role, others are also anxious about what it will be like to work with you.  The first thing you need to do is reach out and build relationships.

From your perspective what seem to be the qualities of leaders who thrive in their work? 

They are continually curious and comfortable with ambiguity. They understand that doing things differently is not a sign of weakness, nor does it mean that we were doing things “wrong” in the past. Instead, it’s part of the rapid change we are seeing in education and our society.

What thoughts do you have about how leaders might develop those qualities?

I think leaders need to step back and consciously let go of control. This can be terribly difficult, but something that can be practiced.  Leaders need to consciously give up control – even over small things to start – and to be curious rather than focused on trying to be right.

There seems to be agreement that experimentation and risk-taking on the part of leaders is desirable. In what ways were you encouraged to step out of your comfort zone, and what was it like for you to do so?

Risk-taking and experimentation are absolutely part of what we need in our leaders.

I have been fortunate to be surrounded by people who encouraged a culture of risk taking.  As a new teacher I was encouraged to take on new courses and teacher leadership, then encouraged to take on new roles. In turn, I have tried to do this for others and model it through my “Culture of Yes” blog.

It is terribly scary to take risks. I tell leaders to remember how risk makes us feel as we encourage our students and those we work with to take risks.

A common concern expressed by both new and experienced principals and teacher leaders has to do with teachers who are reluctant to engage in new practices. What ideas or practices would you offer to those leaders?

I think teachers are willing to engage in new practices if they believe the practices will make a difference for students.  I don’t know of any teachers who do not want to improve the life chances of their students, and teachers are willing to go above and beyond when they believe doing things differently will be better for those they work with.

I think we need to keep the focus on students. How will using technology in the classroom benefit students?  How will an inquiry-based approach better engage those in our classrooms?  How will a commitment to self-regulation better prepare students to be ready to learn?  We can get caught up in bigger conversations around new practices, but we should always come back to students.

From your experience, what are the most important things a leader can do to influence teaching and learning?

School leaders should focus on being learning leaders themselves. They should position themselves as the lead-learner in the school.  Principals and teacher leaders should model learning and be continually focused on improving learning for students.

It sounds obvious and simple, but we often become distracted. That’s why I encourage school leaders to focus on a small number of things that resonate with teachers across subject areas, such as using inquiry.  It doesn’t mean this is all that is important, but it is crucial to have a focus.

I am also curious about what you regard as the areas of greatest leverage in your own work as a system leader.

I think the greatest power I have is as a connector and a storyteller. I have the amazing benefit  of being in all of our schools and talking with students, teachers, administrators, trustees, parents and the community.

Sometimes, teachers and schools feel like they are on their own – I can help connect them and remind them they are part of something bigger. As we move in the same direction with a fair bit of flexibility and autonomy, we are far more than independent contractors who share a geographic region.

My thanks to Dennis for inspiring me early on in my career and for continuing to be someone who pushes my thinking to this day. Having leaders like him engaged in professional learning in our digital world brings depth and credibility to it.

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Tools

Last week I shared Superintendency & Social Networking, a post that was also published in the AASA School Administrator Magazine.  I also wrote two smaller pieces for this most recent edition; edited versions are below.  I came back to two questions that I get asked frequently – how do you find the time and what tools should one be using.

Here are my thoughts:

Finding the Time for Social Media

The superintendency is already a completely consuming job, so how can you possibly find the time to invest in social media? These are my suggestions for those looking to add social media to their work routine.

Create manageable expectations. Whether it is a blog, Twitter or other tools, be realistic about the commitment you can make to participating in social media.

Choose a few tools and use them well. There are thousands of tools available. Select a few and develop a comfort level with them. Start with tools such as YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, all of which are heavily subscribed to by those around you.

Block out some time. As you get into a routine, schedule time each week to spend engaging in social media. It might be 15 minutes a few nights a week or some time on Sunday morning, but it needs to become part of your routine.

Decide what this will replace. As you start tweeting and blogging, decide what you won’t do and what this will replace. As you engage in social media, some of the more traditional outlets, such as reading newsletters, can be eliminated.

Embrace mobility. Be sure people know you want to be contacted, and then ensure you have access to all these tools on your mobile phone, whether it is phoning, texting, tweeting or Facebook use. You want to be mobile so you don’t have to be in the office to be at work.

Five Indispensable Tools

Blog: Consider this your home base for social media and the venue for sharing your ideas on leadership and education practices. My blog is where I share my thinking, and it serves as a great portfolio of the work that has engaged me.

Facebook: Often considered more of a personal communication tool, it remains an excellent way to connect to your community. It is still the No. 1 social media tool used by our families, so it functions as a great place to share photos from events and alert the community to upcoming events.

SlideShare: This is the place to post all of your PowerPoints so they are easily accessible to educators in your district and elsewhere. No longer do I distribute presentations by e-mail. Rather, I make them all accessible through SlideShare so others can use and share them.

Twitter: This is your avenue for connecting to your community 140 characters at a time. Twitter is a wonderful professional learning network, connecting me with colleagues from around the world.

YouTube: Short videos of your school visits or records of your speeches now can go online. The use of video is growing, and YouTube is a great place to create a repository of your work.

I know these are regular questions for many – I would love to hear other tools that people find as core, and also other strategies people use to find the time.

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lightbulb

I have never met Karl Fisch, but we do seem to know some of the same people. I see him connect online with folks like Alec and George Couros and Dean Shareski. Karl, is the Director of Technology at Arapahoe High School in Colorado, and seven years ago he helped give me my “Aha” moment.

Around August, I find myself searching and sometimes stressing for my opening day presentation to staff — looking for the right words, the right video to set a tone for the year and give the right message.  And this habit really all started several years ago when I was entering what would be my final year as a Principal of Riverside Secondary School in Port Coquitlam.  Alan November had been to Coquitlam the year previous and inspired many of us, and Thomas Friedman’s 2005 book The World is Flat was still fresh in my mind.  I wanted to share a message about the changing world and how it was changing teaching and learning and the world for our kids.  I was stumbling around the web through some blogs I was following at the time, and came across a post from Will Richardson on Public Attitudes Towards the Public Schools that pushed me to a post from Karl Fisch (who, I had never heard of) called Did You Know? which was the sharing of his opening day presentation for his school.

Here is his presentation:

Although I had never met Karl I took him at his word in his post,

I haven’t taken the time yet to figure out the different levels of creative commons licensing, but let’s just assign the most permissive one. As far as I’m concerned, as many people as possible should be thinking about and discussing these ideas. You all have permission to use, modify, reuse, etc. anything you’d like. (Although if you find good stuff to add to or replace what’s in there, I’d love it if you’d send it my way so that I can add it to mine.) Since I basically stole (ummm, “remixed”) all of the ideas from other folks I really don’t see what claim I have to all this. As far as giving me “credit,” you’re welcome to – I assume that will help pay for my daughter’s college tuition somehow, right? :-)

After watching the video that August afternoon, I went home and began to personalize the slides for my school.  Less than a week later I was showing my version of the video to our staff, then to our parents and then to all the students in our school:

I did show different versions of the presentation many times over that year, and I was not alone.  “Remixes” have been created of the Did You Know? video; presentations on YouTube had viewership in the millions.  It was an education video gone viral, and It became the go-to change video at conferences until Sir Ken came along.  Up until then, I thought it was only videos of cats that spread so quickly.

That experience was my “Aha” moment.  I learned about the power of a network and also learned that it is not only the smart people you know, but the smart people they know that can help you.  I also learned about the new power we all have to influence conversation.  Previous to this experience in networking, there would have been no way I would have ever seen a PowerPoint created for an opening day presentation in a high school in Colorado.  Now, just days after it was presented, I was remixing it and sharing it with my staff, and hundreds of others were sharing it around the world.  I was also reminded of the generosity of our profession — we are all sharing and learning together with a common purpose around student learning.

As I start my seventh September in West Vancouver, I am again crafting my message for our opening day — and, it is one of passion.  The passion we want our kids to have for learning; the passion we want to have as teachers and learners ourselves.   And, like my experience in August 2006, I will take the best of what others are thinking, saying and doing in education, remix it with my own ideas to make it make sense for the community we work in.

Thanks Karl.  We’ve never met, but you have changed how I think and work.

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tedimage

IF YOU ARE RECEIVING THIS POST VIA EMAIL YOU MAY HAVE TO OPEN THE POST IN YOUR BROWSER TO VIEW THE EMBEDDED VIDEOS.

In April, I wrote about TEDxMania sweeping West Vancouver when we hosted two amazing events, TEDxWestVancouverED and TEDxKids@Ambleside. What has become so powerful about the TED and TEDx presentations is that they take on a life of their own on the Internet. Full credit and thanks to the teachers and administrators who organized the first event and to the elementary school students who organized the second one. Also, a huge “Thanks” to so many students who assisted with the video production — a great example of “real-real” learning.

I have previously written about my experiences – Hopes and Dreams for My Kids Schooling, but I would also like to highlight some of the other presentations from both events. Each one (presentations were a few minutes to 20 minutes) is well worth watching and sharing.
Here are a few presentation highlights by West Vancouver School District Staff at TEDxWestVancouverED:

Provoking thoughts from Gary Kern on what he wanted for his grandson, Jackson:

Scott Slater reflects on the process of change and the implementation of Outside45:

Kelly Skehill gives a changing perspective of math:

Zoltan Virag shares his passion around music education:

Other videos from the day include (click on the link to open the video):

Lauren Bauman (WVSD student) – Accidental Learning
Bruce Beairsto – A Framework for Professional Learning
Qayam Devji (WVSD student) – How Teachers Can Help Students Achieve Big Ideas
Tracy Dignum (West Vancouver parent) –Rethinking Memory & Retention of Learning: Tips for Parents
David Helfand – Designing a University for the New Millennium
Ron Hoffart – Environments for 21st Century Learning
Katy Hutchinson – Restorative Practices to Resolve Conflict and Build Relationships
Dean Shareski – Whatever Happened to Joy in Education?
Shelley Wright – The Power of Student-Driven Learning

Turning to TEDxKids@Ambleside, a couple of videos I would like to highlight:

Kevin Breel – his presentation: Confessions of a Depressed Comic has already be viewed more than 100,000 times at the time of publishing this post:

Alex Halme gives a first hand account — from a student’s view — of the differences between the Canadian and Finnish School Systems:

And again, there are so many wonderful videos worth watching and sharing, and you can see them all from the day here.

Once again, congratulations to all those involved, particularly Craig Cantlie and Qayam Devji. I know people are already excited about TEDx returning to West Vancouver next spring.

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