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Archive for the ‘Professional Development’ Category

 

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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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562px-Lighthouse_Lighthouse_Park (1)

I want to check back in and share some of the work going on in West Vancouver.  I last blogged about Some West Van Stories in November.

Director of Instruction Lynne Tomlinson got a boost for her most recent post on our district arts showcase – The Lighthouse Festival – when Sir Ken Robinson shared the post with his 167,000 Twitter followers.  Lynne highlighted the diversity within the arts at our schools:

The festival is indicative of the many programs offered in our district.  The variety of the performances provides a rich schedule of entertaining events as each teacher’s program is unique and highlights different aspects of performing arts.  We have enjoyed performances including: spoken word, theatre, choir, soloist, band, pop musical, flash mob and varied dance.

And she concluded, “This is public education at its finest.” – So true! It is great to expose the larger community to the great work in our schools, and give our students the opportunity to share their work with the “real world”.

Fellow Director of Instruction, Gary Kern, recently shared some of the initial feedback around our 1:1 Action Research.  There has been the good, the challenging and also the surprising.  Included on the surprising list from teachers:

  • It surprises me that people feel that students having 1:1 access to technological devices at any time at school is anything but to be expected. Many have their own iPads, or iPods in their backpacks. At home, although they often must share devices with other family members, all of my students have access to technology almost anytime.
  • How fast it is to find information (instant) when we are discussing things in-class
  • How much having google images supports our ability to “see” what we are learning
  • How many options exist/how many things we can DO with technology to show what we know or find things out
  • For educators too, tech opens up endless teaching and learning opportunities that far-outweigh the frustration of slow Internet, missing chargers, and access denied messages!
  • I was surprised when a teacher said, how can the students take notes from my lesson if they are ‘playing’ with their devices.  I figure the students take snaps and vids when they need to. A paradigm shift needs to be made here.
  • It surprises me that children think that computers are smarter than they are. When they figure out that they are in fact in the driver’s seat of these powerful tools and that the sky is the limit, they begin to see and think over the rainbow!

Sticking with technology, Caulfeild parent Andrea Benton wrote a guest post on Principal Brad Lund’s blog sharing her thinking as to why she supports and encourages the use of technology in their school.  Her post inserts itself into the discussion of what is the right balance in elementary school.  She argues:

Some people believe that technology shouldn’t be in schools. For me, this is short-sighted.  Schools shouldn’t be teaching for today but should be educating students for the jobs of tomorrow. This includes project management, critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and collaboration. Technology is here to stay and it is only getting more complicated.

Hollyburn Principal Val Brady recently used her blog to nicely outline the WHYs and the WHATs to writing in elementary school.  Her useful post looked at the purpose of writing and what has been changing:

The philosophical underpinnings of teaching writing have shifted over the years. Developing student skills in writing is still important, but engaging students in writing for real purposes leads to joy in writing and at the same time develops communication skills that will serve students a lifetime.  Whether students put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, engaging in writing for real purposes gives voice and structure and develops thinking ability.

For West Bay Vice-Principal Tara Zielinski, a lot of focus in her class has been on Exhibition - the final stage of the PYP experience for grade 7′s:

In one sense, it’s a rite of passage.  However, after having both participated in and led Exhibition for five years now, I know it is so much more.  There have been and will be moments when our students feel like I did on the zip-line platform – fearful, intimidated, and adverse to things they have not yet faced.  Writing a Central Idea and Lines of Inquiry over and over demands resiliency.  Collaboration requires reflection and metacognition. Interviewing experts takes organization and calls for effective questioning skills.  However, each year it is one of the most rewarding components of my job to observe and support our learners as they integrate the essential elements of the PYP and more than six weeks of intense erudition into a final presentation.

At Pauline Johnson, they have just been through the student-led conferences, and Principal-designate Chantal Trudeau shared her thinking around their power:

The student-led conference is a wonderful opportunity for the students themselves to take ownership of their learning and to show their parents and guests what they have learned over the course of a term. Students invariably feel pride in what they have accomplished. They feel independent, confident and important as they read their favorite stories, lead their parents in the calendar routine, show science experiments or Social Studies projects.  Research shows that student-led conferences is a method that better helps students improve their learning, improve parent engagement, and get higher learning results for our students

Ridgeview grade 7 teacher Cari Wilson shared the story of her students inspirational meeting with Molly Burke:

One of the big privileges that comes with being in Grade 7 is the ability to join your school’s “Me to We” group. Last week many students in School District 45 joined thousands and thousands of other students in Me to We’s “I am Silent” day. It is a day of silent protest and solidarity, designed to bring awareness to the plight of the millions of children worldwide who are not listened to. The children who have no voice.

This year, on the day before “I am Silent” day, 5 lucky Grade 6 and 7 Ridgeview students got a chance to meet Molly Burke, a remarkable young Canadian who although blind has found her voice and is using it to inspire young people.

And finally,  also with a large serving of inspiration, West Vancouver Secondary Principal Steve Rauh had his blog taken over by John Galvani a grade 12 student in a wheel chair:

I am John Galvani, I am 17 and I am in a wheelchair. For my Global Education class I organized for wheelchairs to come to my school. I wanted to spread awareness and education about what my life is like in a wheelchair by giving my class the experience of being in a wheelchair for the day.

I contacted BC Wheelchair Basketball Association and arranged for them to deliver 10 wheelchairs on April 10. Ten students volunteered to be in a wheelchair.  They went to their classes, recess, lunch and some even went to P.E.!

We should do this for all grades so that they can see and feel the challenges that people in wheelchairs go through everyday.

Lately I have been seeing a lot of what I do as being the amplifier of good ideas – whether that is done face-to-face or in the digital world, my job is to tell our good stories and connect and network them to others.    And, there are lots of good ideas to share!

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150 Posts Later

World of Recent Posts

Wordle of Recent Posts

I think, in many ways, my blog has defined my superintendency in West Vancouver.  I came into the role committed to doing things differently and while many of the aspects of the work are hard to define, or are not very visible, my efforts at writing for a public audience, about once a week, has been something I have been completely committed to.

My original motives behind blogging are largely the same today:

  • try to be transparent with my learning and leadership
  • model the “new way” many claim is the way students will learn — engaging with the world, and using digital tools to connect in ways we couldn’t connect without them
  • offer a different voice on educational issues from those in the mainstream media
  • work out ideas; get feedback, and push my own thinking

Some of what I have learned over the last 150 posts:

  • there is a tremendously supportive community of interested teachers, students, parents, and others wanting to engage in topics related to education
  • a good post can influence conversations in schools and the community
  • my network will help me out when I need it — it’s pretty amazing to have access to hundreds of the smartest people in the world through my blog
  • building a digital network makes it so powerful when you meet these people face-to-face —  it’s like you’re old friends
  • some of my thinking has changed over time, and the blog is a wonderful resource to track the changes in my ideas –  a filing cabinet for my brain
  • I am always a little nervous when I hit “Publish” — mostly worried that former English students of mine will find my spelling or grammar errors, and also worried that I may offend instead of engage
  • my writing has improved — it is a skill that improves with practice
  • a good post is one which people talk about the ideas raised; a bad post is one which has people talking about what I said… and, I have definitely done both

Some advice I would give to other educators starting to blog:

  • be clear about what you will and won’t write about — it is easier if you know from the onset the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ behind your blog
  • it is a bit cliché, but write for yourself, not for what others may want; let the blog be a personal journal in a public space
  • do not be too ambitious with your writing — make plans to write once a week, or once a month and stick with it
  • use social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to amplify your message
  • be thoughtful of the relationship between your professional role (teacher, administrator etc.) and your blog
  • think in blog posts — when you are at a conference, reading a book, or attending a meeting, begin to organize your thoughts and take notes like you are writing a story
  • the more voice you can have in your blog the more engaging it is for readers
  • be a storyteller — our schools are full of amazing stories waiting to be told

Some other observations:

  • the posts that tend to get the most interest are ones about self-regulation or athletics; people also really appreciate a little bit of “personal” mixed in with educational theory
  • blogging is a wonderful way to publicly say “Thank You” to teachers, colleagues, and mentors who have been an influence in your life
  • the busiest day for comments on my blog is Sunday, which is not true for other bloggers, but makes sense in the education world — it is the one time when we actually have a few minutes to read and reflect
  • we still need to find ways to make education more accessible – and while we need bloggers wanting to be the New York Times or the Globe and Mail of blogging; we also need less formal versions (I realize mine are more the latter)
  • it is not easy to write for a public audience — if you are told otherwise, the person is not being honest with you
  • it is okay to write about serious things, but in my blog I try not to take myself too seriously – while it should be informative, it should also be fun

I realize people like to put others in simple boxes.  I spent the first part of my career as the basketball coach who taught English and Social Studies.  I then transformed into the “kid” who became a vice-principal, and now I am the blogging and tweeting superintendent.  I suppose there are worse things I could be (or called), and I have become very comfortable with who I am and blogging has helped with this.  It has forced me to be specific about ideas, pushed me to share publicly, and given me a regular vehicle to reflect and refine my thinking.

At an earlier stage in my life I was a newspaper columnist for a local community paper. After about 150 columns I felt I ran out of things to say.  Blogging is different; it is the difference between telling and engaging, and I look forward to engaging in the next 150.

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top3

My “Top 3″ blog list is becoming a bit of a tradition with previous Top 3 lists for 2011 (here) and 2010 (here). This “top” list is an opportunity to review ideas that have become a big part or our learning over the past 12 months, which may have been missed in the “drinking from the firehose” approach (what has become social media and the Internet). I continue to shuffle the categories, trying to take a different approach to these year-end lists.  They are a great way to raise topics, discussion, debate, and perhaps shed some light onto areas deserving more attention (or topics missed) as the year went on.  I look forward to others adding their thoughts on my “Top 3″ of 2012.

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts which have Generated the most Traffic this Year:

1.  The Multi-Sport High School Athlete

2. If School Was More Like Swimming 

3.  How My Teaching Has Changed

Top 3 Used (and often overused) Terms in Education for the Year:

1.  Game Changer

2.  Perfect Storm

3.  Flipping It

Top 3 Growing Trends I See Continuing in the Next Year:

1.  Self-Regulation (but more broadly social-emotional learning)

2.  Outdoor learning (outdoor classrooms and full outdoor programs)

3.  Low / No Cost Conference Events (e.g. Edcamps)

Top 3 Books I have Read this Year that have Influenced My Thinking:

1.  Why School? by Will Richardson

2.  11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era by Nilofer Merchant

3.  How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough

Top 3 Professional Development Events I have Attended:

1.  Visit to Finland (Here and here are my two posts on the visit)

2.  Two Library-related events:  the BCTLA PSA Conference in October and the Changing Times; Inspiring Libraries Summit in December

3.  West Vancouver Opening Day with cultural-anthropologist  Jennifer James

Top 3 BC Edu-bloggers that I didn’t know about 12 Months ago, and now Follow:

1.  Anthony Ciolfitto – Principal, Riverside Secondary School, Port Coquitlam

2.  Stephen Petrucci – Director of Instruction, Fort St. John

3. 180 Days of Learning – Delta School District (cool project!)

Top 3 Non-education New Twitter Follows:

1.  Rick Reilly - ESPN

2.  Nate Silver - New York Times (FiveThirtyEight blog)

3.  Andy Borowitz - New Yorker Magazine

Top 3 School-related Videos from British Columbia (that I bet you haven’t seen):

1.   What a Teacher Makes – West Vancouver

2.  VSB Transition from Elementary to Secondary School (VSB has lots of great videos)

3.   Gino Bondi – Innovation and School Libraries  (BC Libraries also has a number of other great videos)

 Top 3 School-related TED Videos Posted this Year:

1.   Will Richardson (TedxMelbourne)

2.  Thomas Suarez: A 12 year-old app developer

3.  Stop Stealing Dreams:  Seth Godin

Thanks to everyone who continues to engage with me on my blog and push my learning.  Our digital community is continuing to grow and I am thrilled to be connected to so many thoughtful teachers, parents, students and community members.  Blogging is not easy, but it is exceptionally rewarding.  I look forward to continuing to grow and learn together in 2013.

Chris Kennedy

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Growth

I have written a fair bit about how my teaching has changed.  The post I wrote earlier this year generally described three basic stages.  At the start of my career I saw myself as a content provider and storyteller. When I became more comfortable with the craft I gave more ownership to students over their learning, which created a range of simulations and role-playing opportunities.  More recently, I have searched for more ways on how to do give students ownership and, now, opportunities for real world experiences as well.

Just as my teaching has evolved and changed, so has my learning. Early in my career I was hungry for any and all professional opportunities.  This was pre-social media and during the early days of the Internet.  I wasn’t that selective, but I did know I wanted to know more and improve.  I would read any article or book I was given. I would take gently read copies of Educational Leadership from my principal and vice-principal, and attend any opportunity offered for professional learning – from classroom management strategies and instructional design, to creating a democratic classroom.

As I moved into school administration I loved the big names and the big conferences. It truly was exciting to see and hear the big thinkers on education around the world. And, truth be known, there was something thrilling and honouring in attending these big conferences; the kind where thousands are in the room together – and I was one of them!  I sat at tables with some of the key leaders in my district, the province, and the world.  We all heard the same message from Michael Fullan to Sir Ken Robinson and had perspectives on where key leaders in our educational world thought we should go. I was sharing the room with edu-celebrities (I liked this word that Chris Wejr used recently, and committed to using it in a blog post).

Having recently attended two well-run, high-profile conferences, I realize these events with the speaker at the front of the room with all of us listening to the same message, no longer really works for me.  They are still great events, but I don’t feel they are actually pushing my learning.  What I need now is a chance to spend time making sense of what I am hearing — I crave the opportunity to engage with the smart people who are with me in the room.  I like Rebecca Rosen’s notion that “The smartest person in the room is no longer a person but the room itself.”  I have seen what is possible in the social media era. If I want to watch a speaker deliver a keynote I can watch it on YouTube. If I am going to see that keynote in person, I need to have some focussed engagement with others on what is being said.  If I am going to travel to conferences, then I need it to add value — not only to come away with new ideas, but new tools that I have had the chance to try, and the experience I couldn’t have had if I were not there.

I don’t mean to criticize the traditional conference because it DOES have value and there IS something powerful about being in a room of people hearing a similar message. Personally, however, I have moved past the learning options that were available to me a decade ago.  So, having also recently attended an EdCamp, I can say there is something between that and a traditional conference that would be best for how I want to learn.  And, I am okay with giving up a Saturday (with the promise of a bagged lunch) to sit in a high school to talk teaching and learning.

A couple of TEDx events I attended were also closer to hitting my learning mark, with shorter times for the keynotes and longer times for participant interaction. I am also finding events that bring people together from outside education, other government sectors, non-for-profits, or the corporate world, to be valuable in adding a range of views and perspectives to conversations.

And what else do I find is making a difference?  Focussed visits to districts, schools and classes are very powerful, with specific objectives and learning in action and not only in a presentation.  I also find the traditional ‘study group’ to continue to have a huge impact on my learning.  My first principal, Gail Sumanik, would bring donuts and coffee an hour before school started on Wednesday morning when interested staff would discuss an article, a strategy or part of a book.  I have carried this simple structure forward to other roles and find these conversations to be extremely valuable.  Another structure that I find valuable is some sort of networked learning – the kind that Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser have led so well in BC for well over a decade.

And yes, I find the ongoing engagement on my blog, the dozens of others I regularly read and other ways I connect in social media, to be very powerful on my learning.  I love the opportunities, both face-to-face and virtual, that are about sharing and learning together.

Last, but by no means least, I guess what I want for my learning is what I want for my kids, some form of personalized learning.  And, I am realizing my learning has changed, and that I have become a different learner than I was even five years ago.

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Blogging continues to evolve in West Vancouver.  At some schools, principal blogs have become school blogs (you can check them out here). The modelling from principals and vice-principals has led to other staff starting their own digital writing space, and they offer a great sample of the conversations currently taking place throughout the West Vancouver School District.  Here is just a sample of what people are talking about:

Lynne Tomlinson, Director of Instruction, recently wrote about moving Conversations to Clarity in her work:

We have seen so many variations of teaching and learning over the past year, some patterns were beginning to emerge.  We came up with a framework that incorporates the core phases of learning that we have seen in our classrooms within an evolution towards “making it real”.  Learning has to be important if we are to engage our students.

Self regulation underlies all learning, as does social emotional learning.  Indigenous principles of learning must always be embedded in our practice.  These are the foundations of learning that have been of much greater focus in our classrooms.  From there, inquiry and access will encourage student engagement.  Tuning protocols for formative assessment and instructional strategies insure rigor.  Finally, student presentations of their work and real world tasks provide the relevance in learning.

Darren Elves, teacher and PYP IB Coordinator at Cypress Park Primary School, investigated The Student Perspective on Questioning, which is also a link to his own current studies:

In attempting to find a viable and relevant topic to look at as a focus for my Master’s work (M.Ed in Educational Leadership at Vancouver Island University), it didn’t take long for me to pinpoint the notion of student questioning.  Having the good fortune of working in a school environment that embraces a very clear stance on inquiry as best practice, we are always looking, as a staff, for ways to improve upon our learning and teaching here at Cypress Park Primary.

Cathie Ratz, Principal at Irwin Park Elementary, profiled their school’s work with MindUP – a program that continues to gain momentum throughout the district as part of the larger self-regulation strategy.  She describes it as:

. . . . a family of social, emotional, and attentional self-regulatory strategies and skills developed to cultivate well-being and emotional balance. Based on the notion that intellect does not exist in isolation from emotions,  connections to others or the rest of their bodies, the MindUP™  program is designed to address these components of learning for all students.

Lions Bay Vice-Principal, Jody Billingsley, also picked up on the social-emotional theme in his most recent post – Social Emotional Learning – Why Do It?:

It seems perfectly clear that we need to emphasize pro-social behaviours, character education and social emotional learning to help create caring successful citizens that will have educated minds and hearts.   This cannot be a sole school issue alone; we need the support of the community and families to help mold our future minds.

. . . If we work as a collaborative team to help foster this at home, in schools, online and in public, perhaps we can avoid people being bullied to the point of no longer having the ability to cope with their situation.  We need to ensure that we are not creating brilliant scientists who are evil, but brilliant citizens who think of others and how their actions impact the world.

Janet Hicks, teacher and PYP IB Coordinator at West Bay, linked the international-mindedness that is part of the IB Profile to the work that comes out of “Me to We”. Janet writes of how the energy from that day will transform into action at the school:

So, now as I go back to my Internationally Minded team I feel proud of what they CAN do for our world.  I know that they are filled with so much passion and will take these messages they have learned from We Day and apply it to their lives.  It is going to be exciting to watch these future world leaders go from “me to we”.

Michelle Labounty, Principal at Ridgeview Elementary, also picked up on the words of Marc and Craig Kielburger (Founders of Me to We) sharing their “Toast to First World Problems“:

None of us can help the situation we’re born into. We shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed because we have spacious homes, microwave dinners and GPS boxes that talk to us and help us get where we need to go. The guilt kicks in when we lose perspective on the little problems that arise amidst the privileges.
That’s the point of memes like the First World Problems Anthem — perspective. They’re not your mom shaking a reproachful finger and scolding, “Eat your broccoli! There are starving children in Africa, you know!” But rather gentle nudges to say, “Your computer blue-screened again? So what. Take a deep breath, it’s no biggie.”
Ridgeview Elementary Vice-Principal, Craig Cantlie, blogged to update us all on his experience of a lifetime –  Connecting with my Climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, a journey that has inspired many across the district:

I am very fortunate to work in a school district that is open to allowing its educators to pursue life experiences and has the foresight to recognize the positive effect it would have on students.

As for my school, overwhelmingly, the Ridgeview family was the greatest supporter of my climb. Staff, students and families enthusiastically contributed to all of the fundraising initiatives from the Flags of Hope to our coin drive. For a Vice-Principal who has only been at the school for one year, I was greatly touched by the generosity of our school community.

It has been a wonderful five months raising donations for BC Children’s Hospital, sharing my story and preparing for the climb of a lifetime. I will never forget the experience or the people who helped me to make it happen.

West Vancouver Secondary Teacher, Keith Rispin, also recently had a  wonderful experience attending the iPad Summit in Boston, and then sharing his learning with the rest of us.  His observations included:

One little but significant piece of the puzzle, without which all is for not. There was surprisingly little if any discussion on the role of student in this little learning revolution. We talked about how teachers have to change, education systems have to change, teaching practice has to change, the physical aspects of school have to change but NOTHING about how the student will have to change. Sure we talked about what kids should be able to do when they walk out the door but we did not discuss how the learner has to change their practice but there is no need to worry…

I think I stumbled upon a little hint as to how learners will have to change as we move ahead. It lies in the single most important thing I took away from this conference. People need to become “free agent learners” It does not matter if you are student or teacher. Those who will excel in the Twenty-First Century Learning environment, will take on the responsibility for their own learning. The days of being a passive recipient of the information that comes your way is over. Those who don’t, will be left in the dust.

Finally, West Vancouver Secondary Principal, Steve Rauh, was one of several to reflect on the power of Remembrance Day:

West Vancouver Secondary School has a tradition of honour and respect. Each year, we attach a poppy on the Graduation Composites that line our hallways to the photos of our young graduates who died in conflict. This is a very solemn visual.

It is incredible to realize that in some years nearly 10 per cent of the graduating class passed away in this manner. By today’s standard that equates to approximately 38-40 students from each and any of the classes from 2002 to 2012.

It is a pretty amazing and diverse collection of ideas being shared across the district, many stories that would not see such wide audiences without the power of the technology; all stories rooted in the power of face-to-face connections.  I am working in a community of storytellers, and it is wonderful to be part of such a thoughtful community.

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