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ComputerVSPaper-640x229I have an anti-technology bias.

There I said it.  I am working on it.

This is probably a strange statement to see coming from me.  I have hundreds of blog posts that might suggest just the opposite.  I have been a regular cheerleader for the power of digital tools in the classroom.  I have hundreds of emails coming and going each day and get jittery when my iPhone battery falls to 20%.

Maybe it is age, maybe it is complacency, or maybe it is easier to just fit in with the crowd – but too often recently I have taken a jaded, and sometimes cynical view of technology, and that needs to change.

My friend and colleague Dean Shareski made a great presentation early in the summer at a conference hosted by the BC Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association where he argued that sometimes actually it is about the technology.  A regular line in most of my talks over the last few years, and one that gets repeated over and over again by many others is “it is not about the technology”.  And Dean is right, it is kind of about the technology sometimes.  And just like I know I am about to be mightily disrespected when someone starts a sentence with “No disrespect intended” many of the awesome examples shared after someone says, “it is not about the technology” really wouldn’t happen without the technology.

The distinction being made is that the goal is the learning and the technology is there to support the learning.  It is an argument that Michael Fullan has been making for a number of years focused on the right and wrong system drivers.  I think we can let people off the hook when we too casually say “it is not about the technology” – because sometimes it is about the technology.  Whether it is new portfolios, connecting with students across the world or getting feedback from a public audience, to some degree, it is about the technology.

Another interesting point that Dean made was that all the talk about technology disrupting communities – the same could be said for books and newspapers in previous generations.  With books and newspapers, people no longer had to connect face-to-face to receive information.  There are many photos like this one circulating on the internet that we romanticize as the good ol’ days:

reading

While at the same time when we see a family like this, we shake our heads and wonder why they can’t just be “present” with each other:

Family using cell phones at home. Children, parents. Technology.

And if Dean hadn’t done enough to make me come to grips with my growing anti-technology bias Pokémon Go came along and I felt like an old man wanting to yell at the neighbourhood kids to get off his lawn and stop making so much noise.  I went out for a walk at 10 PM and the community was full of mostly young people searching for Pokémon.  I was shaking my head – great –  another example of kids wasting time on their phones.  It took me until the following day to actually realize how awesome this was.  Young people were out walking, exploring, connecting and having fun.  If they had clipped a treasure map out of the local newspaper I would have thought it was awesome.  But there was my bias on display.

I have been reading a lot from Peter Diamandis, Clay Shirky and others lately to challenge my complacency.  Their thinking have helped me get back on course.  I am an unapologetic believer that the future is exciting, and that technology plays an important role in opening up amazing opportunities for our schools and beyond.  And so I will spend a little less time shaking my head at those on their Smart Phones, or playing the latest online game.

It is easy to slip into a “glass is half empty” mindset.

I know, everything in moderation – but sometimes it is about the technology and there is a lot to be excited about.

 

words

As the 2016-17 school year comes to a close I want to share the comments of my colleagues in West Vancouver who have been addressing their students moving on – both from elementary to high school and from high school to the post K-12 world.  You can feel the power of the relationships coming through . . .

Principal Judy Duncan at West Bay shared with her grade 7’s just how important elementary school has been for them and what challenges are ahead:

As you embark on the next leg of your learning journey, continue to do your PB (Personal Best). Continue to strive for excellence. Continue to follow your passion and seek that which makes you happy. Join clubs and teams at high school and make new friends, while holding onto the friendships you have developed at West Bay. Get involved in school life. Continue to develop communication skills, collaboration skills and that ever so important emotional resiliency.

Bowen Island Community School Principal Scott Slater reflected on his own grade 7 farewell experience at Caulfeild Elementary School and also about the important roles that both skill set and mindset play:

Your education is partly about skill set – writing skills, reading skills, being able to make use of numbers to solve problems. Your education is also about mindset – how you approach change, how you think about new situations, meeting new people and how you greet opportunity.

At Hollyburn, Principal Tara Zielinski also picked up on the importance of mindset:

You are Thinkers.  You are metacognitive and can explore various ways of knowing and understanding.  You have a ‘growth mind-set’ and acknowledge that making mistakes is sometimes the way we learn and grow.  You make connections between various subject areas and appreciate that our world is forever changing – for the better.  You have ideas to continue to support these positive changes.

The message from Chantal Trudeau Principal at Pauline Johnson, her final address at the school, as she transitions to principal at Chartwell, was focused on integrity:

At the core of a successful educational experience is the virtue of integrity. Make the right choices for yourselves. Knowing your needs as a learner is key to your success in high school and university. Surrounding yourselves with supportive friends is also crucial since it’s much easier to face new challenges when you have a strong network of support, which include your parents and close friends. If you make integrity your core value, you will be able to stay focused on your goals.

Cathie Ratz at Westcot Elementary passed along some advice to parents of soon-to-be high schoolers she once received:

Some of the best advice I ever received as a mother of three beautiful and socially motivated daughters was from a colleague and mother of four.  She told me to never miss an opportunity to tell my girls how much I loved them and also never feel the need to be quick with an answer to their social requests.  “ Let me think about it”  has saved us many a battle and given my girls time to make up their own mind as social plans developed and more often than not changed.

Jeannette Laursoo, Principal of Rockridge Secondary bridged the elementary and secondary school worlds, sharing with the grads comments she found on their grade 7 report cards and how five years later the same attributes hold.

You “continue to be an active participant during group discussions by listening to the opinions of others and contributing your own thoughtful ideas.”

 

You “enjoy challenges and are eager to learn”

 

You have “taken responsibility for yourself as a learner.”

 

You “treat all members of your classroom in a kind, caring, and respectful manner.  You have a strong sense of what is fair and deal with issues in a way that meets the needs of all involved.”

 

You “continued to tap into your creativity both technologically and imaginatively.”

 

You have “demonstrated a willingness to try new things and are comfortable taking risks in your learning.”

 

You have “continued to be a confident leader in the classroom and in the school.”

At West Vancouver Secondary, Steve Rauh focused with the graduating class on their solid relationships:

One of the things that I commonly share about West Vancouver Secondary School is that the students have an incredible amount of pride and respect for themselves, their school, their community, and their world. I expect that you will carry these attributes with you wherever you go.

I trust that you leave here with a series of strong and powerful relationships with both the students in your classes and the adults in the building. Hopefully you have known and felt how we have cared for you and that we have always had your best interests at heart above all else.

Our Secretary-Treasurer Julia Leiterman had the opportunity to address the graduates of Rockridge representing the district, and also as a parent of a graduate:

So if I asked any parent in this room what their greatest hope for you is, I wouldn’t come back with a laundry list of careers.  I can guarantee that the #1 hope we all share is that you are happy.  That’s it – we just want you to have a happy life.  This is not an end goal, it’s how we hope you will live every day.  My sister shared a pretty simple recipe for happiness that works for me, and it only needs 3 ingredients:

  1. Someone to Love
  2. Something to Do
  3. Something to Hope For

So someone to love – don’t be afraid to open your heart.  Honest, loving relationships lived with integrity will bring you great joy.

Something to do – get busy, get working.  Work is not a dirty word; it is the key to finding purpose in your life.  It doesn’t matter what work you do, just throw your heart into it.

Something to hope for – never stop learning, and exploring.  Never stop dreaming.

 

For me, in addressing graduates at our high schools I stressed the important role that graduates play as advocates for public education:

And we, me and everyone else in this room will count on you – to be unwaveringly committed to a strong public education system – the system that has served us well in this room and is the answer to the question about how we build a better world.  At a time when so many in our world are looking inward and dividing people, you need to remind people that it is education that brings us together in a world of fewer walls and stronger citizenship.

We have amazing academic achievements in our community.  It is interesting to see what our leaders are most proud of – it is not the marks they have earned but the people they have become.  I am blessed to continue to serve as Superintendent in West Vancouver. We have something pretty good going here.

summer_break-2

The Couros Remix

remix

Growing up, I rarely bought albums from individual artists. Why buy albums from Shaggy, Seal and Weezer when I could get one album with “Boombastic”, “Kiss from a Rose” and “Buddy Holly” along with 14 other great hits in one collection?  I loved that some musical experts would take the best hits from a number of artists and package them together.  Before we had iTunes we had compilation albums.

I was talking with a colleague about George Couros’ new book The Innovator’s Mindset and she said, “He doesn’t really say anything new, he just pulls together what everyone is saying.”  YES.  Exactly.  And that is why I like it so much.  I could find much of what is in Couros’ book the on web – embedded in websites and blogs across the internet.  But he did the hard work for me and pulled together a collection of some of the very best thinking across the continent and clarifies for those of us who think we are already doing the next thing, that there are many others on related journeys.

The book serves as reassurance and also a pep talk for those of us on the innovation journey. Above all, the book models the power of network.  While we can get hung up in the tools – be it Facebook, Twitter, blogs – there is no doubt this book and this narrative don’t happen without Couros’ ability to build and sustain a powerful learning network.  I read and interacted with this book differently than any other paper book I have owned.  I followed the conversation on Twitter, saw the reaction on Facebook and clicked to learn more on Couros’ blog about the key themes of the book.

The book that was the model of networking gave me new people to follow in my network.  It was a networked book about networking in education (knowing George a little I am sure he would appreciate that it was like a coffee table book about coffee tables).   The questions at the end of each chapter like “How might you create an environment that fosters risk-taking?”  are great discussion starters.

So like my Now! cassette tape (which I still have), Couros has done a great job of pulling together thinking from very different contexts into a common narrative and forcefully making the case that we need to continue to challenge the status quo – and know as we are doing it there are many others doing the same.

Couros’ book is a great summer read and also would be a solid choice for a school book club.  Two other books I have just ordered for summer reading based on recommendations from colleagues are The Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, and The Silo Effect by Gillian Tett.  I think it is always good to read both inside and outside of education.  Curious to know what are on others summer reading lists.

Uber

I often wonder – is it out there?

Is there some disruption that I just haven’t noticed?

Are we really just tinkering around the edges?

Is my friend Yong Zhao right – have we just maximized the old system and not really considered how we move to the new system?

I have 186 posts tagged “change” (actually 187 after this one) with them speaking to the small and large transformations happening around us in education. In recent posts I have looked at topics including the changing role of technology, new curriculum in British Columbia that is focused on big ideas and core competencies, and reporting changes that attempt to give better and more timely feedback to students and parents.

As I write these posts, I find myself reading more about the changes happening around us outside of education.  I try to get my head around the future of transportation in an era of autonomous cars, the future of medicine when the services of a doctor and hospital can largely be carried out at home through digital medicine,  and the state of our world if 100 becomes the new 60.

And while some of these changes are still hard to bring to focus, we have so many examples of shifts in industry all around us.  There are many long lists available showing all of these changes.  I know when I buy a book I go to Amazon not my local retailer.  When I want to look for used items for sale I search Craigslist not the Classifieds.  In Denver a few weeks ago, I never thought of getting a taxi, and Uber was my go-to.  Our television conversations are less and less about cable and more and more about Netflix.  And just a couple of months ago a friend showed me airbnb (I am a little behind) and I can’t see why I would go back to looking for travel accommodations in the old ways anymore.

And that brings me back to education.  If you have followed my posts, or heard me speak, I often make the point that in this rapid change happening around teaching, learning and schools, there is some satisfaction and relief that schools are not looking largely different.  We find it reassuring.  Schools also perform a crucial role as a community gathering place and the skills are really more about how we live and get along with each other as they are about some finite academic outputs.

That said, I wonder if I am missing something.  Or maybe rationalizing.  I imagine those in other disrupted fields also thought it couldn’t happen to them.  I did think that the Khan Academy might be the disruption to our K-12 system.  The Khan Academy has many of the features associated with other disruptions – being free, digital and widely available.  I think the Khan Academy is interesting and important, but it is not our Uber.

I am left wondering, are we the exception to the rule? Is there enough in the value of education the way it is largely done now to allow it to continue to survive and thrive or am I missing something.

This kind of thinking can make your head hurt.  It is time to go back to thinking about school timetables, textbooks and the kind of desks we want for our classes.  It is far less scary.

leader

I attend a lot of Superintendent events where there are discussions on the digital transitions of districts.  These discussions  are often about how “we” need to change, and far too often these conversations are being held in very traditional ways.  One is left often believing that the changes are about other people and not really about those leading the system.

This past week I was meeting with colleagues from across the continent and leading a conversation around digital leadership for superintendents. What was impressive is that in some very simple ways, Superintendents are finding ways to lead digitally.  I do think the questions about whether digital leaders have to lead digitally is really rhetorical.  We are part of a learning system, we need to be learners ourselves.

So, what are some easy entry points for Superintendents?

Model

There are so many ways to model the power of the digital tools.  There are big steps like investing in a regular blog, medium-sized steps like starting social media accounts and small steps like collaboratively building a meeting agenda in a shared document.  I was interested to hear from one superintendent that co-constructs her Board agenda through a collaborative Google doc.

Engage

More and more district leaders are finding voice and connections through social media.  While some still use these platforms as a one way communication channel and worry about the push-back from constituents others are finding the power of building connections and relationships in social media and that the interactions are not a waste of time but really an investment.

Explore

I loved to hear of the variety of tools that Superintendents use to make their work easier, more engaging and connect with students, staff and community. To highlight just two, one Superintendent spoke of his work with VoiceBo – an app that acts as a voice recorder.  When visiting various classrooms he will often times use the app with the students where he records and shares their voices.   As he said, “what students don’t want to share and have the superintendent record what they are doing.”  Another tool that was new to me was Slack – a tool that a number of school districts are doing to better connect and cut down on the email clutter.

Attend

As I have written before, where leaders spend their time matters.

I have argued that digital literacy is really just becoming literacy.  It is implied that digital is just part of the large expected meaning of literacy.  The same line of thinking needs to hold true for digital leadership.  For those who hold leadership positions in education, really being a digital leader is just being a leader.  We need to be continuing to upgrade our skills and be pushed to use the tools and engage with the mindset we expect of our students and teachers.

This really takes two parts – superintendents need to be in classes where teachers are pushing new ways to engage digitally and they also need to attend professional events that allow them to learn from and with colleagues on the paths other schools and districts are taking on the digital journey.

I have been very hard on traditional conferences in my blog posts.  There are some major events I refuse to attend now since they continue to perpetuate learning about the new things in the same old ways.  What was great about the Superintendent Digital Transition Symposium was that is modeled many of the new ways we are trying to engage.  There were some traditional lecture presentations, but there were also student discussions, gallery walks, hands-on activities, chances to engage digitally and choice in how, where and with who we learned.  If we are going to come together face-to-face there needs to be value added over traditional conferences.  This event is one of the few that I have attended that has started to realize this.

Conclusions

I am reminded when I connect with other districts, that if I am looking for a district leading the way thinking about digital engagement there is almost always a Superintendent trying to figure it out for herself how she can lead digitally.  I am also reminded that slowly the word digital is disappearing in front of the word leadership – in the very new future it will just be leadership and digital will just be one of the expectations when we use the word leader.

 

Wizard

Recently at the BC School Trustees Association, I was listening to Larry Rosenstock from High Tech High talk about the moment he knew he wanted to be a teacher.  It was a very interesting thing to reflect on and try to pinpoint the time I really knew I wanted to be a teacher.

I do think we all have these moments.

For me it was when I was about ten years old.  I can remember being backstage after the showing of Wizard of Oz by the students at Killarney Secondary School in Vancouver.  My dad (and for a time my mom) spent a long career teaching at Killarney and for many of those years he produced the annual school musical.  From a very young age I remember going to Fiddler on the Roof, Grease, Oklahoma!, Sound of Music among others.  When you are in a family with two parents as teachers going to the high school is a big family night out.

The Wizard of Oz and getting to go backstage stands out.  I remember the amazing joy and happiness from all of those involved in the production.  I can clearly remember getting to meet all of the actors and being in awe as if I was on a Hollywood movie set, and I remember them interacting with my dad.  There was such excitement.  And not only did I want to meet the actors, they wanted to meet me; I was Mr. Kennedy’s son.   I knew then I wanted to be a teacher.  Until that point what my parents did was quite obscure for me.  Even though I went to school everyday, I don’t think I really knew what a teacher did.  I learned that day that teaching was something really special.  Teaching was about making connections.  Teaching was about making things come to life. Teaching was about being on a team.

It is interesting that as soon as Larry Rosenstock had us think about when we knew we wanted to be a teacher, this moment, one I hadn’t really thought of in more than three decades immediately came back to me.

While I kicked the tires on other career options in high school and even into university I knew from a very young age I wanted to be a teacher.  And while some think a child of teachers is born into the job, it wasn’t that for me.  It was seeing the amazing joy that comes from the work in schools.  I am sure this Wizard of Oz moment and others like it are why I still advocate so loudly for strong arts and athletic programs and other options outside the classroom that round-out the school life.

I am sure I am not alone in having a moment I knew I wanted to teach – so what is yours?

solutionThe shifts in the BC curriculum are coming fast. Next fall the “draft” stamp comes off of all curriculum in K-9 across all subject areas. And if the current timelines remain in place, the same will happen one year later for grades 10-12. As I have written here before, the changes have been overwhelmingly well received and the conversations that have come out of them not just about what is covered in school but how it is covered have been outstanding.

As we get close to the September full implementation date, I am nervous that I see some beginning to look for solutions to cover the curriculum.  And just what does that mean?

For many of us growing up, we saw the grade 8 Social Studies curriculum as the Patterns of Civilization textbook.  The Science 10 curriculum was the Science Probe textbook.  I talk to many parents now who believe the Math curriculum in our elementary school is really the Math Makes Sense textbook. The new curriculum does not only shift what we are teaching, and how we are teaching, but also forces us to think differently about resources.  The focus on big ideas, students constructing knowledge and core competencies require different kinds of support resources.  If the era of a single textbook being able to equal a course of study was not yet over, it is now.

We have our second of two days this year dedicated to the implementation of the curriculum this week.  The day will focus on the competencies (communication, thinking and personal and social).   It is a very rich day that schools have planned with teacher leaders at each site leading the work on their staff.  Along with Aboriginal education and resources, the competencies were the number one item that staff across the district have wanted to focus on.  The work in our schools has been exciting and inspiring.  Teachers and administrators are working together looking at all aspects of teaching and learning and what the shifts mean for them, and their students.

As we get closer to September, there will be anxiousness around resources. We need to look to avoid the easy solutions of books or programs that promise to ‘cover’ the curriculum.  There will absolutely need to be new resources over time to support the new content, competencies and inquiry-based focus of the curriculum.  Aboriginal education, in particular, is an area that has not been well covered in previous resources and is embedded across all areas in the refreshed curriculum.

Just as the curriculum has been a process rather than a proclamation over the last several years, so should the work to find resources to support the students, teacher and classroom.  I think we need to think carefully about format – how much digital and how much paper based?  We need to  think about consistency – which resources should be standard across classes and schools?  We need to think of local vs. broad – which resources should be centred on the local community?  We need to think of content vs. process – should the resources be big ideas / inquiry focused or focused on subject content?  And what about professionally produced vs. locally teacher-curated resources?  And do we always need new resources – what do we have now that still works or could be used differently to support student learning?

I see some problem-based experiences that students do to support their learning and I see some other “new”resources that look like the old resources with a fresh coat of paint and where words like inquiry and problem-based learning were sprinkled throughout but little else changed.

And all of this is just the start. The refreshed curriculum is a real chance to also think carefully and differently about the resources we use to support learning.  And we know there is something reassuring when our children bring home backpacks of books – each one representing an area of study.

In our urgency to get up-to-speed with the changes in curriculum we should be thoughtfully looking for resources that help bring learning to life for our students and not ones that cover the new stuff in the older, familiar ways.

As I have said before, exciting times!

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