Archive for September, 2010

If you want to open up a contentious conversation with any group of teachers, or the public at large, engage people in the topic of whether late work, or plagiarized work should factor into a high school student’s mark.

Since the start of the school year both Ontario and Saskatchewan have waded into this debate.  Earlier this week the focus was on Saskatoon:

Saskatoon’s public high school students will no longer be penalized for plagiarism or for turning in assignments late under a new evaluation method for report cards.

Last month, the focus was on Ontario, which had been seen on the leading-edge of separating assessment from work habits, and made the following adjustment:

New guidelines from the Ontario Ministry of Education will allow secondary school teachers to give students a grade of zero if they fail to hand in assignments on time — something teachers have been discouraged from doing in the past.

Regardless of which direction jurisdictions follow in the debate, the discussion is very entrenched.  On the one side, there are those who point to the need to separate students performance related to a set of outcomes from their behaviours (including whether assignments are in on time or whether they copied some of the work).  On the other side, are those looking for students to be real-world ready, where there are deadlines and consequences.

We do often equate the information we use to determine grades as being synonymous for what we value.  If we don’t include behaviours like participation, timeliness of work, or academic honesty, how do we show they are important?

There are a number of leaders in this field.   Ken O’Connor is a regular presenter in many British Columbia districts and says:

I continue to support the idea of not giving zeros, late penalty mark exclusion, and failing to provide extra credit opportunities that count for grades because they are educationally undesirable practices.

O’Connor, along with Damion Cooper (another sought after presenter in B.C.), are co-authors of the Communicating Student Learning – Guidelines for Schools in Manitoba.  It is interesting to see that in line with the Ontario discussion, some of the same discussions are happening in Manitoba.

Student understanding of the importance of deadlines, guidelines giving proper credit when others’ work is shared, amongst a host of other work-ethic habits, are very important.  As a parent, I want feedback not only on my children’s progress in relation to the outcomes of any given course, but their growth in a host of very important behaviours, as well.

I just don’t want the two mixed up, so that I can’t understand where the assessment of learning ends, and where their development of work habits begin.

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Today is our first meeting of the year with school professional development representatives from all West Vancouver schools.  This group of volunteer teachers meet on a regular basis to share their successes and challenges and help to evolve our very impressive model.  This group is chaired by the West Vancouver Teachers Association (WVTA), Professional Development Co-Chairs, Karen Harmatuk and Sue Elliot.

Here is a one page overview of the Professional Development model in West Vancouver (scroll on the right to see the entire document):

Our Professional Development Model, or the “Collaborative Model” as it is often described, helps guide all of our work in the district.  Our core values genuinely guide the work:

•1. Our primary learning focus is on improving student learning

•2. We work collaboratively on district, school and team goals because teaching is too difficult to do alone

•3. Our work is supported by current research

The model is built around our students and improving student learning.  It also makes it very clear the best learning is collaborative.  I was reminded of the power of collaboration this past week as “Learning Teams” from Pauline Johnson, West Bay, Cypress Park, Irwin Park and Ridgeview spent a morning together looking at digital literacy.

Our professional learning model in West Vancouver is really quite simple, but important to always come back to as a guide.  As district, school, or individual professional development grows, it is important to ensure these three strands are continually supported.

Every year we look at “how we can strengthen the collaborative model.”  The model is messy – but, so is good learning.  With all the talk about personalized learning for students, that is really at the heart of what we are trying to do with the adults learning in our district.  It doesn’t mean that every staff member has an individual, unique plan, but rather they have a personalized plan that blends together district, school and individual needs.

For all of our educators, it starts with our professional growth program.  The description from 15 years ago, and the purpose of teacher growth plans, is still very relevant today:

The purpose of the Professional Growth Program is to support the professional growth of teachers for the continuous development of instructional practices in order to enhance student learning in West Vancouver.

Like all the work we do either as individuals, collaborative learning teams, schools, or as a district, at its core is the improvement of our students’ learning.

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The title of this post is borrowed from a quote I recently saw from Brian Kuhn, the technology leader with the Coquitlam School District.  This quote struck me because 1)  he is right and 2) this is a dramatic change in thinking in just a couple years.

When I spoke at Opening Day for our district in early September, I described how technology, sustainability, and transparency are three themes that are underlying the work we do, and will continue to be very influential for all operations in our district.  Gary Kern, our Principal of Technology and Innovation, in speaking with our Board of Education last week, also emphasized the role of sustainability in his work as he described our district’s technology strategy for this year.  While we don’t want to limit a discussion on sustainability to printing and paper consumption, it is clearly part of our commitment in this area.

Until the past couple of years, our efforts in school districts have been to make printing more convenient.  What started as photocopiers in the office, spread to multiple copiers in schools, then to printers in computer labs to, in some places, printers in most rooms and at many work stations.  The cost of printers came down, and the need for convenience drove changes.  Until coming to West Vancouver three years ago, I had spent the previous decade with a printer on my desk.

The paper tide has been shifting.  While printers have come down in price, we have become increasingly aware of the ink and paper costs that eat-up supply budgets in school districts, and sustainability has moved to the forefront of discussions.  At the same time, technology has allowed us to digitally replicate activities which previously had been limited to being done on paper.

Today our school newsletters have moved to being almost exclusively digital.  Even with a conservative estimate of 30 pages of newsletters sent home with each child in a given year, this savings is over 200,000 sheets of paper.  This year we have also begun to move permission forms to the digital environment.  In addition to the savings in staff time, just at school start-up alone, we are photocopying 30,000 fewer sheets of paper because of this one change.  These changes in our business practices will only continue as our websites continue to evolve as our primary communication tool with our students, parents and community.

As teachers experiment with virtual classrooms, we are seeing more teachers taking advantage of “hand in” boxes that allow students to submit assignments and teachers to assess work without a paper copy ever having to be made.

So, back to the quote that led off this post, “printing will continue to become more inconvenient”.  Over the next few years we will have fewer copiers and fewer printers.  Resources that have been spent on ink and paper can be redirected in schools to other needs.  I suggested on Opening Day that we could reduce our paper consumption by 20% this year.  When we look to hit print on our computer, or use the Xerox, we should be always asking ourselves if we are doing this because we need to do it, or because we have always done it this way.

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It is very exciting to see how different schools in West Vancouver are working to answer the question of how we prepare our students for the future.   Whether it is called personalized learning, 21st century learning, or self-directed learning, there are some common themes emerging in both our elementary and secondary schools.

Gleneagles Elementary School, Principal Lynne Tomlinson, shared with me a presentation she gave at the school’s recent Curriculum Night. With the assistance of Head Teacher Chris Parslow, who is a key leader with the technology, they shared a learning vision for students in the school rooted in the very best current thinking around teaching and learning.

While sharing a slide deck never really does justice to any presentation, here is the framework shared with parents this past week at Gleneagles:

Unfortunately, some people get so excited about the possibilities of technology, that learning does not stay in the forefront of the change.  Gleneagles has it right – technology is not the story here, but it will help support the changes to prepare our students for the future.

It will be exciting to follow their journey!

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This past week, Vancouver’s Province Newspaper ran a series entitled Our Growing Challenge focussing on a range of issues related to raising children.

I would highlight  a video interview with UBC Professor, Dr. Kim Schonert-Reichel, where she describes some of the findings based on a study of the psychology, learning and social lives of Grade 4 students hailing from different parts of Vancouver.  Interestingly, given all the attention focussed on young people wanting to be “wired”, that over 50% of these young people want to engage in physical activities after school.

One particular article in the series that stood out was Hyper-parented kids ‘are starting to crack’ .  The article reinforces many of the messages from the book The Price of Privilege which is being read by all our schools administrators, and will be shared with our school parent leaders next week.  This is taken from the article, and the interview with Carl Honore, author of Under Pressure: Rescuing Childhood from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting:

New research shows mental-health problems such as child depression and anxiety, and the substance abuse and suicide that often go along with them — are now most prevalent in middle-class kids, not the poorest children.

The reason, Honore says, is hyper-parented kids “are under so much pressure now that they are starting to crack.”

“We are hyper-scheduled, hyper-stimulated, hyper-distracted and hyper-busy, so it’s not surprising we’ve created a kind of childhood that reflects this,” Honore says.

Finally, I think it is worth re-printing the list of simple, practical advice that Province Reporter Sam Cooper compiled of  Ten things every parent can do:

1. When you boil it all down, all the experts agreed that the single best thing that buffers children from negative forces is a loving, nurturing, warm relationship with parents. University of B.C. researcher and documentary producer, Maria LeRose, said resiliency in children — the ability to rebound from hardships — comes from the loving looks and care they get from parents when they are young.

2. It’s crucial that parents make superhuman efforts to shield children from stress of all kinds, because pressure soaked up during childhood is proven to cause all kinds of problems in health and mental well-being later in life, the experts agree. UBC researcher Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl says stress and anxiety rates in children are surging, but a groundbreaking California study shows that you can actually train young brains to feel more optimistic, altruistic and grateful, simply by teaching them to “count their blessings.” She points to a new program called MindUP, “which has gone viral” in Lower Mainland schools, with children keeping “gratitude journals,” doing good deeds for others just for the sake of giving and doing exercises to increase their mental wellbeing.

3. Dr. Clyde Hertzman of UBC’s HELP group says every parent should be providing “nurturant” learning and playing experiences, such as reading with your child, and the facilities needed are free in most neighbourhoods.

4. Carl Honore, a Canadian philosopher who has written parenting and lifestyle books about modern pitfalls in our hyper-fast, wired world, says “parents have to set hard limits on their children’s technology use. It’s not enough to set them free in the wild west of cyberspace.”

5. N. Rose Point, childcare expert and B.C. Institute of Technology elder adviser, said the basic needs for children are good nutrition, a warm shelter, and discipline should never be associated with these crucial factors.

“A meal should never be used as a reward or punishment, and children need a safe and warm place to sleep,” she said. “Never send your child to their room as punishment. When they go to bed at night, they will consider it a punishment.”

6. Participating in organized sports is one of the best ways for children to build ability, maintain fitness and learn good social skills. But all those good things go down the drain if parents are in the stands pressuring their little pros. Experts say sports parents should sometimes just drop children off, instead of cheering at every game.

7. When it comes to disciplining children, strive to keep a cool head. Amedeo D’Angiulli, a professor at Carleton University who studied the effects of stress on brain development in B.C. youth, says: “Try not to take important actions that affect your child emotionally when you are tired, stressed-out, angry or when you feel ‘parental guilt’. Take a pause or sleep on it, if it can wait at all.”

8. Parents in B.C. are working harder and longer than most in Canada in order to meet high living costs. That’s why it’s important to identify a parenting support network of family and friends and tap into the community aid that is available, so that you don’t feel like the responsibility rests completely on your own shoulders.

9. Don’t aim for perfection in parenting. Recognize the uniqueness of your child, enjoy them for who they are and learn to trust your own parenting instincts.

10. Being a kid shouldn’t be about beating the competition. And being a parent shouldn’t be about producing a winner by enrolling them in a busy regiment of “enhancement” activities. Let your children play, stumble and find their own way, at least some of the time.

While most would say there is nothing surprising on the list, there are a lot of very good reminders.

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As we look at increasing “personalized learning” in British Columbia, we have been encouraged to look over the fence and see what are neighbours are doing.  It is not a local, provincial, or even national trend to evolve schools to better embrace “21st century skills“, the movement is happening around the world.

For the past two days, Ontario has hosted Building Blocks for Education:  Whole System Reform and featured big thinkers from around the world including Michael Fullan, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Timo Lankinen the Director General of the Finish National Board of Education.   The conference is connected to the  Ontario government’s education plan:  Reach Every Student – Energizing Ontario Education.

With thanks to those tweeting from the Conference, and some late-night viewing of the keynotes that were webcast, here are some of the more interesting insights I found looking over the fence:

Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, Singapore:

  • the first building block to success is the principals
  • the role of politicians is sometimes to get out of the way
  • 20% of Singapore’s government spending goes to education
  • recognized that performance art can help promote 21st century skills

Timo Lankinen – Director General, Finish National Board of Education:

  • In Finland grade 1’s spend only 3 hours in school a day
  • Focus is moving from literacy and numeracy to arts and physical activity
  • Teachers salaries are not higher, but it is a very valued profession
  • 21st century skills are a key part of Finland’s success
  • All teachers in Finland hold a Master’s Degree

Michael Fullan, Special Advisor to the Premier of Ontario:

  • Transparency is here to stay
  • Relevant and personalized curriculum is helping grad rates
  • Role of central government in education is strategy, manage evaluation, explain to taxpayers what is happening
  • clamour for autonomy occurs with bad policies and bad leadership
  • not acceptable in definition of professional teacher or principal to say “leave me alone” – it is a balance between autonomy and integration

Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education:

  • “the fight for education is a daily fight for social justice”
  • Department of Education needs to be an engine of innovation and not a compliance office
  • Interesting – 2000 high schools produce 1/2 of US dropouts – call them “dropout factories”
  • US is in the midst of a quiet revolution in school reform
  • Courage not resources will transform education in the U.S.
  • In the U.S. the kids that need the most help get the least

Andreas Schleicher, Special Advisor on Education Policy, Directorate for Education, Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD):

  • once you remove the influence of social background, public schools do better than private schools
  • use statistical neighbours and interrogate data
  • technology enables non-linear learning
  • best systems attract great teachers and give access to best practices and quality
  • schools need to focus on the things that our kids will really need to know – learning how to learn and collaborating with others

There is some reassurance in knowing so many jurisdictions are having the same conversation. Many of our conversations in West Vancouver and the directions we are moving sound similar to those being implemented around the world.  The challenge, though, when we look at Finland, or when others look at us, is to take the ideas and apply them to what can be very different local contexts.

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I have just finished participating in the two-day fall retreat for Learning Forward BC.  And just what is Learning Forward BC?

Learning Forward

It is the rebranding of an organization that is well-known to many educators.

Learning Forward is the new name of the National Staff Development Council.  We are an international association of learning educators committed to one purpose in K-12 education:  Every educator engages in professional learning every day so every student achieves.

What struck me as different from this group from the many different formal and informal networks I often meet with around professional development is that at its core was the group’s commitment to being apolitical.  In the  room were educators who spend their days as classroom teachers, school administrators, district staff, university staff and ministry officials.

A lot of the discussion focussed on what place Learning Forward BC has in the current provincial landscape.  What attracted me to the group, and the place I think it has is as an organization where people “leave politics at the door.”

I don’t have experience outside the province, but  many people who have had experiences in other places in Canada, and around the world, often note that politics and education are intertwined in ways in B.C. unique from many other jurisdictions.  Too often we spend so much time focussed on our roles in the system, that we don’t get down to the work of moving learning forward.

This was my first true taste as a board member for Learning Forward BC – but if it can play a role in providing venues for conversations free of our titles and roles, it could be time well spent.

Look for more information about Learning Forward BC coming this fall.

To connect with the Learning Forward parent body, you can do so on Facebook or Twitter.

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We have had some different book clubs operating in our District over the last several years.  Most notably, outgoing Superintendent Geoff Jopson has often referenced and shared ideas that come out of Jim Collins’ Good to Great.

This year we have bought a book for all our administrators in the district, as well as for school Parent Advisory Council Chairs and District Parent Advisory Council Reps.  Based on a recommendation of a Rockridge Secondary School counsellor and the school’s principal Marne Owen, we are all reading The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine.  The 2006 book explores how “numerous studies have shown that bright, charming, seemingly confident and socially skilled teenagers from affluent, loving families are experiencing epidemic rates of depression, substance abuse and anxiety disorders.”

There is plenty to discuss from the book, including:

It is easy to see how always tying shoelaces for a toddler would be impairing her autonomy. No parent wants to still be tying shoelaces for a 10-year-old. The rationale behind “staying out of it” is less clear with the teenager (often the stakes seem higher — academics, peer choices, drugs, sex), and parents are far more likely to chime in: “You can talk to your friend after the test. It’s important to keep up your grades.” The fact that the stakes are higher is all the more reason to provide teenagers with as many opportunities as possible to make their own decisions and learn from the consequences. Just as it was critical for the toddler to fumble with her shoelaces before mastering the art of shoelace tying, so is it critical for the adolescent to fumble with difficult tasks and choices in order to master the art of making independent, healthy, moral decisions that can be called upon in the absence of parents’ directives. We all want our children to put their best foot forward. But in childhood and adolescence, sometimes the best foot is the one that is stumbled on, providing an opportunity for the child to learn how to regain balance, and right himself.

It will be interesting to see how the book connects with the schools and parents in West Vancouver.  At first glance Levine’s work seems to be built on a community not dissimilar to ours.

It is a powerful read full of lots of practical advice.  Hopefully the book will lead to some important conversations in our district.

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Everyone is talking about personalized learning, but just what do we mean when we use this term.

As a starting point, the B.C. Ministry of Education offers this description:

Personalized Learning takes a structured and responsive approach, providing experiences that enable students and their parents to make choices around the what, when and where to learning.

It strengthens the link between learning and teaching by actively engaging students and their parents as partners in learning.

iNET the International Networking for Educational Transformation which boasts over 5000 member schools in close to 40 countries, offers their own description:

Personalised learning is the challenge to meet more of the needs of more students more fully than has been achieved in the past.

It is about ensuring that more students achieve their full potential during their school years and are better prepared for lifelong learning.

It is concerned with a transformation of education and schooling that is fit for citizens in the 21st century.

While these are a helpful starting place do others have thoughts or ideas they could add?

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Teaching, Learing, Technology and Personalization is a presentation I first gave this past June for our West Vancouver Administrators Association, and have since used with several other groups.  It was my first effort to try to pull together some of the ideas about “21st century learning” and “personalized learning” which  have become the great buzz words in our profession.

This summer at the BCSSA Summer Leadership Academy, Superintendent of Achievement Rod Allen, and Deputy Minister of Education James Gorman shared an update from the BC Ministry of Education on their learning agenda, which outlined a system that was clearly focussed on increased personalization.

This presentation, in turn, has given some new life to my presentation from June.  This past week, Vancouver Sun Education Reporter, Janet Steffanhagen, Vancouver Board of Education Chair Patti Bacchus and others have shared my presentation on Twitter.    After sitting quietly for the summer, several days this past week the site has had over 100 visitors.

The wiki is quite dense and worthy of several separate blog posts but I am thrilled that it might help spark conversations about the future of schooling in B.C.

I have heard it described we have a once in a generation chance to look at education in our province.  We need to have lots of discussion to make sure we 1) don’t miss a great opportunity and 2) get it right.

While I am not as excited by it as some, this video from New Brunswick’s Department of Education, which is part of the wiki, seems to be generating a lot of enthusiasm:

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