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Archive for November, 2010

I love how Seth Godin uses his blog to succinctly articulate ideas with a straight forward, common sense approach.  Seth, is an author and public speaker and I find a number of his posts have ramifications for education – something I thought when reading his recent post Alienating the 2%.

I find we often spend hours thinking about, worrying about, and strategizing over, the group Seth refers to as the two percent:

If you have fans or followers or customers, no matter what you do, you’ll annoy or disappoint two percent of them. And you’ll probably hear a lot more from the unhappy 2% than from the delighted 98.

I am not giving away any trade secrets when I suggest that as we propose innovations, we often have the faces of particular students, educators or parents in mind – wondering how they will respond, knowing that they often relish their role in Seth’s 2%.

Here are just three of the issues in education (as well as in the West Vancouver context) that seem to fall into the two percent challenge:

More Feedback, Less Marks – We have had almost universal appreciation for how teachers and schools are embracing the use of feedback through formative assessment, and in turn, results are improving.  We have heard the concern that this approach to assessment has the greatest benefit for weaker students, thus shrinking the gap on the spectrum between those at the top and those at the bottom.  This is great – except if you are at the top – the old way was working great for you and this new way, while it still works well for you, has just increased your competition for university.

Wireless Technology – On one level, it is a trust-in-government issue (can we really trust Health Canada’s statements on safety), and there is also some pushback around whether these “gadgets” are really necessary.  We can lose sight on the conversation about what we are trying to do – provide access to information and collaboration through web-based, secured learning environments; provide assisting technologies to enable students with special needs to work with their classmates; connect with classrooms in other communities, provinces and countries, as well as to utilize digital texts, and extending learning beyond the traditional bell-to-bell of school.

Embrace First Nations Education – West Vancouver has very few First Nations’ students.  As of the September count, we had about 30 students who self-declared out of our 7,000 student population.  We are making a concerted effort to work with our local Squamish Nation, to better support our First Nations’ students, and also improve the understanding of all of our students about the Squamish Nation.  For some, this is an add-on, or an initiative that is only about a small number of students – most of us see it very differently.

Back to Seth:

It seems as though there are only two ways to deal with this: Stop innovating, just stagnate. Or go ahead and delight the vast majority.

Sure, you can try to minimize the cost of change, and you might even get the number to 1%. But if you try to delight everyone, all the time, you’ll just make yourself crazy. Or become boring.

I am committed to not being boring, or having West Vancouver become stagnate.  Whether it is continuing to embrace formative assessment, supporting wireless technology to transform learning, or more involvement with our local First Nations, for starters, we need to keep the 98% in the foreground.

The easiest thing to do in education is nothing.  There is something sadly reassuring about our children’s education looking like our  K-12 education experience – I heard once that the best advice to a vice-principal who wanted to become principal was to make sure nothing changed because nobody would complain, and in-turn, everyone would say you are doing a good job.

We have to be better than that.

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There has been an amazing change in the videos that are shared and go viral on the internet.  Five years ago YouTube was the America’s Funniest Home Videos of the internet.  Now, my inbox is more likely to be filled with videos like Sir Ken Robinson’s Changing education paradigms or Sugata Mitra’s The child-driven education than videos of herding cats.  Over the last two weeks, few videos have been as widely shared on the internet as Joel Burns‘ video “it gets better”.

This video is powerful on many levels, but it does an amazing job of highlighting how video is changing our world.  A former colleague of mine from Coquitlam nicely described this, saying there is  “nothing more powerful than this marriage of technology with speaking from the heart.”  Ten years ago this speech would have been an amazing powerful experience for those in attendance at the Forth Worth City Council that night.  Some would have gone away, talked with family and friends of what they saw and heard, but it would not have been the same.  Maybe local cable TV would have aired the council meeting, and a few hundred more people would have seen the video.  As I write this blog post, about 2.5 million people have watched the video on YouTube and because of its popularity on YouTube, a number of national shows have taken the issue and the video, and have brought it into millions of more living rooms, dinner conversations, and water-cooler discussions around the world.

Of course, at its core,  it gave voice and hope to students who feel so alone and so isolated that they contemplate suicide.  It also provides a real, timely resource for families, schools and others.

So there are many lessons for our schools.  One is absolutely about technology.  It is just a tool, but it can amplify heart and character.  We need to empower students to have voice, and show them that voice can become influence.  And video, is changing the game.

I would be remiss in closing the post without coming back to the content of Joel’s video.  The topic he raises is one so many of us in education think about.  The BCTF has a number of resources to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth (LGBTQ) issues in schools available here, and the Ministry of Education has school supports available here.

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I want to come back to a topic I spoke of with all staff in the school district on opening day this past September – something I have labelled as West Vancouver’s 2020 Challenge.

While I know Karl Fisch’s Did You Know? slides are now well-dated (four years is an eternity in the digital age) and have been overused in the world of digital technology presentations, I thought a lot about one specific reference in Karl’s presentation; his reference to Great Britain. Here are the slides I used on opening day (the first four from Karl’s original PowerPoint, the second four my own):

We have a wonderful challenge – we are doing really well.  It is something that over the last seven years has been framed around the work of Jim CollinsGood to Great.  The focus has been built around several of Jim’s themes including getting the right people on the bus, then figuring out where to go, and attracting level 5 leaders, who are humble but driven to do what’s best for the school district.

As I take on the role of Superintendent, part of the challenge is to ensure we continue to flourish on the existing metrics of excellence (test scores, graduation rates, etc.) while also building capacity and readiness with the new skills (I hesitate to make a 21st century skills reference) that, by some in B.C., are being defined as the 8 Cs:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Collaboration, teamwork, and leadership
  • Cross-cultural understanding
  • Communications, information and media literacy
  • Computing and ICT literacy
  • Career and learning self-reliance
  • Caring for personal health and planet earth

Our challenge is to create an urgency for change, while simultaneously reinforcing the confidence that comes from a district with a 98% graduation rate, and amazing scores on all internal and external measures.

One could make the case we should be the last community to embrace the personalized learning or 21st century learning agenda, since we have tremendous success on all the current measures.  Our belief is just the opposite.

Our commitment is to be able to continue to flourish on all these levels while preparing our students for the rapidly changing world.  We are finding it is not an either/or proposition.  Students, teachers and schools embracing formative assessment, for example, are seeing greater ownership by students of their learning, and exceptional results on all the traditional success measures.

We need to make sure that in 2020 we are not still talking about how good we were in 2010.  This is a huge challenge – and very exciting.

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