Archive for December, 2010

The power of connection in the digital world is limitless.

I don’t know Alyssa.  She attends school in another school district, but here is Alyssa’s recent email to me:

My name is Alyssa and I am a grade 12 student and attend Templeton Secondary. Recently, I have been reading your WordPress blog and I am blown away by how much truth they hold. I started realizing that there needed to be a shift in thinking about the North American school system (structure & curriculum) about a year ago when I came upon Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted talk. Since then, I have been researching, and talking about this topic with as many people as I possibly could.

The one difficulty I have had with spreading the idea of change, is that – well, people think that everything is fine. What I want to do, is put together a presentation for my school, for the teachers, for the students, and for the parents, about bringing OUR education back to us.

Using technology, having more personalized learning, and a more relevant curriculum are all things that I want to address. Education is my passion, and I hope to help expand this education movement.

Our students are hungry to be included and engaged in these conversations — we just need to find the way.  There are students like Alyssa, in all of our schools, who want to help guide our work and their learning.

I come back to a comment from Brian Kuhn regarding this movement:  “How are we going to make the change?  One student, one teacher, one parent, one school at a time.”

Thanks, Alyssa, for joining the conversation.  Let’s all work toward engaging more students like Alyssa,  in the education evolution.

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I love year-in-review lists, so I’ve come up with one of my own — the “Top 3” in a variety of categories.   A great way to spur on discussion and debate.   I look forward to your own additions.

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts – these posts have generated the most traffic this year:

1.  Printing is not Meant to be Convenient

2.  A Recipient in the Sharing Revolution (thanks to Dean Shareski for sharing this post)

3.  TedxUBC (Post 1 and Post 2)

Top 3 Jurisdictions I Want to Learn More About:

1.  Revelstoke — latest graduation rate is a provincial best 98%

2.  Ontario — their recent PISA results in reading is something from which we can learn

3.  Finland — in almost every measure, they continue to lead the way in education

Top 3 B.C. Principals Influencing My Thinking and Work in our District:

1.  Cale Birk — his post on collaborative time was particularly helpful

2.  Gino Bondi — he is pushing the change agenda and thinks differently about high schools

3.  Chris Wejr — a great champion of thinking differently about assessment

Top 3 Professional Development Events I Have Attended:


2.  BCSSA Fall Conference

3.  Twitter (pretty much on a daily basis – and it doesn’t cost a cent)

Top 3 Social Media Tools I’ve Used More of in 2010 Than Before:

1.  Twitter — it is changing the game with professional development

2.  Slideshare — wish more teachers would use it to share PowerPoints

3.  YouTube — it was only a couple of years ago this tool was blocked in schools

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

1.  personalized learning

2.  backchannel

3.  21st century learner

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

1.  “It is not about the technology”  (guilty of this one)

2.  “The 21st century is more than 10% over”

3.  “Creativity, now, is as important in education as literacy” (or other Sir Ken like quote)

Top 3 Canadian Educational Reform “Blueprints” Worth Reading:

1. British Columbia – A Vision for 21st Century Education (pdf)

2.  Alberta – Inspiring Education

3.  New Brunswick – Creating a 21st Century Learning Model of Public Education (pdf)

Top 3 Education-related Videos from B.C. (that I bet you haven’t seen)

1. Digital Immersion Class Video – from Riverside Secondary in Port Coquitlam

2.  Barry McDonald – Boy Smarts from TEDxUBC (Barry is a Langley teacher)

3.  The North Delta Secondary Focus Group Initiative

Top 3 Education-related Videos from Outside B.C. (not featuring Sir Ken)

1.  RSA Animate – Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us

2.  Project-Based Learning Explained

3.  Alfie Kohn vs Dwight Schrute (thanks to Larry Ferlazzo for pointing me to this one)

The best thing I did professionally this year was start this blog.  Thanks to all of you who engage with me here on a regular basis.  I look forward to more discussions to come — there will never be a shortage of topics.

Happy Holidays!

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If I had one wish, with the release of  A Vision for 21st Century Education produced by the Premier’s Council on Technology, it is that these ideas find their way into conversations in every home in the province and, in turn, ripple into larger conversations in communities, schools and school districts.

A core challenge for British Columbia — being one of the highest performing jurisdictions in the world — is that it is difficult to make the case, or build the urgency, for change.  That said, the people I talk to — students, teachers, or parents — largely agree with the big ideas out of this latest government report, which mirror recent educational reform blueprints in progressive jurisdictions around the world.

Who doesn’t want their kids to leave with these skills and attributes?

  • Functional Numeracy and Literacy
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Technological Literacy
  • Communications and Media Literacy
  • Collaboration and Teamwork
  • Personal Organization
  • Motivation, Self-Regulation and Adaptability
  • Ethics, Civic Responsibility, Cross-Cultural Awareness Skills

These nine attributes begin to make concrete — what is often very difficult to describe — the 21st century learner.

The paper is a potential roadmap, signalling the necessary transformations:

  • From Learning Information to Learning to Learn
  • From Data to Discovery
  • From One Size Fits All to Tailored Learning
  • From Testing to Assess to Assessing to Learn
  • From Classroom Learning to Lifelong Learning Transformation

This list is quite reassuring. All teachers, schools and districts, can look at this list and say, “We ARE doing this”.  And, we are doing more of it than we were five years ago.  And, given where much of our current professional development is invested right now, we are going to be gaining the skills to do more of it over the next five years.

Finally, the new roles described, seem to fall nicely out of the previous two lists.  If we focus on the skills and attributes described, and de-emphasize content, then continue to invest in what is described as “key transformations,” new roles will evolve:

  • From Passive Student to Active Learner
  • From Parent as Supporter to Parent as Participant
  • From Teacher as Lecturer to Teacher as Guide Shifting

And what about the technology?  Technology, done right, can help make this happen in ways not possible without it, in what the report describes as, “the components of the system”:

  • A flexible educational path with project-based or integrated learning
  • A blended system that employs classrooms and technology
  • Technology to access learning objects and teaching tools
  • Open access to information systems for content and decision-making
  • Constant feedback and assessment to allow students, parents and teachers, to adjust, and to meet challenges or accommodate progress

Much of the immediate analysis of the report, from the Premier’s Technology Council, focussed on why we can’t do it.  When we move through to implementation, we quickly drive up the “Yeah, buts”.  But, without a doubt, there are changes which could be made by others, who could help this report become a reality.  There is also much we can do.  We should use this document, and many of the supporting resources it references, to start, and continue conversations.

Some of the questions I would like us to consider, include:

Is this what we want and need for our students?

What are the examples we currently see in our classrooms, schools and districts, of what is described?

What needs to change with curriculum and assessment to bring these ideas to life?

What can we learn from other high-performing jurisdictions — whether they are Finland and Singapore, Ontario and Alberta, or our neighbouring school districts — to guide what we do?

How can a district support students and teachers on this journey?

What can we do now?

And, I know there will be many more.

I am looking forward to these and many similar conversations in West Vancouver, in the New Year.

Please take the time to read this report.

Full Disclosure:  I was a “Roundtable Participant” in the development of the PTC document.

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Taking the Long Road

I am really lucky.

I have had the chance to spend the last 14 months apprenticing for my new role as Superintendent with one of the finest and most thoughtful educational leaders in our province.

This Friday brings to a close West Vancouver, Superintendent Geoff Jopson‘s 38-year career in public education.  From early days as a high school teacher in Vancouver to returning to the community of his youth, West Vancouver, where he has spent the last eight years as Superintendent of Schools, establishing a level of excellence the envy of district leaders across the country, Geoff has built an amazing reputation.

The tributes to Geoff have come in from across the system and throughout the larger community.  With words of thanks and praise from partner groups for his steady, ever-calm leadership, to a standing ovation at the Chamber of Commerce Christmas dinner, to a steady stream of visitors who want to share stories about how he has made the system better for our kids — there has been an outpouring of admiration for this remarkable man.

While many have benefitted from Geoff’s wisdom, probably none so more than I.  There is one reason I am here in West Vancouver, and that is Geoff.  When he first called me in the spring of 2007, I had no thought of working in West Vancouver.  As I spoke with him and began to understand the district and the opportunities here, I realized it was the chance of a lifetime.  I have spent the last three years working beside, and with, an exceptional mentor.

I had the added gift of being appointed the Superintendent-designate last October, giving me 14 months of transitioning groundwork.  It has been an amazingly rich and powerful experience.  On a daily basis, sometimes in a planned way, other times through his modeling, I have become familiar with my new role.  For many of my colleagues who assume the Superintendent/CEO position, the transition or succession plan is often not much more than a lunch meeting and a sharing of files. I can say definitively, there is a better way.

Geoff has led by example.  As I said on our district Opening Day this past September:

If I screw this up, it is on me – Geoff is leaving our district as a place of high repute, a reputation for class and excellence – a place where when we have a choice between easy or right, we pick right.

Geoff  realized his role was to lead learning, and to do that he surrounded himself with the brightest people he could find.  While others might be intimidated by a strong supporting cast, he saw it as a sign of strength.  Geoff always focused on making decisions that were not in his best interest, but in the district’s interest.  West Vancouver public schools exist in an extremely competitive marketplace along with some very fine private institutions; Geoff recognized the importance of keeping the face of a strong public education system in the forefront of the community.  He also realized, while we work for individual Boards, we have a responsibility to the larger collective in this province and, to this end, Geoff included a stint as BCSSA President.  In all his work, his “Good to Great” commitment was ever-present.

So, it has been a long road.  For Geoff, 38 years of commitment to public education — to improving the life opportunities for all students.  For me, a transition that has lasted longer than some of my jobs (I’ve had a one-year stint as an elementary principal).  Geoff, leaves the West Vancouver School District as the highest-performing school district in B.C., and hands the superintendency over to me with my commitment that we will strive to become even better.

Thank you, Geoff – you have been a good mentor and a better friend.

The students, staff and community in West Vancouver, have been lucky as well.

Best Wishes.

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The question most often asked in education is “where are we going?”  It should be such a simple question – but the answer is actually very complex. One challenge is, when you try to do everything, you may end up doing nothing well. And then, when you select a few areas on which to focus, people may feel they are being excluded.

In West Vancouver, I have presented on four major areas of professional focus. While we will always have content, and need to be well-versed in changes and updates, we are focusing less on the “what” and more on the “how” and “why”.   With that in mind, here are our four, big boxes for professional learning which the district guides and supports:

Strong assessment practices:

At its core, our work around assessment is similar to that in almost all jurisdictions — a focus on formative assessment.  We are now in our fourth year of supporting teachers around Understanding by Design (UbD).  I have described this as one of the least-sexy professional development activities we do.  It is hard work, time-consuming and for those who commit to it, a fundamental change in practice.  We are lucky to have our own UbD guru, Sue Elliot, to lead these sessions.  Beyond UbD, our work in assessment is largely teacher and school-based.  The Network of Performance Based Schools has been an encouragement for assessment projects, for many of our teachers — notably, a group of teachers from Rockridge Secondary, who have had their work highlighted around the province, and have also taken their presentation to China.  Assessment is also the core of collaborative time at our schools, including some excellent work at West Vancouver Secondary.  Of the four boxes, assessment is likely the one we have spent the most time in over the last three years.

Instructional expertise:

If assessment is the box we have spent the most time in over the last three years, instructional expertise is the area where our time commitment has diminished.  Particularly, when it comes to issues of classroom management, this is an area that can really help.  As we have focussed on backward’s design (for very good reasons) for our lessons and units, we have placed a lesser emphasis on professional development around instruction.  Throughout B.C. you can hear comments like, “We have already done Barrie Bennett.”  We know there are some strategies which work better than others, and we need to come back to them.  Robert Marzano has a great list (here) covering high-yield strategies.

Child development expertise:

This is an area of focus that likely would not have made the list only three or four years ago.  With the implementation of Full Day Kindergarten and StrongStart Centres, there is a clear policy move in this area. There is also mounting research about the key role the early years play in setting up children for the rest of their life.  We have become versed in the Early Development Instrument (EDI) and are working with our local preschools in new ways we would never have considered five years ago.  This spring we will welcome Dr. Fraser Mustard to West Vancouver for a Community Forum focussed in this area.

21st century learning

I don’t love the title — it feels dated and cliché.  From a district perspective, this is largely connected to digital literacy supporting teachers with the skills to have students create blogs, wikis, discussion boards and other spaces that promote skills like critical thinking, collaboration and creativity (see here for a full list of “the 8 Cs”).

This is not a surprising list.  It is probably very similar in most progressive jurisdictions around the world.  As we talk about it more, hopefully, it will help to create a framework for our work as professionals.  I have written previously (here)  about our wonderful model in West Vancouver, balancing the importance of individual, school and district professional learning.

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Today marks the release of the PISA 2009 assessment results.  And just what is PISA:

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an internationally standardised assessment that was jointly developed by participating economies and administered to 15-year-olds in schools.

Tests are typically administered to between 4,500 and 10,000 students in each country.

And just what does PISA look at?

PISA assesses how far students near the end of compulsory education have acquired some of the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in society. In all cycles, the domains of reading, mathematical and scientific literacy are covered not merely in terms of mastery of the school curriculum, but in terms of important knowledge and skills needed in adult life.

PISA, has absolutely become the World Cup of education excellence.  Over the last three years I have spoken to, hosted, and toured groups from around the world who specifically came to British Columbia to understand our high results.  Of course, the interest in Finland can also be traced directly to these assessments.  Finland has become education’s equivalent of soccer’s Brazil.

On the previously released results, Canada, and in particular Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, have performed among the very top performing jurisdictions in the world alongside Finland, Hong Kong and Korea (here is a summary of 2006 results).  Since education is under provincial jurisdiction in Canada, our results are further  broken out by province, while other jurisdictions are typically by country.  The PISA results are the often used antidote against those who question the quality of education in British Columbia and Canada.  We have a system looking to improve, but we are improving from a place of strength, and envy from around the world.

Today is announcement day.  There is a lot to dig into beyond the headlines, but my quick read indicates:

  • Korea and Finland are the top performing OECD countries, but Shanghai-China (a first time participant) outperforms them by a significant margin
  • Girls outperform boys in reading in every participating country
  • Canadian students continue to be near the top of OECD countries
  • British Columbia students perform above Canadian averages
  • Since 2000, British Columbia results have improved in science and declined in math and reading

From the OECD Press Release this morning, here are a few more key items they highlight:

• The best school systems were the most equitable — students do well regardless of their socio-economic background. However, schools that select students based on ability, show the greatest differences in performance by socio-economic background.
• High-performing school systems tend to prioritize teacher pay over smaller class sizes.
• Countries where students repeat grades more often tend to have worse results overall, with the widest gaps between children from poor and better-off families. Making students repeat years is most common in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain.
• High-performing systems allow schools to design curricula and establish assessment policies, but don’t necessarily allow competition for students.
• Schools with good discipline and better student-teacher relations, achieve better reading results.
• Public and private schools achieve similar results, after taking account of their home backgrounds.
• Combining local autonomy and effective accountability seems to produce the best results.
• The percentage of students who said they read for pleasure dropped from 69% in 2000, to 64% in 2009.

There is much more to dissect, and there is a lot of excellent data produced going deeper into the rankings, which will garner much of the attention.  PISA 2009 results are available here and the Executive Summary (a very good read) is available here.  Ontario has also released a summary of its results including a series of tables listing all Canadian provinces available here.

As the results are further examined, there is a lot to consider when looking at jurisdictions that have undergone major reform initiatives, and how this has translated into results.  A quick read indicates Ontario will likely be getting a lot of attention for its efforts in coming days.

Update: This link (here) is a summary of the results from Stats Canada.

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The title comes from a mantra we often hear with produce and other food products.  Wikipedia describes it:

Local purchasing is a preference to buy locally produced goods and services over those produced more distantly. It is very often abbreviated as a positive goal ‘buy local’ to parallel the phrase think globally, act locally, common in green politics.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately in the context of our work in the digital world.  I wrote recently (here) that while I continue to be influenced by many thinkers outside of British Columbia and Canada, more and more I am connecting with local voices.

While I love the learning that is free of borders, I feel it is very important to support B.C. educators who are beginning to put themselves out there in digital space. There seems to have been an edu-blogging boom this fall in British Columbia.  I have created a rule for myself that I will try to comment on at least five blog posts for every post I write, and comment more on B.C. educators’ writing.

I am not quite sure why we have a huge increase in local educators writing on the web, but it is great for education in B.C.  We are using social media to connect around ideas, at a point in time, when there is so much discussion about learning and schooling and how a high-performing system like ours should move forward.

I listed four local bloggers in a previous post — but I want to list all the local bloggers who are adding to the conversations.  I am sure I will miss some (particularly, in the teachers’ category), so please add comments to point me toward others, and I will update the post.

The parameters of my list — blogs by active educators in the K-12 sector in British Columbia who have posted in the last 30 days.  I know many teachers have class blogs, but this list is not intended for blogs used with a class of students, or as a news site, but rather to share ideas with other educators and the larger community.

District Staff

Scott Benwell, Assistant Superintendent, Fraser-Cascade

Larry Espe, Superintendent, Peace River North

Rick Fabbro, Assistant Superintendent, Surrey

Tom Grant, Superintendent, Coquitlam

Chris Kennedy, Deputy Superintendent, West Vancouver

Brian Kuhn, Director of IT, Coquitlam

Doug Sheppard, Assistant Superintendent, Delta

Jan Unwin, Superintendent, Maple-Ridge / Pitt Meadows

Principals and Vice-Principals

Terry Ainge, Principal, Delta Secondary, Delta

Aaron Akune, Vice-Principal, Delta Secondary, Delta

Cale Birk, Principal, South Kamloops Secondary, Kamloops

Gino Bondi, Principal, John Oliver Secondary, Vancouver

Joe Campbell, Vice-Principal, Seycove Secondary, North Vancouver (ADDED)

Remi Collins, Principal, Kilmer Elementary, Port Coquitlam

Dean Eichorn, Vice-Princpal, Burnsview Secondary, Delta (ADDED)

Grant Frend, Vice-Princpal, Garibaldi Secondary, Maple Ridge (ADDED)

Cindy Gauthier, Principal, Vancouver Learning Network, Vancouver

Mark Heidebrecht, Principal, Gibsons Elementary, Gibsons (ADDED)

Gary Kern, District Principal, West Vancouver

Chris Wejr – Principal, Kent Elementary, Agassiz


Paul Aiken, Coquitlam

Jaki Braidwood, Comox Valley

Jeremy Brown, Port Coquitlam

Moira Ekdahl, Vancouver (ADDED)

Errin Gregory, Lillooet

Starleigh Grass, Lytton (ADDED)

James Gill, Coquitlam

Bryan Jackson, Coquitlam

Phil Macoun, Nanaimo

Jacob Martens, Vancouver

James McConville, Coquitlam

Gordon Powell,  Richmond

Al Smith, Kelowna (ADDED)

Zhi Su,  Vancouver

David Wees,Vancouver

Jen Whiffin, Coquitlam (ADDED)

Others (ADDED)

I feel like I need to add another category for several blogs related to education in B.C. that are not written by currently active B.C. educators

Christina Campbell, Education Reporter, Vancouver Observer

Lesley Edwards, Retired Teacher-Librarian, North Vancouver

Heidi Hass Gable, DPAC President, Coquitlam

Janet Steffenhagen, Education Reporter, Vancouver Sun

David Truss, Princpal, Currently in China on leave from Coquitlam

Finally, a shameless plug. The Culture of Yes has been nominated for the Best New Edublog 2010.  You can click here to vote.  This site is also a great place to find other interesting blogs to follow. Thanks for all the ongoing conversations.


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I had the real pleasure to participate in TEDxUBC on October 23rd.  TEDx events are part of a large and growing TED movement devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading”.

The TEDxUBC team describes their events as:

TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. Our event is called TEDxUBC, where x=independently organized TED event. At our TEDxUBC event, TEDTalks video, passionate, live speakers and entertainers, will combine to spark deep discussion and connection in an amazing small group of 100 leaders, innovators, stakeholders and change agents.

I loved the experience for a number of reasons:

– the format forces presenters to be concise

– the discussions between presentations are valued

– there is a great mix of people from a variety of professions

– the presentations live on through the web

– it is all about ideas

Thanks to the organizers of the TEDxUBC event, it was one of the best PD experiences of my career.  Special kudos to Bret Conkin – a great leader!

The videos of the presentations are being posted to YouTube (search via TEDxUBC tag) on a fairly regular basis.  Lots of great discussion starters.

I had previously posted my script here, but here is my talk on personalized learning:

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