Archive for January, 2011

I spent 25 minutes in a Spanish 9 class this week.

I think it was one of the longest class visits I have had in the past three years.  I realize my visits have become a quick walk-through — usually, no more than five minutes. When I am in schools, I do my best to visit seven or eight classrooms for a chance to see part of an activity, or to ask a few students to explain in their own words what they are learning.

I do attend some of the teacher workshops and share in what they are doing, but I very rarely take the opportunity to observe the flow of a class.

I had an amazing experience this week, in Ms. Michelle Metcalfe’s Spanish 9 class, at West Vancouver Secondary School.  I had been encouraged to attend by Principal Steve Rauh; I have been meaning to visit for a while.

I had the opportunity to see, first-hand, some very interesting work Ms. Metcalfe, as well as others in the Languages Department, have been doing using Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) as the core of their language instruction.  TPRS, places the focus on fluency over grammatical accuracy; some of the results are very impressive.  Students who have been taking Spanish for only five months were doing free-writes of up to 100 words.  It was agreed, the success West Vancouver Secondary is having with TPRS is worth sharing and, this spring, we will find professional development opportunities for other teachers who want to learn more about it.  I am also very curious about other experiences with this relatively new approach to language acquisition.

TPRS, was only part of the story though.  My time in Spanish 9 reminded me of what master teaching really means.  Ms. Metcalfe had every student engaged.  Spanish 9 draws an interesting mix of students. From my secondary principal days, I know the course does attract those interested in learning a second (or third, or fourth) language, but it has also attracted many learners who have struggled with French, and who need to find another language to help stay on the university path.  Watching Ms. Metcalfe connect with the students, carefully timing her questions, checking for understanding and seamlessly moving between activities, is something that cannot be learned in a book.   All students were truly engaged, leaning in towards her, and nobody was buying out.   Ms. Metcalfe  used every second of her class — right up to the bell.  As she later explained, “We just can’t waste any time”.  The experience epitomized the power of mixing the art and science of the profession.

So, some of the big ideas I left with:

  • we need to expose TPRS to more people for consideration
  • seeing students truly engaged in learning is very powerful
  • excellent teaching is a joy to watch
  • I need to find time to be in classes for more than five minutes

Thanks Ms. Metcalfe, Mr. Rauh, and the students of Spanish 9 — you engaged me in my best learning of the week.

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I am often challenged by discussions about “21st century skills” or “personalized learning” as they are often quite theoretical.  The audience is provoked by videos documenting the changing world outside of school, and we make lists of the skills we want from our graduates in our ever-changing world.  There is usually head-nodding approval of the skills we want going forward.

These conversations do have value and it is important to continue to show the longterm vision of where we see the path of learning and schooling going in the years ahead.

We also need to get to the hard work of making the ideas concrete.

Another challenge of the sessions, is that we often use them to highlight the one student, one teacher, one parent, one principal modelling a new way — and lament how we seem unable to have these ideas spill out into other settings.  Usually we get to a point, and someone says, “this is great, but how is it scalable?”

So, we need to begin to define baselines we all can commit to on the journey.

There is no one particular document I see as the textbook for where we are going, but in West Vancouver, we are using A Vision for 21st Century Education as a starting place for conversations.

And this past week, in meeting with our elementary principals, we took on the challenge of addressing what many see as the most challenging suggestion in the document — the changing roles for parents.

In a section entitled “Shifting Roles” the document suggests three:

• From Passive Student to Active Learner

• From Parent as Supporter to Parent as Participant

• From Teacher as Lecturer to Teacher as Guide

Here is how the changing role for parents is described:

The increased role of the parent also has to be acknowledged. With greater information availability, parents can be more involved with their children’s education progress, overcoming challenges, and supporting learning outcomes. They can learn more quickly and more intimately what their child is doing at school. They can help guide decisions and more rapidly respond to challenges.

Technology allows far more access to the student’s progress than the periodic report cards and parent teacher interviews of today. Parents are already beginning to expect greater feedback than in the past.

Furthermore, parents have to recognise their educational role outside the classroom. A student’s out of school learning is critical. “Students only spend 14% of their time at school. Indeed, learning is an inherent part of everyday life: each new experience, at home, at work, or during leisure time, may throw up a challenge, a problem to be solved, or a possibility of an improved future state.”

While we envision a stronger role for parents, we are aware that not all students have the family support structures that will allow such involvement. BC needs all of its students to have the best possible opportunity and any implementation of this vision should take such issues into consideration. The system must be structured in such a way that those who face societal barriers such as being single parents or immigrant parents are able to participate to the degree they are able while the system incorporates the support structures necessary to ensure the students get the support they need.

There are lots of people who needed to be brought into the conversation, but we started to draft out what a five-month, one-year and three-year action plan would look like if we wanted to shift parents as supporters to parents as participants in our elementary schools (we also agreed not to say — “we are already doing that”).

Before the end of June we should:

– communicate the vision around “parents as participants”

– use blogs, newsletters and other media to engage staff, students and parents in a discussion about what this would look like

– schools develop their own vision for parents as participants in their schools

– communicate specific examples and rationale to parents about the key role they play in their education

– working sessions for staffs as to how best to encourage parent involvement in learning rather than just volunteer work

– input from parents through a survey to help design plans for next year

By the end of the 2011-12 school year we should:

– use September Curriculum Night for discussion and feedback

– create school/staff action plans in school grade-alike groupings using feedback from end-of-year surveys

– continue throughout the year, on a monthly basis, to highlight the importance of parent participation using various communication tools: website, meetings, email, twitter, etc.

By the end of the 2013-14 school year we should:

– consider big changes to structures that provide myriad opportunities for parents to share their expertise and passion — this needs to be intentional, purposeful and ongoing

– develop ongoing Community Forum dialogues , surveys, and other systemic structures to find out how best to involve parents in learning

– explore different models for schooling (alternate schools, self-paced, etc) where parents could be true partners in the learning — different kind of choice than what we have typically focussed on around programs (French Immersion, Montessori, etc.)

So, that is our start, just our first thinking after one meeting.  We are committed to going deeper with this work, and moving from vision to action.  We have lots to do.  Our next steps include working with other staff and parents to make sense of this very complex notion.  It is also clear, while this is a specific focus on one of the “shifting roles”, it has a major impact on the roles of students and educators (tangible thoughts on these changes will be in future posts).

We are very curious what others are thinking as they look at how we embrace shifting roles in our system.  We would love others to help fill in the gaps as we move forward with designing our plans.

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I recently wrote about transparency, and in my comments, the discussion moved to finding balance, managing work, home, and finding strategies to being more accessible, but mindful that we need to be present in our non-work lives.  In looking at many of those using social media in education, the common denominator was — we have young families — making this issue/concern even more relevant.

The question: “How do you find the time?” is one I am asked, more than any other, from educators interested in social media. I also hear more from educators worried about expanding their accessibility online, “I just don’t have the time for it.”  To be clear and upfront, it takes time to build as well as participate in the community online. There are no promises that being accessible, modelling the use of social media, and engaging with others online, will reduce your work hours. Then again, we don’t need to sell everything in life with a promise it will allow us to work less.  There are many other motivators than the “promise of less work” in our lives.

I don’ t have the answers, but as with my blog on Transparency, I do have an emerging list of beliefs and strategies to make sense of my work/non-work relationships.

Building on a response to Chris Wejr on my blog, here are some principles/strategies which guide me:

1) I have no idea what it means to have a work/home balance, so I’ve given up on talking about this notion. More and more, work is not about a place — my office is very often my phone and it can just as easily be in my den at home, or my car (hands free) as it can be my business office.  I love the ability to jump in and out of work at home.  Technology no longer forces us to stay at the office late every night.  There are times we can go home early, spend time with our families, and go back to “work” later that night.

2) I block out time on my calendar that is virtually non-negotiable as private time.  It is not a lot of time, but it is consistent every week.

3) While I play, learn and engage in social media, I limit the tools I use.  I don’t know how some people participate in so many places.  In my non-work life I participate in Facebook, and in my work-life I engage in Twitter and through my blog (and others blogs).

4)  Every way I interact digitally (not face-to-face) can be done through my mobile device.  I encourage people to call my cell or text me, and I have access to my blog and Twitter through my mobile device.  I don’t need to be in any one particular place to be working.  I can’t imagine having to come into “work” on a Sunday to do work.

5)  Sunday is my writing day.  I often post one or two times a week, but the draft posts are written on Sundays.  I don’t have time during the week to write, but there is also value in not making postings too close together — so I try to be strategic about when I write and when I publish.  I tend not to write “news” posts (except on topics like PISA), so  the timing is often not crucial.

6)  I commit to commenting on five posts for every one I write. On Sundays, I also read what others are saying, and often, my thoughts.  I tend to prioritize local (BC) bloggers, and those in similar roles.  I see this as part of being engaged with the online community, so I set time aside for it.

7)  I organize Twitter.  I am often asked, “how do you follow 400 people?”  I use TweetDeck and have a series of columns.  Right now, I am following bced and cpchat, as well as several specific lists.  I also accept I will not see everything posted from everyone.  I will often drop in to Twitter at lunch, or when I have a few minutes before a meeting, but I don’t get excited about missing something.  And, while I know the research about multi-tasking, I will usually have it on as background noise at night when I work.

8)  I don’t do things other people do. For one, I don’t write newsletters.  It is about choices.  I find the learning from Twitter, and the reach and conversations through blogging, to be extremely powerful. Conversations in social media domains can help lead the narrative in our schools and community.

9)  I define my work day online.  Unless it is urgent, I will usually not e-mail members of the community outside of extended business hours (e.g. no e-mails at noon on Saturday from my son’s soccer game).  I might write the e-mail but will delay the sending of  it. Of course, if it is urgent, I respond immediately. I just don’t want to get into a back-and-forth e-mail conversation while standing on the soccer sidelines.

10) I really see technology as largely invisible.  I don’t think of being on-line or off-line.  I tend to always be connected and, very often, being habitually online saves a lot of time longterm – solving issues before they become problems.

Finally – I signed up for busy – when I applied for my job and had a family. Work keeps me out most Monday to Thursday nights – but I try to find ways to include my family (for example, I will take my kids with me to school plays).  Like so many of us, I don’t sleep a lot – but love it. As I said in a previous post, “Hey, my choice.”

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I was about to sit down to write a post on some recent observations about the increasing gender gap at teacher leadership events, when the latest edition of Education Canada from the Canadian Education Association landed on my desk.  The headline on their Winter 2010-11 issue reads “Where are the Male Teachers?”

The growing gap between the number of male and female teachers has been well-documented.

In this magazine’s editorial, Paula Dunning comments:

Just as we bemoan the paucity of women in positions of economic and political power, we should bemoan the paucity of men in positions that provide nurturing and guidance for young people of both genders.

In the feature article (which largely addresses the issue of the fear of false accusations against male teachers), Jon Bradley writes:

Male role models are becoming increasingly scarce in Canadian classrooms, and the demographics indicate that the current low numbers will continue to decline. While general statistics are open to flux and are often several years behind reality, it is clear that male teachers in elementary and middle schools will soon be a thing of the past.  Secondary schools fair a tad better, but males are an increasing minority within the teaching ranks at all levels.

So, back to my observations — I was struck, recently, when I quietly snuck into the back of the West Vancouver Teachers’ Association Professional Development training session and realized I was the only male in the room.  In fact, in several different sessions and meetings I have recently attended, I have noticed the male/female gap is quite pronounced.

Some recent observations and data:

In West Vancouver, we have recently started a teacher leadership series open to all teachers K-12;  19 of 24 teachers in our Leading Learning Teacher Leadership Series (K-12) are female.

This year I have become a board member for Learning Forward BC (formerly the Staff Development Council of BC).  This group is one of the primary cross-role professional development organizations in the province;  9 of the 11 board members for Learning Forward BC are female.

Of our professional development representatives in West Vancouver, 26 of the 28 are female (as of last fall).

Of our school-based administrators, 21 of our 34 administrators are female.

Before one concludes that the gender gap is consistent through all aspects of professional development, it is interesting to look online.  What I am seeing there is quite different:

Just prior to Christmas, I compiled a list of the edu-bloggers in BC — teachers, administrators and other professionals who were regularly blogging about K-12 education.  At that point, I found 29 of 36 edu-bloggers were male.

I also did a quick count of those following me on Twitter and the male/female split is exactly even.

This is the first year I have really noticed the gender gap at teacher leadership events.  It has really shifted quite quickly.  Just 15 years ago, it was almost unheard of for female secondary school principals — in many ways we have made huge, positive strides.

As I started to think about this topic, I saw it through the lens of the changing face of leadership, it is really just that the leadership is becoming more reflective of the changing face of our profession.

For interest, here is the provincial 2009-10 gender statistics (teachers):

2009/10 total teachers (FTE) 33053.7: 22508.2 (female),  10545.6 (male).

Here is the link to the full data from the BC Ministry of Education.

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Transparency has become a well-used (in fact, over-used) mantra in the workplace — and, in the public sector in particular, there has been an increased demand for transparency.

For me, transparency promotes accountability, accessibility, and it provides timely information for students, staff and parents about what their school district is doing — it demystifies the work of schools and school districts.  Most people in the community have a clear idea of what teachers do, but as we move farther away from that direct relationship in the class, there is much less of an understanding of what non-enrolling teachers, school administrators, district staff and Trustees do.

My goal around transparency is to help bring greater understanding to these important roles and to the full scope of the work we do in our district.

My own evolving list of strategies to increase my transparency, as well as that of our district, include:

1) Giving the Community Multiple Channels of Communication: including traditional methods like letters, telephone calls, and new methods through social media and text messaging.

2)  Giving Out My Contact Information: Many were surprised when I gave out my contact information to everyone.  It is on my business card, it is posted on my blog and on our district website.  I don’t want anyone to ever say they don’t know how to find me.

3)  Build a Relationship with Traditional and New Media: Some people are easy to contact when they have good news to share, but can’t be found when there are more difficult issues.  It is often said that education is poorly treated by the media — we can change that by not complaining and by engaging the media.  This includes both traditional print media and new media — dismissing edu-bloggers as ‘not influential’ would be a huge mistake.

4) Sharing my Cell Number: I remember, 15 years ago, when teachers were getting e-mail addresses at my school.  Some teachers were adamant about keeping their e-mail addresses private — they were private e-mail accounts and they would only share their e-mail on their terms.  This was and is ludicrous, since the district email is not a private e-mail; it was/is a work e-mail and our work is working with the community.  My cell phone is also provided by the school district, so it  is my work phone.  So, I don’t really get the idea of not giving out this number, and this is also reminiscent of the e-mail discussion from 15 years ago.  I can always choose to answer the phone, but I would much rather have people find me on a mobile number.  I look forward to my office phone completely disappearing one day.

5)  My Calendar is Not a Secret: I do have some confidential appointments on my calendar, and they will be labelled as such, but I am fine sharing my calendar with anyone who is interested.  I know most people in the school district, let alone the community, have only a limited sense of the work I do.  The more people who understand the work — the greater appreciation for the work.

6)  Creating Personal and Corporate Identities: This is subject matter for a future post about how we can balance our own personal identities in the context of our district identities.  I am mindful of the separation between my own identity and that of the one in the district — but they are also closely connected.  FYI, I don’t have access to post to district Twitter or Facebook accounts — this is done through our Communications Officer.

7) Meet at Schools: Whenever a teacher or administrator wants to meet, I do my very best to do it at their school and not in my office.  While this is not always possible, most of our schools are within 10 minutes of the board office, so, on the most part, it can be done. As well, I often use these out-of-office meetings as an excuse to visit at least a couple of classrooms — it gives me a better sense of the tone in the school.  The more I can connect “as a real person”, the better.

8)  I Share a Bit About My Life: I have four kids, the oldest two are in school.  They attend public schools — I have a personal interest in a great public school system in BC.  This is a careful balance, but we have public jobs and people appreciate knowing some of the things in life, beyond the job, that drive us.

9)  Tell My Story in My Words: There are a lot of reasons why I blog, and one of them is that I can share my messages — unfiltered.  I don’t have to worry about being misquoted, or hope that others will share ideas in a timely way.  My blog allows me to connect in real-time to the community.  It is also a place for discussion and dialogue.

10) Think Twice if it Needs to be on E-mail: Rather than sending e-mails with information to groups of people, if there is an appropriate place to post the information publicly and share the link with those who would be most interested, I prefer to do this.  One tool I am using is SlideShare to post Powerpoint presentations publicly, rather than e-mailing the presentations to those interested.  I am amazed how many times people have stumbled on information I have posted publicly, and who really appreciate the content.

I have said that transparency will be a key aspect of everything I do, as well as regularly asking questions like, “How could we do this in a more public and engaging way?”  There is a lot to do and this list will continue to evolve.

I am curious about how others promote transparency in education.

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We have just launched a new teacher leadership series in West Vancouver.  Building on some of the fine work that has come out of other districts, over the next several months, we are bringing teachers and administrators together to explore the attributes and opportunities of leading learning.

To support the conversations, all participants are reading the latest book from James Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Truth About Leadership.  Kouzes and Posner have been powerful forces in the discussion about leadership for the last 30 years, and this new book is a reaffirming roadmap.

They write:

as much as the context of leadership has changed (in the last three decades), the content of leadership has not changed much at all.  The fundamental behaviours, actions, and practices of leaders have remained essentially the same since we first started researching and writing about leadership

There are many lists on leadership — but I do like the lists of “truths” that Kouzes and Posner share:

1. You make a difference

2. Credibility is the foundation of leadership

3.  Values drive commitment

4.  Focusing on the future sets leaders apart

5.  You can’t do it alone

6.  Trust rules

7.  Challenge is the crucible for greatness

8.  You either lead by example or you don’t lead at all

9.  The best leaders are the best learners

10.  Leadership is an affair of the heart

Given the title of my blog, this quote from their book also resonates with me regarding leadership:

You have to say yes to begin things.  You have to say yes to your beliefs, you have to say yes to big dreams, you have to say yes to difficult challenges, you have to say yes to collaboration, you have to say yes to trust, you have to say yes to learning, you have to say yes to setting the examples, and you have to say yes to your heart.

Our commitment to investing in “leading learning”, — bringing together interested teachers and administrators on a regular basis, is not breaking new ground — there are excellent models in almost all districts.  It is, however, exciting as we build our program and structures within the West Vancouver context; particularly, given the current, global conversations about what teaching, learning and schooling should look like in the future.

Our first session was well-received — and the commitment here is that this series is not a one-off — this work is too important and it will be part of what we do moving forward; I left with confidence in new strategies to try as I work with staff, students and leading learning in West Vancouver.

For those interested in a greater sense of the work we are doing, the full slide deck from the opening session Leading Learning – Building Understanding for Leaders is embedded below:

Thanks to our facilitators: Sue Elliott, Audrey Hobbs-Johnson and Nancy Hinds.

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It’s the New Year and, with it, a new position.  Having spent the last 14 months as the Superintendent-in-Waiting, I start January as the Superintendent of Schools for the West Vancouver School District.

This past fall, I had the privilege to speak at “Opening Day” — a professional development day for all staff in our district — the week prior to school opening.  At that session, the outgoing Superintendent, Geoff Jopson, shared thoughts on the last decade and I spoke about what is ahead.  As I start ‘for real’ in the role, I want to come back to some of the themes — a collection of beliefs, values and commitments.

On Working in West Vancouver:

It is a great honour for me to serve in this community as a teacher and as the superintendent.   I love that on most days, most people are at least a 9 out of 10.  We love what we do; we love who we do it with, and we love where we do it.  The district and community are large enough to feel part of a greater entity, but small enough to be completely connected.

On Being a Teacher:

It is funny that we often use different words for “Teacher”.  We have teacher leaders, lead teachers, principal teachers, support teachers, helping teachers, mentor teachers, and sometimes we take the word teacher out altogether — and have educational leaders, among a range of other terms.  I am good with “Teacher”.  It is who I am, and it says it all.  The rest is about the different roles we have, but “Teacher” describes who we are.    I don’t think we actually need anything more.  And while teachers sometimes fall victim to profiling in the media, and while our profession is asked to do more and more, it is still the greatest profession in the world — and there are few things better in life than being called a teacher.  What we do makes a dent in our world; it matters, and makes it a slightly better place in which to live.

On My Plan as Superintendent:

And what is it that we do, and will continue to do?   I have often been asked about “what will be your plan as superintendent?”  I know in many places gimmicks are quite fashionable — a particular program or approach that will be the be-all and end-all. We hear this a lot from the United States as they talk about No Child Left Behind . . . if only we all just did Smart Reading, or all had laptops, or used EBS, or played first and then ate lunch, or had a particular bell schedule, then our system would move forward and students would graduate in even greater numbers.  These are all worthy and can be powerful initiatives, but there are no magic bullets.  It is the hard work in the classrooms everyday — the mix of science and art; teachers taking what they know about what works, combining this with their skills, and building relationships with their students — this makes all the difference.  In the end, and more than anything else, it is the relationships that matter.  The relationships we have with each other, and the relationships we build with parents and students.

On A Culture of Yes:

It is the “culture of yes”, we have and will continue to foster — one that embraces new ideas and new ways to look at learning and organize learning; a “culture of yes” that supports innovation and creativity for both learners and teachers, knowing this is how we will continue to evolve.  It is a “culture of yes” that touches on the passions we entered the profession with, and that may have sometimes been lost along the way, but hopefully, found again.

We have an amazing community in West Vancouver — and it is exciting to take on this new role.  As I said at the end of my presentation in August, “Let’s go new places.”

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In a previous post, I discussed my hope that the report from the Premier’s Technology Council on A Vision for 21st Century Learning would lead to conversations around the province.  My real goal is that the discussions go much deeper than the one report; rather, we have sustained, meaningful conversations about k-12 education focussed on ideas.  I want to come back to this, with some more hopes.  Here are some guidelines I hope these conversations and, really, all conversations we have about school reform, follow:

  • If you want to participate, you have to put your name to ideas — we have way too many people, particularly in the digital space — posting anonymously. We need to say “this is not okay”.  Everyone is welcome to participate — but put a name and face to be part of the conversation.
  • There is value for ideas from inside the system (students, teachers, parents) as well as ideas from outside the system — it is really the ideas that matter.
  • We agree there is no such thing as good guys and bad guys when it comes to education.  That is the old way — education is far too important to cast some in white hats and others in black hats.
  • We need to avoid saying “We can’t do X until ____ (fill in government, universities etc.) does Y”.
  • We don’t use “We are already doing it” as a reason to end the conversation.  While it may be true we are already doing it (fill in the progressive educational idea), we are usually not doing it consistently, in ways that we can assess how successful “it” is, throughout the system.
  • We act with urgency (we see how quickly changes are happening around us) but not urgently (where changes are not fully discussed, and people are not fully engaged).

The optimism and curiosity that comes through in so much being written, right now, is very exciting.   Hopefully, 2011 will be a year we find new ways to look at education, and use digital space to have big conversations about big ideas, and we move forward from ideas to action.

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