Archive for November, 2011

In a recent session with Al Bertani and Jane Creasy from the Innovation Unit (out of the United Kingdom) they shared a 21st Century Leadership Framework for transformation based on work outcomes from The Hay Group.   What I liked about the Framework is that it isn’t just a business model adopted for education, but an education model that aligns with the system transformation currently being widely discussed around the world.   Here is a summary slide of the key competencies:

Each of the nine areas are further broken down into three descriptors. I find these 27 points to be very helpful in self-assessment as I look at my own leadership.  It is also helpful to think of our team in the district, and the importance of the complimentary skills they bring to the table in covering these key areas. Below are the 27 descriptors as well as a rudimentary self-evaluation; points in green are what I see as areas of strength, red is for areas of growth:


•Engages others actively in co-defining the path to change
•Proactively builds strong relationships with peers and others
•Manages conflict and reconciles differences
•Develops a sense of urgency to stimulate action for transformation
•Communicates a clear and compelling sense of direction
•Generates enthusiasm and commitment in others


•Maintains energy in driving the transformation process
•Sustains active engagement, and stays the course in the transformation process
•Calibrates the pace of transformation efforts to ensure progress
Confident and Courageous
•Believes they can make a difference as a leader
•Provides a forthright and accurate assessment of their own skills and abilities
•Challenges the status quo, even when it is personally risky to do so
•Manages their emotions in difficult situations
•Places problems and challenges into proper perspective
•Recovers rapidly after setbacks
Outward Facing
•Eager to learn and be exposed to new ideas
•Models tolerance, curiosity, and inquiry
•Actively seeks out connections, resources, and partnerships to support transformation efforts
Politically Astute
•Analyzes the motives and interests of constituencies and stakeholders
•Matches influence strategies for the circumstance and constituency
•Builds alliances and coalitions with individuals, groups, and organizations
Systems Thinker
•Sees connections between and among systems and sub-systems
•Conceptualizes trends, patterns, and issues across boundaries
•Demonstrates tolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty during the transformation process
Technologically Literate
•Effectively uses technology and a variety of social media to promote transformation
•Understands how to communicate and lead in a hyper-connected world
•Leverages creative approaches and designs using technology support
Whether a student, teacher or parent, it is important for each of us to look at what we bring to the table, be honest about our areas of strength, and build strong teams across roles and geography to lead system transformation.
In their recent book As One,  James Quigley and Mehrdad Baghai make the case that “our world is as much about cooperation as it is about conflict; as much about collaboration as competition. Yet our knowledge of collective behavior is still relatively slim.”
I have heard many presenters (including myself) exclaim that it is an exciting time to be in education. However, in leading system transformation, we need to bring collective action, capitalizing on our individual strengths to turn this excitement into something more tangible.

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This post also appears in the current edition of the BC College of Teachers TC Magazine (here)

Never before have teachers faced challenges such as those created by continually evolving information technologies. Five years ago, we found it difficult to imagine the concept of touch-screen computers, yet today the word “apps” is part of the vocabulary of our pre-schoolers. And many of our children are entering school completely at ease with computer technology, having the technical skills to create digital videos and participate in virtual spaces that were foreign to the generation that went before them.

Students’ technical expertise must be nurtured and supported by their teachers. Yet our challenge as educators is far greater than simply staying up to date with advances in information technologies. We need to make sure our educational system creates environments to engage technically adept students, and that we use technology in our professional practice to support our students as critical thinkers, lifelong learners and ethical decision makers.

Across our province and around the world, educators are wrestling with the implications of personally owned devices, coming to grips with the role for social media in education, and having rich debates on issues that speak to the core values of our system, including safety and equity. The increasing pace at which technology is evolving has also fostered an ongoing reflection on what the latest changes mean for our profession and what lies in store for the next decade.

Without question, our profession is evolving. We are connecting across roles and geographies in new ways using blogs and Twitter. We’ve shifted from seeing technology as a way to support distance learning to looking for ways to make blended learning part of every student’s educational experience. And we are beginning to move beyond being excited about the tools themselves to looking for ways we can best use these tools to support learning goals and good pedagogy.

As a profession, we need to take a critical look at the structure and content of teacher training programs. It is simply no longer acceptable for someone to enter our profession without some degree of digital literacy. Teachers entering our system need to know the how of using the tools and also the why. They need to apply their reflective and critical thinking skills to the digital space. I expect that the new teachers we hire into our schools will understand the suite of tools available to them, know how to model their use and be able to choose the appropriate tools to match learning objectives.

I also expect new teachers to enter the profession with a mindset that the digital tools they are using now will likely be different a year from now. That is the way it should be, for it is not really about the tools themselves, but about the learning, which requires matching the best tools of the day to the process. These are not easy tasks, but they are essential.

And some specifics for teacher training programs? Teacher education programs need to include a course on the history, philosophy and practical use of educational technology. Educational technology learning at teacher colleges should be grounded in research, pedagogy and the use of current technologies. Finally, technology should be taught to teachers in ways that are consistent with how we would like teachers to teach students in their classes.

For those in the system, we need to commit to embedding technology and digital literacy in our growth plans and in all our ongoing professional development. Employers need to support teachers in the use of technology throughout their careers. This must go beyond the superficial. We must acknowledge that replacing lectures with digital lectures or online videos simply substitutes one mediocre practice for another. I have been in far too many classrooms where interactive whiteboards were a source of entertainment that facilitated “fake-learning” and did not truly support student learning.
Technology is no longer an event, and “computer lab” is no longer a course. Digital tools are being used to support literacy, numeracy, social responsibility and the full gamut of goals in our system. To be relevant, engaging and current, we need to be committed in how we prepare teachers and how we support them throughout their careers in the thoughtful and purposeful infusion of technology into their professional practice.

There are wonderful examples across Canada of education faculties embracing these ideals, and of districts, schools and classrooms across BC trying to figure out a better way to use technology every day.

I like the saying that when it comes to teachers and technology it is okay to be where you are, it is just not okay to stay there.

Thanks to Gary Kern, David Wees, Chris Wejr, and others on Twitter who contributed to this paper.

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Title Image credit: markshivers.com

Improvement and innovation need not be an either/or proposition.  While most of the education debate is either around improving our current system, or creating a new one, Valerie Hannon, from the Innovation Unit, in her presentation around Balancing Strategic Priorities, argued for a split screen approach — an approach focussed on improving the system of today while simultaneously designing the system of tomorrow.

Hannon argues that almost all jurisdictions have a range of innovative initiatives, often focused around student ownership, and very often spurred by learning technologies.  At the same time, given the current reality, school improvement must continue.  The challenge, she argues, is the innovator’s and evaluator’s dilemma (slide below) — eventually, the current wave of education results trails off, and we must jump into the next education growth curve.

Clearly, what rings true in so many jurisdictions across North America, is the improvement in literacy and graduation rates over the last 20 years, but we are finding it challenging to move beyond a certain point.  In British Columbia, despite all efforts over the past 10 years, graduation rates have plateaued at around 80%. It is evident, we cannot just ‘do more of the same’, we need to look at doing some things differently.

The need then, is for innovation to overlap with a new wave and not just more of the same wave.

In her presentation, Hannon quoted John Kao, “The most important characteristic of an innovative firm is that it has an explicit system of innovation which pervades the whole organisation, which is visible, known about, generates a stream of new ideas, and is seen as vital to creating new value”. It is what I often try to describe as a Culture of Yes, supporting creativity and innovations for learners and teachers.

The perspective of the two curves, of improvement and innovation, resonates with West Vancouver’s story.  We continue to perform at very high levels, but still look to improve.  Whether it is numeracy, literacy or a host of other skills, we continue our search to improve.  This is our absolute responsibility for all students in our schools right now.  At the same time, we explore and consider the education systems we will need for the future, ones that further embrace flexibility, choice and offer greater personalization of learning.

In essence, school improvement is tantamount to the important transformation work that occurs on the split screen.

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Why make the case for change in a system with an outstanding track record of education outcomes? Because there are potential pitfalls and challenges ahead:

  • A skills shortage
  • Difficulty integrating 21st century skills into curriculum
  • Too strong a content orientation
  • Inadequate and ineffective use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) in Education
  • A growth of differing and conflicting learning outcomes
  • Low satisfaction levels in schools

And there are more on the list.  Now, before you begin typing your response that I have unfairly vilified our outstanding education system in British Columbia, I am not describing British Columbia, but rather Finland. And these are not my thoughts, but those of Timo Lankinen, Director General at the Finnish National Board of Education, as recently expressed in his presentation, Making a case for change in a successful system (Finnish basic education).  The list is from a more complete slide in his presentation:

Finland has been setting the world benchmark, so many of us are chasing.  However, while they are widely seen as the strongest in the world, they have embarked on a change agenda.

These are the questions being asked (from Lankinen’s presentation):

  • Are we picking up on the warning signals about the growing differences between schools and learning outcomes, and provision of education?
  • Do we highlight higher-order skills, citizen skills needed for future lives in a systematic way?
  • Do we enable teachers and students to flourish? Do we notice and care about non-conforming students?
  • And what about . . .
  • Individual aspirations?
  • Engaging students (book learning versus experiential learning)?
  • Technology use?
  • Integration of the Arts and PE?
What does their agenda look like for change?
  • More individual freedom to choose between subjects
  • Multidisciplinary subject groups
  • Increase of minimum instruction time
  • A more diversified language program
  • Increase of the Arts and PE
  • Highlight 21st century skills – citizen skills
  • Educational use of ICT
There is more depth to their work than what can be summarized in a post, but the Finns are asking, “Can we effectively lead a systemic change for better learning in the future?”
It was quite a remarkable presentation, because the content was familiar; it is very similar to the conversations we are having in British Columbia, another one of the very highest performing education systems in the world.  It is also a narrative I hadn’t previously heard, as so many have told the Finnish story.  There are differences in direction and our systems, but the overarching themes envisioned for both of these systems are quite similar.
So, it is not only the under-performing systems that are looking to innovate, but the very best in the world as well.  I have said several times in West Vancouver, and borrowing a line from a former colleague in Coquitlam, “you don’t have to be sick to get better.”

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Smart and Caring

In a recent address to members of the Canadian Club of Vancouver, the Governor General of Canada, His Excellency, the Right Honourable David Johnston, talked about Canada being a “smart and caring nation”, a theme I have heard him speak on so eloquently before.

I am, and have been, impressed with his thinking and ideas about education ever since he assumed his current position. I wrote about him in connection to World Teacher Day in October 2010 (here),  quoting his installation speech:

Anyone who has achieved any degree of success and been placed in a leadership position can point to dozens of teachers, mentors and coaches who have made them better persons along the way. In my case, they number in the hundreds.

During my term, we will find ways to properly recognize our teachers who are responsible for our intellectual development. If there is one trumpet call from my remarks today let it be “Cherish Our Teachers”.

I have always had great admiration for the teachers and educators of this country.

In this most recent speech I heard, the Governor General outlined 10 challenges “we need to address, both as caring Canadians and as a caring society, to improve volunteerism and philanthropy in Canada.” (Full text of speech here).

In brief, the 10 points:

  • identify the needs of the community — discerning what the community requires, as well as the needs of individuals
  • find a new definition for volunteerism that goes beyond altruism
  • improve social innovation — how we volunteer and give; we need to be innovative in our thinking as our society evolves
  • attract young volunteers — young people often report they don’t volunteer because they are not asked, or because they don’t know how to become involved
  • engage volunteers and new ways devised to attract givers
  • engage new Canadians to become volunteers, and help them give back to their new community
  • revisit professionalism and recruitment in non-profits — these organizations need to operate efficiently, and to do so requires professional skills that may fall outside the volunteer sector
  • collaborate outside of what we traditionally do — we could look at what has happened in the US with Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and others, and find a made-in-Canada approach
  • link volunteerism and education;  organizations must be able to define their existence to advance the strength of the volunteer sector and it must be part of formal and informal education for young people
  • honour all Canadian volunteers — not just with awards, but acknowledging all their giving in communities

His words are also part of a challenge as Canada moves toward its Sesquicentennial in 2017.  The Governor General’s Canada vision resonates with me, and the Canada we want for our children — smart and caring.

While his words are great, he is also an exceptionally eloquent speaker.  Here is a segment of the Governor General’s Installation Speech:

As he closed his speech on the day I saw him, his focus on Canadian youth and education was compelling, “Canadians have done great things in the past. We are accomplishing so much today. Let us show the world that we are capable of so much more in the future.”

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Sometimes I feel like we are the only district or province talking about school system design, and it can be a lonely conversation. After all, why change? We already have an extremely successful system. Every now and then, however, the topic is front and centre as was the case following the release of B.C.’s Education Plan last week.

In addition, I have the opportunity from time to time to participate in projects which remind me that discussions about how to move our education system forward are taking places in all corners of the country, albeit often quietly. The following five-minute video, Learning to Change, Changing to Learn: A Canadian Perspective (recently released by the Pearson Foundation) in which I — along with my BC colleagues, Mike McKay of Surrey and Steve Cardwell of Vancouver, and colleagues from across the country — was asked to
share our thoughts about the changes that need to take place. In seeing the video, I realize that we are saying some very similar things right across the country.

Nor are Canadians the only ones asking questions. The video was modelled after one created by an international group of educators who offered their reflections on education:

Stephen Hempel’s statement at the end of that presentation is one that really sticks with me. “It’s the death of education and the dawn of learning,” he stated, “which makes me very

These are exciting times to be part of this profession.

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