Archive for the ‘Change’ Category


This post is a copy of a column that is published in the most recent edition (available here) of Education Discovered Magazine.

A short decade ago, schools were banning YouTube videos and forbidding students from bringing cellphones to class. Teachers were primarily viewed as content providers. Students were tested on how well they knew their facts.

Today there are movements under way to remove standardized testing. Schools are embracing bring-your-own-device policies. The Internet is a standard classroom tool and teachers are focused more on teaching kids how to learn, not what.

Change is happening right under our noses. We’re in the midst of it every day as we move to modernize the Canadian education system, improve our classrooms, and nurture the next generation of learners. But are we actually transforming education? Will we witness a disruptive moment similar to Uber in the taxi industry or Netflix in the movie rental business?

I’m not so sure. I’m not even sure we should be chasing it.

There’s something comforting about the notion of schools as community gathering places where we meet face-to-face and make strong personal connections that have always been deeply rooted in education. Schools, by their very nature, will always need to balance tradition and new ways of thinking. Our transformation has to be slower because we have to be sure we’re bringing everybody along with us: administrators, teachers, students and parents alike.

One way to facilitate change is to model the system we are trying to create. I blog because I know it’s hard to do. It’s difficult to find time and you need to be brave enough to leave your innermost thoughts out there for scrutiny.

Students face the same challenges when we ask them to create digital portfolios; teachers when we expect them to develop class websites or start sending tweets. It’s easier to say we need to change things in the classroom if we’re also making changes ourselves.

Ask yourself if your school board is modelling the same modern experience you wish to see portrayed in your schools. Is the business office side collaborating with the education side? Have you introduced technology like Skype to conduct meetings? Are you still working in silos?

At West Vancouver Schools, we make a point of integrating business and education. When we hold a learning showcase, our Human Resources Director, Facilities Director and Secretary Treasurer are just as engaged as our Directors of Instruction, and they believe they should be. Our office spaces have shifted to an open concept model with furniture that facilitates sharing.

Sometimes there’s this belief out there that educators are not onside with change. I would argue it’s the exact opposite: teachers get into teaching to excite kids about learning and help them connect that learning to life outside the school building. What better time to be doing that than right here, right now?

Our culture of learning in Canada is constantly shifting. Continue to support teachers, encourage them to follow their passions and step outside of their comfort zones. Most importantly, foster change by being willing to change yourself.



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Dean Shareski posed an interesting challenge last week. Through his blog post on his own watershed moments of learning, he asked those in his network to do the same.

At first, this seemed like a really simple task – like naming your favourite movie (Shawshank Redemption) or the best concert you have seen (Simon and Garfunkel) or your go-to beverage at Booster Juice (Ripped Berry). I read his post a couple times, and tried to quickly come up with a response, but it was not so easy.  Watershed is such an interesting and challenging idea.  While Dean gave us the permission to alter the categories, I will try to use the same ones he used:  PD Event or Conference, speaker or presentation, book, tool, and person.

PD / Conference

I am fortunate, especially in my current role, I get to attend many pretty interesting events.  In recent years I have moved away from attending the large conferences, particularly those built around keynote speakers presenting to hundreds of conference delegates.  More recently various formats from TEDx, to EdCamp to Ignite have more held my interest.  I have also tried to participate in more experiences that are about doing things than being told things.  That said, it was a large conference that stands out as a watershed moment for me. For me it was the November Learning Conference in the summer of 2005.  The event helped me understand the digital work was not about giving people computers, it was about ownership of learning.  I heard from speakers who I would later regularly read and reference like Alan November and Will Richardson.  And as is often the case, it was the conversations with those I attended the event with, that helped make it particularly powerful.  I was there with Coquitlam Assistant Superintendents Maureen Dockendorf and Julie Pearce, along with Director of Technology Brian Kuhn and Coquitlam Teachers Association President Kathleen Thomson.  I left the event inspired about what was happening in the larger education community and excited that we were and could continue to be doing it in our own community.


I know the typical answer would be a presentation that I saw live.  For me it is Karl Fisch’s presentation, Did You Know?  I have written about this before describing it as My Aha Moment.  The presentation was powerful, but it really changed how I thought about presentations in a networked world.  As I previously wrote:

That experience was my “Aha” moment.  I learned about the power of a network and also learned that it is not only the smart people you know, but the smart people they know that can help you.  I also learned about the new power we all have to influence conversation.  Previous to this experience in networking, there would have been no way I would have ever seen a PowerPoint created for an opening day presentation in a high school in Colorado.  Now, just days after it was presented, I was remixing it and sharing it with my staff, and hundreds of others were sharing it around the world.  I was also reminded of the generosity of our profession — we are all sharing and learning together with a common purpose around student learning.

It is interesting to look back on this, now 10 years later, and see how far we have come (or not).


The World is Flat from Thomas Friedman gave me the larger context I was looking for concerning the changes we were and are talking about in education.  The history teacher in me really loved the book and it was one we used as a study group book with staff.  There was an urgency that the books created, doing nothing different was simply not an option.  The runner-up would be Dennis Littky’s  The Big Picture which was a great read on rethinking high school (and showing it can be done).


I waffled on this one a bit.  It definitely could be the blog.  My blog has given me a global network to share ideas.  It also could have been Twitter.  I was in the community during the early “let me tell you what I had for lunch” stage, continued through the deep engagement era, and am now still participating in the “can’t it be like it used to be” times.  And it could have been Delicious – my first step into the social web through sharing bookmarks.   In the end I am landing on a gizmo and that gizmo is my iPhone.  It has truly changed how I can work.  With some credit to some earlier smartphones I had, it was the iPhone that really unchained me from my desk.  There is very little I need to do that I can’t do during a day from my phone, making it possible for me to define work differently.  Work is no longer about a place.  And yes, simply a computer a computer does some of this, but the convenience of all of this in your pocket really changes things, at least it has for me.


What a challenging question.  When I use the term watershed moments, it is not really the same as other terms I use for people like mentors, trusted colleagues or inspirations.  I have written at various points about family members, former teachers, and colleagues that have been profoundly influential on me.  When I think of people and watershed moments of learning, I think of people who take me from “I used to think X” and “Now I think Y”. So for me it is my former Coquitlam and West Vancouver colleague Gary Kern.  Gary has always pushed me in my thinking to a place of discomfort.  And that is a good thing.  In Coquitlam, he helped me solidify my views around the work we were trying to do at Riverside Secondary and in West Vancouver he was the architect of many of the structures we continue to benefit from today, ones that were well ahead of the pack – from giving students their own digital spaces, to providing staff with a choice of devices to systematizing bring your own device structures in our schools.  He was always the one sharing the article about “where to next” as soon as we thought “we are good”.

In looking at my answers it is interesting that many of the events that quickly surfaced as watershed moments for me, came fairly close together for me.  They were largely during my school administration time in Coquitlam – in the window between 2001-2007. I wonder if there was something unique about that time with the explosion of digital changes, or maybe I was at a point in my career I was ready to move beyond doubling-down on what used to be and ready to look to what could be.  Perhaps I just need distance to best identify these moments and my list ten years from now would include events and people from my time in West Vancouver.

I look forward to others keeping this conversation going in the comments or in their own blog posts and sharing their watershed moments of learning.

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It was a uniquely Canadian event.  More than one-third of our country gathered in front of screens across Canada on Saturday, August 20th to watch The Tragically Hip perform their final concert in Kingston, Ontario.  In mid-July I joined a hockey arena full of fans for an event, as they began their tour across Canada, that was far more than just a band playing a concert.  For my non-Canadian readers, it is hard to fully give context to the tour and the culminating concert, here is one of many tweets from the final night that attempted to share some perspective:

Hip tweet


Of course dozens of newspaper columnists, bloggers and others have tried to give some context to what has happened this summer.  Whether it is drawing connections to Terry Fox, or the power of our uniquely Canadian identity, much has been said.

I tend to see events like this differently, through my education window.  So, in the afterglow of the summer the Tragically Hip engaged the country, just what are my takeaways, lessons and reminders for our schools and learning.  Some good ones, I think, as we start a new year.

We love to gather as a community.  While the final concert was broadcast on television, radio and across the internet, people tended to gather together to watch it rather than on their own.  Whether it was at community centres, parks, or neighbourhood parties, people wanted to have the shared experience of watching the concert together.  Just as while learning can more and more be something done online and alone, the great power of school is that they are gathering places in our community.

Canadian History is Cool and Worth Learning.  As a Social Studies teacher, of course I am a little biased.  I have always thought this.  I often find that students struggle to see Canadian history with the same “cool” factor as US or European history.  And those of us who have taught Canadian history may be somewhat to blame.  The Tragically Hip regularly sing about Canada and its history with songs like Nautical Disaster (war) to Wheat Kings (crime and punishment) to Fireworks (hockey and the Cold War).  Fans probably did not realize they were getting regular history lessons.  You can find the stories behind all the Hip songs on  A Museum After Dark:  The Myth and Mystery of the Tragically Hip.

We have an obligation to be sure our children learn the history of First Nations people in Canada we didn’t learn in school.  Lead singer Gord Downie spoke directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the final concert saying:

We’re in good hands, folks, real good hands. He cares about the people way up North, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore, trained our entire lives to hear not a word of what’s going on up there. And what’s going on up there ain’t good. It’s maybe worse than it’s ever been, so it’s not on the improve. (But) we’re going to get it fixed and we got the guy to do it, to start, to help.

This work we take exceptionally seriously in our schools.  Even within the last five years there have been massive changes to the way we work with local First Nations and how we teach history in schools.  Many of us are invested in the work that has come from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and continuing to move this forward.  So Downie’s challenge to the Prime Minister is the same challenge that we are taking on in schools.

Music connects people.  There is an amazing power of music to bring people together.  It was interesting to see the concert on right in the middle of the final weekend of the Summer Olympics.  If there are two things that connect people together across geography, culture and language like no other, I think they are music and athletics. This video from the CBC nicely ties together the Olympics and the Tragically Hip.  And again, it is just a nice reminder for us in schools that yes reading, writing, math and a host of other academic pursuits matter, but so does music.  Music brings communities together and we need music in schools to help connect us.

No dress rehearsal.  There are a lot of lyrics one can take from the Tragically Hip to reinforce life lessons.  The final song they played at their Kingston concert was Ahead by a Century.  And to borrow from the song “No dress rehearsal, this is our life”.   Of course given Downie’s medical diagnosis, it was particularly powerful.  And again for schools a reminder that grade 1 is not a preparation for grade 2, and grade 7 is not a preparation for high school, nor is high school a preparation for university.  Grade 1 is grade 1.  We need not live in a continual state of dress rehearsal.

Uniquely Canadian.   In our house the final concert opened up a great conversation about the CBC.  Why do we have it?  Why didn’t they play any commercials?  Who owns it?  Does the United States have something like the CBC?  It was a reminder of some uniquely Canadian institutions that we need to explain, and understand if we want them to be preserved.  And of course that was just one example.  The online response from inside and outside Canada was that the “event” was something that would unlikely happen elsewhere – which opens up a series of good questions about what is unique about Canada and being Canadian.

I am far from an expert on the Tragically Hip.  Including the show in Vancouver, I have now seen them perform live once.  I did love to be part of something bigger than me.  It is something I think we all thirst for – and something we try to do in schools each day, for us and for our students.  The Hip and their tour across Canada helped remind me of some of the core principles of what we are trying to do in school.

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Growing up, I rarely bought albums from individual artists. Why buy albums from Shaggy, Seal and Weezer when I could get one album with “Boombastic”, “Kiss from a Rose” and “Buddy Holly” along with 14 other great hits in one collection?  I loved that some musical experts would take the best hits from a number of artists and package them together.  Before we had iTunes we had compilation albums.

I was talking with a colleague about George Couros’ new book The Innovator’s Mindset and she said, “He doesn’t really say anything new, he just pulls together what everyone is saying.”  YES.  Exactly.  And that is why I like it so much.  I could find much of what is in Couros’ book the on web – embedded in websites and blogs across the internet.  But he did the hard work for me and pulled together a collection of some of the very best thinking across the continent and clarifies for those of us who think we are already doing the next thing, that there are many others on related journeys.

The book serves as reassurance and also a pep talk for those of us on the innovation journey. Above all, the book models the power of network.  While we can get hung up in the tools – be it Facebook, Twitter, blogs – there is no doubt this book and this narrative don’t happen without Couros’ ability to build and sustain a powerful learning network.  I read and interacted with this book differently than any other paper book I have owned.  I followed the conversation on Twitter, saw the reaction on Facebook and clicked to learn more on Couros’ blog about the key themes of the book.

The book that was the model of networking gave me new people to follow in my network.  It was a networked book about networking in education (knowing George a little I am sure he would appreciate that it was like a coffee table book about coffee tables).   The questions at the end of each chapter like “How might you create an environment that fosters risk-taking?”  are great discussion starters.

So like my Now! cassette tape (which I still have), Couros has done a great job of pulling together thinking from very different contexts into a common narrative and forcefully making the case that we need to continue to challenge the status quo – and know as we are doing it there are many others doing the same.

Couros’ book is a great summer read and also would be a solid choice for a school book club.  Two other books I have just ordered for summer reading based on recommendations from colleagues are The Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, and The Silo Effect by Gillian Tett.  I think it is always good to read both inside and outside of education.  Curious to know what are on others summer reading lists.

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I often wonder – is it out there?

Is there some disruption that I just haven’t noticed?

Are we really just tinkering around the edges?

Is my friend Yong Zhao right – have we just maximized the old system and not really considered how we move to the new system?

I have 186 posts tagged “change” (actually 187 after this one) with them speaking to the small and large transformations happening around us in education. In recent posts I have looked at topics including the changing role of technology, new curriculum in British Columbia that is focused on big ideas and core competencies, and reporting changes that attempt to give better and more timely feedback to students and parents.

As I write these posts, I find myself reading more about the changes happening around us outside of education.  I try to get my head around the future of transportation in an era of autonomous cars, the future of medicine when the services of a doctor and hospital can largely be carried out at home through digital medicine,  and the state of our world if 100 becomes the new 60.

And while some of these changes are still hard to bring to focus, we have so many examples of shifts in industry all around us.  There are many long lists available showing all of these changes.  I know when I buy a book I go to Amazon not my local retailer.  When I want to look for used items for sale I search Craigslist not the Classifieds.  In Denver a few weeks ago, I never thought of getting a taxi, and Uber was my go-to.  Our television conversations are less and less about cable and more and more about Netflix.  And just a couple of months ago a friend showed me airbnb (I am a little behind) and I can’t see why I would go back to looking for travel accommodations in the old ways anymore.

And that brings me back to education.  If you have followed my posts, or heard me speak, I often make the point that in this rapid change happening around teaching, learning and schools, there is some satisfaction and relief that schools are not looking largely different.  We find it reassuring.  Schools also perform a crucial role as a community gathering place and the skills are really more about how we live and get along with each other as they are about some finite academic outputs.

That said, I wonder if I am missing something.  Or maybe rationalizing.  I imagine those in other disrupted fields also thought it couldn’t happen to them.  I did think that the Khan Academy might be the disruption to our K-12 system.  The Khan Academy has many of the features associated with other disruptions – being free, digital and widely available.  I think the Khan Academy is interesting and important, but it is not our Uber.

I am left wondering, are we the exception to the rule? Is there enough in the value of education the way it is largely done now to allow it to continue to survive and thrive or am I missing something.

This kind of thinking can make your head hurt.  It is time to go back to thinking about school timetables, textbooks and the kind of desks we want for our classes.  It is far less scary.

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I attend a lot of Superintendent events where there are discussions on the digital transitions of districts.  These discussions  are often about how “we” need to change, and far too often these conversations are being held in very traditional ways.  One is left often believing that the changes are about other people and not really about those leading the system.

This past week I was meeting with colleagues from across the continent and leading a conversation around digital leadership for superintendents. What was impressive is that in some very simple ways, Superintendents are finding ways to lead digitally.  I do think the questions about whether digital leaders have to lead digitally is really rhetorical.  We are part of a learning system, we need to be learners ourselves.

So, what are some easy entry points for Superintendents?


There are so many ways to model the power of the digital tools.  There are big steps like investing in a regular blog, medium-sized steps like starting social media accounts and small steps like collaboratively building a meeting agenda in a shared document.  I was interested to hear from one superintendent that co-constructs her Board agenda through a collaborative Google doc.


More and more district leaders are finding voice and connections through social media.  While some still use these platforms as a one way communication channel and worry about the push-back from constituents others are finding the power of building connections and relationships in social media and that the interactions are not a waste of time but really an investment.


I loved to hear of the variety of tools that Superintendents use to make their work easier, more engaging and connect with students, staff and community. To highlight just two, one Superintendent spoke of his work with VoiceBo – an app that acts as a voice recorder.  When visiting various classrooms he will often times use the app with the students where he records and shares their voices.   As he said, “what students don’t want to share and have the superintendent record what they are doing.”  Another tool that was new to me was Slack – a tool that a number of school districts are doing to better connect and cut down on the email clutter.


As I have written before, where leaders spend their time matters.

I have argued that digital literacy is really just becoming literacy.  It is implied that digital is just part of the large expected meaning of literacy.  The same line of thinking needs to hold true for digital leadership.  For those who hold leadership positions in education, really being a digital leader is just being a leader.  We need to be continuing to upgrade our skills and be pushed to use the tools and engage with the mindset we expect of our students and teachers.

This really takes two parts – superintendents need to be in classes where teachers are pushing new ways to engage digitally and they also need to attend professional events that allow them to learn from and with colleagues on the paths other schools and districts are taking on the digital journey.

I have been very hard on traditional conferences in my blog posts.  There are some major events I refuse to attend now since they continue to perpetuate learning about the new things in the same old ways.  What was great about the Superintendent Digital Transition Symposium was that is modeled many of the new ways we are trying to engage.  There were some traditional lecture presentations, but there were also student discussions, gallery walks, hands-on activities, chances to engage digitally and choice in how, where and with who we learned.  If we are going to come together face-to-face there needs to be value added over traditional conferences.  This event is one of the few that I have attended that has started to realize this.


I am reminded when I connect with other districts, that if I am looking for a district leading the way thinking about digital engagement there is almost always a Superintendent trying to figure it out for herself how she can lead digitally.  I am also reminded that slowly the word digital is disappearing in front of the word leadership – in the very new future it will just be leadership and digital will just be one of the expectations when we use the word leader.


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Recently at the BC School Trustees Association, I was listening to Larry Rosenstock from High Tech High talk about the moment he knew he wanted to be a teacher.  It was a very interesting thing to reflect on and try to pinpoint the time I really knew I wanted to be a teacher.

I do think we all have these moments.

For me it was when I was about ten years old.  I can remember being backstage after the showing of Wizard of Oz by the students at Killarney Secondary School in Vancouver.  My dad (and for a time my mom) spent a long career teaching at Killarney and for many of those years he produced the annual school musical.  From a very young age I remember going to Fiddler on the Roof, Grease, Oklahoma!, Sound of Music among others.  When you are in a family with two parents as teachers going to the high school is a big family night out.

The Wizard of Oz and getting to go backstage stands out.  I remember the amazing joy and happiness from all of those involved in the production.  I can clearly remember getting to meet all of the actors and being in awe as if I was on a Hollywood movie set, and I remember them interacting with my dad.  There was such excitement.  And not only did I want to meet the actors, they wanted to meet me; I was Mr. Kennedy’s son.   I knew then I wanted to be a teacher.  Until that point what my parents did was quite obscure for me.  Even though I went to school everyday, I don’t think I really knew what a teacher did.  I learned that day that teaching was something really special.  Teaching was about making connections.  Teaching was about making things come to life. Teaching was about being on a team.

It is interesting that as soon as Larry Rosenstock had us think about when we knew we wanted to be a teacher, this moment, one I hadn’t really thought of in more than three decades immediately came back to me.

While I kicked the tires on other career options in high school and even into university I knew from a very young age I wanted to be a teacher.  And while some think a child of teachers is born into the job, it wasn’t that for me.  It was seeing the amazing joy that comes from the work in schools.  I am sure this Wizard of Oz moment and others like it are why I still advocate so loudly for strong arts and athletic programs and other options outside the classroom that round-out the school life.

I am sure I am not alone in having a moment I knew I wanted to teach – so what is yours?

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