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Archive for the ‘Professional Development’ Category

leader

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?

Model

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.

Engage

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.

Explore

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.

Attend

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.

Conclusions

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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best

I have given several Ignite Presentations. I really like the format – one is forced to be clear, direct and succinct in the presentation. I also enjoy that it gives one the chance to be provocative with the intention to stimulate discussion.

My most recent one I gave this at C21 Canada’s national session with Superintendents was entitled, “They Used to Be Our Best Teachers”.

This was a chance (some provocatively) to reflect on the work of the last decade.  It is actually quite amazing how much has changed.  Our classrooms do look very different from only ten years ago.  It has been an interesting journey.  The case for change in our community has been made in a system that is regarded as one of the very finest in the world.  We had to challenge the “why change” argument.  And while we saw the changes in professions from journalism to health care and demise of businesses like Blockbuster Video and Kodak – it was really about embracing the notion that you don’t have to be sick to get better.

And we have learned a lot.  In retrospect, we should have focused more of our conversation of the last decade around the simple question – is it good for kids?  Too often, especially early on, we got in black and white debates like – should we use inquiry?  do we need computers in the classroom?  Of course these really were not the right questions.  And many of us also felt a sense of loss as teaching changed.  I loved being the content expert at the front of the room, and when people said I should be the “guide at the side” I felt a loss.  And I know others did as well and sometimes this loss presented itself as opposition.

And more recently, we have got help in the transformation.  New curriculum in British Columbia has made us all look at our practice in the classroom, changes in International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Programs have signaled the spread of the changes, and all partner groups in BC have found common ground in their efforts around curriculum, assessment and related matters.

What is so exciting now is that we are often celebrating teachers who were our best teachers “the old way” and now are our finest “the new way” – of course in the end teaching is such a human undertaking.  And while notions of change and transformation are not static, and the movement has been far more messy and less linear than I might have thought, and there is always the possibility that a system snaps-back, it is exciting to see how far we have come.

The real conclusion of this Ignite Talk is not what we need to do, but a celebration of what we have done and the directions we are going.

I know sharing a presentation without the audio and video often loses its context, but here is a copy of the slides (if you are viewing this via email you may need to open your browser to see the slides):

One of the great takeaways from the event was the consistent threads that ran through the presentations from Superintendents across Canada.  While we all in very different contexts, the system goals we are trying to accomplish are far more similar than they are different.  And while education falls under provincial jurisdiction, there sure seems to be some great opportunities for national conversations about the future of learning and schooling.

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Photo Credit – Keith Rispin

As computers were finding their way into every teacher’s hands, and more classes were moving to some sort of Bring-Your-Own-Device model, I was arguing the biggest shift had nothing to do with the computers.  And as I look back over the shifts that computers brought, I am seeing it happen again as we embrace refreshed curriculum in British Columbia – and the biggest shifts are not about the curriculum.

When I was Principal at Riverside Secondary in Port Coquitlam just over a decade ago, our school like many others, was working to put laptops in the hands of all the teachers in the school.  This shift had an amazingly powerful influence on teaching and learning.  As each year more teachers took advantage of the laptops available to them, they began to thoughtfully examine their practice, carefully considering the opportunities now available that were not available without the technology.  Talking about how we teach is not easy, it is very personal and our profession is often quite isolating.  Talking about technology is much easier.  There is no harm in admitting you don’t know how your gizmo works.  And what we saw at Riverside was that as we had conversations about our gizmos we quickly moved to conversations about our practice.  The technology opened the door for conversations that we often avoid.

I shared my bias in a post last fall, that when faced with six education system transformation drivers, Shifting Curriculum, Shifting Pedagogies, Shifting Learning Environments, Shifting Assessment, Shifting Governance, Shifting Citizen and Stakeholder Engagement, my bias is that the primary focus should be on pedagogies.

I saw a decade ago, that shifting technologies were opening up the driving conversation of shifting pedagogies.  Fast forward a decade and now a very similar phenomena is happening with refreshed curriculum in British Columbia.  The Ministry of Education in British Columbia describes the shift, “British Columbia’s curriculum is being redesigned to respond to the demanding world our students are entering.  Transformation in curriculum will help teachers create learning environments that are both engaging and personalized for students. At the heart of British Columbia’s redesigned curriculum are core competencies, essential learning and literacy and numeracy foundations.”

Teachers, administrators and school districts have been allocated dedicated time to work with the new curriculum that is in draft this year for K-9 and will be fully implemented next year.  The 10-12 curriculum follows one year later.  And it has been so interesting to listen to feedback as teachers work together on the curriculum.  As I visited those working on the curriculum and debriefed with others afterwards, nobody was talking about the content.  People made comments like, “I didn’t realize how much similarity there is between our elective areas”, “We made plans to do some joint units next year” and “It is great we all now have the same understanding of core competencies.”  The curriculum has given people a reason, an opportunity and a purpose for looking at their practice.  Again like with the computer, the power is not in the curriculum, but in the conversations and shifts in what we do in the classroom.

There are some amazing new  connections being built through the curriculum implementation process.  I talked to people who have worked in the same school with colleagues for years, but now feel they have a reason to work together.  The power of the curriculum is not in what is written and posted on the website.  The power is in how it comes to life in classrooms.

So far, so good.

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Modern Loyalty

Buzzword Cubes: Loyalty

Most principals or vice-principals who want to meet with me, simply send me a text or an email to set up a time.  There are the rare occasions that they set up an appointment through my Executive Assistant in the office.  Really there are three topics that they usually go through her for a meeting:  1)  they want to let me know they are pregnant 2)  they want to let me know they are retiring and 3)  they want to let me know they are applying for a job outside the district.  I appreciate how difficult all three of these can be to discuss with your boss.  Of course pregnancies are wonderful events to celebrate and so are retirements.  And then there are the third group.  I appreciate how nervous people are to discuss applying for a job somewhere else.

I know there was a mindset held in school districts, like in many other professions, that loyalty to a school district was a paramount value.  I have always had a different view of loyalty in education.  It is for that reason, that to the surprise of almost everyone who comes to my office to talk about an opportunity elsewhere I treat it like a celebration.  While I am very competitive, and want to have the best possible staff, I also want to work in and model an organization that is encouraging of risk-taking and pursuing new challenges.

When someone is applying out and is successful in another district, the message to me is that we are doing something right.    When looking out, school districts want to attract candidates from good schools and good school districts.  It is a badge of honour for our district when our teachers and administrators are being recruited from other districts.

I also think in education, that while we divide up into public and independent schools, and organize our schools into districts, when it comes to the kids who attend, they truly all belong to all of us.  We want all kids to have great teachers, principals and schools.

And of course, movement is healthy, and new people bring new energy.  Those leaving bring new energy to their new location, and that leaves opportunities for new people to take their positions, also bringing new excitement and new ideas.

I was reviewing the appointments we have made over my last nine years in West Vancouver into leadership positions.  About 80% of the time we have hired from within our system, and about 20% have been candidates from outside the system.

I think a generation ago educational leaders were far more loyal to where they worked.

Modern loyalty in education is about being loyal to people, and being loyal to the work but it recognizes that sometimes you have to leave to grow.

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Follow-your-Passion
It is hard to believe that one of the key tasks of January is to begin promoting our program offerings in our schools next September. This past month, our Board approved a series of new secondary school courses and programs. It is exciting to see a culture of innovation come to life in the program offerings that teachers, principals and schools are bringing forward – I absolutely love the passion-based offerings for students.

We have been offering academy programs for just over a decade.  It started with hockey and soccer.  For many years, students interested in a particular academy program would have to transfer to one of our high schools to participate.  We have changed this over time.

About four years ago, we began to talk about the idea of “one district, three campuses”.  This is based on the principle that students should be able to attend their local secondary school with their friends, but have access to programs for part of their schedule at another site.  It has not been a simple move.  There have been logistics to overcome – calendars had to be aligned so high schools all had the same professional development days.  Timetables also had to be coordinated.  In our case, we now have timetables at each of our high schools where the blocks in the morning rotate and the afternoon blocks are fixed.  So students have the same last period class each day.  This allows us to bring together students from multiple sites each day in the afternoon.

Our school schedules are built so students can complete core areas in the morning, and if interested, pursue specialty programming in the afternoon.

This coming year we now have 10 different academy-style programs open to students from all schools.  We continue to be strong with sports – offering academy programming in soccer, hockey, basketball, baseball, rugby, field hockey, and tennis.  We have also now added mechatronics robotics and dance for next year.  The majority of these programs occur in the afternoon, with some classes before school and on weekends.  In addition to these programs we have several courses that are open to students from all schools – YELL (an entrepreneurship program that runs after school and partners students with business leaders in the community, FAST (First Aid Swim Training, where students earn credentialing towards becoming a lifeguard) and a District Honour Choir (that practices in the evening and performs locally and beyond).  In Art West 45 students can attend their own high school one day and every other day participate in a program that allows those passionate about arts to get extended time in this area.  It is the same principle for ACE-IT Carpentry where students attend the program every other day working towards their Level 1 carpentry credential.

In all we are now at about 15 and growing in the number of options we have available that allow students to pursue their passions as part of their school program – coming together with students from across the district who share these interests.

There is wonderful value in students attending their local school but we also need to find creative ways for students to pursue their passions.  Five years ago none of the programs existed that would allow students from a variety of schools to attend.  Now they are part of our culture.  A culture where talented teachers share their passions with students who are thirsty to pursue these areas.

I am not sure that what we are doing is transforming our system.  I can hear my friend Yong Zhao in my ear that we are maximizing the current system and not changing the system.    We are continuing to find ways for students to pursue their passions which is all part of building a system that is relevent, connected and engaging for our learners.

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digital-footprint

I had the chance to speak with education students at the University of British Columbia earlier this week about the power of networks.  I wrote earlier this year about my argument that being a networked teachers is one of the three key “must-do’s” for all new teachers.   Being a networked teachers is about connecting face-to-face and digitally.

As part of the conversation on networking I spent some time talking about their educational digital footprint.   For some very good reasons we have spent time in recent years telling teacher candidates about all the things they should not have as part of their digital footprint.  We remind them to lock-down their privacy on Facebook, to remove the photos on Instagram holding a glass of wine,  to take down the blog post they wrote about their wild trip to Europe and otherwise try to cleanse their digital presence.  And we remind the soon-to-be teachers that everything they put on the web is part of who they are as a teacher.  We also have serious conversations around boundaries with colleagues and students in the digital world.  All of this is important.

We spend a lot of time with teacher candidates and new teachers talking about what not to do.

We also need to spend time talking about what those new to our profession should be doing to build up their educational digital footprint.  I was in a session last week on young people and finances.  The keynote speaker implored all young people to get a credit card to build up their good credit.  I feel the same about all young teachers and their digital footprint – it is something they need to start building from the beginning.  You don’t just “turn on” your educational digital presence, we are finding it takes years to build and refine.

And what were some of the concrete things I suggested they do?

1) Get on Twitter.  I know this is simplistic, but it is a first step to get in the game.

2)  Start a blog. Get your own URL and start writing about teaching and learning.  Over time it will likely morph as you grow in the profession.

3)  Post your PowerPoint presentations to SlideShare.  This is about participating in the community.  When you create a presentation for an education class or your class at school with young students, post it and share it with the world.

And of course, there are many more.

One of the beautiful things about the digital world, is many of our traditional hierarchies are blurred.  We all can contribute and good ideas get traction.

When I listen to a speaker, attend a presentation, or am introduced to someone who I “just have to meet” I almost always Google them afterwards.  It usually confirms my thinking but sometimes it gives me some different perspectives.

I know we don’t talk much about all the possibilities around your educational digital footprint, but we should.

Then when I Google you, and I probably will, I will not only be struck by all the bad stuff I don’t see, but all the powerful professional learning and sharing I do see.

 

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I was pleased to contribute to the recently published paper – Shifting Minds 3.0 – Redefining the Learning Landscape in Canada.  The paper is authored by Penny Milton, the former long serving  head of the Canadian Education Association, and had contributions from more than twenty superintendents across the country, among others.

I have written before about the value of a national conversation in education.  Despite falling under the mandate of provincial governments there is huge value in building a learning network across the country.  As we embrace a post-standardized world, learning from jurisdictions across the country is essential, as we want all students in our country to be well prepared for the rapidly changing world.

There have been a number of papers written in recent years on the shifts in learning that we are seeing, and that we need to see, and I have given a lot of blog space to the great work I see on a regular basis in West Vancouver.  What is particularly valuable about the Shifting Minds 3.0 document is that the same conversations, the same areas of attention, and the same urgency, are being seen and felt across the country.   The work is both exciting and daunting:

The challenge for school district leaders is to extend the transformation to all classrooms and schools. Whole-system reform requires conditions that support educators in examining and reshaping the foundations on which their practice is built (leadership and management, as well as teaching) . . . Because education is complex and the stakes for students are high, a dual strategy of both improvement and innovation can offer a reliable way to maintain stability while enabling forward momentum.

The dual strategy notion of innovation and improvement is one we often talk about in West Vancouver.  Yes, the world has changed and the skills our learners need are changing.  But this change is within a context of having one of the highest performing systems in the world.  We are moving from a place of strength so stability must be alongside momentum.

It is interesting to see the work in British Columbia in the context of the country.  In reading this document, I get the sense that we are ahead with much of what we are doing.  The document describes three governance models and management approaches and we see all three in BC:

Central direction involves stakeholders in an iterative relationship of policy design and local implementation. This approach has raised academic achievement across the majority of schools. Success depends on feedback loops, with leaders and practitioners learning from and adjusting strategies as needed. Central direction can promote improvement in schools, but it limits innovation.

Non-intervention approaches allow school districts to respond to local contexts without the pressure of specific school improvement policies. In these cases, the central authority encourages rather than mandates the change. Some districts have been able to innovate under these conditions; others less so.

Enabling or permissive approaches encourage or support experimentation and innovation at the district and school levels. Some may enable innovation by the simple absence of a prescribed regulatory framework; others may develop specific innovations—for example, in curriculum or assessment. The advantage of this approach is that it allows the province to learn and try out alternative policy designs before attempting to replace one significant policy with another.

We also see all three of these approaches at work locally in West Vancouver.  We have spent a lot of energy  trying to foster enabling and permissive approaches, but it is important to use all three depending on the initiative and the circumstances.

Finally, the shifting system drivers described in the document are very useful.  It is not that the shifts are new, but it is an important reminder of their interconnectedness.  We are definitely shifting learning environments and pedagogies and working hard on shifting governance.  We are getting strong leadership from the province on shifting curriculum.  I see shifting assessment and citizen and stakeholder engagement, of the six, as the two we have the most work to do.  Very important to see they all must work together (double-click to open graphic in a full-page):

www.c21canada.org wp content uploads 2015 05 C21 ShiftingMinds 3.pdf

I encourage you to read the full document.  There are many documents on the topic of the shifts in education, from many organizations with many intended audiences.  This one nicely describes the challenge needed by those of us at a systems level.  It is an important challenge for us to continue to take on.

As the paper concludes, “change is inevitable; transformation is possible. System leaders create the conditions for transformation by encouraging leadership at all levels, imbued with the very attributes we are aiming to develop in young people—creativity, inquiry, collaboration, calculated risk taking, reasoned problem solving, and the capacity to learn from experience and face the next challenge.”

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