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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.

 

Wizard

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?

solutionThe shifts in the BC curriculum are coming fast. Next fall the “draft” stamp comes off of all curriculum in K-9 across all subject areas. And if the current timelines remain in place, the same will happen one year later for grades 10-12. As I have written here before, the changes have been overwhelmingly well received and the conversations that have come out of them not just about what is covered in school but how it is covered have been outstanding.

As we get close to the September full implementation date, I am nervous that I see some beginning to look for solutions to cover the curriculum.  And just what does that mean?

For many of us growing up, we saw the grade 8 Social Studies curriculum as the Patterns of Civilization textbook.  The Science 10 curriculum was the Science Probe textbook.  I talk to many parents now who believe the Math curriculum in our elementary school is really the Math Makes Sense textbook. The new curriculum does not only shift what we are teaching, and how we are teaching, but also forces us to think differently about resources.  The focus on big ideas, students constructing knowledge and core competencies require different kinds of support resources.  If the era of a single textbook being able to equal a course of study was not yet over, it is now.

We have our second of two days this year dedicated to the implementation of the curriculum this week.  The day will focus on the competencies (communication, thinking and personal and social).   It is a very rich day that schools have planned with teacher leaders at each site leading the work on their staff.  Along with Aboriginal education and resources, the competencies were the number one item that staff across the district have wanted to focus on.  The work in our schools has been exciting and inspiring.  Teachers and administrators are working together looking at all aspects of teaching and learning and what the shifts mean for them, and their students.

As we get closer to September, there will be anxiousness around resources. We need to look to avoid the easy solutions of books or programs that promise to ‘cover’ the curriculum.  There will absolutely need to be new resources over time to support the new content, competencies and inquiry-based focus of the curriculum.  Aboriginal education, in particular, is an area that has not been well covered in previous resources and is embedded across all areas in the refreshed curriculum.

Just as the curriculum has been a process rather than a proclamation over the last several years, so should the work to find resources to support the students, teacher and classroom.  I think we need to think carefully about format – how much digital and how much paper based?  We need to  think about consistency – which resources should be standard across classes and schools?  We need to think of local vs. broad – which resources should be centred on the local community?  We need to think of content vs. process – should the resources be big ideas / inquiry focused or focused on subject content?  And what about professionally produced vs. locally teacher-curated resources?  And do we always need new resources – what do we have now that still works or could be used differently to support student learning?

I see some problem-based experiences that students do to support their learning and I see some other “new”resources that look like the old resources with a fresh coat of paint and where words like inquiry and problem-based learning were sprinkled throughout but little else changed.

And all of this is just the start. The refreshed curriculum is a real chance to also think carefully and differently about the resources we use to support learning.  And we know there is something reassuring when our children bring home backpacks of books – each one representing an area of study.

In our urgency to get up-to-speed with the changes in curriculum we should be thoughtfully looking for resources that help bring learning to life for our students and not ones that cover the new stuff in the older, familiar ways.

As I have said before, exciting times!

Multi Ethnic People Holding The Word Blogging

If five years ago I looked into my crystal ball, I would have said that in 2016, all staff and students would have blogs.  These would be spaces of reflection and also for portfolios.  I would have said that they would be text based, but increasingly have video content.  I would have said that we would be increasingly wired to comment on each other’s work and have gained skills in giving public, constructive feedback and commentary.

While blogging isn’t dead, its fate in the schools of 2016 is not what I envisioned.  It seems like a lot of people have tried blogging, and while some continue the internet is littered with abandoned education blogs.    I would like to agree with fellow educational blogger Martin Weller that “the future of blogging is blogging.”

I have written several times about my experiences during the 2010 Winter Olympics. During the Games I worked with a group of students who served as student reporters covering the action through their blogs.  It was defining for me in my thinking.  I saw students producing content for the real-world, getting immediate feedback and saw the quality of their writing improve as they felt the pressure of writing for a public audience.

My colleague Gary Kern, who joined me on the Olympic project, was the architect of our work in West Vancouver that saw every student get a blog.  And led by Cari Wilson, we got students, classes and schools blogging across the district.  We had blog challenges, and we had adults highlighting student blogs, and we grew the community.

So here is a (somewhat random) collection of things that has happened in the last five years which has led away from all blogging, both for students and the adults in our district:

  • we have moved to collaborative spaces like Google Docs that allow multiple thinking outside the blog format
  • instead of seeing blogs as “home base” for videos, photos etc. we have seen the growth of Instagram and YouTube and sustained presence of Facebook and Twitter which are often used as blogs – social media engagement is fragmented across various platforms.
  • once everyone started writing, people began to comment less and less on other people’s writing
  • the theory was that adults would model how to comment on blogs and then kids would learn and follow – unfortunately adults have been terrible models . . . one only has to look at the number of news sites that have shut comments off because of the immature and often hateful commentary
  • some of our blogging tools we used were cumbersome and have not adapted as quickly as our other digital tools
  • it is hard to sustain momentum – with ‘Hour of Code’, robotics, FreshGrade, Google Docs, there are a lot of digital tools and initiatives looking for our attention

Dean Shareski tweeted, “Blogs are like rock and roll and jazz. A one time popular genre, now a niche.”  Maybe.  We had the boost from the outside this past week working with George Couros, and at least for now, some of the excitement is back.

I no longer say things like ”Everyone needs to have a blog” but I still would hope that people would see the powerful value of owning a digital space of their own.

I love blogging.  It gives me a voice.  It is a place for me to work through ideas.  It is a portfolio. It is my home base.  The jury is still out if others see it the same.

homework1

We have a reputation for being on the cutting education of technology and education in West Vancouver and we are again today with the launch of our new program to support homework completion.  We know that it can be hard to remember to bring homework home, and heavy textbooks can also hurt the back health of our students – today we are eliminating these problems.

I am pleased to announce that we are first school district in North America to be using the DHDS (Drone Homework Delivery System) in our schools.  We have purchased four drones for each classroom that will be used to deliver homework directly from classroom to homes.  This is a major investment, but one we think will lead to a huge increase in student achievement.

I know this bold decision will raise eyebrows, but since Amazon made the announcement to look toward drone delivery of its parcels, we have been working with many of the same people to see how we could take this technology and apply it to schools.  We are excited to have been selected as the location that will pilot this new technology that will dramatically change the home – school relationship.  Working with partners in Sweden – the Lirpa Sloof Yad Foundation we will be tracking this work and sharing our story with others.

Drone2

So, just how does it work?

We do not yet have one-to-one drones available.  We currently have four drones for every classroom.  At the end of the day students line-up their textbooks and workbooks. The drones will then make multiple deliveries.  In most cases the books will be delivered to the front door of the house, but we also have the technology that if a window can be left open in the house, the homework can be dropped off directly on the student’s desk at home.   The process happens in reverse each morning, as drones return to the homes and pick-up the homework and deliver it to school. With four drones per classroom we will have approximately 2000 drones in the air at any given time.  They are part of an interconnected network and will fly at high speeds in a low air space to not interfere with commercial flights.

Why are we doing this?

There are many reasons why we are doing this.  In recent years, there have been multiple studies questioning the validity of homework.  We think homework needs to become cool again.  And we know whenever you add technology to something that makes it feel modern and hip.  So delivering homework by drone will make homework the new thing to do.

A major health concern is neck and back pain caused by heavy backpacks.  DHDS solves this problem.  No longer will students have to lug heavy backpacks of textbooks to and from school – they will now be there waiting for them when they arrive.

We also know that being a student is hard – there is a lot to remember.  No longer will students have to make excuses for forgotten homework.  And if a student says, “My drone didn’t deliver my homework” we can send the drone to make an immediate pick-up and have the materials brought to class.

Future Applications

We know homework is just the start.  There are many other ways our drones can help make school-life more convenient for students.  Next fall in at least one of our schools, we will pilot the drone lunch delivery program.  Once all homework is delivered, the drones can be used to deliver student lunches.  So, instead of parents having to come to the school and drop off the forgotten sandwich or deliver local takeout for their child, drones can be programmed to do this.

Drone1

Conclusions

We take pride on being the learning leaders not just locally but nationally and internationally.  And with our announcement of the DHDS today we maintain our position at the top.

This is the latest in what has become an annual tradition at this time of year to launch innovative initiatives.

In 2012 I launched my FLOG.

In 2013 I made the announcement of Quadrennial Round Schooling.

In 2014 we formalized our System of Student Power Rankings.

In 2015 we created our Rock, Paper, Scissors Academy.

And today we launch the DHDS – destined to revolutionize the student homework experience.

Hopefully you are enjoying today as much as me!

Photo Credit - Sgt Ronald Duchesne

Photo Credit – Sgt Ronald Duchesne

It was almost five years ago that I wrote a post Smart and Caring. I was taken by our new (at the time) Governor General of Canada, His Excellency, the Right Honourable David Johnston, and his call for a smart and caring nation. I was initially struck by 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.

I had the chance to be part of a program with His Excellency last week in West Vancouver, and five years later, his words, his message and his vision for our country are still striking.  At the invitation of the West Vancouver Community Foundation, and other local foundations, His Excellency spoke to a full theatre of community members, and participated in a panel of local citizens that I had the good fortune to facilitate.

Photo credit - Sonya Adloff

Photo credit – Sonya Adloff

He once again spoke about the power of a strong public education system.  He also returned to his theme of “smart and caring”, one he has regularly covered over the last six years and the connection he has made to Canada’s upcoming 150th birthday.  He said:

And perhaps that’s the greatest gift of all you can make to Canada—to create hope. Because hope, as the ethicist Margaret Somerville once put it, is “the oxygen of the human spirit.”

His Excellency told a number of simple, personal stories related to the giving of blood – something he has done since his youth.  He noted that Canada is one of the few countries of the world, where giving blood is a volunteer activity and it speaks to who we are as a people, noting, “like any nation-state, Canada, of course, is only as strong as its people, as its communities”.    He also linked his beliefs around smart and caring to the current Syrian refugee work, quoting Conrad Sauvé of the Canadian Red Cross:

“We’re dealing with people who are fleeing war. Nobody wants to leave their home. They’re leaving because they don’t have a choice, because they’ve lost hope.”

But he added:

“Their hope now is Canada.”

During the panel, thoughtful local citizens shared their views of a smart and caring nation.  A local entrepreneur and CEO of Earth’s Own Food Group, Maheb Nathoo discussed his views of universal truths including the need for gender equity and commitment to sustainability and the environment.  Local high school student Liam Grant talked about the key role young people could play in community building and Shannon Ozirny, Head of Youth Services and the West Vancouver Memorial Library expanded our view of community raising the need for a smart and caring digital community.  Finally, Adina Williams, a member of Squamish Nation, and student at the University of British Columbia, shared how her view of community has changed in recent years and expanded beyond her First Nations reserve, something she hopes for her entire community through the work of reconciliation.

Towards the end of the session I asked His Excellency about what advice he would give a community like ours.  He spoke about the upcoming 150th birthday for Canada.  He said that he was really taken by Calgary’s Mayor Nenshi and his 3 Things for Calgary initiative.  His Excellency thought this idea was something for others to consider and link it to our nation’s birthday celebrations.  Of course I was left thinking that it would be quite powerful to pull together His Excellency’s belief in a strong public education system, and Mayor Nenshi’s “3 things” challenge – wouldn’t it be great if students, staff and community recognized the sesquicentennial by doing 3 things for their schools and for public education?

So, just what messages from His Excellency stick with me?  A strong public education system is crucial for our country.  We are a smart and caring nation.  There are small things we can all do to contribute.

And I was left with a deep sense of pride in my community who showed so well for His Excellency, and for our country which His Excellency and others spoke of in such high regard.

Here is a link to His Excellency’s speech and here a link to event photos taken by Sonya Adloff.  

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.