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Posts Tagged ‘BCSSA’

In the middle of an industrial park just outside of Stockholm is one of Sweden’s top-performing schools – Kunskapsskolan Tyresö.  It is part of a network of 33 Kunskapsskolan schools in Sweden – all funded by a public school voucher system (Sweden has a national voucher model), and has no tuition, accepting students on a first-come, first-served basis.

Having just spent some time with several colleagues who attended High Tech High, in San Diego, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities in the stories they told (Here is a post by Gary Kern and by Lynne Tomlinson) about their  experiences.  It is a school that has technology as a key tenet, but one would hardly notice it; students do inter-disciplinary work and have large segments of time to organize themselves; the school is a draw to those “on the ends” of the learning spectrum – gifted and challenged – and both groups flourish; students outperform their counterparts in neighbouring schools and have strong records in post-secondary.

The physical plant itself is modest.  The particular school we visited was in the midst of an industrial park in a converted factory; other schools in the network have taken older office buildings, or leasable space, and have converted them into schools.  One is struck by the fact every square foot in the building is used.  A case in point is, there are no hallways – rather, there are tables and gathering spaces literally everywhere for students to collaborate.

Much of the same language around British Columbia’s education system and personalized learning was evident with teachers and students at the school, but what was most noticeably different from the BC experience is that they didn’t take one or two practices and adopt them at their school, they completely rethought everything about their school and how it operates. Here is a video overview of the school:

Here are some of the key elements we saw as we walked around the school and talked with teachers and students:

  • Every student has personal goals that are continually monitored
  • Every student has personal strategies on how to reach these goals
  • Every student has an assigned coach to meet with them every week in a structured, 15-minute discussion – it was noted this was far more than a conversation, but a structured process
  • Teachers had multiple roles – all teachers had a base group they met with each morning and afternoon (an advisory-type program), and these students are the ones they meet for “coaching” once a week.  In addition teachers are subject experts (e.g. math or French) and also run tutorial centres that require some more general knowledge
  • The schedule is flexible.  There were group lessons, individual study sessions and teacher-led workshops
  • The school offers a variety of learning sessions and formats – some compulsory, some voluntary – from lectures, to labs, to individual sessions
  • The curriculum is organized by steps and students’ progress on an individual basis without being tied to a class or grade
  • Thematic courses provide contextual understanding, while providing subject standards
  • The Learning Portal gives access to learning resources everywhere and anytime – the entire curriculum is online and teachers are continually working to develop and improve materials
  • Every student has a log book to keep track of their work (like our agendas) with clear purpose and value – this is connected to the weekly coaching sessions
  • There are regular, individual progress tracking review/development discussions
  • The student has their own individual study plan

The bullet points are all quite familiar for those following the personalized learning discussions.  What was stunning was I don’t think I have met many students like the two Grade 9 students who toured the school with us – the epitome of students who own their own learning.

The conversation with Odd Eiken, Executive Vice-President of the Kunskapsskolan network of schools, highlighted the different approach they are taking toward schooling.  He argued the schoolwork versus homework conversation is not one worth having – it should be able workload – and students, like adults, need to find ways to manage their workload at school or home.  He articulated that all the efforts to standardize systems at the schools allow for teachers to have more contact with students – about 30 hours a week — compared with about 20 hours of student contact in most schools.  It is the personal relationships that are key, so they are what need to be the focus of teacher-time.  In his schools, teachers spend far less time prepping for classes, and more time with students.  Teachers also have a more traditional formal workday: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the school, and they spend a large part of their summers building curriculum. Technology, he argues, is to “liberate time” for teachers, so that they can do the important work connecting with students.

Here is Eiken’s full presentation:

Just as with High Tech High, there are many “Yeah, buts”.  The Kunskapsskolan schools are products of a voucher system; the Swedish school system does not consider athletics and the arts as part of the school program like we do; the voucher system which has produced the school leads to real concerns over equity and concerning behaviours (they told a story of a neighbouring school giving away free computers to draw students); while they have been successful in Sweden, and are expanding to New York, England and India, the feedback has not been all positive.

I left the school with the impression of the two kids who gave us the impromptu tour of their school.  I want my own kids to care as deeply for their learning at 14 as these two students clearly do.

The visit to Kunskapsskolan Tyresö came, in part, after hearing Valerie Hannon discuss the school at the BCSSA Conference two years ago – here is a link to the post on that presentation.

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This is a companion blog to a post I recently wrote about the principals in our district stepping out with their own blogs (a complete list here).  However, superintendents are also finding their voice in digital space across the province.  In speaking with a lead Superintendent in the Eastern United States, his comment was, “it seems like more than half of the superintendents blogging in North America are from BC”.

The reasons why superintendents are joining the blog world are similar to those of school principals — it can help build community, and allows us to tell our story in our own words; it is excellent modeling for leadership, and for the students we encourage to write for public audiences.  The topics covered by superintendents are varied — they can range from the issues of the day to reflections on school visits.  In the past year alone, there has been a dramatic increase in district leaders finding and sharing their voice in the digital world.

Who is blogging, and what they are saying:

Scott Benwell, Vancouver Island North (here)

Patrick Bocking, Sunshine Coast (here)

Jim Cambridge, Sooke (here)

Steve Cardwell, Vancouver (here)

Teresa Downs, Gold Trail (here)

Keven Elder, Saanich (here)

Larry Espe, Peace River North (here)

Tom Grant, Coquitlam (here)

Jeff Hopkins, Gulf Islands (here)

Dave Hutchinson, Nanaimo – Ladysmith (here)

Jeff Jones, Kootenay Lakes (here)

John Lewis, North Vancouver (here)

Greg Luterbach, Kootenay-Columbia (here)

Mike McKay, Surrey (here)

Karen Nelson, Fraser-Cascade (here)

Monica Pamer, Richmond (here)

Brian Pepper, Prince George (here)

Jan Unwin, Maple Ridge – Pitt Meadows (here)

With a few more superintendents planning to launch soon, we are approaching 20 per cent of 60 district superintendents in the blogosphere (and, I am sure I  have missed one or two).  It can be a challenging role from which to blog.  The profile and political nature of the job, the relationship with the local board and the ministry, all, give pause.  While the role and issues may be the same, the blogs are as different and as individual as the superintendent writing it. Some employ their blog more as a news site, some focus exclusively on learning, while for others, it is a diary of experiences. They all have important stories to tell about their communities.

It is challenging to write on a regular basis for a public audience, so it is great to have more company in this space. Many of these people I see only once or twice in a year.  Now, I can learn from them, and with them, on a regular basis.

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Michael Fullan is one of the architects of the current government of Ontario’s platform on education (here), and has recently written a widely cited paper Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform, which I have previously blogged about here.

While his most prominent work is with Ontario, Fullan has been working, on and off, with school districts and the Ministry of Education in British Columbia for more than twenty years as well.  This past week, along with two others very involved with innovation projects around the world, Valerie Hannon and Tony MackayFullan spent a full day working with school superintendents highlighting several key concepts in the context of our work in BC.

From the 2010 McKinsey and Company Report, How the World’s Most Improved Systems Keep Getting Bettertwo findings were emphasized:

– When capacity is low, the source of new system ideas / action is the center

– When capacity is higher, the sources of system innovation is peers

These findings speak to our work in West Vancouver, and across BC.  We have very strong teachers, administrators and schools. We have already taken direction in finding formal and informal networks to improve and develop new practices.  In our district, we can point to a series of networks driving innovation.  While we have been focussed on enhancing our digital networks through blogs and Twitter, we do have other face-to-face networks supporting innovation.

Fullan also shared a list of key practices that district leaders need to focus on:

  • Change in district culture
  • Building district leadership
  • Small number of core priorities
  • Focus on assessment – instruction
  • Non-judgmental
  • Transparency of data
  • Principals as instructional leaders
  • Proactive re:  provincial agenda

While the list is not groundbreaking, it is a confirmation of the work so many of us are doing here.  To begin with, in West Vancouver, we have not been shy about encouraging our best teachers to take on principal and vice-principal roles, and to be our learning leaders — which is supported by Fullan’s list. The final point is also worth highlighting because so many schools and districts have taken up the challenge of personalized learning in BC.  Some have personalized the language around it, contextualizing it for their community, but have held to some of the core principles which I often summarize in 10 words when asked to describe the learning we are creating:  kids own it, teachers guide it, parents engage with it.

A final challenge that Fullan placed before superintendents was the need for us to engage in cross-district learning and thoughtful, district-government interface.  Again, this speaks to the work I have previously described to our principals and vice-principals as being co-petitive (competitive in a cooperative environment).  This is really what we want for teachers in schools, schools in districts, and districts in the province. Fullan described it as “mutual allegiance and collaborative competition”.

Over 700 people attended the BCSSA Fall Conference last November, and many more followed online.  The dialogue continued in many different ways throughout districts.  It is good to be challenged and supported by learning leaders like Fullan, who have track records in very strong jurisdictions. It is also a good reminder that BC is part of a global network trying to figure out where we need to go next with students and learning.

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During last week’s BCSSA conference, when I presented on Social Media:  How District Leaders Can Build Community, I shared some of my personal thoughts about blog comments and some of the rules I have around them. Some tweets about this got some traction, so I want to revisit the topic in more detail.

One of the greatest fears teachers and administrators have who are looking to enter the blog world, is what people might say in a public space and how they might respond.  We are not accustomed to being so ‘public’, and the technology and the openness are both very new.  For many, the blogs that are most familiar are those which allow people to post anonymously, or who adopt difficult-to-track pseudonyms.  One only need visit some news site blogs to see the nasty comments that can develop there.

In the education world,  we need to model how we expect students to behave and engage, and this has led to some of my guidelines:

1)  I do not allow anonymous comments on my blog.  People identify themselves by name, or by an easily trackable identity.  I realize there may be some issues people do not want to be identified with for fear of repercussions — so, a blog  may not be the right venue to put their views out there.

2)  I will also not engage in blogs that allow anonymous comments.  There are some very interesting educational blogs that are okay with this and, as much as I want to contribute to the discussion, I don’t. It’s my way of protesting against, and not condoning, some of the nastiness that can develop in these spaces.

3)  I allow more than 95 per cent of the comments on my blog to go through.  I think there have been two, maybe three comments that have not been posted over the last year.  It IS okay to disagree on an issue, but it’s not okay to use inappropriate language, or to make it personal.  If one wants to make personal attacks — again, blogs are not the venue.

4)  If someone is going to take the time to read my post and respond — and I do appreciate the time and thoughtfulness of all who do comment — I need to take the time to return a thoughtful comment.  It is often said, the comments and discussions that ensue are the best part of a blog — they are what makes them so rich.  Whether it is a compliment, question, or a challenge to an assumption, it is about the public conversation, and I make it a point to try to engage everyone who leaves a comment within 24-48 hours of the blog.

I always come back to what we want our students to do; how we want them to engage, be critical thinkers, but we also want them to be respectful, thoughtful citizens. A number of our principals are stepping into the blogosphere, and it is a great professional network, largely encouraging and supportive. So, as we all go forward into digital space and become part of that network, we will also be modelling for those who follow.

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This Friday, I am presenting at the British Columbia School Superintendents Association (BCSSA) Summer Academy on how district leaders can use social media to build community.  I have embedded the slides below but, as always, they only tell part of the story.

This presentation is a departure from the one I gave two years ago at the same event (linked here) which focussed on Student Engagement in an Age of Distraction.  It focussed on the changes taking place inside and outside of education, while the new presentation is more about how we can use the new technology as part of how we can lead the change. In fact, if we want to have an influence and presence as education leaders, our participation in digital space is no longer optional.

There are always risks as we expose ourselves more publicly, but social media allows us to tell our own stories in our own words, to connect to new people and new ideas across roles and geography, and to model for others in our system — students, staff and parents — continuous learning.

I am closing with the quote: “don’t talk about it . . . be about it”. This is a call to all of us who lead in education because we need to model the way.

There is more content about social media, education and building community in this presentation, and in the coming weeks I will  devote a number of separate posts to share this information.

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I love year-in-review lists, so I’ve come up with one of my own — the “Top 3” in a variety of categories.   A great way to spur on discussion and debate.   I look forward to your own additions.

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts – these posts have generated the most traffic this year:

1.  Printing is not Meant to be Convenient

2.  A Recipient in the Sharing Revolution (thanks to Dean Shareski for sharing this post)

3.  TedxUBC (Post 1 and Post 2)

Top 3 Jurisdictions I Want to Learn More About:

1.  Revelstoke — latest graduation rate is a provincial best 98%

2.  Ontario — their recent PISA results in reading is something from which we can learn

3.  Finland — in almost every measure, they continue to lead the way in education

Top 3 B.C. Principals Influencing My Thinking and Work in our District:

1.  Cale Birk — his post on collaborative time was particularly helpful

2.  Gino Bondi — he is pushing the change agenda and thinks differently about high schools

3.  Chris Wejr — a great champion of thinking differently about assessment

Top 3 Professional Development Events I Have Attended:

1.  TEDxUBC

2.  BCSSA Fall Conference

3.  Twitter (pretty much on a daily basis – and it doesn’t cost a cent)

Top 3 Social Media Tools I’ve Used More of in 2010 Than Before:

1.  Twitter — it is changing the game with professional development

2.  Slideshare — wish more teachers would use it to share PowerPoints

3.  YouTube — it was only a couple of years ago this tool was blocked in schools

Top 3 Used (and often overused) Terms in Education for the Year:

1.  personalized learning

2.  backchannel

3.  21st century learner

Top 3 Used (and often overused) Quotes in Education for the Year:

1.  “It is not about the technology”  (guilty of this one)

2.  “The 21st century is more than 10% over”

3.  “Creativity, now, is as important in education as literacy” (or other Sir Ken like quote)

Top 3 Canadian Educational Reform “Blueprints” Worth Reading:

1. British Columbia – A Vision for 21st Century Education (pdf)

2.  Alberta – Inspiring Education

3.  New Brunswick – Creating a 21st Century Learning Model of Public Education (pdf)

Top 3 Education-related Videos from B.C. (that I bet you haven’t seen)

1. Digital Immersion Class Video – from Riverside Secondary in Port Coquitlam

2.  Barry McDonald – Boy Smarts from TEDxUBC (Barry is a Langley teacher)

3.  The North Delta Secondary Focus Group Initiative

Top 3 Education-related Videos from Outside B.C. (not featuring Sir Ken)

1.  RSA Animate – Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us

2.  Project-Based Learning Explained

3.  Alfie Kohn vs Dwight Schrute (thanks to Larry Ferlazzo for pointing me to this one)


The best thing I did professionally this year was start this blog.  Thanks to all of you who engage with me here on a regular basis.  I look forward to more discussions to come — there will never be a shortage of topics.

Happy Holidays!

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I have already written here about how successful the unconferencing  (“backchanneling” is probably the more accurate term) was at the BCSSA Fall Conference last week, in Victoria.

Here is the definition of backchannel from Wikipedia:

Backchannel is the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken remarks. The term was coined in the field of Linguistics to describe listeners’ behaviours during verbal communication, Victor Yngve 1970.

The term “backchannel” generally refers to online conversation about the topic or the speaker. Occasionally, backchannel provides audience members a chance to fact-check the presentation.

By the end of the conference, over 150 people posted at least once to Twitter with a post tagged #bcssa10 (both from inside and outside the conference); several dozen others also used TodaysMeet to connect (it is hard to be precise since this tool does not require an account), and many more, while not posting, followed along monitoring one or both places.  As I write this post, two days after the conference, posts are still being made tagged to the conference.

Toward the end of the conference, and in e-mails since, I have been asked many variations on the question, how do we replicate this elsewhere?

Here is a collection of thoughts from conference participants, around unconferencing / backchanneling, from this past week:

What the organizers can do:

  • pre-publish the tool(s) being used including the Twitter hashtag (check to be sure the hashtag is not being used by another group)
  • in advance of the conference, use the backchannel as a place to share prereading and help engage those attending, and those who may want to follow the event
  • encourage participants to bring technology and give them permission to participate through social tools
  • identify a moderator (in the classroom, a teacher) to monitor the conversation and help guide it when necessary

What presenters can do:

  • honour the conversations that are taking place virtually – at the BCSSA Conference both Valerie Hannon and Tony Mackay referenced the Twitter and TodaysMeet conversation which gave status to this dialogue
  • encourage groups to post key information to the backchannel during table discussions
  • use the backchannel as a visual in the room during presentations or breaks
  • use the backchannel to help with Q & A sessions
  • have the presenters participate in the tools during breaks
  • use the information on the backchannel to guide the presentation — again, Valerie and Tony did this by taking what was said during the first day to influence what they spoke about on the second day

Other Advice:

  • Pick your tools carefully — if you are doing this with students, consider a tool like TodaysMeet that does not require an account and allows students to hide their full identity and create pseudonyms
  • Start with the goal — there are hundreds of tools available, so consider what it is you want to do and then find a tool to match. If I were to do it again, I would look for 1) a tool that allows threaded conversations 2) a tool that allows collaborative note-taking
  • Model — one of the reasons for adults in education to use the tools is to model their use for students — so be good models with what you say, and how you interact
  • Pick your spots — not every event needs a backchannel

I find following conferences via Twitter to be extremely powerful, and a great way to drop in on events I can’t attend in person.

I am very interested in how we can take this learning and apply it to our work with students.  How can we use tools like Twitter and TodaysMeet to link students in classrooms, schools, districts and across the world to improve their learning?

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