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supportThis is a follow-up post to my recent post regarding Board Governance – Some Small Things That Can Make a Big Difference. This post picks up on a couple of other areas that recently retired Board Chair, Cindy Dekker, and myself shared with trustees and senior staff colleagues at the BCSTA’s Fall Academy. We looked at little things superintendents can do to support Boards and small things Boards can do to support superintendents and district senior staff. In support of the Boards I spoke about:

How Superintendent Supports the Board

Regular Briefings on District Issues and Topics – These are briefing meetings or trustee workshops (different Boards have different names for the meetings). We regularly schedule time for the superintendent and members of the District Leadership Team to in-service trustees on issues and topics. These are not decision-making sessions; rather, these meetings are an occasion to ensure trustees have a like understanding on any particular topic. While the meetings can occur anytime during the year, we do reserve time prior to public Board meetings for these important sessions.

Clear Processes – Nothing can be less helpful than a muddy process. For trustees to make a thoughtful, informed decision there must be a clear process and inclusive of the community. This is an area where the superintendent can provide important guidance. As an example, say a teacher, parent, trustee or community member wants to start a new program in the district. We have a very clear Choice Consultative Committee process to guide us through and to ensure the good ideas are thought through, planned and come to fruition.

Orientation – Trustee orientation is built into policy in our school district. Elections are held in November, and the period up to spring break is taken to focus on orientation for all trustees. Again, it is important for all trustees to have a like understanding of all information. So, we have built a “101” series, like a set of first-year university introductory courses. Each week, trustees will work with staff on learning an understanding a different aspect of the organization. Areas include: working with the superintendent, budget and finance, human resources and bargaining, curriculum and provincial learning directions, Aboriginal education, Student Support Services, International Programs and Facilities.

Share Information with All Trustees – When a trustee asks the superintendent a general question via email, I respond to all trustees. It is symbolic about how we work together. If it is a question for one trustee, it is likely a question for all.

Media and Emergencies – We are clear about who will be the spokesperson for different issues and also ensure we have consistency and clarity in our messaging to staff and the community. In our context, the superintendent is most often the spokesperson and will loop in the Board Chair on any emerging and media topics.

Ensure Profile for the Trustees – West Vancouver is a community with an outstanding public education system and with strong independent schools. It is crucial the public education story stays front and centre in our community. The superintendent can work to ensure that the important work and leadership of trustees are highlighted at community events and in local newspapers.

 

In the area of Board support for superintendents, Cindy spoke about:

Board Supports Superintendent

 

Respectful of Staff Time and Work/Family Balance – Our Board has been very respectful to the fact that most staff in district leadership positions have young families. If the superintendent needs to attend an event with trustees, there are no expectations that senior staff must attend as well. Trustees and staff look at the calendar of community events and share responsibilities — not, all trying to attend all events. Also, the Board has moved to a mix of daytime/evening committee and Board meetings to allow for a better balance regarding work commitments.

Referring operations issues to the Superintendent – Often, when a trustee receives an email that is individually addressed to them, all trustees will have received the same email, as has the superintendent and others. When an issue comes in that is clearly operational, by policy, trustees immediately include the superintendent and a plan is made as to who is the most appropriate person to respond.

Saying “Thank You” to Staff –  From Board highlights of staff accomplishments, to a staff Christmas party (more than 200 staff members attended a district party in early December), to an annual retirement gathering, the Board continually works to acknowledge all staff — teachers, administrators and support staff, because this makes a huge difference in fostering the family type climate and culture in our schools and district. Our Board Chair will regularly write dozens of notes and send regular emails recognizing the work of staff.

Sharing concerns immediately with a Look to Problem-solving Together – When there is a problem or concern, one can either look to someone to blame, or work together to find a solution. In my eight years in West Vancouver, the latter has been the focus. Whether it is a tricky issue like budget reductions, or the process of specialty programs, or facility initiatives that have multiple stakeholders, trustees have worked with staff to find problem-solving solutions.

Being the eyes and ears in the community – We are always checking for tone and themes because trustees have a unique position in the community and district. They can be in a supermarket, on a soccer field, walking on the seawall, but they often receive ongoing and often unsolicited feedback about how we are doing in our schools. And, it is tricky to know what to do with this information. Again, in my eight years with the district, the trustees have not looked  to draw immediate conclusions from what they hear, but do share the information with the superintendent, not necessarily out of a need for action, but to assist the superintendent in their job — clear information is always a good thing.

Again, it is important to give a similar caveat that I gave in my earlier post on Board governance. This is hardly an exhaustive list of the Board’s work, but is intended to highlight some small things that can make a big difference. It is also important to reaffirm there are many ‘right ways’ to go about Board governance and the model we have built is one.

Finally, our model is an ongoing work in progress as we continually look to be better.

 

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governancepictureAt this fall’s BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA) Fall Academy, recently retired Board Chair for West Vancouver Schools, Cindy Dekker, and I did a presentation on Authentic Leadership Through Ethical Governance.  The presentation for trustees and district staff broke out into three main areas: small things Boards can do that can make a big difference, key ways a superintendent can support the Board, and key ways the Board can support the superintendent.

As always, the West Vancouver School District’s story is the product of the history of community and district, and speaks to the many people who are involved. It is also important to note, Boards do have many more responsibilities, but this presentation was intended to give insights into strategies and approaches we have found successful over our last eight years working together in Board/District Leadership positions.

All presentation slides are included at the end of this post, but I would like to expand on Some Small Things That Can Make a Big Difference. Cindy and I spoke to six specific areas:

Some Little Things that Matter

Board Work Plan/Calendar – Our Board Work Plan serves as a check sheet for the work that needs to be accomplished. While it is far from an exhaustive list of the work done by the Board, as people move out of and into new roles, it helps to provide continuity. The Board Chair and I review (at least, twice per month) the Board Work Plan to ensure all items that need to come to the Board in any given month have been covered and that we are on track with our ‘regular’ work. By March, we are finalizing the calendar for the following year. From briefing meetings to committee schedules and community liaison meetings, the earlier we can have an established calendar the more respectful we can be to staff and Board members to allow them to plan their professional and personal schedules.

Regular Chair/Superintendent Meetings – While there are always texts and emails, we block out time to meet regularly, usually weekly.  The Board Chair would have her “Superintendent” list, and I would have my “Board Chair” list of items to review. While we attend many events together, regularly committing time to meet has been a very effective process.

Clear Delineation of Policies (Board) and Procedures (Superintendent) – In 2006, the Board worked with Leroy Sloan to update the Policies and Administrative Procedures in the district. The Board has 18 policies and by-laws that speak to their role in governance. The Administrative Procedures Manual, which is the responsibility of the superintendent, has more than 100-plus procedures that speak to the district’s daily operations. Of course, there are linkages between the two books and crossover between the work of the Board and the work of the superintendent, but this model does help to reaffirm roles in the organization.

Clear Superintendent Evaluation Process – Our Board uses the framework from the BCSTA for the Superintendent Performance Planning Review.  As a superintendent, having a clear view of the process is very important. With our model of policies and procedures, I have been given a high level of responsibility and, thus, should be held by the Board to a high level of accountability. In our district, all of our education staff participate in a growth plan model; our principals and vice-principals work with district staff on their growth plans and all teachers have growth plans they share with principals and colleagues. I meet with our Board three times each year to review my growth plan. I have three areas of focus — the first is from the role description that is in policy, another is based on the district’s strategic plan, and the third area of focus is personal-professional growth. I have previously blogged about my growth plan and shared it publicly here.

Strategic Planning – The Strategic Planning Process is written into policy in West Vancouver. Following a period of orientation, our Board engages in a strategic planning process. Looking ahead, this will likely be from March to June of 2015 with the goal of having a final document ready to share in the fall of 2015. There are many different models for strategic planning; the Board in West Vancouver has worked with Malcolm Weinstein, the last three terms, to support their work of building a high level of direction for the district.  Recent examples are available for 2009-11 and 2012-15 (PDF documents).

A Culture of Growth and Support – We are in the learning business and the more we can model that, the better. No matter how strong results might be, there are always opportunities to be better. The Board dedicates time at each of their meetings for school highlights. Each school has an opportunity to make a presentation during the course of the school year. Very often, this includes the sharing of new ideas and innovative approaches that are having an impact at schools. Recent highlights have included reports on outdoor learning spaces, libraries being converted to learning commons and approaches to communicating student learning that move beyond traditional report cards. Where people go, and what people talk about, speak to what organizations value — while the Board in West Vancouver places a focus on student learning, there is always a quest to find new ways to meet the needs of modern learners.

Likely, the reaction of many Board members and superintendents to this list is “nothing new there” and these, and many other little things, help Boards ensure they are high functioning. It is often these ‘little things’ that can make a huge difference. As Cindy and I both said in the presentation, “If you show us a district that is going strong, we are pretty sure you will find a Board and superintendent who are in sync and committed to doing what it takes to work together for students.”

Our full slide show is available here (if you are receiving this post via email you may need to view by going to the website):

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My apologies up front if this comes across as part blog-post, part infomercial.

I am really looking forward to being part of the upcoming symposium: Targeting Technology for Maximum Student Benefit, to be presented by the Centre for the Study of Educational Leadership and Policy at Simon Fraser University.

While much has been bandied about around technology relating to the BC Education Plan, we’ve only just touched the surface. So far, much of the conversation and views expressed have taken quite a simplistic approach;  the conversation has fractured on the one side to notions of embracing personal devices as forward steps to a privatized or American-style public education system, and on the other of charging ahead noting that increased digitization of schooling is inevitable.

The SFU session on February 9th will (hopefully) allow for deeper discussions. Coquitlam Technology Leader, Brian Kuhn, and I have been each given an hour in the morning to respond to the following imagined scenario:

Imagine that you have a budget to support the educational use of technology in a school district that has previously constructed all the necessary technical infrastructure, but has not yet introduced a plan for the use of technology to support learning. Your budget is one-third of what you would require to do all that you feel would be effective given the rate at which staff and students can learn to effectively employ technology.

 Provide a way of thinking about the broad array of potential uses of technology in education, including a conceptual  overview of the options that you believe have been shown to be most important for improving student outcomes through ‘personalizing’ their learning in ways suggested by the BC Education Plan.

Describe how you would use the resources at your disposal over a 5-year period to initiate technology use in a way that would maximize both immediate and eventual benefit for students in a sustainable and generative fashion. Include a rationale for what you choose to do, and to defer.

It is an interesting and challenging scenario, and I am committed to pushing out some thinking, as well as to sharing some thoughts on the future (or perhaps, the lack thereof) of online learning, and a road-map embracing personally owned devices while ensuring equity, and how, using Michael’s Fullan’s words “We ensure we have the right drivers for this change”.

And, personally, as much as I think there is a list of things we could or should do, I also believe there is a list of things we need to stop doing, or not start doing, to keep our focus clear and on student learning as our goal. 

We need to commit our focus on Grades 4 – 10, to focus on a space for learning that allows for personalization, to have expectations for leadership from our administrators and librarians,  to have our learning leaders become our digital learning leaders and integrate, integrate, integrate with the arts, as well as throughout the curriculum.  

On the flip side, we need to take a critical look at the future of distributive learning, to not allow technology to solely report to the business side of our organizations, to be cautious and not go slate (iPad) crazy, and to be wary of digital ‘drill and kill’ or the ‘shiny new thing’ syndrome and, to  not get stuck in the endless loop of technology strategy planning sessions.

Following our responses and participant discussion, Kris Magnusson, SFU Dean of Education, will also have a chance to share his thinking on the above scenario, which will then lead into panel discussions.

I understand from Bruce Beairsto, who has organized the event, there are about 170 people who have signed-up including teachers, administrators, parents, trustees and other educators, leaving only space for about 10 more registrations.  You can find out more about the event from Bruce (here) or register directly (here).

Of course, you can also participate online via Twitter at #bcedsfu.

The simple idea of learning empowered by technology is not so simple.  The more opportunities we have to engage, challenge, press on, pushback, and move forward to some common thinking, the better it is for our system.

UPDATE – JANUARY 23RD – THIS EVENT IS NOW SOLD OUT!  MORE TO COME ON MY BLOG AND FOLLOW IT ON TWITTER AT #bcedsfu

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I have used the above slide in a number of presentations to make the point that British Columbia is leading Canada (perhaps even the world) in the professional use of social media in K-12 education. I freely admit I don’t have the statistics to back up the claim — there are simply more teachers, administrators, parents, trustees, and others here, who are logging into their blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube accounts in the name of professional learning, than any other jurisdiction.

In the past year we have moved from several dozen blogs around K-12 education, to numbers in the hundreds, with representation in every area of the education system.  The #bced tag on Twitter is one of the most engaged with conversations about the ever-changing education profession, and there are many other social sites having these conversations as well.

The conversations around the profession itself are very interesting.  In social media, ‘role’ becomes less important; there is a flattening of society and it is ‘ideas’ that have increased value.  There are also incredible opportunities  to reflect, share, and learn without the limitations of geography. I could go on, and there have been many others who have covered the ground about the value of social media for educators, and how Twitter and blogging can be extremely powerful in professional development.  This is true for those interested in education in BC, but it is also true of other professionals around the world.

So why has BC moved so quickly and taken such leadership in this area? As mentioned, I have no statistical proof, but a series of ideas as to why BC is the leading jurisdiction using social media to engage in the profession of education.

Some Thoughts:

1) It is not as “new” here as it is in many places:  Five years ago, as a principal in the Coquitlam School District, I was seeing for my colleagues, blogs were already becoming routine including: Brian Kuhn (district), David Truss (school administrator) and James McConville (teacher), all engaging in social media.  We have a long history of models to look at and are in a much deeper place with this type of learning than other jurisdictions.  So, it is no longer a novelty here that it is in some other areas and is a much more mature and developed.

2) Networking is a core element of BC’s education scene:  Since 2000, Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser have been working with teachers, administrators and other educators through The Network of Performance Based Schools.   This network (which I blogged about here) has been a model for jurisdictions around the world.  The culture of face-to-face networking moves naturally to social media networking, and connects the interest around learning ideas.  This social media networking is an extension of the face-to-face conversations that Halbert and Kaser have long sponsored.

3)  The traditional media “plays” in social media: Most notable is Vancouver Sun Education Reporter, Janet Steffenhagen, who has the popular Report Card blog and is a regular tweeter.  She is not the only one.  From The Globe and Mail, to CKNW, to most local newspaper reporters covering education, they regularly engage in social media.  Often, we now see what will be “news” on a nightly newscast or morning newspaper make news first on Twitter or in a blog.  Social media has become fertile ground for education reporters researching their next story; it is seen as a place to break and make news.

4) Organizations and government “play” in social media: I knew Twitter was part of the establishment and no longer on the fringe when I saw the education minister join a debate online one night. Of course, that is not the only example. Almost every organization involved in education is on Twitter including the BCTFBCPVPA, CUPE, BCSTA and BCPSEA. Not only are these organizations out there in a corporate sense, but many in their leadership have their own accounts.  One can look at examples like the recent Facebook campaign by BC principals, or the revamped and expanded BCSTA social media presence on the value being placed on social media.

5)  There are some regular and thoughtful voices:  There are a number of individuals with a profile well beyond our borders.  From  Bruce Beairsto who blogs on the Canadian Education Association site, to well-known edu-bloggers including Chris Wejr from Agassiz, David Wees from Vancouver, Cale Birk from Kamloops and many more, there are some regular contributors who are seen as “go to” people for interesting reflections and ideas.

6) We are at a time when we are examining the profession:  Even before the BC Education Plan, the last several years have been full of discussions within the system about how a high-performing system should evolve.  With some high-level direction from the province, but not a lot of prescription, the time is ripe for sharing ideas and innovations within and across jurisdictions.

7) We have an amazingly dedicated profession:  Even in challenging times, it is stunning to see the number of teachers, school administrators and other educators spending time in their evenings and weekends to reflect and share through their blogs, Twitter and other venues.  The reason why we have one of the highest performing jurisdictions in the world is because it is accompanied by an equally talented and dedicated group of educators.  As social  media has grown, so has our educators’ need to harness it for professional growth.

This is far from an exhaustive list.  But, I am often asked by other jurisdictions why those who are involved in the BC education system have taken to social media at such a greater rate than anywhere else?  I believe it is our ability to see around the corner to where we need to go next that is part of our success story, and that is what we have done by engaging in social media.

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I have been a long-time admirer of the work of UBC’s former President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Martha Piper. And, in the past two weeks I have had two opportunities to hear her speak directly about the road ahead for education in British Columbia; first, in roundtable discussions focussing on the qualities of an Educated Citizen, with the Honourable George Abbott, B.C.’s Minister of Education, and this week as she keynoted the BC School Trustees Association 2011 Academy in Vancouver.

On both occasions, Dr. Piper referenced the work out of Singapore and the influence of Lee Kuan Yew on her thinking.  She recalled his advice, and the three key points he shared:

1) the importance of multiple languages

2) the value of being scientifically literate and technologically savvy

3)  the need to study cultures and religions

In the most recent session at the BCSTA Academy, Dr. Piper framed these key points in context to her five suggestions to foster creativity and global citizenship. She restated these suggestions, and not only “preparing students for the workforce”, as an essential role of our K-12 system:

1)  A Commitment to Languages

There are a series of new languages required to be competitive.  Should we  have all students learn two, or three languages?  How can we infuse literature from other countries and expose our students to foreign language films?  The research is clear that the learning of languages will boost creativity.

2)  Integrate Humanities and the Arts into Curriculum

We have become focussed on areas relatively easy to test.  Areas that we have agreed are increasingly important to support creativity push beyond these traditional core areas.   These areas will not be able to be evaluated on a bubble sheet, but will be used in the “test” of life and living.

3)  Embed Global Citizenship

We need to make connections to the real world, so students in a science class understand how the science in the lab is changing the “real” world.  These kind of connections need to be made at all levels, in all classes.

4)  Embrace Community Service Learning

We need to build citizenship in students and within communities that is part of the school experience.  As well, constructive projects that connect with and build community need to be a role for our schools.

5)  Build Unique Environments

Each community is different, so programs should be flexible enough to tailor to community needs to best serve the students of each school and district.

Dr. Piper put a different frame on some of the personalized learning discussions, but with familiar themes around global citizenship. However, her stress on languages is not one I hear often.  She spoke about our goals of creating tolerant, compassionate and respectful environments, making students feel welcome and secure as they pursue their passions.

We can all point to examples of teachers, programs and even schools embracing the ideals that Dr. Piper speaks about.  The challenge is acknowledging and sharing the great practices around them: the schools who have found ways to add Mandarin to their school day, or integrate Social Studies, Music and Math in their inquiry projects, or have a scope and sequence for global citizenship, or encouraging all students to participate in meaningful community engagement, or have taken ministry curriculum and tailored these documents for their schools.  There are excellent examples of these practices, but are largely pockets of innovation.

I have heard a number of speakers on their way forward, and found Dr. Piper’s views of incremental change and focussing on citizenship to resonate with many of my hopes for our system.

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A long-held tradition in the West Vancouver District, the Growth Plan is one of the most powerful components of our learning culture. Every year, district teachers and administrators review their professional growth plan with opportunities to share their progress with others in their school, as well as across schools. The plan cycle is based on reflection, collaboration, data analysis and evidence.

West Vancouver Superintendents also participate in the same process.

Our Board of Education employs the BCSTA Performance Planning and Review for School Superintendents model, which is connected to my duties and to our Board’s Strategic Plan. We meet three times a year as part of the cycle of reviewing, renewing and updating the plan.

Based on the Board’s key objectives in the Strategic Plan, an initial performance plan with specific goals and a series of strategies is agreed to at the beginning of the year (outlined in the presentation below):

In a recent update to the Board, I shared evidence of my progress in each goal area under the individual strategies:

We will meet again in the fall, likely, in advance of the Board adopting a new Strategic Plan following the November elections.  This next session will both refine and guide my work.

There is a lot of discussion about accountability and improvement in education. This process of working with the Board to set clear goals, collecting and sharing evidence and being held accountable, is very effective.  The process itself supports the short and long-term development of my own goals and performance. And, it is a process that also fosters and strengthens relations with the Board through open communication, trust and clarity of role expectations.

We all want to be better at what we do, and it is great to work in a district where continuous improvement for all is part of the culture.

I am looking forward to extending this plan further in the fall.

IF YOU ARE RECEIVING THIS VIA EMAIL YOU MAY NEED TO GO TO THE BLOG TO SEE THE EMBEDDED SLIDES.

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