Posts Tagged ‘Ministry’


Sometimes I feel like we are the only district or province talking about school system design, and it can be a lonely conversation. After all, why change? We already have an extremely successful system. Every now and then, however, the topic is front and centre as was the case following the release of B.C.’s Education Plan last week.

In addition, I have the opportunity from time to time to participate in projects which remind me that discussions about how to move our education system forward are taking places in all corners of the country, albeit often quietly. The following five-minute video, Learning to Change, Changing to Learn: A Canadian Perspective (recently released by the Pearson Foundation) in which I — along with my BC colleagues, Mike McKay of Surrey and Steve Cardwell of Vancouver, and colleagues from across the country — was asked to
share our thoughts about the changes that need to take place. In seeing the video, I realize that we are saying some very similar things right across the country.

Nor are Canadians the only ones asking questions. The video was modelled after one created by an international group of educators who offered their reflections on education:

Stephen Hempel’s statement at the end of that presentation is one that really sticks with me. “It’s the death of education and the dawn of learning,” he stated, “which makes me very

These are exciting times to be part of this profession.

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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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Michael Fullan is familiar to many in education (for those not familiar, here is a list of freely available articles).  He has long been an influential reformer in Canada and is currently  Special Advisor to the Premier and Minister of Education in Ontario.  Fullan’s May 2011 paper, Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform, tackles a topic many educators are looking at as we look beyond class, or even school reform. In his paper, Fullan lays out four criteria which, he argues, must be met by the drivers for change and reform at a district or system level:

  1. foster intrinsic motivation of teachers and students;
  2. engage educators and students in continuous improvement of instruction and learning;
  3. inspire collective or team work; and
  4. affect teachers and students — 100 per cent

His examination of the wrong drivers is compelling.  He suggests his list of the four wrong drivers of change have a lot of appeal and will be hard to dislodge:

  1. accountability (vs capacity building)
  2. individual teacher and leadership quality (vs group quality)
  3. technology (vs instruction)
  4.  fragmented strategies (vs systemic)

Fullan says, “The four wrong drivers are not forever wrong. They are just badly placed as lead drivers. The four right drivers — capacity building, group work, pedagogy, and systemness — are the anchors of whole system reform.”

All four of the ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ drivers are worthy of consideration, but I was particularly struck and reassured by his view of technology as a wrong driver, and rather instruction and smart pedagogy that must be the driver supported by technology.  Fullan says, “Technology as solution is the more seductive partner.”   He argues what we have been arguing in our district, “Teachers need to get grounded in instruction, so they can figure out with students how best to engage technology.”  Of course, it is often simpler to discuss who has what tools rather than the pedagogy.  Fullan, is clear that technology should not drive system change, but is also clear that we should “go all out to power new pedagogical innovations with technology.”

Key leaders can make a huge difference at this critical juncture. Jettison blatant merit pay, reduce excessive testing, don’t depend on teacher appraisal as a driver, and don’t treat world-class standards as a panacea. Instead, make the instruction-assessment nexus the core driver, and back this up with a system that mobilizes the masses to make the moral imperative a reality. Change the very culture of the teaching profession. Do so forcefully and you will find many allies. It is time to embrace, and relentlessly commit to the right drivers.

In a presentation last week, I discussed the changes we have seen in reform and focus in British Columbia.  We moved from a system of school accreditation, to district accountability, to where we are now, considering system-wide reform.  And this system-wide reform in British Columbia does not have us standing out there alone — there are similar conversations in other high-performing jurisdictions from Alberta and Ontario, to Finland.

Fullan’s list, while not breaking a lot of new ground for educators, is a good reminder of what should and shouldn’t drive our changes.  The challenge is making them, in appropriate combination, come to life.

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It has become clear to me that, in order to keep education as a relevant and prominent issue in the public, we must find new and innovative ways to engage with the community. Granted, the relationship between public education and the public, a situation not unique to British Columbia and reflected in other public sectors as well, is sometimes prickly and stressed. Nevertheless, as mentioned in a previous post, for public education and the for the sake of our students, the status quo is not an option.

This Wednesday I will have the opportunity to work with the newly minted Open Government and Community Partnerships Division at the BC Ministry of Education. The new group’s responsibilities include Citizen Engagement, Libraries and Literacy, Corporate Accountability and Families First. The group will also support the ministry’s core work and direction on personalized learning.

Its efforts regarding engagement is consistent with our work and our emphasis on the use of technology in West Vancouver to embrace increased openness. As such, the work session in Victoria is focused on three vital aspects we, in West Vancouver, have been nurturing — transparency, engagement and participation.

Also, in a previous post: Make Transparency Concrete, I wrote about how I conduct business; but I am especially interested in the larger, open-government movement, about its direction and its potential in regards to education. What does it mean for the classroom as well as for the educational system as a whole as we embrace the tenants of open government?

There are a number of interesting thinkers outside of the education realm with ideas around open government. We do some work with Stephanie Hayes in West Vancouver and I really like the six pillars she describes when considering social capabilities in the public service:

  • Communication
  • Engagement
  • Innovation
  • Trust
  • Collaboration
  • Alignment

These pillars are very similar to what we often describe as “21st century skills” in our classrooms. What we are chasing for our students is also what we need to be striving for as a system.

Another influential author on the topic of open government is David Eaves. His ideas — like those around the use of data in our system — challenge me.

And, it seems, around the world “open government” is the new rage. But I worry that we can easily be caught up in the buzzwords, and not fully understand the key concepts, core principles and strategies we need to implement for open government to occur.

It IS exciting the Ministry of Education is looking at the issue, and I am interested in hearing your thoughts on:

What does open government and citizen engagement mean to you in the context of education in BC?

For me, it starts as a change of mindset, and moving from the default setting of being private to becoming public. It’s a great opportunity to influence and connect not only the “what” of education but the “how” as we continue the journey forward.

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Last month, I had the honour and wonderful opportunity to be interviewed by Paul Shaker, Professor emeritus, Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University, for a Shaw TV series, Your Education Matters.

The program is described as:

Your Education Matters is the only TV program in BC dedicated to addressing education issues beyond the headlines. Hosted by Dr. Paul Shaker, Dean of Education at SFU, the program provides insight and opinions from practitioners and scholars on education issues that matter for parents, students, educators and policy makers alike.

From decision-making for your child’s education to accountability and diversity in our schools to health education, Your Education Matters welcomes guests who explore the challenges and possible solutions for education issues, so viewers are informed and prepared to actively participate in making their family’s education experience successful.


2011 May YEM from SFU Education on Vimeo.

There are a number of very interesting videos in the series, and  I encourage you to explore other interviews Dr. Shaker has conducted.

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Right or wrong, the word “coalition” carries with it sinister connotations these days in our run-up to the May 2nd Federal Election, but taken to its true definition, the concept of a coalition has enormous potential for all of us connecting here in the digital space. I feel part of a digital community that has dozens of regular contributors and, from time to time, swells to hundreds and even thousands of people who are passionate about education.

Speaking from the standpoint of my own learning network, we are an eclectic mix. We are students, teachers, school-based administrators, district administrators, elected officials, ministry personnel, parents and others in the community. The core group of my network is based in British Columbia, but it also draws on expertise from across Canada and around the world. Within the group are some who are very connected to formal structures of influence (union leadership, parent council chairs, etc.), yet it also includes others who provide valued insights from the viewpoint of unrelated fields. Our group has both public and private school staff working side-by-side to improve our system. We also have the attention of traditional media outlets which follow our thoughts and discussions. We are quite a group!

Nevertheless, as we have all mused about the system over the last several months, I realize how much we do have in common in our thinking. While we disagree around the edges of some issues, we have much more that unites us than divides us.

So, I have been wondering:

How do we move from being a connected network to becoming a group of influence?

How can we aggregate our thinking in a way that has influence in the larger community?

A couple posts related to this have struck me lately. I loved reading the inaugural post from 4 moms 1 dream; a great example of a grass-roots movement to help rethink schooling. I was also struck by Jason Leslie’s recent post where he pondered  the kind of education he wants for his children. Pretty exciting stuff.

I do worry, at times, that the digital space tends to reassure the engaged and converted rather than expanding and recruiting new input for our group.

Of course, there are efforts to do just what I am writing about. This summer, I am planning to participate in  Unplug’d – The Canadian Education Summit which examines this issue from a Canadian perspective. Many reading this will also likely be attending Edcamp Vancouver which is a great bypass of traditional structures and hierarchies.

I just think there is more we can be doing to take advantage of our group on a provincial or more local stage. We have all the traditional partners represented in our community, we are supported by outside experts and we are passionate and committed to a great system.

So, instead of waiting for someone else to produce something that we respond to, how can we take the lead?

I don’t think we realize how powerful our digital coalition is or can be.

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I am often challenged by discussions about “21st century skills” or “personalized learning” as they are often quite theoretical.  The audience is provoked by videos documenting the changing world outside of school, and we make lists of the skills we want from our graduates in our ever-changing world.  There is usually head-nodding approval of the skills we want going forward.

These conversations do have value and it is important to continue to show the longterm vision of where we see the path of learning and schooling going in the years ahead.

We also need to get to the hard work of making the ideas concrete.

Another challenge of the sessions, is that we often use them to highlight the one student, one teacher, one parent, one principal modelling a new way — and lament how we seem unable to have these ideas spill out into other settings.  Usually we get to a point, and someone says, “this is great, but how is it scalable?”

So, we need to begin to define baselines we all can commit to on the journey.

There is no one particular document I see as the textbook for where we are going, but in West Vancouver, we are using A Vision for 21st Century Education as a starting place for conversations.

And this past week, in meeting with our elementary principals, we took on the challenge of addressing what many see as the most challenging suggestion in the document — the changing roles for parents.

In a section entitled “Shifting Roles” the document suggests three:

• From Passive Student to Active Learner

• From Parent as Supporter to Parent as Participant

• From Teacher as Lecturer to Teacher as Guide

Here is how the changing role for parents is described:

The increased role of the parent also has to be acknowledged. With greater information availability, parents can be more involved with their children’s education progress, overcoming challenges, and supporting learning outcomes. They can learn more quickly and more intimately what their child is doing at school. They can help guide decisions and more rapidly respond to challenges.

Technology allows far more access to the student’s progress than the periodic report cards and parent teacher interviews of today. Parents are already beginning to expect greater feedback than in the past.

Furthermore, parents have to recognise their educational role outside the classroom. A student’s out of school learning is critical. “Students only spend 14% of their time at school. Indeed, learning is an inherent part of everyday life: each new experience, at home, at work, or during leisure time, may throw up a challenge, a problem to be solved, or a possibility of an improved future state.”

While we envision a stronger role for parents, we are aware that not all students have the family support structures that will allow such involvement. BC needs all of its students to have the best possible opportunity and any implementation of this vision should take such issues into consideration. The system must be structured in such a way that those who face societal barriers such as being single parents or immigrant parents are able to participate to the degree they are able while the system incorporates the support structures necessary to ensure the students get the support they need.

There are lots of people who needed to be brought into the conversation, but we started to draft out what a five-month, one-year and three-year action plan would look like if we wanted to shift parents as supporters to parents as participants in our elementary schools (we also agreed not to say — “we are already doing that”).

Before the end of June we should:

– communicate the vision around “parents as participants”

– use blogs, newsletters and other media to engage staff, students and parents in a discussion about what this would look like

– schools develop their own vision for parents as participants in their schools

– communicate specific examples and rationale to parents about the key role they play in their education

– working sessions for staffs as to how best to encourage parent involvement in learning rather than just volunteer work

– input from parents through a survey to help design plans for next year

By the end of the 2011-12 school year we should:

– use September Curriculum Night for discussion and feedback

– create school/staff action plans in school grade-alike groupings using feedback from end-of-year surveys

– continue throughout the year, on a monthly basis, to highlight the importance of parent participation using various communication tools: website, meetings, email, twitter, etc.

By the end of the 2013-14 school year we should:

– consider big changes to structures that provide myriad opportunities for parents to share their expertise and passion — this needs to be intentional, purposeful and ongoing

– develop ongoing Community Forum dialogues , surveys, and other systemic structures to find out how best to involve parents in learning

– explore different models for schooling (alternate schools, self-paced, etc) where parents could be true partners in the learning — different kind of choice than what we have typically focussed on around programs (French Immersion, Montessori, etc.)

So, that is our start, just our first thinking after one meeting.  We are committed to going deeper with this work, and moving from vision to action.  We have lots to do.  Our next steps include working with other staff and parents to make sense of this very complex notion.  It is also clear, while this is a specific focus on one of the “shifting roles”, it has a major impact on the roles of students and educators (tangible thoughts on these changes will be in future posts).

We are very curious what others are thinking as they look at how we embrace shifting roles in our system.  We would love others to help fill in the gaps as we move forward with designing our plans.

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I was about to sit down to write a post on some recent observations about the increasing gender gap at teacher leadership events, when the latest edition of Education Canada from the Canadian Education Association landed on my desk.  The headline on their Winter 2010-11 issue reads “Where are the Male Teachers?”

The growing gap between the number of male and female teachers has been well-documented.

In this magazine’s editorial, Paula Dunning comments:

Just as we bemoan the paucity of women in positions of economic and political power, we should bemoan the paucity of men in positions that provide nurturing and guidance for young people of both genders.

In the feature article (which largely addresses the issue of the fear of false accusations against male teachers), Jon Bradley writes:

Male role models are becoming increasingly scarce in Canadian classrooms, and the demographics indicate that the current low numbers will continue to decline. While general statistics are open to flux and are often several years behind reality, it is clear that male teachers in elementary and middle schools will soon be a thing of the past.  Secondary schools fair a tad better, but males are an increasing minority within the teaching ranks at all levels.

So, back to my observations — I was struck, recently, when I quietly snuck into the back of the West Vancouver Teachers’ Association Professional Development training session and realized I was the only male in the room.  In fact, in several different sessions and meetings I have recently attended, I have noticed the male/female gap is quite pronounced.

Some recent observations and data:

In West Vancouver, we have recently started a teacher leadership series open to all teachers K-12;  19 of 24 teachers in our Leading Learning Teacher Leadership Series (K-12) are female.

This year I have become a board member for Learning Forward BC (formerly the Staff Development Council of BC).  This group is one of the primary cross-role professional development organizations in the province;  9 of the 11 board members for Learning Forward BC are female.

Of our professional development representatives in West Vancouver, 26 of the 28 are female (as of last fall).

Of our school-based administrators, 21 of our 34 administrators are female.

Before one concludes that the gender gap is consistent through all aspects of professional development, it is interesting to look online.  What I am seeing there is quite different:

Just prior to Christmas, I compiled a list of the edu-bloggers in BC — teachers, administrators and other professionals who were regularly blogging about K-12 education.  At that point, I found 29 of 36 edu-bloggers were male.

I also did a quick count of those following me on Twitter and the male/female split is exactly even.

This is the first year I have really noticed the gender gap at teacher leadership events.  It has really shifted quite quickly.  Just 15 years ago, it was almost unheard of for female secondary school principals — in many ways we have made huge, positive strides.

As I started to think about this topic, I saw it through the lens of the changing face of leadership, it is really just that the leadership is becoming more reflective of the changing face of our profession.

For interest, here is the provincial 2009-10 gender statistics (teachers):

2009/10 total teachers (FTE) 33053.7: 22508.2 (female),  10545.6 (male).

Here is the link to the full data from the BC Ministry of Education.

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In a previous post, I discussed my hope that the report from the Premier’s Technology Council on A Vision for 21st Century Learning would lead to conversations around the province.  My real goal is that the discussions go much deeper than the one report; rather, we have sustained, meaningful conversations about k-12 education focussed on ideas.  I want to come back to this, with some more hopes.  Here are some guidelines I hope these conversations and, really, all conversations we have about school reform, follow:

  • If you want to participate, you have to put your name to ideas — we have way too many people, particularly in the digital space — posting anonymously. We need to say “this is not okay”.  Everyone is welcome to participate — but put a name and face to be part of the conversation.
  • There is value for ideas from inside the system (students, teachers, parents) as well as ideas from outside the system — it is really the ideas that matter.
  • We agree there is no such thing as good guys and bad guys when it comes to education.  That is the old way — education is far too important to cast some in white hats and others in black hats.
  • We need to avoid saying “We can’t do X until ____ (fill in government, universities etc.) does Y”.
  • We don’t use “We are already doing it” as a reason to end the conversation.  While it may be true we are already doing it (fill in the progressive educational idea), we are usually not doing it consistently, in ways that we can assess how successful “it” is, throughout the system.
  • We act with urgency (we see how quickly changes are happening around us) but not urgently (where changes are not fully discussed, and people are not fully engaged).

The optimism and curiosity that comes through in so much being written, right now, is very exciting.   Hopefully, 2011 will be a year we find new ways to look at education, and use digital space to have big conversations about big ideas, and we move forward from ideas to action.

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If I had one wish, with the release of  A Vision for 21st Century Education produced by the Premier’s Council on Technology, it is that these ideas find their way into conversations in every home in the province and, in turn, ripple into larger conversations in communities, schools and school districts.

A core challenge for British Columbia — being one of the highest performing jurisdictions in the world — is that it is difficult to make the case, or build the urgency, for change.  That said, the people I talk to — students, teachers, or parents — largely agree with the big ideas out of this latest government report, which mirror recent educational reform blueprints in progressive jurisdictions around the world.

Who doesn’t want their kids to leave with these skills and attributes?

  • Functional Numeracy and Literacy
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Technological Literacy
  • Communications and Media Literacy
  • Collaboration and Teamwork
  • Personal Organization
  • Motivation, Self-Regulation and Adaptability
  • Ethics, Civic Responsibility, Cross-Cultural Awareness Skills

These nine attributes begin to make concrete — what is often very difficult to describe — the 21st century learner.

The paper is a potential roadmap, signalling the necessary transformations:

  • From Learning Information to Learning to Learn
  • From Data to Discovery
  • From One Size Fits All to Tailored Learning
  • From Testing to Assess to Assessing to Learn
  • From Classroom Learning to Lifelong Learning Transformation

This list is quite reassuring. All teachers, schools and districts, can look at this list and say, “We ARE doing this”.  And, we are doing more of it than we were five years ago.  And, given where much of our current professional development is invested right now, we are going to be gaining the skills to do more of it over the next five years.

Finally, the new roles described, seem to fall nicely out of the previous two lists.  If we focus on the skills and attributes described, and de-emphasize content, then continue to invest in what is described as “key transformations,” new roles will evolve:

  • From Passive Student to Active Learner
  • From Parent as Supporter to Parent as Participant
  • From Teacher as Lecturer to Teacher as Guide Shifting

And what about the technology?  Technology, done right, can help make this happen in ways not possible without it, in what the report describes as, “the components of the system”:

  • A flexible educational path with project-based or integrated learning
  • A blended system that employs classrooms and technology
  • Technology to access learning objects and teaching tools
  • Open access to information systems for content and decision-making
  • Constant feedback and assessment to allow students, parents and teachers, to adjust, and to meet challenges or accommodate progress

Much of the immediate analysis of the report, from the Premier’s Technology Council, focussed on why we can’t do it.  When we move through to implementation, we quickly drive up the “Yeah, buts”.  But, without a doubt, there are changes which could be made by others, who could help this report become a reality.  There is also much we can do.  We should use this document, and many of the supporting resources it references, to start, and continue conversations.

Some of the questions I would like us to consider, include:

Is this what we want and need for our students?

What are the examples we currently see in our classrooms, schools and districts, of what is described?

What needs to change with curriculum and assessment to bring these ideas to life?

What can we learn from other high-performing jurisdictions — whether they are Finland and Singapore, Ontario and Alberta, or our neighbouring school districts — to guide what we do?

How can a district support students and teachers on this journey?

What can we do now?

And, I know there will be many more.

I am looking forward to these and many similar conversations in West Vancouver, in the New Year.

Please take the time to read this report.

Full Disclosure:  I was a “Roundtable Participant” in the development of the PTC document.

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