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Posts Tagged ‘personalized’

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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While conversations are ongoing in BC and around the world focused on  innovation that are linked to larger system goals including a  greater focus on personalized learning and giving kids greater ownership of their learning, these are not new objectives. Some practices worth highlighting are not only 21st century, or 20th century learning, in fact, some date back to the 19th century, and are an excellent fit for our current educational directions. At least, this is true of Montessori.

Maria Montessori, who lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, developed teaching methods which are often described as part of the “21st century learning” phenomena.  When I spend time in our Montessori School, Eagle Harbour Montessori (currently expanding from a K-3 to a K-5 school), I am always in awe of the self-regulation and keen focus these students have.  When I walk into the room, students continue to work and there is a sense of calm and alert focus. Students are owning their learning, the conversations with primary students are very articulate; they talk about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what they need to learn next.

What I have seen at Eagle Harbour is also supported in the recent book from Shannon Helfrich, Montessori Learning in the 21st Century:  A Guide for Parents and Teachers which links Montessori teachings with the latest neuroscientific findings.

So just what does Montessori look like in our setting:

Principles Include (from the Eagle Harbour Montessori Program 2012):

  • Fosters competent, adaptive, independent and responsible citizens who are lifelong learners
  • Emphasizes respect, grace and courtesy for self, others and the environment
  • Allows students to experiment with their learning in a safe and prepared setting
  • Gives students responsibility for their own learning; allowing for freedom of choice and personal interests within a structure. Students are given the opportunity for movement in the classroom
  • Encourages teachers to observe and “guide” students in their learning
  • Allows for multi-age groupings; students teach and learn from each other
  • Encourages students toward intrinsic motivation minimizing reward and punishment
  • Emphasizes community and builds learning communities
  • Implements the three-period lesson (instruction, practice, presentation)
  • Encourages the use of self-correcting materials and practices
  • Opportunities for leadership are encouraged, as well as participation in organization of events and practical life at the school
  • Educates and connects students through an integrated approach to teaching and learning
  • Promotes order and ritual as part of the structure in the prepared environment
  • Promotes inquisitive learners in a cooperative environment
  • Practices concrete, real-world problem solving leading to abstract reasoning
  • Encourages “the inner language of silence” providing time for reflection
  • Emphasizes communication and story-telling
  • Gives students ownership of the facilities and responsibility for their care
  • Emphasizes humanities connection to the land and larger environment
  • Demonstrates an optimistic, proactive world view, and instills in students a belief in the importance of contributing to humanity

This list could easily be taken from any current document on system transformation, whether it be the BC Education Plan, or a similar document that is being produced in so many jurisdictions right now.

There is much to think about, and many options to consider in this current, evolving education system — 21st century learning, personalized learning, or call it something else — and it also includes greater recognition of education systems not necessarily new, but ones that meet the needs of increased personalization.

As I am about to publish this post, I see Val Stevenson, our vice-principal at Eagle Harbour Montessori School, has written an excellent post on a very similar theme about her school.  Her look at Montessori as an example of the new culture of learning is well worth the read (here).

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This post also appears in the current edition of the BC College of Teachers TC Magazine (here)

Never before have teachers faced challenges such as those created by continually evolving information technologies. Five years ago, we found it difficult to imagine the concept of touch-screen computers, yet today the word “apps” is part of the vocabulary of our pre-schoolers. And many of our children are entering school completely at ease with computer technology, having the technical skills to create digital videos and participate in virtual spaces that were foreign to the generation that went before them.

Students’ technical expertise must be nurtured and supported by their teachers. Yet our challenge as educators is far greater than simply staying up to date with advances in information technologies. We need to make sure our educational system creates environments to engage technically adept students, and that we use technology in our professional practice to support our students as critical thinkers, lifelong learners and ethical decision makers.

Across our province and around the world, educators are wrestling with the implications of personally owned devices, coming to grips with the role for social media in education, and having rich debates on issues that speak to the core values of our system, including safety and equity. The increasing pace at which technology is evolving has also fostered an ongoing reflection on what the latest changes mean for our profession and what lies in store for the next decade.

Without question, our profession is evolving. We are connecting across roles and geographies in new ways using blogs and Twitter. We’ve shifted from seeing technology as a way to support distance learning to looking for ways to make blended learning part of every student’s educational experience. And we are beginning to move beyond being excited about the tools themselves to looking for ways we can best use these tools to support learning goals and good pedagogy.

As a profession, we need to take a critical look at the structure and content of teacher training programs. It is simply no longer acceptable for someone to enter our profession without some degree of digital literacy. Teachers entering our system need to know the how of using the tools and also the why. They need to apply their reflective and critical thinking skills to the digital space. I expect that the new teachers we hire into our schools will understand the suite of tools available to them, know how to model their use and be able to choose the appropriate tools to match learning objectives.

I also expect new teachers to enter the profession with a mindset that the digital tools they are using now will likely be different a year from now. That is the way it should be, for it is not really about the tools themselves, but about the learning, which requires matching the best tools of the day to the process. These are not easy tasks, but they are essential.

And some specifics for teacher training programs? Teacher education programs need to include a course on the history, philosophy and practical use of educational technology. Educational technology learning at teacher colleges should be grounded in research, pedagogy and the use of current technologies. Finally, technology should be taught to teachers in ways that are consistent with how we would like teachers to teach students in their classes.

For those in the system, we need to commit to embedding technology and digital literacy in our growth plans and in all our ongoing professional development. Employers need to support teachers in the use of technology throughout their careers. This must go beyond the superficial. We must acknowledge that replacing lectures with digital lectures or online videos simply substitutes one mediocre practice for another. I have been in far too many classrooms where interactive whiteboards were a source of entertainment that facilitated “fake-learning” and did not truly support student learning.
Technology is no longer an event, and “computer lab” is no longer a course. Digital tools are being used to support literacy, numeracy, social responsibility and the full gamut of goals in our system. To be relevant, engaging and current, we need to be committed in how we prepare teachers and how we support them throughout their careers in the thoughtful and purposeful infusion of technology into their professional practice.

There are wonderful examples across Canada of education faculties embracing these ideals, and of districts, schools and classrooms across BC trying to figure out a better way to use technology every day.

I like the saying that when it comes to teachers and technology it is okay to be where you are, it is just not okay to stay there.

Thanks to Gary Kern, David Wees, Chris Wejr, and others on Twitter who contributed to this paper.

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Two metaphors I often hear our Director of Instruction, Gary Kern, evoke while discussing our work with technology are the faucet and the pool.  They are ones I find myself repeating more, as we explain the work we are doing with digital literacy.

In a typical district, school or class, the adults control the supply of technology that students use to support their learning.  While the district may have invested millions to support all students with digital literacy, in some classes the technology faucet is turned off; in others it is a slow drip, while others have it open wide.  We are trying to allow all students some steady flow of technology to support their learning — regardless of a particular school or class.  And, while some will enhance the experience, all students will have basic access.

In K-3, all students in West Vancouver have access to Dreambox (I have written about this program before here).  In some classes it is part of the school day, but all students can access it from home, and all parents can access the analytics to see the areas where they can support their children.  In Grades 4-12, we are just beginning to explore what is possible with student dashboards. Gary Kern, recently wrote about them here.  All students have email, instant messaging, storage, and a series of other tools which allow them to collaborate in a safe environment.  All students can actually instant message the superintendent (and four have so far).  We are not turning the technology faucet on full, but we are creating a steady stream for all students.  Students can explore how they can ethically use digital tools to support their learning.

It is difficult to teach kids to swim without getting them into the pool.  And, this is also true of being good digital citizens — we can’t teach digital citizenship without giving students a safe digital space to experiment, learn and grow in. Again, the student dashboards are part of the latest effort to teach our students to swim in the digital world.  And better yet, we know that when we get into the water with  the kids, it is even easier. We also know we need to continue to support administrators, teachers and parents in the digital world to be more comfortable swimming in the water with their kids.  While some take the approach that the technology pool, although very inviting, is closed with large, raised fences around it — we are taking a different approach.  We want to be able to say that all our kids know how to swim safely.

Turning on the faucet for all children and jumping in the water with them does challenge the status quo.  Giving all students access to some technology and expecting all students will have some ability to navigate in a digital environment is not the norm.  If we believe what Coquitlam administrator, David Truss recently wrote, that education is going to be increasingly open and distributed, we need to support students for this world.

There are times when I wish this fall looked more like last fall — it would make life easier but, of course, it would not be the right thing to do.  It will continue to be exciting to see what happens as we open the faucet and jump in the pool with our students.

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Writing a blog takes courage. I remember the hesitation and ‘queasy’ feeling I had the first time I hit the “publish” icon on my blog.   But, we have an amazing group of  school and district leaders who are putting themselves out there in new ways this fall.  While, as school and district administrators we often write for a public audience, blogging does feel different from writing a school newsletter. The content might be similar, but it is more personal than a  Principal’s Message on the front page of a newsletter.

We often talk about the many changes happening in education and how we, as leaders, need to model the change.  We want students to take the risks, own their learning, be ready to make mistakes but to learn from them as well,  and to create content for the digital world.  We can help by modelling all of this.

On so many levels, what our leaders are doing in West Vancouver is very powerful.  Our leaders are redefining how we communicate with teachers, students, parents, and the community.  The fear? It is that technology will make our world less personal, but so far, the blogs by our principals and others are having the opposite effect; the writers seem more human, the stories more real, as they share stories about their schools in their own words.

So, what are they blogging about?  Here is a sample:

Cathie Ratz, Principal at Irwin Park, recently blogged about (here) their use of appreciative inquiry and how they are using the book How Full is Your Bucket with students.

Michelle Labounty, Principal at Ridgeview Elementary, picked up on a theme we spent some time exploring last year in the district, and shared thoughts (here) around Parents as Partners.

Brad Lund, Principal at Caulfeild Elementary, is tracking the progress of the schools new iDEC (Inquiry based Digitally Enhanced Community) program in his blog.  He recently shared (here) some of the initial responses to the new venture.

Steve Rauh, Principal at West Vancouver Secondary, is a ‘veteran’ blogger, having started his blog last year. He regularly writes posts as a way to shine a light on the different programs or areas in his school, and recently wrote about the Best Buddies organization (here).

Jennifer Pardee, Principal at Bowen Island Community School, focused on place-based education and the key role the local community plays as a primary resource for learning (here).

Val Brady, Principal at Hollyburn Elementary School, shared research from People for Education on the Top 6 Secrets to Student Success (here)

Our District Leaders are also blogging . . .

Gary Kern, Director of Technology and Innovation, shared some thoughts on what parents can do to help their children with digital literacy (here).

Lynne Tomlinson, Director of Learning Services, wrote this past week about the power of professional learning teams (here).

Jody Langlois, Director of Student Services, picked up on our opening day presentation and added her thoughts to the work of Dr. Stuart Shanker (here)

Barely a month has passed, and our school leaders are modeling the way to build community in digital space.  You can access each of the blogs aggregated centrally (here) or through each school’s website.

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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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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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