Posts Tagged ‘pro-d’

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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Held in the last days of August, the administrators’ meeting and conference is a key event for many districts across North America, and it is no different in West Vancouver.

So, last week we made our first effort at taking some of the aspects of an unconference to create a more participant-driven event for district principals and vice-principals. While the unconferencing allowed for more unstructured time, it also gave everyone the opportunity to make their own sense of session content.

Three videos (embedded below) were shown for morning discussions, and served as a spring-board when groups pulled their learning together for PechaKucha presentations in the afternoon.

And just what is a PechaKucha?

It is a series of 20 presentation slides, each displayed on the screen for 20 seconds (we modified it to 10 slides, for 20 seconds because of time constraints).

Along with my district colleagues, we did a run-through the day before based on these videos that were shared by Edna Sackson on her blog:

Our group found the process valuable in creating their presentations because it forced debate on the key aspects of learning.  If we debrief videos during a professional learning experience, we are rarely pushed to come up with key messages or takeaways. Definitely, the process built-in some accountability for us.  The PechaKucha format (20×20) also impressed upon us  to be succinct in our presentations.  If we went over the 20 seconds with one of our slides, we were cutting into the time of one of our own group members.

In selecting the videos, principals and vice-principals wanted material that challenged our assumptions and that linked to a number of themes we have been discussing:  inquiry, motivation, assessment and technology.

The first video we selected was the RSA Animate based on Daniel Pink’s book Drive:

The second video was the popular, and somewhat controversial Salman Khan TED Talks:

The final video was a segment from Nightline, that focussed on some of the findings from the Daniel Coyle book The Talent Code:

Thirty to 45 minutes of unstructured discussion followed each video and participants could discuss any aspect of the video with anyone. We also created a learning wall where each person wrote one key finding or idea from the video or conversation. Then, after lunch, participant groups of four to eight people put together and tried their hand at PechaKucha.

It turned out to be a very powerful way to synthesize and share our learning, and created a takeaway product that can be used for other purposes — more valuable than the binders of notes I have taken at events and have never looked at again.

As we continue to look for ways to change how we share information, and particularly how we use Powerpoint, PechaKucha is another strategy that has possibilities for both student and adult learning.

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The question most often asked in education is “where are we going?”  It should be such a simple question – but the answer is actually very complex. One challenge is, when you try to do everything, you may end up doing nothing well. And then, when you select a few areas on which to focus, people may feel they are being excluded.

In West Vancouver, I have presented on four major areas of professional focus. While we will always have content, and need to be well-versed in changes and updates, we are focusing less on the “what” and more on the “how” and “why”.   With that in mind, here are our four, big boxes for professional learning which the district guides and supports:

Strong assessment practices:

At its core, our work around assessment is similar to that in almost all jurisdictions — a focus on formative assessment.  We are now in our fourth year of supporting teachers around Understanding by Design (UbD).  I have described this as one of the least-sexy professional development activities we do.  It is hard work, time-consuming and for those who commit to it, a fundamental change in practice.  We are lucky to have our own UbD guru, Sue Elliot, to lead these sessions.  Beyond UbD, our work in assessment is largely teacher and school-based.  The Network of Performance Based Schools has been an encouragement for assessment projects, for many of our teachers — notably, a group of teachers from Rockridge Secondary, who have had their work highlighted around the province, and have also taken their presentation to China.  Assessment is also the core of collaborative time at our schools, including some excellent work at West Vancouver Secondary.  Of the four boxes, assessment is likely the one we have spent the most time in over the last three years.

Instructional expertise:

If assessment is the box we have spent the most time in over the last three years, instructional expertise is the area where our time commitment has diminished.  Particularly, when it comes to issues of classroom management, this is an area that can really help.  As we have focussed on backward’s design (for very good reasons) for our lessons and units, we have placed a lesser emphasis on professional development around instruction.  Throughout B.C. you can hear comments like, “We have already done Barrie Bennett.”  We know there are some strategies which work better than others, and we need to come back to them.  Robert Marzano has a great list (here) covering high-yield strategies.

Child development expertise:

This is an area of focus that likely would not have made the list only three or four years ago.  With the implementation of Full Day Kindergarten and StrongStart Centres, there is a clear policy move in this area. There is also mounting research about the key role the early years play in setting up children for the rest of their life.  We have become versed in the Early Development Instrument (EDI) and are working with our local preschools in new ways we would never have considered five years ago.  This spring we will welcome Dr. Fraser Mustard to West Vancouver for a Community Forum focussed in this area.

21st century learning

I don’t love the title — it feels dated and cliché.  From a district perspective, this is largely connected to digital literacy supporting teachers with the skills to have students create blogs, wikis, discussion boards and other spaces that promote skills like critical thinking, collaboration and creativity (see here for a full list of “the 8 Cs”).

This is not a surprising list.  It is probably very similar in most progressive jurisdictions around the world.  As we talk about it more, hopefully, it will help to create a framework for our work as professionals.  I have written previously (here)  about our wonderful model in West Vancouver, balancing the importance of individual, school and district professional learning.

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Tonight, I have the opportunity to speak at the Phi Delta Kappa – UBC Chapter dinner meeting on the topic of “Internet Connectivity, Personalization, and Engagement in Learning”.  The format has each of the three presenters speaking for between seven and 10 minutes with questions and discussion to follow.  I am on a great panel, with Steve Cardwell, Superintendent of Schools in Vancouver, and Jan Unwin, Superintendent of Schools in Maple Ridge / Pitt Meadows (I didn’t realize she was blogging).

It is a very broad topic, but I am going to focus on five key ideas, considering their impact on both adult and student learning.  These ideas come in large part from my experiences with StudentsLive!, and subsequent dialogue with the students since the program ended.  It is a remix of several other presentations I have recently given.

My “big 5” messages:

mobile technology can change learning

good writing still matters but video is changing the game

using social media needs to be taught

networks are essential

the real world is addictive

The five themes speak to both student learning, and our learning as educators. In fact, I find all five themes are dramatically changing how I learn.

Here is my complete slide deck:

I will update this later with the main ideas from Steve and Jan.

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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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I feel like I have gone back in time to my days as a columnist at the Richmond News – news to share and deadlines to meet.  This post will try to capture some of the key points from the first day of the British Columbia School Superintendents Association Fall Conference – Personalized Learning in the 21st Century:  From Vision to Action.

I have framed this post (and its title) on a post I did in early September:  What is Ontario Talking About? which was a summary of some of the key ideas coming out of Ontario’s  Building Blocks for Education:  Whole System Reform Conference (I didn’t actually attend the conference but followed the tweets and saw some of the presentation webcasts).

I will leave the speeches from Education Minister, George Abbott, and Premier Gordon Campbell aside, and focus on some of the big ideas from Valerie Hannon and Tony Mckay, and the three case studies they shared.

The opening session made the case for change.  This included a couple of videos that have been well used in staff meetings in recent months, but are worth seeing, if you haven’t seen them yet.

The first was RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms (if you like this video you can find all the RSA Animate videos here)

The second video was 21st Century Education in New Brunswick

There was also an emphasis on the work in Finland.  Like BC, Finland has a very high achieving system.   Valerie spoke about Finland’s Pedagogy for Tomorrow which is based on work she is doing there, and includes:

  • ubiquitous technology, ubiquitous opportunity?
  • collaborative, social-constructivist learning
  • problem-based instruction
  • progressive inquiry, experimental study
  • peer feedback and peer cooperation

The Finland example (click here for more details on their reform) resonates with me in West Vancouver — a strong system not content with itself.  We have an exemplary public school system in West Vancouver, with amazing results, but like Finland, in order to continue to perform at such a high level, we need to be looking at how we are preparing our students for a changing world.

Other examples shared to push our thinking included:

High Tech High, San Diego (Resources here from Edutopia)

Kunskapsskolan, Sweden

These are 23 secondary schools for students between the ages of 12 and 16, and nine, sixth form schools for 16 to 19 year olds, totalling 10,000 students focussing on personalized learning.  A full description is available here.

What these, and other examples did, including ones from New York and England (interesting key themes for Learning Futures Schools), was to nicely set a context for the global conversations taking place.  They are absolutely different contexts, and it is easy to get caught up in how what is happening in X cannot happen in Y.

Given this base of knowledge, it will be interesting to see how we personalize it in our district conversations tomorrow.

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There is much anticipation leading up to this week’s British Columbia School Superintendents Association Fall Conference – Personalized Learning in the 21st Century:  From Vision to Action.

The conference features many internationally known experts, who have been widely quoted over the year, as the province has been investigating 21st century skills and personalized learning.  Also included in the program are Premier Gordon Campbell; Minister of Education, George Abbott, and Deputy Minister of Education, James Gorman.

The topic is directly in line with so many of the conversations we are having in West Vancouver.  We will have a team of close to 25 at the event, including trustees, administrators and teachers.  The event has sold out at over 700 participants – clearly, similar conversations are happening in many places across the province.

In advance of the event, conference organizers have shared a number of resources for participant consideration, and they are available here on the BCELC website (this site is full of links to resources connected to personalized learning).

One article conference organizers have suggested is What’s Next?  21 Ideas for 21st Century Learning by Charles Leadbeater.  It is a very interesting read with lots of ideas to mark for further discussion.

One quote that stood out for me, when describing centres of innovation, was:

The school leadership provided an igniting sense of purpose to propel innovation and encourage managed risk taking to develop new approaches . . . That kind of ‘igniting purpose’ is vital when innovation is such a highly collaborative, cumulative endeavour, which relies on mobilising and motivating staff, pupils, parents, partner agencies, other schools. Collaborative innovation relies on the participants having a strong shared sense of purpose.

This is absolutely in line with what we have seen in our district around a series of initiatives, including the Primary Years Program and Middle Years Program IB implentations.  I am so impressed by the “shared sense of purpose” from students, parents, staff and community.

In addition, the 76-page report is a series of resources including presentation slides from Charles Leadbeater that support his findings.

My own suggestions for background material leading into the conference include:

A short video from Tony McKay that gives insight to his work

Another short (3 minute) video worth watching is linked here, from Dr. Stuart Shanker, discussing brain development;  additional backgrounder material, The Innovation Unit site, gives a good sense of Valerie Hannon’s work.

From my blog archives, I  have previously blogged on Teaching, Learning, Technology and Personalization and What is Personalized Learning?

For those attending, or following the conference from a distance, there are a couple of ways to participate.  Engage on Twitter by posting comments tagged #bcssa10, and use this same hashtag to follow the conversation.  If you don’t have a Twitter account, you can engage at TodaysMeet (no account sign-up required) at:  http://todaysmeet.com/bcssa10.

I will try to update this blog with daily summaries as well.

UPDATED – Videos from Conference Organizers

The following videos have been shared by conference organizers to help prepare participants:

Rod Allen, Superintendent of Achievement on how to prepare

Valerie Hannon and John Gaiptman discuss the learning agenda in BritishColumbia

Tony McKay on how a team should be prepared to bring some key information with them

Valerie Hannon on what can we expect when we attend the conference in November

Tony McKay, Steve Cardwell and Keven Elder on the goals of the BCSSA November Conference

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How best to use new technologies to support our primary students is an issue we are wrestling with in our district.  As teachers and schools experiment, some thoughtful and innovative practices are developing.  One that is worth highlighting comes out of Irwin Park Elementary School.  They have taken home reading and moved it into the digital age.  What I really like about the initiative is that it doesn’t simply replicate what has been done in the paper-based world on computers, but allows collaboration in a way not possible without the technology.

The program comes from the primary classes of Maria Yioldassis and Leslie Dawes and has been supported by the school and by our District Principal of Technology and Innovation, Gary Kern. 

This project exposes students to digital text and introduces them to reading online in a school context.  It also allows students to collaborate and share their experiences with other students. 

The teachers have students read digital texts they find on two popular sites, Starfall and Tumblebooks.  Both sites provide text at various reading levels and accompanying visuals.  Once students finish reading the books, they make brief comments on what they read, a process that can first be done in class, and then be repeated at home (see screen shots below). 

Some of the findings from this initiative include students having become self-confident in navigating through their e-books, choosing an appropriate book, reading the book, and then sharing what they have read through the website.  This process has been replicated at home and also during choice time within the classroom.

Teachers have also reported an increase in student confidence with online material; an increased awareness of what others are reading, and an overall sharing and appreciation of books read.

This very simple idea is spreading in West Vancouver. This fall, professional development days focussed on digital literacy; a number of teachers throughout the district have become comfortable with creating similar class spaces for their home reading programs. Many who are very interested in using this technology in their classes see this as a wonderful entry point – it is not an add-on as home reading is already going on. In addition, it allows parents to participate; it gives students greater ownership of their own learning, and it models the collaborative skills we want to build in students throughout their schooling. 

What we are finding is the entry point for most teachers with a digital presence is as a one-way communication: informing parents and students of upcoming calendar items, class news and homework.  What is exciting about this Home Reading program, something we are calling a “next practice,” is how it engages students and families with the technology.

There is still a lot to explore, particularly with our youngest learners and how best to use technology to support their learning, but projects like this one are very exciting.

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Today is our first meeting of the year with school professional development representatives from all West Vancouver schools.  This group of volunteer teachers meet on a regular basis to share their successes and challenges and help to evolve our very impressive model.  This group is chaired by the West Vancouver Teachers Association (WVTA), Professional Development Co-Chairs, Karen Harmatuk and Sue Elliot.

Here is a one page overview of the Professional Development model in West Vancouver (scroll on the right to see the entire document):

Our Professional Development Model, or the “Collaborative Model” as it is often described, helps guide all of our work in the district.  Our core values genuinely guide the work:

•1. Our primary learning focus is on improving student learning

•2. We work collaboratively on district, school and team goals because teaching is too difficult to do alone

•3. Our work is supported by current research

The model is built around our students and improving student learning.  It also makes it very clear the best learning is collaborative.  I was reminded of the power of collaboration this past week as “Learning Teams” from Pauline Johnson, West Bay, Cypress Park, Irwin Park and Ridgeview spent a morning together looking at digital literacy.

Our professional learning model in West Vancouver is really quite simple, but important to always come back to as a guide.  As district, school, or individual professional development grows, it is important to ensure these three strands are continually supported.

Every year we look at “how we can strengthen the collaborative model.”  The model is messy – but, so is good learning.  With all the talk about personalized learning for students, that is really at the heart of what we are trying to do with the adults learning in our district.  It doesn’t mean that every staff member has an individual, unique plan, but rather they have a personalized plan that blends together district, school and individual needs.

For all of our educators, it starts with our professional growth program.  The description from 15 years ago, and the purpose of teacher growth plans, is still very relevant today:

The purpose of the Professional Growth Program is to support the professional growth of teachers for the continuous development of instructional practices in order to enhance student learning in West Vancouver.

Like all the work we do either as individuals, collaborative learning teams, schools, or as a district, at its core is the improvement of our students’ learning.

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As we look at increasing “personalized learning” in British Columbia, we have been encouraged to look over the fence and see what are neighbours are doing.  It is not a local, provincial, or even national trend to evolve schools to better embrace “21st century skills“, the movement is happening around the world.

For the past two days, Ontario has hosted Building Blocks for Education:  Whole System Reform and featured big thinkers from around the world including Michael Fullan, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Timo Lankinen the Director General of the Finish National Board of Education.   The conference is connected to the  Ontario government’s education plan:  Reach Every Student – Energizing Ontario Education.

With thanks to those tweeting from the Conference, and some late-night viewing of the keynotes that were webcast, here are some of the more interesting insights I found looking over the fence:

Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, Singapore:

  • the first building block to success is the principals
  • the role of politicians is sometimes to get out of the way
  • 20% of Singapore’s government spending goes to education
  • recognized that performance art can help promote 21st century skills

Timo Lankinen – Director General, Finish National Board of Education:

  • In Finland grade 1’s spend only 3 hours in school a day
  • Focus is moving from literacy and numeracy to arts and physical activity
  • Teachers salaries are not higher, but it is a very valued profession
  • 21st century skills are a key part of Finland’s success
  • All teachers in Finland hold a Master’s Degree

Michael Fullan, Special Advisor to the Premier of Ontario:

  • Transparency is here to stay
  • Relevant and personalized curriculum is helping grad rates
  • Role of central government in education is strategy, manage evaluation, explain to taxpayers what is happening
  • clamour for autonomy occurs with bad policies and bad leadership
  • not acceptable in definition of professional teacher or principal to say “leave me alone” – it is a balance between autonomy and integration

Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education:

  • “the fight for education is a daily fight for social justice”
  • Department of Education needs to be an engine of innovation and not a compliance office
  • Interesting – 2000 high schools produce 1/2 of US dropouts – call them “dropout factories”
  • US is in the midst of a quiet revolution in school reform
  • Courage not resources will transform education in the U.S.
  • In the U.S. the kids that need the most help get the least

Andreas Schleicher, Special Advisor on Education Policy, Directorate for Education, Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD):

  • once you remove the influence of social background, public schools do better than private schools
  • use statistical neighbours and interrogate data
  • technology enables non-linear learning
  • best systems attract great teachers and give access to best practices and quality
  • schools need to focus on the things that our kids will really need to know – learning how to learn and collaborating with others

There is some reassurance in knowing so many jurisdictions are having the same conversation. Many of our conversations in West Vancouver and the directions we are moving sound similar to those being implemented around the world.  The challenge, though, when we look at Finland, or when others look at us, is to take the ideas and apply them to what can be very different local contexts.

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