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Posts Tagged ‘reform’

“Innovation” is all the rage, and it is probably the most used word in my blog posts as well.  However, there are a lot of new ideas and methods that become wrapped up under the innovation label.  A particular challenge is that, for everything new we add to the K-12 system, we also need to determine what will come out. Currently, we are  trying to address a jammed-full curriculum, and adding new items without withdrawing other items only exacerbates the challenge.

The first thing we have come to realize is some interventions, ideas, courses, or programs have a shelf life.  It is not that they were wrong decisions, the world changes and our programs need to reflect that change.  I think this is also true with a number of initiatives intended to encourage technology and support digital literacy.  As the use of technology becomes less “learning with technology” and more “learning,” the special initiatives — whether built around one-to-one programs for specific student cohorts, or some distributive learning programs — need to be recognized for the role they have played in moving education forward and then we need to move on.  Of course, we are so much better at starting initiatives than we are at ending them, even when it is time.

This is not failure. When new research is being considered, and when new ideas are being proposed, stopping (before again moving forward) ensures the new innovations have an opportunity to grow. We have tried running all the courses we had last year along with the new ones proposed, to the same students, and sign-up is fragmented, often with many courses being cancelled because they haven’t had the opportunity to develop.  We also can and do protect existing programs, even if they no longer connect with students in the same way they had before, thereby limiting the opportunities for new programs to develop.  It’s a bit of a Catch-22, and it becomes further complicated as teachers have favourite courses they want to teach, and resources invested, but may no longer be a good match for what kids need and want.

In the private sector, where the free market rules, it seems to be much easier to abandon innovations that no longer work.  I give full credit to one of the most creative district principals I know. Diane Nelson, who nurtures our sports academy programs, proposed a field hockey academy, and it didn’t work.  So, instead of trying to force it to work, she moved on, and now she has a baseball academy set for the fall that is highly subscribed.  She knew to walk away from the one, and to reinvest in the other, continuing the search to find programs to meet the needs and wants of our students and their families.

When courses disappear, or school rituals retire, it should not be seen as negative. In many ways, it is progress.  Great ideas have a shelf life, and is often from where other ideas do develop and grow.  So, while we are really good at celebrating all the “new” we are starting in education right now, we shouldn’t be shy about acknowledging the need to cull along the way to make a place for the better.

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Why make the case for change in a system with an outstanding track record of education outcomes? Because there are potential pitfalls and challenges ahead:

  • A skills shortage
  • Difficulty integrating 21st century skills into curriculum
  • Too strong a content orientation
  • Inadequate and ineffective use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) in Education
  • A growth of differing and conflicting learning outcomes
  • Low satisfaction levels in schools

And there are more on the list.  Now, before you begin typing your response that I have unfairly vilified our outstanding education system in British Columbia, I am not describing British Columbia, but rather Finland. And these are not my thoughts, but those of Timo Lankinen, Director General at the Finnish National Board of Education, as recently expressed in his presentation, Making a case for change in a successful system (Finnish basic education).  The list is from a more complete slide in his presentation:

Finland has been setting the world benchmark, so many of us are chasing.  However, while they are widely seen as the strongest in the world, they have embarked on a change agenda.

These are the questions being asked (from Lankinen’s presentation):

  • Are we picking up on the warning signals about the growing differences between schools and learning outcomes, and provision of education?
  • Do we highlight higher-order skills, citizen skills needed for future lives in a systematic way?
  • Do we enable teachers and students to flourish? Do we notice and care about non-conforming students?
  • And what about . . .
  • Individual aspirations?
  • Engaging students (book learning versus experiential learning)?
  • Technology use?
  • Integration of the Arts and PE?
What does their agenda look like for change?
  • More individual freedom to choose between subjects
  • Multidisciplinary subject groups
  • Increase of minimum instruction time
  • A more diversified language program
  • Increase of the Arts and PE
  • Highlight 21st century skills – citizen skills
  • Educational use of ICT
There is more depth to their work than what can be summarized in a post, but the Finns are asking, “Can we effectively lead a systemic change for better learning in the future?”
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It was quite a remarkable presentation, because the content was familiar; it is very similar to the conversations we are having in British Columbia, another one of the very highest performing education systems in the world.  It is also a narrative I hadn’t previously heard, as so many have told the Finnish story.  There are differences in direction and our systems, but the overarching themes envisioned for both of these systems are quite similar.
        .    
So, it is not only the under-performing systems that are looking to innovate, but the very best in the world as well.  I have said several times in West Vancouver, and borrowing a line from a former colleague in Coquitlam, “you don’t have to be sick to get better.”

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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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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.

IF YOU RECEIVE THIS UPDATE VIA EMAIL , PLEASE OPEN THE BLOG TO SEE THE VIDEO EMBEDDED BELOW

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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