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Posts Tagged ‘reform’

Over the last five years, opening a conversation with a provocative video has been a common approach in discussions regarding the need to evolve our K-12 education system.  The Did You Know? approach — in which we show a five-minute video and use it at a springboard for conversation — often soaks up the first 15 or 20 minutes of a meeting.  There are a lot of wonderful videos —  Justin Tarte recently compiled a great list of twenty-seven of these videos — great for staff workshops, parent meetings, or any other sessions  as a conversation starter on education.

I find myself using the video approach less often these days. The videos still do make a strong case for change, but most people get this now and want the specifics on what we can do. In April, I plan to open several meetings with a new video that tackles the issue of reform from what we have learned about our brain.

From our board office staff meetings, meeting with all administrators, to several PAC meetings I am scheduled to attend, I will be using Born to Learn, which is described as ” the first animation in a fascinating series aimed to provide easy-access to the exciting new discoveries constantly being made about how humans learn!”

The video comes from the 21st Century Learning initiative, resident to John Abbott, and it is often referenced around the personalized learning discussion in BC.

After showing the video, I will be looking at the following points for discussion:

  • What stands out?
  • What are the key messages for parents of young children and early childhood educators?
  • How does the “earthquake in the brain” manifest itself in our schools?  How do we respond?  How could we respond differently/better?
  • How do we honour risk-taking from the upper intermediate grades through graduation?  How do we stifle it?
  • How should what we have learned about the brain (from this video and other research) change our structures/approaches with students in early learning? in their teenage years?

I am interested in what others think of the video, and how it might be used it in their contexts.

Of course, these 15-minute conversation teasers — where we use a video to spur on discussion, may help to shift thinking, but are most valuable when followed up with concrete action.  I know many people I work with will say, “Great, we know this.”  So, why don’t we do a better job to match what we do to what we know?

The video is clearly part of a larger initiative and is linked to a new website Born to Learn (it is going live on March 28th — after this post’s publication date). Whatever the “New” looks like in education and schooling, it needs to be absolutely in sync with the latest developments in evolving our understanding of brain research and how we learn.

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It’s the New Year and, with it, a new position.  Having spent the last 14 months as the Superintendent-in-Waiting, I start January as the Superintendent of Schools for the West Vancouver School District.

This past fall, I had the privilege to speak at “Opening Day” — a professional development day for all staff in our district — the week prior to school opening.  At that session, the outgoing Superintendent, Geoff Jopson, shared thoughts on the last decade and I spoke about what is ahead.  As I start ‘for real’ in the role, I want to come back to some of the themes — a collection of beliefs, values and commitments.

On Working in West Vancouver:

It is a great honour for me to serve in this community as a teacher and as the superintendent.   I love that on most days, most people are at least a 9 out of 10.  We love what we do; we love who we do it with, and we love where we do it.  The district and community are large enough to feel part of a greater entity, but small enough to be completely connected.

On Being a Teacher:

It is funny that we often use different words for “Teacher”.  We have teacher leaders, lead teachers, principal teachers, support teachers, helping teachers, mentor teachers, and sometimes we take the word teacher out altogether — and have educational leaders, among a range of other terms.  I am good with “Teacher”.  It is who I am, and it says it all.  The rest is about the different roles we have, but “Teacher” describes who we are.    I don’t think we actually need anything more.  And while teachers sometimes fall victim to profiling in the media, and while our profession is asked to do more and more, it is still the greatest profession in the world — and there are few things better in life than being called a teacher.  What we do makes a dent in our world; it matters, and makes it a slightly better place in which to live.

On My Plan as Superintendent:

And what is it that we do, and will continue to do?   I have often been asked about “what will be your plan as superintendent?”  I know in many places gimmicks are quite fashionable — a particular program or approach that will be the be-all and end-all. We hear this a lot from the United States as they talk about No Child Left Behind . . . if only we all just did Smart Reading, or all had laptops, or used EBS, or played first and then ate lunch, or had a particular bell schedule, then our system would move forward and students would graduate in even greater numbers.  These are all worthy and can be powerful initiatives, but there are no magic bullets.  It is the hard work in the classrooms everyday — the mix of science and art; teachers taking what they know about what works, combining this with their skills, and building relationships with their students — this makes all the difference.  In the end, and more than anything else, it is the relationships that matter.  The relationships we have with each other, and the relationships we build with parents and students.

On A Culture of Yes:

It is the “culture of yes”, we have and will continue to foster — one that embraces new ideas and new ways to look at learning and organize learning; a “culture of yes” that supports innovation and creativity for both learners and teachers, knowing this is how we will continue to evolve.  It is a “culture of yes” that touches on the passions we entered the profession with, and that may have sometimes been lost along the way, but hopefully, found again.

We have an amazing community in West Vancouver — and it is exciting to take on this new role.  As I said at the end of my presentation in August, “Let’s go new places.”

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I love how Seth Godin uses his blog to succinctly articulate ideas with a straight forward, common sense approach.  Seth, is an author and public speaker and I find a number of his posts have ramifications for education – something I thought when reading his recent post Alienating the 2%.

I find we often spend hours thinking about, worrying about, and strategizing over, the group Seth refers to as the two percent:

If you have fans or followers or customers, no matter what you do, you’ll annoy or disappoint two percent of them. And you’ll probably hear a lot more from the unhappy 2% than from the delighted 98.

I am not giving away any trade secrets when I suggest that as we propose innovations, we often have the faces of particular students, educators or parents in mind – wondering how they will respond, knowing that they often relish their role in Seth’s 2%.

Here are just three of the issues in education (as well as in the West Vancouver context) that seem to fall into the two percent challenge:

More Feedback, Less Marks – We have had almost universal appreciation for how teachers and schools are embracing the use of feedback through formative assessment, and in turn, results are improving.  We have heard the concern that this approach to assessment has the greatest benefit for weaker students, thus shrinking the gap on the spectrum between those at the top and those at the bottom.  This is great – except if you are at the top – the old way was working great for you and this new way, while it still works well for you, has just increased your competition for university.

Wireless Technology – On one level, it is a trust-in-government issue (can we really trust Health Canada’s statements on safety), and there is also some pushback around whether these “gadgets” are really necessary.  We can lose sight on the conversation about what we are trying to do – provide access to information and collaboration through web-based, secured learning environments; provide assisting technologies to enable students with special needs to work with their classmates; connect with classrooms in other communities, provinces and countries, as well as to utilize digital texts, and extending learning beyond the traditional bell-to-bell of school.

Embrace First Nations Education – West Vancouver has very few First Nations’ students.  As of the September count, we had about 30 students who self-declared out of our 7,000 student population.  We are making a concerted effort to work with our local Squamish Nation, to better support our First Nations’ students, and also improve the understanding of all of our students about the Squamish Nation.  For some, this is an add-on, or an initiative that is only about a small number of students – most of us see it very differently.

Back to Seth:

It seems as though there are only two ways to deal with this: Stop innovating, just stagnate. Or go ahead and delight the vast majority.

Sure, you can try to minimize the cost of change, and you might even get the number to 1%. But if you try to delight everyone, all the time, you’ll just make yourself crazy. Or become boring.

I am committed to not being boring, or having West Vancouver become stagnate.  Whether it is continuing to embrace formative assessment, supporting wireless technology to transform learning, or more involvement with our local First Nations, for starters, we need to keep the 98% in the foreground.

The easiest thing to do in education is nothing.  There is something sadly reassuring about our children’s education looking like our  K-12 education experience – I heard once that the best advice to a vice-principal who wanted to become principal was to make sure nothing changed because nobody would complain, and in-turn, everyone would say you are doing a good job.

We have to be better than that.

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World Teachers’ Day is an opportunity to highlight our profession.  In addition to celebrating the excellence we see in our neighbourhood classrooms, it is an important opportunity to also raise the larger issue for which the day was initially intended:

World Teachers’ Day, held annually on 5 October since 1994, commemorates the anniversary of the signing in 1966 of the UNESCO/ILO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers. It is an occasion to celebrate the essential role of teachers in providing quality education at all levels. 

Currently, there are some interesting conversations around the future of teaching and learning in B.C., across Canada, and around the world.  Jurisdictions are wrestling with the big issue of what the changing world means for learning, and what this, in turn, means for teaching and schools.

While some of these discussions, at least those I have been following in parts of the United States, have focussed on improving teaching and learning by placing blame on teachers, and excluding teachers (and students) from the discussions on reform — there IS a better way.  Our system will continue to improve, be relevant and engaging, when we focus on where we are going rather than who to blame for any of our current shortfalls.  

Hopefully, we will continue to focus on the changing pedagogy and how this will impact our profession as we continue to move forward.   My confidence was buoyed just last Friday with the Installation Speech of our new Governor General of Canada, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston.  While the entire speech is worth reading and the video worth viewing (the second part which includes the focus on education is embedded at the bottom of this post), I was struck by his passionate commitment to teachers and public education:

Anyone who has achieved any degree of success and been placed in a leadership position can point to dozens of teachers, mentors and coaches who have made them better persons along the way. In my case, they number in the hundreds.

During my term, we will find ways to properly recognize our teachers who are responsible for our intellectual development. If there is one trumpet call from my remarks today let it be “Cherish Our Teachers”.

I have always had great admiration for the teachers and educators of this country.

As we consider our vision for 2017, I ask “Can we have equality of opportunity and excellence too?” I believe that no nation in history has worked harder than Canada to ensure equality of opportunity. How do we square that with excellence as well? For me, the answer is through our public educational system which is the most inclusive in the world.

How do we ensure accessible education for all so that all Canadians can realize their full potential? And how do we reconcile universal access with stellar achievement? And how do we continue to innovate in order to compete with the world’s best? Innovation at its simplest is crafting a new idea to do things better. Innovation embraces both technological and social innovation. We want the same continuing commitment to excellence in our learning and research institutions that we saw in our Canadian athletes who brought us a record 14 gold medals at the 2010 Winter Games, we need the kind of innovation that has made “BlackBerry” a household expression. We want to emulate our Olympic and Paralympic athletes by constantly striving for excellence in all that we do.

We want to be the Smart and Caring Nation; a society that innovates, embraces its talent and uses the knowledge of each of its citizens to improve the human condition for all.

Our Governor General said what so many of us think about teaching and public education.  Teaching continues to be a simply amazing and powerful profession.

I want to reiterate what I said on Opening Day last month:

It is funny we often use different words for teacher.  We have teacher leaders, lead teachers, principal teachers, support teachers, helping teachers, mentor teachers, and then we sometimes take the word teacher out – and have instructional leaders, among a range of other terms.  I am good with teacher.  It is who I am, and it says it all.  The rest is about the different roles we have, but teacher describes who we are.  I don’t think we actually need anything more.  And while teachers sometimes get beaten up in the media, and our profession is asked to do more and more, it is still the greatest profession in the world – and there are few things better in life than being called a teacher.  What we do makes a dent in our world; it matters, and makes it a slightly better place in which to live.

I am blessed to have come from a family of teachers, to have spent my life guided and influenced by one excellent teacher after another, and each day I work with teachers looking to change the world one student at a time.

To all of you, Happy World Teachers’ Day!

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