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Posts Tagged ‘students’

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Despite the speed at which our system and profession is changing, some aspects haven’t changed at all. I do think there have been major shifts over the last several years in West Vancouver, particularly with the proliferation of digital access and commitment to inquiry, among other factors.

Listening to Will Richardson at Computer Using Educators of British Columbia(CUEBC) during the last couple of weeks had me thinking and revisiting some of my early blog posts. Will has been someone I have been learning from for more than a decade. Before the Culture of Yes, I was blogging as a school principal in Coquitlam and also teaching AP European History. One of the early pieces I wrote (early fall 2006) was Teaching History in a Time of Change and reprinted below:

Teaching History in a Time of Change by title alone implies that there may be a time of stability around the corner. There isn’t.  And it is not the change that is frightening, challenging, and exhilarating – it is the speed with which this change is occurring that is frightening, challenging, exhilarating, and, more importantly, remaking our profession.  The advancements in technology and the exponential speed at which they are happening may make our current times the most dramatic for teaching and learning history since the invention of the printing press.

There are some givens that go along with the change:  within the next few years every one of our students will arrive with a laptop or similar gizmo, all information will be on the internet, and all of our students will be connected everywhere, all the time, to the entire world. These changes are not up for debate – they are already becoming a reality in some jurisdictions. The only thing that can be debated now is how quickly they will happen and just how they will redefine the teaching of history everywhere.

I know it is risky to say this too loudly, but in short, these changes mean that teaching history the old way, whatever that has been or still is for each of us, is dead.  Everyone can now get all the facts, whenever they need them, from wherever the source of information resides.

Within just hours after the shooting last month at Dawson College in Montreal, hundreds of Wikipedians were creating the story of the event as it occurred. From first hand accounts to summaries of news stories – in the hours and days following the shooting the entry at wikipedia.org was updated thousands of times. History is being reported, clarified, analyzed, summarized, interpreted and reinterpreted in real time. In addition to the upheaval of traditional timelines for these activities, the hierarchies of historians are gone and everyone can now be an expert or, at the least, a verifiable eyewitness and commentator to events as they occur.

Canadian Idol crowned its latest winner last month. In the voting, close to four million Canadians, mostly younger technologically literate Canadians, mostly using cell phones, mostly using text messaging, voted for their favourite candidate in the final two show-down that crowned Eva Avila the winner.

Wikipedia and Canadian Idol are not isolated – they are products of the new ways in which young people interact.  The new technology tools are making learning more personal – you can read first-hand blogs from around the world. The tools are also making learning more communal – young people are active contributors in the online world, finding their voice through participation in often very complex online and digital communities.  Today’s students live in a world of convergence and collective intelligence, living in a participatory culture in which learning is no longer an individualistic endeavor.

During the recent conflict in the Middle East, young men and women from Israel and Palestine were trying to understand what was really happening in their countries.  Instead of turning to traditional news sources, they turned to one another for firsthand perspectives (link no longer active).  Who should we be teaching students to believe, the bloggers or the news establishment?  More importantly, how do we ensure students take a critical and analytical view to all sources?

So not only are the tools changing, but the students we are teaching are changing too.  As Marc Prensky so nicely describes, our students are the digital natives and we are the digital immigrants. There was great comfort when we controlled the information. Now the students are better with the tools used to access the information than we are.  The traditional teaching / learning continuum is gone and it is time for the new teaching to begin.  The challenge for all of us is to take the tools that our students are using and find ways to use them in our daily teaching.

What are 10 things we can all go back to our classes Monday and do to start meeting the challenge?

  • have students share information through social bookmarking such as del.icio.us
  • create instant messenger class lists on MSN or a similar chat service
  • have students build a wiki (collaborative website) for your class / school
  • assign students to post an assignment to the web so they don’t just get feedback from their teacher but their peers and even complete strangers
  • download Skype (a service that allows your computer to act as a phone) – have a conversation with a student across the country for free
  • read a blog created by a student in another community
  • begin to podcast lectures (audio recording files posted to the internet) or listen to others who have already done so
  • stop banning websites and start educating students on how to use them
  • put everything on the Internet – and share it with as many people as possible
  • ask the digital natives to help the digital immigrants

Embracing the new tools is not about technology, it is about reality, our students’ reality. So, what are the key challenges for History teachers in this time of rapid change?

  • continue to embrace high standards, while vehemently rejecting standardization – tests are less important than ever
  • recognize that the role of the teacher is being redesigned – no longer are we the ones with the answers at the front of the room
  • drop our protectionist tendencies as we continue to work to meet students where they are instead of asking them to come to us

In this time of rapid change teachers are more important than ever, but only if we change at the same speed as the world in which our students are living.  We have a duty to teach students the power of the new tools and how to use them – we need to lead them into the world of learning History 2.0.

Rereading this post, I laugh at some of the tools mentioned – so many have come and gone. Of course, it is not about the tools.  The conclusions and the key challenges I have identified, do largely still remain.  It was also so exciting to recently learn about the amazing work happening in our classrooms in West Vancouver and across the country, and recognized through the 2014 Government of Canada History Awards.  For the same reasons I found it so exciting to be a teacher and a learner in 2006, I find it even more so true today.

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Seth on Sorting

sorting

Much of what Seth Godin blogs about is food for thought, but every now and again he writes something that really strikes a chord with me and I need to put it in context. His recent piece on The wasteful fraud of sorting for youth meritocracy is just such a piece. He takes up a conversation that seems to be gaining more attention as we question the purpose of school and how we approach learning for students, both in and out of school. In part, I am drawn to the post because I nod my head in agreement while reading it and, in part, because it really challenges all of the structures we have created around schools.

Godin argues students are being taught our world is one in which people are picked based on performance. When it comes to activities like school sports and music, those running the programs might point out “that their job is to win, to put on a great show, to entertain the parents with the best performance they can create.”

Godin challenges this and asks:

What if we celebrated the students who regularly try the hardest, help each other the most and lead? What if we fast tracked those students and made it clear to anyone else willing to adopt those attitudes that they could be celebrated too?

What if you got cast, tracked or made the cut because you were resilient, hard-working and willing to set yourself up for a cycle of continuous improvement? Isn’t that more important than rewarding the kid who never passes but still scores a lot of goals?

We do try to do this, and it seems we are trying harder now than even a decade ago. More and more, students are being compared and sorted on past performances rather than with of the students who sit next to them in class. Of course, old habits are difficult to break. No matter how much we say as teachers and parents we value the work habits as much as the letter grades (or even more),  our eyes quickly scan to the A and B grades before looking at the G and S grades.

And just what is this system doing? Godin says:

If you get ahead for years and years because you got dealt good cards, it’s not particularly likely that you will learn that in the real world, achievement is based as much on attitude and effort as it is on natural advantages. In the real world, Nobel prizes and Broadway roles and the senior VP job go to people who have figured out how to care, how to show up, how to be open to new experiences. Our culture is built around connection and charisma and learning and the ability to not quit in precisely the right moments.

This is challenging stuff. I am reminded of Mike McKay’s question, “When will what we know change what we do?”  While we know what Godin says to be true, we are very slow to change our system.  We (me included) like many of our school rituals — from the music concerts to sports matches — showcase the students we feel are the most talented.

Godin’s final challenge, “What is school for?”  is like this piece on sorting, a great conversation starter.

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If asked, most people would agree they could do well with more flexibility in their life — this is also true in the education field, and almost all education reform movements include a call for greater flexibility.  Of course, this can mean something very different from one person to the next.  For me, flexibility is about giving more choice and ownership. I shared this slide (below) in a recent presentation giving an overview of what I think flexibility means in the education context.

Just as we talk about students owning their own learning as an optimal goal, the same is true for adults;  the more we own our learning (and teaching), the more optimal and powerful a system we will have.  As a leader in a school district, I want all levels of government to grant us the flexibility to allow districts to have their own flavour, or character within a larger framework.  In turn, as district leaders, we can do the same for schools in allowing schools their own signature. It is a given, tensions may continue around central or local control, but flexibility and balance should be a consideration here as well.

The process repeats itself in schools with principals giving teachers the ability to be flexible, and teachers doing the same for students in giving students choice in the what and the how of their learning.  I do often hear, “we just need permission”, and I am not always sure what that means, but it does point to a culture of thoughtful experimentation where those at each level in the system recognize it as part of their role to increase the flexibility, choice and ownership for others in the system.

Granted, flexibility is only part of the equation.  The commitment of everyone in the system (as it becomes less standardized) is to network — pulling people together to pull together key ideas.  Teachers need to network students with similar passions, principals need to assist in networking teachers, district leaders to network schools, and governments to districts. Ideally, governments around the world would network together, because just as it is important that two students network and work together to solve a problem in a Grade 5 social studies class, the same holds true for everyone in the system. We want BC to learn from and with Alberta, Ontario, Australia, Finland and all others who are on this journey to move education forward.

Part of my role as district leader is to encourage flexibility, to be a cheerleader for innovation and then to tell the story, weaving together the different journeys  in the district as part of a shared narrative.

Creating a more flexible system is all the rage right now — who doesn’t favour it? It does need to be more than just letting people do whatever they want to do. It needs to be systemic, across all roles, giving increased choice for others to work within a larger framework, and pulling the different approaches in a network of learning — together.

I find it easier to write and talk about a system with less standardization and control than what we currently have, but it will be part of our challenge going forward to allow passions to be pursued, and permission to be given. Hopefully, we are now at the front end of the era of educational flexibility.

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Trying  to do something new or different can be a real challenge sometimes.  Last week I had the opportunity to teach a class to students at Gleneagles Elementary School and West Bay Elementary School, and to share my story about how I started blogging. I also had the opportunity to learn about their work and their own digital writing.  The work at Gleneagles is part of a teacher inquiry project that focussed on the following question:

Will students include more meaningful detail and perspective in their weBlogs by focusing on social issues as their ‘purpose for writing’ and will continuous feedback, in the form of threads, lead to deeper understanding of a given issue?

The classroom was both face-to-face and virtual, and teaching students I couldn’t see was new and challenging.  Teachers are accustomed to reading a student’s body language, and receiving cues from the class.  Half of the students were in front of me at Gleneagles, but the other half were viewing the class on-screen at West Bay via Lync, and it was a one-way video.  The students could ask questions, but I didn’t feel the same connection as when they are in front of me, in a room, or at least when I can see them on video.

Of course, the whole topic was quite new for the students as well.  We all agreed that even two years ago, there would have been no way we would be having a conversation about digital writing and blogs; what it meant to have a personal brand, and what kind of topics we would write about if we were going to share our ideas with classmates, or the world.  Out of the presentation came a number of excellent questions:

  • Why do you blog versus using an alternative platform to share your message/knowledge?
  • Where do you get your ideas/inspiration for your many blogs?
  • How do you create an effective blog?
  • Where/how do you find the time to blog so frequently?
  • When you started blogging, were you inspired by anyone/anything in particular?  Do they continue to influence your thinking?  If so, by what/whom?
  • Do you follow other bloggers and use their techniques/messages as a model for your own?
  • How do you decide on the graphics, pictures, and links you embed when there seems to be so many to choose from?
  • How often do you post?  Why?
  • Do you believe the good connection with your readers is because of your transparency as a writer?

It is a different way to think about writing, and I often say that I think in blog posts.  When I sit in a meeting, I write my notes around themes that may later become posts; I can think of the visuals that might go with the words, and this is so different from only a few years ago.  I have started dozens of posts, which may or may not become a blog at some point, but they have helped me organize my thinking.  While I write about one post a week, I think about hundreds. It was great to hear students discussing the stories they would like to tell, because we all have stories; we all have our own powerful narratives to share.

Toward the end of the session, one of the excellent discussions was about commenting. I offered that when I comment on other blogs I try to expand on an idea raised by the writer, perhaps give a different point-of-view, or add additional information the writer, or other readers, may find interesting or valuable.  I am hopeful some of the students who participated in our session last week will do just that with this post — extend and reach out with all of your learning.  So, what did you find interesting/valuable? What are you going to do next?  What questions do you still have?

Thanks again to the students of Gleneagles and West Bay for your engagement.

Thanks also to Colleen Denman for session photos, and all of the teachers and administrators who were involved in organizing and setting up the session.

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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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I compiled a “Top 3” list for 2010 (here), and am thinking of turning the “Top 3” into an annual tradition.  Many of my 2010 choices could have held for this year, but I wanted to highlight new people, blogs, resources, etc.  These year-end lists are a great way to raise topics, discussion and debate, and shine some light onto areas that may have received less attention than I thought they deserved as the year went along.  I look forward to your own “Top 3” thoughts for 2011.

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts – these posts have generated the most traffic this year:

1.  My Take on Librarians

2.  Preparing and Supporting Teachers to Integrate Technology in the Classroom

3.  A Little Bit About Mrs. Caffrey

Top 3 BC Teacher Blogs I Follow:

1.  Keith Rispin, West Vancouver

2.  David Wees, Vancouver

3.  , Lytton

Top 3 BC Edu-bloggers (not current teachers or school administrators)  I Follow:

1. Mike McKay, Surrey

2. Brian Kuhn, Coquitlam

3. Tom Schimmer, Penticton

Top 3 Digital  Learning Trends in Schools:

1.  Everyone has a blog — students, teachers, administrators, district staff.  From a few dozen to a few hundred (or more) in B.C., in just one year

2.  Personally Owned Devices — more jurisdictions are including PODs as part of their digital-learning strategy

3.  iPads — from school pilots to being one of the most popular presents at Christmas, they are finding their way into more and more classrooms

Top 3 Professional Development Events I have Attended:

1.  GELP – Global Education Leadership Program

2.  West Vancouver Opening Day with Stuart Shanker

3.  MindShare Learning 21st Century Canadian EdTech Summit

Top 3 Used (and often overused) Terms in Education for the Year:

1. The Flipped Classroom

2.  Technology is just a tool

3.  Taking to Scale

Top 3 Books I have Read this Year that Influenced My Thinking:

1.  Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merrymen

2. Spark:  The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey

3. What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly

Top 3 School-related Videos from West Vancouver (that I bet you haven’t seen)

1.  Students at Cypress Park talking about their project with the Obakki Foundation – Kids for Clean water

2.  Caulfeild Elementary sharing the story of their iDEC Program

3.  Students at West Vancouver Secondary and their lipdub from the spring

Top 3 School-related Videos from B.C. (that I bet you haven’t seen)

1.  Students from School Completion and Beyond reflecting on the BC EdPlan

2.  An introduction to Learning Commons in BC

3.  Delta School District Vision Video

As I finish my first full year as Superintendent, I continue to love using my blog to reflect, share and engage.  I like David Eaves‘ notion that the blog is a great place to work out the mind.  I look forward to continuing to connect in 2012!

Chris Kennedy

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Smart and Caring

In a recent address to members of the Canadian Club of Vancouver, the Governor General of Canada, His Excellency, the Right Honourable David Johnston, talked about Canada being a “smart and caring nation”, a theme I have heard him speak on so eloquently before.

I am, and have been, impressed with his thinking and ideas about education ever since he assumed his current position. I wrote about him in connection to World Teacher Day in October 2010 (here),  quoting his installation speech:

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.

In this most recent speech I heard, the Governor General outlined 10 challenges “we need to address, both as caring Canadians and as a caring society, to improve volunteerism and philanthropy in Canada.” (Full text of speech here).

In brief, the 10 points:

  • identify the needs of the community — discerning what the community requires, as well as the needs of individuals
  • find a new definition for volunteerism that goes beyond altruism
  • improve social innovation — how we volunteer and give; we need to be innovative in our thinking as our society evolves
  • attract young volunteers — young people often report they don’t volunteer because they are not asked, or because they don’t know how to become involved
  • engage volunteers and new ways devised to attract givers
  • engage new Canadians to become volunteers, and help them give back to their new community
  • revisit professionalism and recruitment in non-profits — these organizations need to operate efficiently, and to do so requires professional skills that may fall outside the volunteer sector
  • collaborate outside of what we traditionally do — we could look at what has happened in the US with Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and others, and find a made-in-Canada approach
  • link volunteerism and education;  organizations must be able to define their existence to advance the strength of the volunteer sector and it must be part of formal and informal education for young people
  • honour all Canadian volunteers — not just with awards, but acknowledging all their giving in communities

His words are also part of a challenge as Canada moves toward its Sesquicentennial in 2017.  The Governor General’s Canada vision resonates with me, and the Canada we want for our children — smart and caring.

While his words are great, he is also an exceptionally eloquent speaker.  Here is a segment of the Governor General’s Installation Speech:

As he closed his speech on the day I saw him, his focus on Canadian youth and education was compelling, “Canadians have done great things in the past. We are accomplishing so much today. Let us show the world that we are capable of so much more in the future.”

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