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Posts Tagged ‘transformation’

I had the wonderful opportunity to share the stage early in the summer with Yong Zhao at the Canadian School Board Association Congress.  Yong was quick to take issue with my friendly views on the PISA results.  Last fall I wrote about the most recent results that saw Canadian students, and in particular BC students excel.

Yong argued, in part, that by focusing on improving PISA results schools and school jurisdictions work to get better at a dated system, one built around standard tests in areas like math, reading and writing.

I have been thinking about the larger idea that focusing on getting better may be an impediment to real change.  I am feeling the tension with our work right now in British Columbia.  Yes, we want to get better – we want more students reading at grade level, more learners with basic numeracy skills and a higher percentage of students graduating.  But we also want to get different – we want to embrace core competencies, give attention to emerging areas like coding and robotics, and have more students prepared to be citizens for an ever-changing world.

In West Vancouver we see the revised curriculum as an invitation to do things differently.  The curriculum and assessment encourages us to work across various content areas, have students produce real work for the real world, and give students ongoing feedback so students have greater ownership of their own learning.

I have been persuaded that there are some areas that lend themselves very well to an agenda of improvement.  I see the precision with which we often teach reading in the younger ages as one in particular.  If, though, we focus on trying to get 2% better at everything every year, and make incremental improvement towards our goal, we will find, even if we meet our targets, we have students prepared for a world of the past.  And likely we will hit plateaus where doubling-down on more of the same will not improve results.  Rather, we need to keep our eyes focused on innovation and transformation, looking at how we can work differently to keep-up with the changes around us.

And here is the big a-ha I would like to share – as we have been committed to doing things differently, and as we have used the curriculum changes as a reason to think differently about how we organize learning, and as we have embraced a range of changes around the large theme of transformation our students actually do at least as well, if not better, on traditional tests and measures.  As we have embraced inquiry, new technologies and self-regulation, test scores have gone up.     You don’t have to narrow your thinking to just try to get better, when you look at being different, the results will come along!

Here is to a year of continuing to be better but getting better while we are committed to looking to do things differently.

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Uber

I often wonder – is it out there?

Is there some disruption that I just haven’t noticed?

Are we really just tinkering around the edges?

Is my friend Yong Zhao right – have we just maximized the old system and not really considered how we move to the new system?

I have 186 posts tagged “change” (actually 187 after this one) with them speaking to the small and large transformations happening around us in education. In recent posts I have looked at topics including the changing role of technology, new curriculum in British Columbia that is focused on big ideas and core competencies, and reporting changes that attempt to give better and more timely feedback to students and parents.

As I write these posts, I find myself reading more about the changes happening around us outside of education.  I try to get my head around the future of transportation in an era of autonomous cars, the future of medicine when the services of a doctor and hospital can largely be carried out at home through digital medicine,  and the state of our world if 100 becomes the new 60.

And while some of these changes are still hard to bring to focus, we have so many examples of shifts in industry all around us.  There are many long lists available showing all of these changes.  I know when I buy a book I go to Amazon not my local retailer.  When I want to look for used items for sale I search Craigslist not the Classifieds.  In Denver a few weeks ago, I never thought of getting a taxi, and Uber was my go-to.  Our television conversations are less and less about cable and more and more about Netflix.  And just a couple of months ago a friend showed me airbnb (I am a little behind) and I can’t see why I would go back to looking for travel accommodations in the old ways anymore.

And that brings me back to education.  If you have followed my posts, or heard me speak, I often make the point that in this rapid change happening around teaching, learning and schools, there is some satisfaction and relief that schools are not looking largely different.  We find it reassuring.  Schools also perform a crucial role as a community gathering place and the skills are really more about how we live and get along with each other as they are about some finite academic outputs.

That said, I wonder if I am missing something.  Or maybe rationalizing.  I imagine those in other disrupted fields also thought it couldn’t happen to them.  I did think that the Khan Academy might be the disruption to our K-12 system.  The Khan Academy has many of the features associated with other disruptions – being free, digital and widely available.  I think the Khan Academy is interesting and important, but it is not our Uber.

I am left wondering, are we the exception to the rule? Is there enough in the value of education the way it is largely done now to allow it to continue to survive and thrive or am I missing something.

This kind of thinking can make your head hurt.  It is time to go back to thinking about school timetables, textbooks and the kind of desks we want for our classes.  It is far less scary.

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report-card

It is the time of year when many make fearless predictions about the school year ahead.  The news is full of “must have” lists for the fall — from clothing  to technology.  Let me join the chorus of those making grand proclamations and say that this school year is setting up to be “the year of the report card.”

There are many issues to pick from in BC.  It is always easy to say labour issues will dominate the news and education conversations, but we are in the midst of quite a large transformation in BC and it is a moveable feast.  Some of the items that I think will make news this year include:

Curriculum — There will be drafts of a new K-9 curriculum in seven areas:  English Language Arts, Francais Langue, Arts Education, Math, Science, Social Studies and Health and Physical Education.  In the past, curriculum had been on long cycles with one or two new curriculums released each year. This year, we will see drafts of all of these documents in the fall with the promise of other grades to follow.

Provincial Assessment — An advisory group which began their work in spring 2013, led by the Education Deans from SFU and UBC,  will conclude their work this fall.  Their recommendations could lead to changes with long-standing programs including FSAs and the Grade 10-12 government program exams.

Graduation Program — Last year, there was a province-wide consultation regarding the graduation program, which will continue to be refined this fall. By spring 2014, we might see recommendations for changes to the current program.

And those three “meaty” items are just the beginning.  There will be more discussion and piloting of special education innovation projects, on improving Aboriginal education, the ongoing focus on bullying through ERASE, sustained efforts with early reading, and a lot about skills and trades programs.

So with all of that, why “the year of the report card?”

While some of the other topics can quickly become philosophical or “edu-speak”, everyone (students, parents, educators, community) understands report cards. There are few things more core to education than report cards. Report cards are also a symbol of “the system.”  In many ways, report cards have not changed much for our kids than from those their parents received.  Three times a year, a brown envelope goes home with brief comments on a student’s success in prescribed areas; for older students, a series of numbers and letters quantify the most recent term.  Parents read and re-read each comment for insight, meaning, and possibly comparing the letters and numbers to those of the neighbours’ kids as well.

But something is happening . . .

As schools change, and our beliefs about learning evolve, a lot of people are asking about report cards.  In BC, some people are not simply talking about report cards, they’re doing something about them.   In Maple Ridge- Pitt Meadows, for example:

Elementary school teachers  . . . will no longer be required to grade students with an A, C+ or D.  Wednesday, the local school board approved a new elementary reporting alternate option, termed a student-inclusive conferencing model.  It will see teachers meet with students and parents to discuss progress, and an increased emphasis on student self-assessment. . . . Committee members developed a process intended to open dialogue between parent, child and teacher. The conferences celebrate strengths, talk about learning needs, and set future goals. The report is filled out in a more consultative process. The committee members say it has an obvious effect on young learners.  “Even our kindergarten students are setting goals for themselves,” said Vandergugten.  “And not a single parent asked for a letter grade. No longer are they an A, B or C student.”

Maple-Ridge – Pitt Meadows, is not the only place seriously looking at report cards. These conversations are happening in schools across the province, and I am also hearing more questions from our own staff and parents.  And they are good questions — If what we know about assessment has changed, shouldn’t how we report change with it?  As new curriculum is introduced, should we continue to report on the same areas as we have in the past?  With all of our technology, is there not a better way to give timely information than through a paper report card three times a year?

Reports from the schools and districts that have made the change have been very positive; there has been a great response from students, parents and staff.  But then there is the other side of the discussion, like “I did just fine with report cards with letter grades so why change for my kids?”  It is actually an excellent discussion.  As we continue to look at report cards, we talk about what we value, how and what we assess and what content is most important.  We also talk about the balance between some standard benchmarks for students and personalized learning.

I have shared some thinking on this before, in some of my parenting wishes for my child’s schooling.  There is more constructive work we can do, starting at the elementary level, to de-emphasize the ranking and sorting, increase the self-assessment and goal setting, and to find new models that  will make the “reporting” more timely, thoughtful, relevent and learning-focussed.

Talking about report cards is simple, and the reason why I think they will be such a hot topic this year. We have all received them and we all have stories about and experiences with them. But the beauty of the discussion is lying just below the surface of a rich discussion on learning and the school system we want for our kids.

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In a recent session with Al Bertani and Jane Creasy from the Innovation Unit (out of the United Kingdom) they shared a 21st Century Leadership Framework for transformation based on work outcomes from The Hay Group.   What I liked about the Framework is that it isn’t just a business model adopted for education, but an education model that aligns with the system transformation currently being widely discussed around the world.   Here is a summary slide of the key competencies:

Each of the nine areas are further broken down into three descriptors. I find these 27 points to be very helpful in self-assessment as I look at my own leadership.  It is also helpful to think of our team in the district, and the importance of the complimentary skills they bring to the table in covering these key areas. Below are the 27 descriptors as well as a rudimentary self-evaluation; points in green are what I see as areas of strength, red is for areas of growth:

Collaborative

•Engages others actively in co-defining the path to change
•Proactively builds strong relationships with peers and others
•Manages conflict and reconciles differences
Visionary
•Develops a sense of urgency to stimulate action for transformation
•Communicates a clear and compelling sense of direction
•Generates enthusiasm and commitment in others

Energetic

•Maintains energy in driving the transformation process
•Sustains active engagement, and stays the course in the transformation process
•Calibrates the pace of transformation efforts to ensure progress
Confident and Courageous
•Believes they can make a difference as a leader
•Provides a forthright and accurate assessment of their own skills and abilities
•Challenges the status quo, even when it is personally risky to do so
Resilient
•Manages their emotions in difficult situations
•Places problems and challenges into proper perspective
•Recovers rapidly after setbacks
Outward Facing
•Eager to learn and be exposed to new ideas
•Models tolerance, curiosity, and inquiry
•Actively seeks out connections, resources, and partnerships to support transformation efforts
Politically Astute
•Analyzes the motives and interests of constituencies and stakeholders
•Matches influence strategies for the circumstance and constituency
•Builds alliances and coalitions with individuals, groups, and organizations
Systems Thinker
•Sees connections between and among systems and sub-systems
•Conceptualizes trends, patterns, and issues across boundaries
•Demonstrates tolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty during the transformation process
Technologically Literate
•Effectively uses technology and a variety of social media to promote transformation
•Understands how to communicate and lead in a hyper-connected world
•Leverages creative approaches and designs using technology support
  ,
Whether a student, teacher or parent, it is important for each of us to look at what we bring to the table, be honest about our areas of strength, and build strong teams across roles and geography to lead system transformation.
In their recent book As One,  James Quigley and Mehrdad Baghai make the case that “our world is as much about cooperation as it is about conflict; as much about collaboration as competition. Yet our knowledge of collective behavior is still relatively slim.”
I have heard many presenters (including myself) exclaim that it is an exciting time to be in education. However, in leading system transformation, we need to bring collective action, capitalizing on our individual strengths to turn this excitement into something more tangible.

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