Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ideas and Action (after the Anger)

I have been reflecting about the power I have to drive positive change in my school board - the ‘action’ part of the #makeschooldifferent conversation. I enjoyed reading @Dunlop_Sue’s ‘So Now What?’ post that addresses this issue, and thought that I should write explicitly about what I can do to address some of the issues I raised in my original #makeschooldifferent post. Although I am one person, my central role gives me the potential to reach a large number of teachers and students, and I want to make sure I am carrying out my work with purpose.

The following is a list of four things that have become important to me in my work with teachers this year. These are things that I have grown passionate about. These are things that I love to discuss and debate with my colleagues. These are the things that I read about in my spare time. These are the things that I want to focus on in the months to come.

Professional Learning for the Love of It!
One of the frustrations I have voiced this year is the perceived reluctance of some teachers to push their own learning forward. Ideally, school culture would place a high importance on continual improvement in teaching practice and growth in the ability to use new technology in the classroom. Members of my team have run three free events this year to help create an environment that encourages learning for learning’s sake. EdcampBarrie, PUSH Your Learning Conference (featuring GAFE), and our upcoming Arts, Equityand Innovation Conference. These events have helped create a community of learners, and I look forward to seeing this type of learning continue in our school board. In my work with schools I want to help create communities of learning where the staff embraces the challenge to continually improve their practice without direct (and prescribed!) instruction from someone like me.

In my 11 years of teaching before this year, my assessment practices changed dramatically. Interestingly, I believe that my personal growth in the last 8 months has exceeded that of the previous 11 years. My understanding of triangulation of assessment has improved considerably. I know more about how to make use of digital tools to create a more complete picture of students’ learning. I am intrigued by the notion of ‘standards-based’ grading and the opportunity it allows teachers to shift their practice and provide more meaningful feedback. I have discovered that assessment can be a touchy subject, but I am prepared to have challenging discussions with teachers and encourage them to push their thinking.

Advocate for Student Voice
At the start of the year, @lowenesst was the person who brought the significance of student voice to my attention. Her advocacy for students was evident in many formal and informal meetings and her voice invariably helped us focus on what was most important. Now I find that I have internalized Louise’s message and find myself asking people to consider student voice (and choice). Some of my key growth moments this year have occurred in conversations with students, and I want to encourage teachers to engage in the kinds of conversations that will allow students to help drive change in our schools.

Inquiry-Based Learning
Working with teachers who are navigating the world of inquiry-based learning with their students has been challenging and rewarding. Giving students control over their learning while honouring the curriculum can present enormous challenges for first-timers. Imagining a classroom where exploration and creation (think Makerspace) are an integral part of the learning culture has huge potential to transform the student experience. I know can support teachers in building students’ inquiry learning skills and mindsets and encourage the teachers to take ‘safe’ risks as they get started in inquiry.

What are you doing to help #makeschooldifferent in your classroom, school, or school board? Share your ideas for how to take action!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

#MakeSchoolDifferent: Is it OK for anger to drive change?

I have enjoyed following the #makeschooldifferent discussion on Twitter and in the blogosphere. Scott McLeod (who initiated this conversation) has been working hard to compile responses to the ‘5 things to stop pretending in education’ prompt in this document. Take a minute and read through some of the list right now if you aren’t sure what I’m talking about. (Then come back here, please.)

When I took the challenge to add my voice to the #makeschooldifferent conversation it felt really good to speak honestly about some of my current areas of concern in my work with teachers. A few days after that post I was reading some other teachers’ posts when I became concerned about the tone of some of them. I revisited my own post and realized that it could be interpreted as being very negative.

After some reflection I decided to stop worrying about how my tone might be interpreted. Passionate opinions are required to drive positive change. I was reminded of this TED talkIn the talk, Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi describes how his outrage at the injustices of the caste system and child slavery in India prompted him to take action. His mantra? Anger. Idea. Action. His may seem like an extreme example, but it reminds us that strong emotions and a sense of injustice can help motivate us to improve our circumstances.

Do some of the voices in the #makeschooldifferent discussion sound a little angry? Yes. The anger has its root in the deep caring we have for our profession and for the well-being of our students. Anger is much better than indifference and complacence IF we direct our energy to help us find ways to make positive change.

How would you #makeschooldifferent? What issues in education raise your heart rate? Share your thinking. Get a little angry. Just don't forget to come up with ideas about how we can take action. Anger alone is not enough.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Let Students Help Drive Change

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about our efforts to consult with students to plan a large event as part of our board’s commitment to the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning global partnership. A group of 40 students from 13 different schools ranging from grade 4 to grade 12 gathered in a sunny library to discuss the meaning of deep learning and work on some guided inquiry projects while their parents, teachers, and administrators met elsewhere in the building.

As facilitators we did not know what to expect from these students. We did not know the majority of them personally and did not know what skills they were bringing to the table. We were not sure how much guidance they would need to use the computers and iPads, perform research, or create presentations to share their learning. We were not sure whether they would come to the event with inquiry mindsets, collaboration skills, or curiosity. Faced with so many unknowns our planning was uncomfortably open-ended; there were more question marks on the agenda than any of us would have liked.

We were very lucky to be joined by some special guests, whose presence at the event inspired students, staff and parents. Our guests were brothers; one a grade 12 student in our board, the other in university. They shared their personal story of how they loved to build and create as kids, and that in their desire to create they saw a need for a 3D printer. This technology was too expensive for them to purchase, so they solved this problem by building their own 3D printer. Their description of their desire to create something, their ability to become part of a global online open-source 3D printing community, their perseverance through difficulties, and their honest expression of pride in their work was truly inspiring for our students at the start of the day. A fan club quickly grew around the 3D printer with students drifting to and from the station throughout the day. Our guests' enthusiasm and willingness to answer questions never waned.

With the 3D-printer running in the background, our student cohort dove into their inquiry projects with as much confidence as we had hoped they would. Some student chose from a selection of open-ended inquiry questions while others created their own. Several groups tackled questions about designing better classrooms, libraries, and playgrounds. Other students set out to overhaul school in its entirety. One young lady came up with the recipe for success, using her cellphone to create a video to explain it to the world. A secondary student boldly explained in a recorded soliloquy why he thinks students fail in school (hint: it has something to do with suppressing students’ choices and interests). As facilitators we spent our time troubleshooting technology, documenting student work, and simply listening to students’ ideas and discoveries. It was hectic but blissful. It made me miss my classroom.

If I had my way I would have loved to keep these students together for a week or more, sharing their opinions and experiences with each other and trying to create a deeper understanding of the possibilities for our NPDL initiatives.

I would also love to extend this invitation beyond the realm of our designated NPDL schools and see student voice continue to play a larger role in shaping growth and learning in all of our school communities.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Make School Different: Five Things to Stop Pretending


Thanks to Louise for laying down this challenge for me, and thanks to my sister Beth; I read her '5' (my first) just last night.

When it comes to education...

1. ...we have to stop pretending that it is OK to avoid uncomfortable discussions about improving assessment practices. Yes, these conversations can be tension-filled. They will certainly challenge some firmly-held beliefs. Embrace the awkwardness. Relish the confusion. Accept that there is room for improvement.

2. ...we have to stop pretending that preparing students for standardized tests should ever take priority over student learning and well-being. As classroom teachers our job is to mentor, nurture, and inspire our students. Supporting their learning and well-being cannot take a back seat to test prep. Ever.

3. ...we have to stop pretending that students don't have a role to play in driving innovation in education. They are probably more open-minded about solutions than we are. At the very least, they will give us valuable feedback on how we're doing. At most, they should be at the heart of figuring out how to #makeschooldifferent.

4. ...we have to stop pretending that it is OK for teachers to wait for quality PD to be delivered in a tidy package. There are no excuses anymore. Stay after work and learn with your team. (That's right. I said it.) Get onto Twitter. Order a book from Amazon. Watch some TED talks. Attend a conference. Just do it!

5. ...we have to stop pretending that mastery of content knowledge is 'good enough' for teachers or students. Teachers who master content knowledge don't necessarily embrace good pedagogy. Students who master content knowledge don't necessarily have the skills they need to succeed as productive citizens. Time to level up.

It all started with Scott McLeod...http://dangerouslyirrelevant.org/2015/04/we-have-to-stop-pretending.html. Thanks, Scott!

I welcome your thoughts on my five. 

I would like to challenge @VP_Wilkinson, @HTheismeijer, @pcroteauirt, @LongthorneJess and @A_J_Golding to share theirs. 

Blog them, tweet them out one at a time...whatever works for you. Most importantly, pass it on!