Friday, 26 January 2018

My thoughts on "Me Too."

Today on Twitter Will Richardson asked about the "Me Too" campaign and how it is playing out in our schools. He asked if we are talking about it with our students. The tweet struck a cord with me and I decided to weigh in.
Growing up as a young woman in the 70's I totally bought into the feminist belief that I could be anything I wanted to be if I just tried hard enough. I believed my gender was immaterial and I set out to create my path ensuring I stayed true to myself. I encountered obstacles, obstacles just because I was a female but I wouldn't allow those obstacles to derail my way forward.
As I watch the "Me Too" campaign grow I realize I was fortunate. I was harassed, treated differently because I was female, ridiculed for being promoted and had rumours spread about me that I must have slept with this supervisor or this Principal but I was never sexually assaulted. I remember feeling helpless in some of these situations, feeling like I had no one to turn to, but I never experienced the depth of victimization being described by so many of the women coming forward. 
You might wonder why I am writing about this and it is because I believe in the power of educators to make a difference in the growing issue rising up before us. 
In Change.School we talk about inspiring our young people to take control of their learning and create their own answers and solutions to the issues of the day. We debate the meaning of formal schooling and we even wonder if the structure of schools will continue to be a valuable social construct. To this one I say I hope so. I believe schools play a bigger role than just being the place where knowledge acquisition happens, I think it is also one of the most important places for establishing the kind of communities we all want to live in. It is a place where we talk about kindness, empathy, character, equity, and inclusion. I believe it is the place where we need to lay bare the issue of "Me Too."
Gender inequality still remains one of the most pervasive issues of our world. Rape is seen as a weapon of war. Women are still subservient in many of the countries around the globe, pay equity is still a debated issue and in North America where I believed women were viewed as equals, the growing "Me Too" campaign says otherwise.
I believe two of the most important things we teach in school, and must continue to teach, are equity and respect. We need to deconstruct with our students the events happening around us, debate issues of gender and unearth deep seated biases. Currently we are surrounded by negative role models and we are desperately in need of a hero. Be the hero, take these issues on. They are Modern Learning issues because the outcome will define the society of the future.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Why Modern Learning is so important right now!

There is a lot of reference to Modern Learning as being the key to the future for our children in our changing world. Many scholars point to the fact that many of the jobs our students will do in the future haven't even been invented yet so we must support them in developing skills as learners, collaborators, and team players who are creative, innovative and adaptable. All of which I agree with but I also feel Modern Learning is essential to right now.

This morning I woke up to yet another White House scandal. Part of me wants to ignore anything and everything coming out of the White House and the other part of me is offended by the sullying of a symbol of leadership I have always respected and admired. I am not naive, there have been White House scandals in the past, but I don't think I have ever witnessed the degradation of the office of the President in such a deliberate manner. One of my daughters is a journalist and I have convinced her to read "All the President's Men" because I think it provides a powerful demonstration of the power of the Press to inform. I agree with Oprah when she says she has never valued the press more and its important role of keeping us informed. There will always be fake news, grocery store tabloids have made a fortune on just that, but a free, unfettered press is one of the corner stones of a democratic society. So what does all this have to do with Modern Learning?

Modern Learning provides a forum for student voice and choice. It provides the opportunity for students to tackle big issues, learn about them using resources and voices beyond the classroom environment and then encourages them to do something with their learning. Creating a product for a real audience is a critical piece in Modern Learning. It is the piece that provides students with a sense of efficacy and power.

It is easy in this day and age to feel overwhelmed by all of the negativity we are continually bombarded with. Many are documenting the growing problem of depression among our young people and the finger is getting pointed directly at cell phones, technology and social media. During the First World War families could wait months before hearing about battles that may have taken the lives of their loved ones. Today we can witness battles in real time. When young people are surrounded by conflict and complete disregard for human dignity it is not surprising many might be feeling hopeless.

Through Modern Learning we can learn with our young people and support them in taking action. We can show them they don't have to be the solution but they can be part of the solution. We can fill them with optimism and the desire to make change. I was heartened to see Colleges in the States are already rallying the youth vote. They will be using technology and social media to encourage young people to commit to making a difference by casting their votes. It is a perfect example of how social media can support a movement for change. It can inspire, motivate and create positive energy.

Modern Learning requires us as teachers to actively participate in the environments where our students dwell. To ask big questions, challenge the "fake news" and inspire students to believe in a better future. Modern Learning isn't just about preparing for the future, it is about dealing with the now.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. 

Margaret Mead

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Why is innovating in education so hard!!!

The other night I happened upon a discussion thread in Twitter that included some of the young teachers I worked with in Peel. They are both outstanding Modern Learning educators and they have been doing some truly cutting edge things with amazing results. The thread of the conversation was very negative, declaring some schools just can't change, and expressed fatigue at always feeling on the defensive. Me being me, I launched into the conversation declaring I didn't believe there were schools out there that just couldn't change, and truly I don't. My two young teachers both responded saying yes but it is so hard to constantly feel you have to defend what you are doing. They talked about how the status quo sometimes looked good. I know these two young folks and they won't turn back, but I also understand how they are feeling.

There is perhaps no more conservative profession, with the exception of perhaps accountants, than educators. We are so risk adverse that investment firms were actively marketing educators in the 1990's because we were the most under-represented profession in the stock market. We like nice comfortable savings accounts and GICs, nothing too risky for us.

Consider what I have just written, the people responsible for educating the future leaders of society, the innovators, the solvers of the world's problems are the most conservative, risk adverse profession out there.

I have come to accept I am an innovator but not for the sake of innovation. If there was a way to do things more effectively for the students I served then I was willing to give it a try. Somehow I was fortunate enough to always surround myself with people who thought like me and as a Principal I fostered a culture of Yes long before I even knew what it was.

Given the information I shared in paragraph two you have to know it wasn't an easy journey. I had people walk into my school to see what we were doing, take one look, a look mind you, and walk right out without even waiting for an explanation. I have had Superintendent's call me to tell me what my teachers were doing wasn't quite supported by the Board and I have had to stand up for what I believed was the right thing to do. It is important to realize I didn't just dream up these innovations, like the young teachers I mentioned above, the innovations were well supported by research and we continued to modify our approaches based on what we learned through our implementations. At the end of the day it had to make a difference for the students we served and when we proved it did, suddenly others were jumping on the bandwagon. In the meantime there was lots of conflict, lots of need to defend what we were doing, and a need for me as the leader of my school to stand up and support my teachers.

I always find it interesting when a teacher says to me, "but they won't let me." I have often wondered, who is they??? If what you are doing is good for kids, if they are learning and able to demonstrate their learning at an exemplary level, who is going to challenge you??

The two teachers I have mentioned above are exemplary and I expect they will be outstanding formal leaders in the future, but for now they are pedagogical leaders blazing the trail towards Modern Learning and I suspect they are making lots of other educators feel uncomfortable. One of the teachers is in his second year of going grade-less and oddly enough the world has not come to an end. On the contrary people are reaching out to him from many different locales asking him to talk about his journey. The other young teacher is practicing the fundamentals of Modern Learning pedagogy in her classroom on a daily basis. At the beginning of the year one parent wanted his child removed from her class because he found her methods so unorthodox. Now, the same parent is trying to convince the Principal to have the teacher loop up to the next grade with her class including his child.

Nothing is more predictable than school and Modern Learning doesn't represent a reform but, as Sir Ken Robinson would say, it is a transformation. Classes don't look the same, they don't sound the same, the hierarchical structures are different and portfolios are replacing grades. What??????

Why are we doing it? Because it is right for kids. Hang in my young friends, transformation is never easy but when it is proving to make a difference for the children we have a passion for serving it is worth every minute of the struggle.

Monday, 29 May 2017

My Change.School promise - to start blogging again

I just finished the Change.School professional learning session and I am in mourning that it is over. To have the opportunity to interact with brilliant individuals and exchange ideas every week, three times a week, for 8 weeks, was just amazing. As the weeks wore on I realized I had lots of things to share from my own leadership journey and the things I have learned about change and implementation.

The Modern Learners movement is perhaps one of the biggest potential changes we have ever seen in education and understanding how leadership and change theory will impact the success of the implementation is critical. I just sent two videos, made by two of my schools almost 4 years ago, to one of my cohorts in Change.School 1. After I had sent them I watched the videos and I realized just how much my thinking, and the thinking of my two Principals featured in the videos, has changed. I just sent both Principals the challenge to watch the videos again and tell me what they would add, change, or say differently. I think that is what makes this work so exciting and so scary to many people. Our thinking isn't static. As we work to implement our creative and innovative ideas, we learn and our paths change. An implementation evolves, it doesn't mean we have changed focus, rather it means our thinking has grown.

Finally I think the big challenge that I can also contribute some thoughts too is the fact that the Modern Learner movement is not about some students, it is about all students. One of my mentors, Will Richardson, has some concerns about the growth mindset idea but for me it is a critical piece. If teachers are not approaching their work with a growth mindset, with a belief that all students can be creative, innovative and add to the learning conversation, then we have a major problem. Learning is about hope, it is about questions, it is about ideas, and it is often about challenging the status quo. If all educators don't possess these critical attributes then how can they support their students in cultivating theirs.

So, I am back to blogging. Thank you Change.School for re-invigorating my voice.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

My New Year's resolution

One of my resolutions for 2016 is to visit a different school every Friday afternoon and then blog about the great things I see. As a 21C committee, we have been brainstorming about different ways to share the great teaching and learning happening in our schools using technology. My resolution does two things, it helps to spread some great stories of creativity and innovation in the support of student success, and it allows me to model blogging as an effective communication, sharing tool.

Last Monday, January 18, I toured three of our High Schools with two of our Apple support people. The Apple folks wanted to get a feel for the range of implementation of 21C strategies in our High Schools so they could map out a plan to support us in moving forward. Our visits took us to Castlebrook Secondary School, Turner Fenton Secondary School and Meadowvale Secondary School. Perhaps the best part of the visits was to see three High Schools hard at working creating their 21C visions but all three schools are at different places on the continuum.

We started out our morning at Castlebrook Secondary School. Castlebrook is a relatively new secondary school whose vision upon opening was to create a 21C school. As we toured some of the classes, it was exciting to see the creative, cross-curricular projects students were engaged in and how they used technology to enhance their learning.

The first classroom we went into was a design classroom where students were given a design challenge by the teacher. The students used computers to investigate the object they were to design, they drew a sketch of their design, transferred it to the computer, finally producing their design through the use of a 3D printer. It was so interesting to see students so engaged they failed to even look up when a group of visitors entered the room.

We also visited the robotics program where the staff and students had just returned from winning another contest, and our final visit was to the broadcast program. In this program, students were working with their very talented teachers to create professional quality productions. The creativity being demonstrated by the students and the sophistication of the products they produced were truly exciting to see.

Our second visit was to Turner Fenton Secondary School to meet with the school's innovation committee. Turner is at a very different stage of implementation compared to Castlebrook, but the excitement of the committee and the vision they shared for the directions they would like to take moving forward, equalled the enthusiasm we saw at both of the other schools we visited. My Apple friends were able to make suggestions and offer supports to the innovation committee. Shawn Lennie, from Apple, offered to set up some visits for the committee in order to add to their understandings of 21C pedagogy.

Our final visit of the day was to Meadowvale Secondary School. I had been told Meadowvale staff were quietly working away and accomplishing amazing things. When we arrived, we were greeted by the Vice Principal of the school and her enthusiasm and energy were mirrored by all of the other staff we met that day. While the school is in the early stages of really understanding 21C pedagogy, their progress in making tech equitably accessible and providing stimulating environments for teachers and students to work in were very evident. Meadowvale wants to make sure the foundational pieces are in place to enable their work to grow.

Meadowvale has the International Business and Technology regional program in the school and the staff involved in teaching the program are very technologically proficient. Meadowvale has leveraged the talent of these teachers to provide "lunch and learns'" and other professional development opportunities to support the growth of other staff. The Vice Principal lauded the enthusiasm she has seen on staff and the high number of teachers who have availed themselves of these opportunities. Meadowvale is definitely a school on the move and I look forward to visiting again in a few months to see the progress they have made.

For my first day of visits, I was very encouraged and excited to see such wonderful things happening in our schools. My next scheduled visit is on Friday to check out some outstanding work happening in some of our kindergarten classes. I am looking forward to sharing that story and the other amazing stories I will get to see in my visits throughout the rest of this school year.

Why shared leadership is so important when implementing a new initiative!

I recently made a decision to change the leadership of the Peel 21st Century Teaching and Learning committee. I am passionate and committed to moving the 21st Century T&L agenda forward but that passion needs to be shared by the System as a whole.

I want 21C to land. I truly believe it is the change that needs to happen in our schools to re-culture teaching and learning. In five years I want to be able to walk into any classroom in the Peel Board and see the principles of 21C alive and well. I, though, am not a classroom practitioner. I am not a school Principal but I am a System Leader with a responsibility to create a shared vision in support of the 21st C journey. To ensure the sustainability of the vision and initiative, I have passed the chair of the committee to 2 Principals and 1 Vice Principal who are as committed, if not more committed, to the 21st C vision.

To keep the vision alive and to maintain momentum, the impetus needs to reside with Principals and teachers. There has to be collective commitment and a shared belief that 21C is the way of the future. The committee continues to grow and every meeting new people join and swell our ranks. The committee is now made up of teachers, IT/RTs, Principals, Vice Principals, members from our LTSS department, Superintendents of Education and Business. Membership is open and all are welcome. In the meetings voices have equal weight. By sharing the leadership, sharing voice and building a shared vision with collaborative decision making, I believe our "blue sky" dreams will become reality.

In order to ensure succession planning, the move to share the leadership and put it where it belongs, in the field, is the right thing to do. The last thing I need to work on is to rein in my passionate comments and allow the vision to unfold based on the guidance of the new leadership. It is hard but for a change this immense it needs to be owned by the grass roots.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Reflections from 2015

I have been reflecting on this last day of 2015 on what I think has been the most impactful educational strategy for me and my schools this year. Without hesitation I would say having a growth mindset.

 All of the schools in my Superintendency serve needy populations.  Often teachers and administrators become caught up in the circumstances affecting the lives of their students over which they have no control and they lose sight of what they can control. Educators feel powerless to create positive change for their students and they accept mediocre results as the best their children can do. They love them, they feed them, sometimes they cloth them but they really don't have very high expectations for their students academically.

Such was the belief of many of the teachers in my superintendency. They were hard working, committed teachers doing the best they could given the children they taught but they didn't really see how it could be any different. Beginning to look at things through the lens of growth mindset became a game changer for many of my schools and I believe it will continue to be so in 2016.

Some of my administrators went through an exercise with their teachers looking at what they could control and what they couldn't. When the staff collectively began to look at what was within their control, amazing things started to happen. Teachers and administrators started to look at their instruction strategies. They used "If and Then" statements to challenge themselves based on what the student work told them and they used the 30 day challenge concept as a frame for their work. Collaboration became a powerful tool with student work at the table and administrators worked to become co-learners along side their teachers. They were also gifted with talented instructional coaches to help guide the work.

Believing that we, as educators could make a difference for our children, was a liberating concept. The belief that collectively we are much stronger than working alone became our modus operandi and in some of my neediest schools we began to see change.

In 2016 I think growth mindset will still be a powerful tool for helping us to move forward. The challenge for me as a superintendent will be to assist my Principals in being as open and as vulnerable as they have asked their teachers to be.

As administrators we need be co-learners and accept that collectively we are much stronger than we are individually. My motto has always been, "If we want them to do it, we have to model it," and I believe that is so true in this particular instance. So, in January, we will begin. We will be setting our "If and Then, statements as administrators. We will learn what collaborative inquiry looks like for leaders in a System, and we will embark on our own growth mindset adventure for the benefit of our students.

How will we measure our success you might be asking?? By the improvement of our weakest schools because we are a team!

Best Wishes for a Happy and Successful New Year!!