Getting to Second Order Change and Beyond
Director of Schools – The world in which we now live is no longer as predictable and constant as it once was. Welcome to the ever changing 21st century.
Education has not been spared in this wind of change driven by exciting new research, the move towards the creation of information and knowledge, advances in technology, instructional design and how people learn. Schools are being tasked to prepare our young people for the future that possesses no boundaries and limitations. Faced with this daunting challenge, are we ready to reach beyond what is merely simple, traditional and customary? Can we truly make extraordinary changes in our schools and classrooms that are meaningful, inspiring and engaging? This will require a shift in our thinking and mental models.
So how do we this?
This type of change requires systemic thinking, not individual or siloed thinking. The power of a collective group of people is immeasurable and as groups of people journey forward, we will need to better understand how to get to second order change and beyond.
First order change consists of improving what already exists. With little learning required, this change is consistent with our current behaviors, beliefs and values. The changes are low level, do not challenge practice or the organization in any significant way, and can be reversible. For example, in the case of an orchard tree, it’s like reaching for low-level fruit that can be collected without much effort.
Second order change is creating something totally new. This is characterized by a fundamental redesign and a new way of thinking and doing. Although there is still some resemblance to the previous state of business, there is clearly a state of disruption that is evident and welcomed. When we think back to that orchard tree, this requires reaching for fruit at the top of the tree with determination and great effort. The stretch to reach this height creates synergy, and breaks us out of our old patterns and experiences. It is here that we look upward and truly see opportunities.
Third and fourth order change means going deeper with tremendous creativity. At these levels, what comes to exist does not resemble past models. There is a disposition to inquiry and change in beliefs, values and our understanding of “school” and “learning”. Problems are reframed as possibilities and viewed as positive. The status quo is not accepted as routine. Here, we no longer have a single fruit tree, rather an orchard of rich and diverse vegetation, plants and trees.
There is clearly a transformation taking place around the world and schools have a moral imperative to be front and centre, supporting students as citizens of the future. Educators must take a pivotal role in the determination, design and implementation. If we do not step forward and take a lead role, others certainly will on our behalf. In order to be successful, we need leadership that is open, transparent, engaging and listens to the various voices, and yet able to make the call to move forward. It is about transforming learning – for every student – everywhere.
All great things take time and energy. The change we are talking about is worth it. If we want better for our schools, our classrooms, our teachers and ultimately our students, we all need to say yes to change.
Are you ready to reach for the top fruit? Let’s all reach together.
Superintendent of Schools – On Monday, Oct. 16, voters from across Alberta elected new mayors, councilors and trustees and the shape of local government changed. In RVS, due to ward boundary changes and incumbents choosing not to seek re-election, we were going to have a minimum of five new trustees on our Board of eight. A few of us waited up until the wee hours on Tuesday, Oct. 17 to see the final results. At that moment we had three acclaimed trustees and five trustee elects, and within those eight we had three veteran trustees (we don’t call them “old” trustees) and five first time trustees.
On Friday, Oct. 20, the results became official and our eight trustees were sworn in / affirmed at a public ceremony at our Education Centre on Tuesday, Oct. 24. Upon swearing in, the “old” Board finished their work and a “new” Board was formed. Congratulations to our new trustees and thank you so much to our former trustees.
While the eight officially were trustees on Oct. 24, the work had already started. Emails were flying around 1 a.m. on Oct. 17 as I congratulated them on their elections/acclamation and asked them to book a bunch of dates in their calendar. We had two orientation type events prior to the election date for all candidates. We had our first official orientation session on Thursday, Oct. 19 where we spent time getting to know each other, walked through the orientation plan, dealt with some of the required paperwork and forms, got them setup with technology, and walked through the swearing in ceremony.
Our second full day of orientation was on Tuesday, Oct. 24 where we discussed topics such as: trustee code of conduct, conflict of interest, organization meeting, how board meetings are organized, their role in emergency school closures related to inclement weather, how to do their own timesheets/expenses, and previous motions from the past couple of years. Then they had pictures taken. It was an incredibly busy day and we ran out of time so some other topics will need to be rescheduled.
The third orientation day was Thursday, Oct. 26 where the Board and myself spent the majority of the day with Dr. Leroy Sloan. The focus was on discussing what makes effective governance and clarifying the roles of trustees, the corporate Board and the Superintendent. Leroy connected the legislative framework that boards operate under along with a governance framework. A number of key policies were discussed, all intermixed with a bunch of interesting stories from Leroy. Trustees were also introduced and had a brief “meet and greet” event with Education Centre staff late in the day.
The orientation work continues with three days of Alberta School Boards Association work in late November followed by specific orientation meetings in December and January. We also integrate at least one orientation item after every Board meeting starting on Nov. 16 until April.
Being a trustee is tough work and, as staff, we work hard and spend lots of time early in the term to help trustees get off to a great start.
Technology for Learning Secretary – As a teenager, I can remember laughing at my parents for being stuck in a ‘rut’ – always having the same routine, making the same meals, rarely venturing outside their own bubble. It was even more amusing when something unexpectedly changed, such as going from VCR and beta machines to DVDs and how it threw them for a loop, the world seemingly coming to an end. Fast forward 30 years and I seem to be suffering from the same condition, not nearly as funny now.
Change is inevitable; it happens all the time whether it be big or small and yet many of us seem so ill equipped to deal with it. One small bump of turbulence and everyone is screaming that the plane is going down. Many of us naturally go to the worst case scenario, that whatever the change is, it’s going to be too hard, it’s going to ruin everything, and so on. Fear of the unknown affects not only us, but our reactions directly impact and influence those around us – our children, coworkers, friends and family. People, especially children, adopt the same views on change that the adults in their world project outwardly, which can cause a snowball effect of negativity.
Maybe think about it like this: You are the pilot of the Boeing 747 and all of the passengers and crew are your family, coworkers, and friends. To keep the plane in the air, you must remain calm during bouts of turbulence and be flexible and adaptable when there’s a change in path. This keeps you steady and calm. Knowing the ins and outs of your plane helps you make decisions. If you don’t know something, you research it. Change is absolutely the same.
If you are a prepared and unruffled pilot, your passengers and crew will remain calm as well. If your plane needs to be routed to another airport due to bad weather and turbulence, assuring your passengers that everything is alright and that they will make all their other connections will help ensure that they aren’t having meltdowns and scrambling for the oxygen masks. Change doesn’t automatically mean negative things. Often it can lead to very positive outcomes and experiences. By embracing the beast called ‘change’, you are preparing yourself to handle it successfully and be a model for those around you.
Education and technology are constantly evolving and changing. By embracing advancements in curriculum, teaching, and technology, the end result will be a better educational experience for students. By communicating those changes and making the transitions seamless, both staff and students will be better equipped to embrace them as well. By working collaboratively, we can tame the scary beast and transform it into a fuzzy, purring kitten.
Superintendent of Schools – During difficult times, often we get to see the very best in people. In the past few weeks I’ve seen a number of RVS family members hit with incredibly difficult circumstances. In each case, I saw other RVS family members step up to lead efforts to try and help those impacted families. These are the moments that make me especially proud to be part of the RVS team.
RVS staff, by the nature of our sector, enjoy serving others. We serve our communities, local families and our students. So many staff volunteer their time in countless ways to make a positive difference. It is part of the culture of our schools and of RVS.
Given our work, it is easy to be proud of the work we do. We are not perfect, but our work is noble and makes a difference in the lives of many. Every RVS team member contributes and it is through those varied contributions that we make a difference. With no disrespect to other professionals, we are not about a corporate bottom line, not about stock market value, not about productivity ratios, not about quarterly sales. You only have to spend one day in a school or watch the #rvsed hashtag for one day on Twitter to get a flavour of the difference we make each and every day.
When fellow RVS team members are in need, we step up to the plate. When a student needs some winter boots, our staff reach out to help make it happen. When a tragedy happens in a community, we join in to be part of the healing and help others. People pitch in, dig deep and give of themselves. It is incredibly moving to see and be part of.
Now we are not alone in these efforts. We have so many amazing partners, organizations and individuals that we collaborate with to help others. We have many corporate and non-profit partners who help us feed kids daily. Other partners help create learning opportunities that we could never offer on our own. Countless unsung heroes volunteer in our schools on a daily basis to help. We amplify each other’s efforts to make a larger impact in our communities. For all of this, we are thankful for your assistance.
So, while turkey and pumpkin pie are distant memories, I am thankful and grateful for our RVS staff who give so much of themselves to make a difference. I am very proud to say I am part of the RVS family.
Students Hold Local Candidates to Task in All Candidates Forum
Amrit Rai Nannan and Anna Jensdottir, Meadowbrook School and Heloise Lorimer School Teachers – What better opportunity to get students interested in our democratic process than to let them grill local candidates? On October 11th, that’s precisely what grade six students from Heloise Lorimer and Meadowbrook Schools in Airdrie were invited to do. As teachers, we saw an incredible teaching opportunity, so we organized our very own political forum so that students would have the opportunity to interact directly with Airdrie’s political candidates and more importantly get their questions answered face to face.
We started off hoping to get one or two mayoral candidates and a few councillor candidates out. If we were lucky, the school trustees would be willing to join as well. CIVIX (a non partisan organization whose goal is to create civically engaged future voters) pitched in to provide our schools with the Student Votes Program. Scouring the internet we were able to scrape together contact information. The overwhelming response we received from the candidates was beyond what we imagined – three mayoral candidates, 13 councillor candidates and four school trustees. Excited talk about who was coming started to dominate the classroom discussion and students even started reaching out to candidates on their own. At this point we knew the students had taken ownership of their learning and we had succeeded in our goal of engaging the students in the electoral process.
Frequently, adults and students see candidates as foreign beings that are not approachable. We wanted to break down these walls and show students that the political process is accessible and relevant to them too. We have found that students feel that their voice is not heard because it cannot be translated into a vote on election day. This leaves them feeling alienated and frequently apathetic. After being involved in this spectacular day, students have gained a new appreciation for the power of civic engagement. Our students have been out and about in the community, discussing the issues with their parents and their aspiring representatives. Not only have they actively shown their own influence in our city, but they’ve also gained experiences that will follow them as they grow into our next generation of responsible voters.
The old adage says that “it takes a village,” and for us, it was a proud moment to see the whole village show up for our students.
View the Student Votes results for Airdrie here.