A Glimpse of the Future

A Glimpse of the Future

Director of Human Resources – For those of us who haven’t spent much time on university campuses recently, the landscape has truly changed. Spending a few hours at the Werklund School of Education’s (University of Calgary) Interdisciplinary Learning Showcase last week left me energized and thrilled for the future of education! And it’s not just Werklund doing great work. Other institutions continue to chart new territory in learning and teaching, preparing tomorrow’s teachers for an ever-evolving classroom. Working directly with Mount Royal University, Ambrose University and Concordia University of Edmonton, I have the opportunity to learn first-hand of the great thought and planning going into teacher preparation programs throughout our province.

Last week’s Interdisciplinary Learning Showcase exemplified the potential that exists when we consider the possibilities in education. Second year students were challenged to develop engaging learning opportunities encompassing interdisciplinary rationale, in-depth collaboration with peers, a focus on all learners, inquiry and assessment.

Have you ever wondered about coyotes and people co-existing in Calgary? Or how Alberta’s heritage trees present links to our past? What about how society determines what is ethically acceptable in the current moment? Those are just a snapshot into the dozens of projects on display last week at the U of C! Learn more about what was showcased last week.

Having studied many, many years ago at the U of C, I can confirm today’s teacher preparation programs are very different from what I experienced many years ago. That’s not to suggest my experiences were inadequate; to the contrary, I believe I was well prepared for yesterday’s classrooms. When I look at the incredible work currently undertaken in Alberta’s universities, I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Is Anyone Paying Attention?

Is Anyone Paying Attention?

Principal, W.G. Murdoch School – This fall I’ve had the opportunity to transition into one of life’s most challenging roles: Hockey Dad. In between scoping out potential homes once my son makes it to the NHL (kidding) and running him around to rinks on Sunday morning at 7:00 AM, I’ve learned some important lessons.

Two times a week, Harrison takes the ice with 15 other keen five and six year olds to go through a variety of skating, shooting, and other drills intended to teach the little ones the basics of hockey. As parents, we’ve been encouraged to put our phones away and enjoy watching our kids play hockey. After a couple of practices, I see why. If Harrison got a nickel for every time he looked up at me or my wife for affirmation that what he was doing was special, he would be a rich man. Every circle of the ice, every shot on net, every time he catches a glimpse of one of us, the eyes go up to the stands, making sure we are watching.

Enjoying the groundbreaking ceremony at Building Futures

On one of those mornings, I reflected on how important giving students that same authentic audience is. As teachers (and parents) we’ve all been guilty of giving our kids ‘busy work’ to simply entertain them so we can have some time to ourselves. In my experience, the difference in the work received from ‘make work’ projects varies immensely from tasks that are designed with an authentic audience. Whether that audience is a potential client (like three of our students get to do this year with Building Futures) or an engaged classmate or teacher, ensuring timely, intentional feedback that occurs both during and after the task is critical. To relate it to the analogy of my son’s hockey, specific feedback about what I observed him doing on the ice, rather than “you did well son,” goes a long way.

No matter our age, we’re always looking for a level of affirmation that the work we’re doing matters. In the busyness of our days, let’s remember that our students care what we think about their work and that taking the time to show them that not only makes them feel validated, it also improves the learning environment.

 

W.G. Murdoch students learning about chemistry through hands on experiences with watermelons

Using Play Doh to learn about Plato in Origins of Western Philosophy

Reaching for the Top Fruit

Reaching for the Top Fruit

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.

The Journey to Inclusion

The Journey to Inclusion

Director of Learning Supports – Have you ever read a book that cast a reflection on a part of your life? When I opened One Without the Other, I was introduced to the teaching world of Shelley Moore. It resonated. The students, conversations and meetings described in the book felt familiar. More importantly, the clarity in the work created by Shelley and her students provided a good model on which to reflect upon where we are in RVS on the journey to inclusion. (Please read the book to find out where that is!)

It’s only been about 10 years since large-scale laptop use in schools was implemented. Since that time, the proliferation of digital tools in schools has changed the educational landscape. Only a few short years ago, it was a source of frustration for families and school staff to have to search through binders of visual symbols for students who had no other means of good communication. Today, we are able to condense massive volumes, visuals and text to speech onto the tiniest portable devices. The landscape in schools has moved beyond digital device use as well. However, as dramatically as we have changed, we are stuck in many ways too.

In a way, One Without the Other describes the first competency in an inclusive education system. How do we make inclusion real and authentic for each of us? This is the nature of the work in the Learning Department. The things we are doing and the ways in which we do them is showing promising practice in Rocky View Schools. We are in the beginnings of a new iteration in curriculum design that has the potential to improve how we educate our children in inclusive settings. When I think of the intersects between the work of our design, literacy, learning and diversity specialists, I am brought to the place where the real and authentic becomes apparent once the learning is made purposeful for each of our students. When we work with synergy in our schools and with our parents, then we see inclusive learning in action.

Make a Difference  – Student Leadership  – CSLC 2017

Make a Difference – Student Leadership – CSLC 2017

Director of Learning Services – Next week, a large delegation of high school student leaders and teachers from Rocky View Schools will be descending upon Waterloo, Ontario for the 33rd CSLC (Canadian Student Leadership Conference). This learning and leading event will be life altering for many.

When I think of the learning opportunities I have had as an educator, none is more memorable or remarkable than the career-imprinting event of the first-ever Canadian Student Leadership Conference hosted in Yorkton, Saskatchewan in September 1985. As a ‘wet behind the ears’ brand new teacher with all of three weeks of experience under my belt, I was asked by our assistant principal if I would like to accompany two incredibly accomplished grade 12 leadership students to this event. Without hesitation I said, “Sure!” not realizing that the conference, which 33 years later is now fondly referred to as CSLC (pronounced see-slick), would help define and shape my career in education as a teacher, coach, colleague, learner, administrator, director and community member across multiple jurisdictions.

Our flight out of Edmonton to Regina was exciting ‘back in the day.’ The quick flight was followed by a much lengthier van ride from Regina to Yorkton. In the van we were ‘starstruck’ as conference speakers, Jack Donohue, former Canadian National Men’s Basketball Team coach, and Pamela Wallin, host of CTV’s national morning news show ‘Canada AM’ (and now more infamously recognized as a Canadian Senator), rode with us and told amusing tales the entire ride. We were completely engaged and the conference had not even started.

The excitement and entertainment of the van ride to Yorkton was quickly overshadowed upon arrival at Yorkton Composite High School where Barry Sharpe, the teacher chair for the conference, greeted everyone.  Our threesome was quickly engulfed by the energy exuded by the 800 student and 200 teacher delegates to the inaugural student leadership event. The dream of Barry Sharpe taking what had previously been a provincial conference and elevating it to a national event had been realized, starting a wave of service and leadership development across Canada that continues today.

Over the next five days, student leaders and adult advisors were engrossed in ‘living leadership.’ Through networking sessions, workshops, keynote speakers and team building, we garnered amazing ideas to take back to our schools. We met like-minded, action-oriented people who were committed to ensuring student voice was honored and empowered. The personal and professional connections we made at that first ever conference, have remained strong through 33 years in this work. To this day, CSLC connections such as Dorothy Karlson (SK) and Dave Conlon (ON) remain some of the most profound professional influences and resources in my work as a jurisdictional leader.

It’s kind of like Robert Fulghum said in his book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Almost all I really need to know about leading, I learned through student leadership. Certainly, foundations of my philosophy as a school administrator are rooted in my passion for student leadership. The lessons from some of the keynote speakers at that first conference, including Mark Scharenbroich and Alvin Law, are timeless and have guided me as a teacher and administrator throughout my career. “Leave a place better than you found it,” is a mantra to which I subscribe thanks to Mark. Alvin’s ability to confront unimaginable challenges as a thalidomide baby and turn them into opportunities to make the world a better place remains inspiring and humbling.

The hospitality of the community of Yorkton was unparalleled, demonstrating personal, school and community leadership in ways we had never seen. After five days of awe-inspiring, motivational, generous and truly selfless sharing of ideas by compatriots from across this amazing country, our little threesome gratefully and graciously returned home, exhilarated and bursting with ideas to make 1985-86 the ‘best year ever’ at our school. The ‘legacy’ for the students was improved culture and spirit in the school, through the student leadership events they undertook. As a staff member, I explicitly engaged my peers in making our school a ‘great place to learn and work’ with CLSC inspired activities.

Our participating RVS schools can expect some wonderful and energetic ideas to be launched in their own schools this upcoming year, once their student leaders and advisors return from CSLC 2017. We look forward to learning how our newest group of RVS leaders will #makeadifference.

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