Leading Learning in RVS

Leading Learning in RVS

Director of Learning Services – Learning and teaching, and even parenting in 2018 is incredibly complex. The mindset that is required to navigate these dynamic times is one of flexibility, continuous growth and reflection. The inclusive and diverse classrooms that are the 2018 norm require keen attention, structures, protocols and goals to create the culture and environment to effectively facilitate students’ acquisition and development of competencies for today’s world.

In what ways are professionals and students expected to ‘shift’ their mindsets? Well, in many ways. Students are no longer merely ‘consumers of information’, nor are teachers the ‘founts of knowledge’. Information is ubiquitously accessible and students are not merely consuming and regurgitating information that is universally accessible to them; they are expected to create and contribute to the community with their critical analysis, synthesis and evaluation of information, formulating understandings and insights that they can transfer to multiple contexts. Teachers are no longer merely ‘sages on the stage’, but facilitators and designers of learning, who consistently analyze and reflect on their practice in order to ensure students’ learning is relevant, engaging, and transmissible, ultimately allowing students to gain personal confidence and skilled competence. Assessment is not the ‘end in mind’ it once was, but is utilized to inform practice, understanding students’ strengths and needs, so that design of instruction can target areas for student growth, not merely ‘provide a mark’. With today’s diverse classrooms, recognition of the ‘one size fits all’ approach to designing learning as insufficient requires more personalized and individualized learning opportunities for both students and staff. With what we know of brain research and developmental psychology, student disciplinary processes have been revisited; the dated notion of punishment as an absolute consequence for poor decisions and transgressions has been married with a progressive restorative practices approach. The focus on the future, moving forward in a generative fashion, is the new norm and mindset permeating today’s educational world.

The Government of Alberta has recognized that the educational landscape is not what it once was and has tabled a new Teaching Quality Standard (TQS), Leadership Quality Standard (LQS), and Superintendent Leadership Quality Standard (SLQS) to formalize that. Key in the new Standards is the requirement for educators and leaders to be committed learners. As the TQS states, “A teacher engages in career-long professional learning and ongoing critical reflection to improve teaching and learning.” As leaders and learners, this is a lifelong commitment in the service of students. Heidi Hayes-Jacobs shares in her book Bold Moves for Schools (2017), when describing the seismic shift in teachers’ roles, “This change in roles may be one of the greatest shifts in our profession – from being the keeper of knowledge to being a model for how to learn.”

For students, staff, parents and leaders, ‘learning how to learn’ is at the heart of our work in 2018. With the creative, dynamic, exciting and disruptive world in which we live, embracing a growth mindset and leaning into learning makes each day a wonderful and rewarding adventure.

The Power of Learning Together

The Power of Learning Together

Superintendent of Schools – Last week we had our third Leadership Team Meeting (LTM) of the school year. These LTM meetings involve Education Centre leadership staff sharing and learning along with school principals and assistant principals. We keep them to a morning only, so time is tight. Yet for the past year, we have included some form of professional learning in each of these meetings.

We spent about an hour with colleagues from the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre (SKCAC) and Alberta Children’s Services. We watched and discussed the recently developed video about a school’s role in keeping our kids safe. The 28-minute video highlights what child abuse is, how to recognize the signs of child abuse and how to respond / report suspected abuse. It is a tough topic but the video does a nice job in walking people through the basics. We spent an additional 30 minutes asking questions to the experts from SKCAC and Children’s Services. We learned together by watching the video together and through the subsequent discussion that followed. All of our schools will be showing this video in the upcoming months to help our staff.

The second part of the meeting was some self-directed professional learning led by a variety of our divisional learning specialists. These sessions included topics such as: documenting literacy assessments; numeracy; physical literacy; assistive technology; digital literacies; project planning; e-portfolio tool for younger learners; supporting our indigenous learners; and others. People self-selected based on their personal interest and school goals and for one hour they dug into the topic in their groups of 5 to 25 participants. The value of people learning and sharing together is powerful. At the table I was at in the numeracy session, schools shared strategies that were working for their struggling math learners. People were nodding and writing down ideas that they could consider for their school. I was reminded that often schools are not aware of what another school are trying. The importance of getting people in small groups and let them share and talk was affirmed.

The last part of LTM was some information sharing. As much as we try and minimize these “stand and deliver” pieces, they still have value. People appreciate each department highlighting an item or two from their multi-page update, which was previously included in the agenda package. We try and keep it to a minimum, but walking people through a complex item and allowing for nuance to be shared remains to be valuable. A quick question at the right time is valuable to almost everyone in the room.

So, there you have a recap of last week’s leadership team meeting and a bit about why I think it is important to get people together to share and learn together.


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.

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