Posts Tagged With: digital immigrants

How Do We Get From Here to There?

Last week I attended the Zone 1, 2 and 3 College of Alberta School Superintendents (CASS) annual Summer conference in Jasper. In attendance were  system leaders and top government officials, all who are tasked with moving the vision for Alberta’s education system (Inspiring Education) forward within their own scope of influence. Each and every presenter gave powerful talks about the importance of continuing the journey of transforming the educational experience for students so they will emerge from grade 12 as young adults who are “ethical citizens and engaged thinkers with an entrepreneurial spirit.here to there1

Over the three days our newly appointed Deputy Minister, Greg Bass spoke with great passion about the need for our teachers to consider important competencies when planning, carrying out and assessing student learning and Ellen Hambrook, an assistant to the Deputy Minister in the area of curriculum, provided an exciting update on the Curriculum Redesign initiative currently in the works. In addition to these reaffirming presentations, a panel of Superintendents from 3 jurisdictions shared, from their central office point of view, how Inspiring Education is playing out in their schools. As I sat there listening, I found myself asking this question over and over again, “How do we get from here to there?” As someone new to central office, and only weeks removed from sitting on the library floor with elementary school students, I am all to aware of the gap that exists between talking about transforming our education system and actually doing it.

Then we listened to our keynote speaker, Hall Davidson, who serves as director of Global Learning Initiatives with Discovery Education. Through a variety of very practical examples, he provided us with a look into the engaging classroom and what Inspiring Education might look like at the ground level. He started by introducing us to the wonderful Web application called Poll Everywhere and used it to crowd source the room as his presentation got underway. Many were using it for the first time. Then, the room was further amazed as he showed us how to take short videos using our mobile devices and upload them directly to his YouTube account within seconds. Next, he demonstrated Mystery Skypes, a concept taking innovative classrooms by storm, and most in the room had never heard of them. He went on to play with a variety of iPad Apps and showed clips of ways teachers used them to engage students and most looked on in sheer awe. This went on and on throughout the afternoon. At one point he asked the 120 participants if they have Twitter accounts and 5 of us raised our hands.

This is my point. The majority of system leaders and government officials in the education sector are far removed from where the transformation is actually taking place. There are some amazing things going on in classrooms everywhere and district leaders need to take every opportunity to get in there and see it for ourselves. Perhaps then we can figure out how to take many more teachers and administrators from here (talking about it) to there (doing it).

I encourage you to watch this video, remixed and created with the help of grade 5 and 6 students at the school where I was principal last year. I would argue that we were “doing it.” Or at least trying.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Oh How Things Have Changed – A Reflection

After 21 years as a teacher and administrator there has never been more to consider. As the societal context continues to shift, a focus on appropriate and relevant skill building in an inclusive environment has become an extremely important role of the school. Researchers around the world have identified the need for competencies to be more central in the education of young people if they are to be active participants in an increasingly knowledge-based and globalized society. Competencies enable students to understand their world, engage fully in their education, relate well to others, manage their lives wisely, and contribute positively to their communities. These important competencies include, but are not limited to:

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Creativity and Innovation
Social Responsibility and Cultural, Global and Environmental Awareness
Communication
Digital Literacy
Lifelong Learning, Self-Direction and Personal Management
Collaboration and Leadership

Many people ask why we need a different model of education for the 21st century. Aren’t many of these skills the same ones that have been important throughout history as civilizations moved forward? And do we, only 13 years into the century, really know what skills our students will need for their future? The answer to these questions is that the past few years have seen a very different world than before, especially in the area of globalization, which has been magnified by exponential advances in technology. We have moved from the industrial age to the service age and the students who are now entering our schools will end up in the service sector, having jobs in many different fields over the course of their working lives. While we don’t know what new jobs will emerge, our students will need to be able to learn new things and adapt to new situations as the world continues to change. They will need to innovate and create while employing critical and divergent thinking.

Oh How Things Have Changed

Oh How Things Have Changed

The biggest difference between today’s education and that which went before it is the embedding of the important competencies into the curriculum. A few short years ago teachers didn’t engage in much problem solving or decision-making with their students. Those skills were not seen as important because when students left school and went to work most of them expected to be told what to do – if a problem came up or if a decision had to be made they were expected to take that to someone higher up rather than make it themselves. In today’s world there is more scope for autonomy and decision making at every level – employees are expected to be self-directed and responsible for their own work. This emphasis on autonomy, mastery and purpose leads to more personal satisfaction with our careers, and this, in turn, leads to more motivation and ultimately a better performance. Teaching and learning should reflect this reality.

The competencies listed above were not emphasized in yesterday’s schools. Academic rigor was defined by the “3 R’s” and the coverage of a large amount of content – and knowing this content was more important than understanding it. With information more accessible than ever, students must instead be able to apply previous experiences to new situations. If schools place an emphasis on lifelong learning, students will be better positioned for the world they will enter.
The implications for teachers are tremendous. There is a need to engage students in more inquiry and project-based learning in order to support the development of higher-order thinking skills. There is a need for teaching to be less about the dissemination of information and more about guiding students as they direct their own learning. There is a need for every student, regardless of their limitations, to both learn and demonstrate learning in their own way, at their own pace, and from any location. There is a need to engage students in a way that is relevant to them, supporting (not replacing) strong pedagogy with the tools of technology. All of these are important, however the attitude and mindset of the teacher continues be the greatest indicator of student engagement and success.

Finally, I am a firm believer that teachers must be at the centre of education transformation and not at the outer edge. They have to be given the opportunity to try new approaches and build capacity within a trusting, risk-taking, and collaborative culture. Jurisdiction and school leaders are charged with the responsibility of building a shared vision, values and goals. If this is done through the collective efforts of all stakeholders, the foundation is laid for a community of learners. This foundation is further enhanced over time when the formal leaders consistently allocate resources and make decisions in support of the vision. Given the right conditions, teachers will, as informal leaders, lead the charge toward the kind of schools we want for our children.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Difficult Struggle of Letting Go

I recently read this post by Will Richardson where he described the bold 21st century transformation of a Nevada charter school as one “…not fully understanding the shift to self-directed, personal learning that technology and the Web support.” He went on to describe true transformation being something that shifts the balance of power to the learner. I fully agree with Mr. Richardson and have recently completed action research on this very topic. I also blogged about student-directed learning a few weeks back.

As the principal of an elementary school I am reminded every day how difficult it is for teachers to let go of control of the learning process. Moving from being the distributer of content to the guider of learning is not that easy for teachers who were trained to ‘deliver curriculum.’ This shift is even harder to understand for elementary school teachers who work with the youngest of our students.

Two weeks ago I found myself in a position where I experienced first hand this struggle of handing over control to the student. As an administrator who teaches grade 4 library I was quite happy with the new experiences I had been exposing my students to. Early in the year I introduced them to our library Twitter account and in turn they were given an opportunity to compose Tweets and respond to other ones. After that I got them blogging through a Kidblog account and write books reviews with our Destiny Quest software, allowing them to share their views beyond the walls of our school. Blogging helped us to connect with a wonderful grade 4 class from Wellford, South Carolina and a face-to-face Skype visit was arranged shortly thereafter. Epals were set up and our students started ongoing conversations with their new global friends. I was on a roll, feeling that through the use of these Web 2.0 tools my students were starting to take charge of their own learning.

Mrs. Witherspoon, the teacher of the class in South Carolina was interested in giving the ePals an opportunity to visit by setting up individual Skype sessions so I jumped at the opportunity and my students started preparing questions in anticipation. Under the watchful eyes of adults at both ends the first two visits went off without a hitch. The level of engagement was amazing and the students themselves led through the entire experience.

Now to my struggle. The next ePal Skype session was arranged between Makayla from our school and Chandra from theirs. On the day it was scheduled I didn’t realize until 45 minutes before it was to start that Makayla was home, not feeling well. I decided to make a quick call to see if Makayla’s mom would consider bringing her to school for the Skype call then take her back home. She informed me that Makayla was upset that she would not be able to Skype with her ePal but was not able to come to the school. She did however suggest that Makayla participate in the Skype call from home as she has her own account. It was then that I experienced first hand this struggle with letting go. Up until now I was directly involved in the learning that came from Twitter, Kidblog and Skype. This was different. I would have to trust that Makayla would be responsible and represent our school appropriately. I would have to trust that she knew what she was doing. I would have to step aside and let my student take charge of this learning experience for herself. It was at that moment that I clearly understood why this shift is so difficult. I decided to let it happen.

In spite of the uncertainty, the uncomfortable feelings, and loss of control I encourage every teacher to take that first step and let it happen. Our students are ready.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Who’s Teaching Who?

I’ve been noticing some interesting happenings around my school this year. The long-standing relationship between teachers and

DIGITAL NATIVE

students is starting to change. In a slow way and in small amounts it seems as though there is starting to form a notion that the teacher is not the only source of wisdom, knowledge and information around here. As I walk through the school observing teaching and learning it is not uncommon to see student as teacher and teacher as learner. I believe this is because as teachers risk new approaches they look to these digital natives who have a whole different level of comfort with 21st century learning. Here are a few examples of what I’ve witnessed:

  1. Our grade 2 students were learning about a cool new App called Phototangler. I watched as the teacher started explaining how to use it, step by step. Within seconds students were getting ahead of the teacher so she changed gears and just let them play. They soon started showing her parts of the App that she had not figured out herself.
  2. One class was learning about Twitter. The teacher had recently set up a Twitter account herself and was using the school library account @stmarylibrary to show the students how to connect with others. One particular student was very knowledgeable about Twitter and the teacher allowed her to control the smart board and show the class how it worked. The student explained all about follows, hashtags, and chats and in the end the teacher asked even more questions than the students.
  3. A couple of weeks ago I sent the link to our grade 6 blogs out to my PLN to assist the students in receiving some quality comments. I’ve been very impressed with their posts and wanted to share them with others. Low and behold, a college professor from New York  @SocialAcademic responded to my Tweet, suggesting that perhaps our students could motivate hers to start blogging. In the following days many of her students submitted wonderful comments on our grade 6 blogs. Many of them, we hope, will start blogging as well. 11 year olds showing college students how it’s done. Wow!
  4. Aren from grade 6 has become our resident iPad expert. He knows and understands settings and configurations better than any adult on staff. Whenever we are experiencing a glitch with the iPads he either already knows how to fix it or he figures it out. Of course, our division techie is a bit leery about this. lol       

These digital natives that come to us every day are simply not wired the way we were as students.  We didn’t do much problem solving, decision-making, or leading in our own learning.  Those skills weren’t seen as important because when we left school and went to work most of us expected to be told what to do.  This is no longer the case. In today’s world there is more scope for autonomy and decision-making and our students are naturally put together this way.  We need to be sharing learning with our students, not just delivering it to them. I am happy to see that things appear to be moving in this direction.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Don’t Forget the “Little Picture”

As an administrator I’ve always had to keep my eye on the big picture. At least that’s what I’ve always told others when they asked why a particular initiative had been undertaken or a decision had been made. After all, everyone must know that if we spent all our time tending to the needs and concerns of individuals we wouldn’t get anywhere. There has to be a big picture. That’s what a vision is and any good leader has a vision for their organization, right?

Well over the past few years my thinking has taken a 180 in this area. In Kouzes & Posner’s The Leadership Challenge they describe a good leader as “someone who is able to be in the balcony and on the dance floor at the same time.” You see, we’ve got to look beyond the big picture if we hope to move our schools forward. With each and every system wide or school wide change there are many individuals who are each affected in their own way. It is our job to understand this and work with those within our circle of influence to assist them in better understanding and moving forward.

With society and education changing faster than ever, there has been no more important time than now for leaders to see the little picture. Excellent teachers are being called upon to transform a pedagogy that has been a mainstay in our educational institutions for decades. Leaders must paint a vision and enlist individuals to join them in bringing it to life. Transformation will happen, but it will take place one teacher at a time, in their own way and at their own pace.

So think big and push the envelope, but don’t take your eye off the little picture.

Categories: Capacity Building, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Keeping Parents in the Educational Transformation Loop

As we continue to transform education we can’t forget to engage our parents, who are digital immigrants having come from the industrial age of education. The transformational conversation must include them as well.  I have heard of some schools hosting technology evenings for parents.  That’s a great idea. Here’s my February message to parents for our school newsletter: 

After 21 years as a teacher and administrator there has never been more to consider. How we educate children appears to be at a “tipping point”, where a focus on appropriate skill building has become extremely important. Researchers around the world have identified the need for competencies to be more central in the education of young people if they are to be active participants in society. Competencies enable students to understand their world, engage fully in their education, relate well to others, manage their lives wisely, and contribute positively to their communities.

 Many people ask why we need a different model of education for the 21st century.  Aren’t many of the skills we are talking about the ones that have been important throughout history? And do we, only 12 years into the century, really know what skills our students will need for their future? The answer to these questions is that the past few years have seen a very different world than before, especially in the area of globalization, which has been encouraged by advances in technology. We have moved from the industrial age to the service age and students who are now entering our schools will end up in the service sector, having jobs in many different fields over the course of their working lives.  While we don’t know what new jobs will emerge, these students will need to be able to learn new things and adapt to new situations as the world continues to change.  They will need to be innovative and creative and will need to be critical thinkers and problem solvers.

The big difference between 21st century education and education that went before it is the embedding of these skills into the curriculum.  A few short years ago we didn’t do much problem solving or decision making.  Those skills weren’t seen as important because when we left school we went to work where we were told what to do – and if we had a problem or if a decision had to be made we were expected to take that to someone higher up rather than make it ourselves.  In today’s world there is more scope for autonomy and decision making at every level – we are all expected to be self-directed and responsible for our own work and autonomy, mastery and purpose are the factors that lead to more personal satisfaction with our work and therefore to more motivation and ultimately a better performance.

The 21st century competencies depicted above are not ones that were covered in yesterday’s schools. Academic rigor was defined by the “3 R’s” and the coverage of a large amount of content – and knowing this content was more important than understanding it.  Today content is not so important, as information is changing constantly, so today’s students need the competencies to be able to apply previous experience to new situations and they need the ability to be lifelong learners because they will need to keep learning as the situations they find themselves in change.

Today, schools (and teachers) need to be engaging students in more inquiry and project-based learning. They need to be encouraging students to develop higher-order thinking skills.  They need to be guiding students as they direct their own learning.

Without a doubt technology can be used effectively to promote the building of 21st Century competencies. But just putting an interactive whiteboard into a classroom or giving a student a laptop is not automatically going to bring about the changes in learning that we so obviously need. We need to rethink how students learn and we need to rethink what they are learning.  By ensuring that 21st Century competencies are embedded into all curriculum areas, all teaching, all assessments, and into the professional development teachers receive, our children will have the best chance to be prepared for the society they will enter as adults a few years downs the road.

Categories: Community Engagement, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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