Posts Tagged With: transforming education

Drawing a Line in the Sand

According to Wikipedia “a line in the sand” is a metaphor with two similar meanings:

The first meaning is of a point (physical, decisional, etc.) beyond which one will proceed no further.
The second meaning is that of a point beyond which, once the decision to go beyond it is made, the decision and its resulting consequences are permanently decided and irreversible.line-300x202

On a recent trip to Toronto I was fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to Dr. John Malloy, Director of Education at Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. Dr. Malloy gave an enthusiastic accounting of the 1-to-1 iPad initiative currently playing out in his Districts’ 100 plus schools. In the initial year of a five-year plan they have placed iPads in the hands of every student in seven elementary schools, in one secondary school, and in the assistive technology used in two other secondary schools. If the roll out goes according to plan, every student will have the full time use of an iPad by 2019. The plan, titled “Transforming Learning Everywhere”, is strongly supported by their School Board and will be resourced heavily through ongoing teacher professional development, adequate wireless bandwidth in every school, and a team of individuals to support and maintain all aspects of the project. Wow!

Then Dr. Malloy shared what I thought was the most brilliant part of the entire initiative. He used the metaphor of “a line in the sand” to describe the plan they had to reduce paper in schools throughout the District. As more iPads are deployed, more paper will be removed. “If we are going to continue to provide access to the old way of doing things”, he said, “how are we going to get our teachers to buy into something new? We can’t afford both.” By 2019 Hamilton-Wentworth will be 95% paperless. This is written into the strategic plan.

Here is the problem that exists most everywhere. All too often School Districts continue to allow outdated practices to exist at the same time they introduce something new.Unknown When this happens many teachers simply opt out of risking the new practice and retreat to what is most comfortable to them. For system leaders, resources are scarce so if they aren’t able to build a coalition of the willing, real change rarely occurs.

I think everyone can agree that the Education landscape is changing more rapidly than ever before. Our students were born into a different world than we were. They learn differently and will require a very different set of skills in today’s society and workplace. Transforming pedagogy should not be an option but rather a requirement of all teachers. All available resources should be used, not on maintaining the old, but on building the new.

We need more leaders who, like Dr. Malloy, are not afraid to draw that line in the sand.

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

Need Ideas? Just Ask.

My grade 1-3 teachers have been planning for next year and are looking for creative and engaging ways to build a literacy intervention block into the daily schedule. Language Arts and Math would be scheduled every morning and then one teacher would be freed up to work with students that are just not up to par with reading, writing and comprehension. I’m quite impressed with their innovative thinking because in order to make this plan work the others will need to have substantially larger class sizes for Social, Science and other non-core subjects. The literacy intervention teacher would work with multi-grade groups of struggling students throughout the afternoon. In a school where many students find themselves below an acceptable literacy level, I like their thinking.

So when the teachers approached me, asking if I would consult with my PLN for high yield strategies that could be used for this intervention block, I was more than happy to oblige. I sent this Tweet out the next day:

My Tweet

My Twitter PLN, which includes over 3500 followers, has become one of the most important sounding boards in my professional life. By including only individuals who share the same passion for education, I am always learning new things and having my thinking challenged and stretched. Just look at the responses I received from this Tweet.

Capture BCapture CCapture DCapture ECapture FCapture GCapture HCapture ICapture JCapture KCapture LCapture MCapture NCapture OCapture PCapture QCapture RCapture A

Help yourself if there is anything here you can use. 🙂

Categories: 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Alberta’s New MO on Student Learning

On May 6, 2013, with little or no fanfare, ministerial order #001/2013 (Student Learning) was signed by Alberta Education Minister, Jeff Johnson; bringing into full force all aspects of Inspiring Education and repealing a very dated ministerial order #004/98 (Goals and Standards Applicable to the Provision of Basic Education in Alberta). It was last updated on February 10, 1998.


A ministerial order is a decision made by a minister that does not require the approval of cabinet, or the Lieutenant Governor in Council. The power to issue a MO is typically written into an individual piece of legislation, and the MO itself must make reference to the authorizing legislation. MOs have the force of law. Unlike orders in council, ministerial orders are not automatically made public in Alberta. It is not clear why: given that they have the force of law, it seems they should be.

So how many Albertans know this new ministerial order has come into effect? How many know that the goal of this ministerial order is to ensure that all students achieve an extensive list of outcomes that will enable them to be contributing members of 21st century society? How many know that this order is in stark contrast to what was previously expected of the educated Albertan? This is big and it seems to have slipped in virtually unnoticed.

For awhile now I’ve been urging my teachers to familiarize themselves with documents such as the Framework for Student Learning and this ATA Transformation Document – A Great School For All, both of which align with the new vision for our education system. I’ve even suggested that they would be positioning themselves well going forward by referring to these documents when planning, teaching, learning, and assessing. “You’ll be ahead of the wave”, I’ve told them, “if you start making small changes now.”

I wonder how ministerial order #001/2013 will play out in the weeks and months to come. It looks really good on paper. It’s easy to write it down on paper; a bit more difficult to infuse it into daily practice, especially when curriculum, PATs and DIPs remain the same.

What an exciting time to be involved in education.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Placing Teacher Interns – Lets Get It Right

My school jurisdiction is lucky enough to be located near a university that houses one of the most highly regarded teacher training programs in the country. Throughout the year, on what seems like a continual basis, we welcome undergraduates into our school at various points on their road to becoming our next generation of teachers. Here is an overview of the internship program:

Education 2500 students receive an orientation to the teaching profession by spending 60 hours (20 mornings) in a classroom. During this they function in a role that is similar to a teacher assistant.

Professional Semester I (PS I) students begin their first official practicum after being admitted to the Faculty of Education and completing some required courses. In the PS I practicum interns are assigned to a classroom for approximately 125 hours (5 weeks).

Professional Semester II (PS II) students have completed more on-campus courses and are assigned to a classroom for approximately 150 hours (6 weeks).

Professional Semester III (PS III) students complete a final15-week full semester teaching internship that not only prepares them as a teacher, it helps them to begin nurturing the kind of professional relationships that will benefit them, their career and the students they will teach.

It’s comforting to know that our teacher training facilities are providing such a diverse offering of practicums for those who hope to undertake such important work. And most likely it is in the day-to-day experiences of each internship, and not during theory classes, that individuals discern whether or not teaching is for them. Over the years I’ve watched with great pride as young pre-service teachers polish skills and take flight. At the same time, I’ve had to be involved in the challenging and difficult work of steering struggling interns in a direction other than teaching. More often than not, the relationship between the mentor teacher and intern determines the success of the practium.

Here’s how intern teachers are assigned to mentors:

  1. In the spring interested teachers complete a Student Teacher/Intern Request and, if interested in a PSIII intern, are expected to include a professional development plan for the time they are not involved in teaching themselves.
  2. The form is passed onto the school principal for a signature.
  3. The form is forwarded to the Superintendent of Schools for a signature. (I’m happy to say that our superintendent expects to see first-rate PD plans or will send it back to be re-written)
  4. The form is sent to the Faculty of Education at the University to be reviewed at the time interns are being assigned.
  5. When a suitable match is identified, representatives of the Faculty of Education contact the school principal for approval.
  6. If approved by the school principal, the mentor teacher is contacted and a match is made.
  7. During the internship the mentor teacher and the intern carry out individual PD projects during their non-teaching time.

I’ve often wondered what, other than a certain amount of experience, qualifies a teacher to become a mentor. At times, the process ofimagesCAMIDX0I selection seems more like a right of passage than anything else. If you’ve been around the longest, you get the intern.

If we want our pre-service teachers to be prepared for teaching in the 21st century, shouldn’t we be matching them up with the most forward thinking, cutting edge teachers we can find? Perhaps interns should be assigned this way:

  1. School administrators should identify their most engaging and innovative 21st century teachers. (Years of experience should not be a factor)
  2. These teachers should be approached and encouraged to become mentors.
  3. Mentors and interns should work collaboratively to select an area of focus from this Framework for Student Learning.
  4. Collaborative action research on their area of focus should be carried out throughout the internship.
  5. As a team, the mentor and intern should apply their new learning in daily practice, engaging in ongoing reflection and professional conversation.

Transformation of our education system will not occur unless we place our teachers in the middle of the process. In my opinion, the mentor/intern relationship is a good place to start.

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

Badges for Assessment – Why Not?

Ever since participating in a Blackboard Collaborate session with Doug Belshaw at ETMOOC 2013,  I’ve been wanting to learn more about badges as an authentic way for students to demonstrate and receive credit for their learning. With our province so heavily engaged in curriculum redesign, and with educators being called upon to consider new and innovative ways to plan, carry out and assess learning; I’m leaving no rock unturned in an effort to support them in their efforts. Badges, to me, looks like something worth exploring further.

Look here if you would like to gain a better understanding of the concept of badges. I encourage you to read the “Ten Things to Know About Badges.”


I quickly became intrigued while looking through the Mozilla Open Badges platform, however it seemed as though most of the badges were designed for high school and adult learners, so, as an elementary principal I decided to see if there was anything out there for younger students, and in doing so, came across a free website called ClassBadges. I like this one because teachers can set up and manage a class account where each student has an individual login. Badges could be selected from an existing bank or customized for individual students or classes, and easily be aligned to academic goals, curriculum outcomes, or 21st century competencies. Teachers could work with students to identify areas of interest, then create criteria that would need to be met in order to earn that particular badge. The teacher would award badges electronically to students when they were satisfied the criteria had been met. Once awarded, the student would be given access to the badge, which could be displayed anywhere electronically.  Each badge, with its criteria could be added to the bank for other students who may be interested in earning that badge themselves. Can you see the possibilities here?

Sample Badge from

Sample Badge from ClassBadges Website

Sample Badge from ClassBadges Website

Sample Badge from ClassBadges Website

Badges, I think, could offer a way to document different types of authentic learning both inside and outside the school. Perhaps they could place an emphasis on important competencies such as global awareness, digital citizenship, collaboration, and creativity. Perhaps they could provide students with more control over their own learning and give a more complete picture of their abilities in relation to the program of study. Once earned, perhaps a digital portfolio (website, wiki, blog, etc.) could be used to house, display and share badges with others.

Sigh… there I go again with my pie in the sky thinking. It would be easy to list the many reasons why “badges” (and so many other forward thinking ideas) just won’t work, but to that I say, “If it’s important you’ll find a way; if it’s not you’ll find an excuse.”

I encourage you to explore badges and let me know what you think.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Education Transformation, ETMOOC | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

And So Test Prep Season Begins

This past week parent/teacher conferences were held at our school. It was an opportunity for teachers and students to share the many engaging learning experiences they’ve been involved in this year. This interactive timeline outlines some of them. I am so proud of my teachers for trying a variety of new approaches in order to engage our learners in a more relevant way. It’s exciting to walk around the school and see teaching and learning as I never have before.

Awhile back I wrote a post called Is Curriculum Thwarting Transformation? There, I argued that our provinces oversized curriculum is getting in the way of teachers trying to dig deeper into key learner outcomes through real world, authentic learning experiences. In order to get everything “covered” by the end of the year they have no choice but to skim the surface of important outcomes so students will at least have touched on everything. As we all know, that means staying at the lower end of Blooms Taxonomy. And if you’re a grade 3, 6 or 9 teacher with Provincial Achievement Tests staring you in the face, that ups the ante even more.

So with the final term underway at our elementary school, the grade 3 and 6 teachers are starting to prep for the test. Our superintendent @cdsmeaton has always told us that the PATs should not affect our teaching practice. “I am a staunch believer”, he tells us, “that a focus on excellent teaching will lead to excellent results, no matter how it’s measured.” I tell them the same thing. But it doesn’t quite play out that way in the mind of the individual teacher. PATs, existing as they are, leave teachers with a strong sense of responsibility to prepare their students to write them; and as long as the tests are administered in such a way that has very little to do with the type of learning teachers are being called upon to engage in, there will be a bit of an exit from engaging learning around this time every year.

Heres what I’m getting at:

Below is a question from the 2009 Grade 6 Social Studies PAT: (lower order Blooms and builds no competencies)

EquityThe assignment below took place earlier this year at my school, addressing the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Equity vs Equality

Teacher Blog Post to Students

Student Response

Student Response

And yet another project addressing the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Here is another question from the 2009 Grade 6 ELA Provincial Achievement Test: (lower order Blooms and builds no competencies)


The assignment below addressed the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Rachels Simile Post

Yet another question from the 2009 Grade 6 ELA Provincial Achievement Test: (lower order Blooms and builds no competencies)

Reading Response

The blog post below addressed the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Michelle Reading Response

Many would say that my teachers should continue with these engaging and authentic learning experiences and the PATS will take care of themselves. The problem is that it takes time; much more time than is left over once the curriculum gets “covered.” Time that will now be needed to skim the surface, to prep for the test, to write the test, and to deal with a great deal of unneeded stress.

Is it fair to ask teachers and students to do both?

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Community Engagement, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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
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

Throw It All – Some Will Stick

Big snow came to our city last week and the students at my school basked in their glory. There’s something about kids playing in newly fallen snow that makes us all smile. They go all out; jumping, diving and rolling in it with this renewed sense of reckless abandon. They risk everything, as though nothing can stop them from their mission of utilizing every last ounce of the fluffy white stuff. Like Ken Robinson says, they are in their element.

As principal, my job of course, is to make sure all this fun fits within the guidelines of our school rules and consequence those that step over that line. So on Friday afternoon I walked throughout the school grounds to make sure all was right with the world. As the bell sounded and students were entering the school I took one last glance around and saw this.

Snow thrown against the wall.

Some snow got stuck on the wall

It appeared as though some students thought it was a good idea to hold target practice on a wall and I was taken back to my own childhood when my friends and I did the exact same thing. We loved throwing the snow at a target and then being able to see that some of it stuck. We always knew how close we were to our desired target because some of it, not all, would be left there to see.

This gets me thinking about my work as a principal who desperately wants to move my school forward to better engage todays learners. It’s easy to get discouraged when I introduce what I think is a forward thinking idea and not everyone feels the same way. As a matter of fact, many of the ideas I put out there fall flat on their face. Each teacher, it seems, has their own reason why they feel they can or can’t entertain the latest initiative, proposal, or suggestion.

I had an excellent conversation with my grade 4 and 5 teachers a few days ago. I met with them to introduce the 100 Word Challenge, a weekly creative writing activity for children where a prompt is given and they can use up to 100 words to write a creative piece. It is then posted on a class blog and linked to the 100 Word Challenge blog, where others from around the world comment on the entry. I thought this was a great idea as the teachers were looking for better ways to utilized their Kidblog accounts and this was the perfect platform to do just that.

During the conversation I made a point to let them know (as I always do) that there was no pressure to use the website – “My job”, I said, “is to bring these things to your attention and you should decide if its something you see of value to you and your students.” Then, one of the teachers said something very interesting. “Does that mean”, he said with a chuckle, “that if we don’t see its value you’ll meet with us again next week to share something else?” To that I smiled and answered “Yes, I will do that even if you see the value in this activity.” By the way, this time they saw the value and all of them are giving the 100 Word Challenge a try.

By now my teachers know that I share a lot but force very little. Isn’t that our job as learning leaders – looking out over the horizon and introducing our teachers to all the new things to consider? Shouldn’t we lead by example? Like the children’s approach to a blanket of newly fallen snow, shouldn’t we be taking it all in and sharing it all out?

If we throw it all – some will surely stick.

Categories: Education Transformation, ETMOOC | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Learning Coach – A Philosophy, Not an Individual

My province, as part of the move toward a more inclusive education system, has posted the following definition on the Education Department website:

Learning Coach – a teacher who is knowledgeable about inclusion and curriculum, and is skilled at teacher collaboration and sharing promising practices. The learning coach works as part of the learning support team to build the capacity of the school, and works side by side with teachers to improve instruction and design learning experiences that are accessible, effective and engaging for all students.

Wow!  Who wouldn’t want a teacher with this kind of expertise at their school.  Imagine the growth and capacity building that would take place assuming the right person was assigned to a position like that.  Reluctant teachers would have the much-needed support to try new approaches and we would be well on our way to our province’s vision to transform the education system to one where students would become “engaged thinkers and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit” within an inclusive education system.  Problem is that funding is not provided to hire learning coaches, leaving schools on their own to find creative ways to work them in.

So last spring, while preparing a very tight budget for the current school year, we decided it was worth the effort to rearrange staffing and assign a .5 LC for our school.  The individual we selected brings a strong literacy background and full complement of engaging and innovative practices to the position, but perhaps most importantly places great value on collaboration and risk-taking.  I must say that the level of student engagement is definitely improving as they participate in an array of new learning experiences. Perhaps the most important outcome of each project has been that the classroom teacher increased their own capacity to incorporate important competencies into their daily practice and better engage all learners.  This is making our already good teachers even better.

But what about schools that are simply unable to allocate adequate funds for even a part-time Learning Coach.  Many would see this as an ‘extra position’ that simply could not be supported by an already stretched budget.  Expecting them to forgo other necessary expenditures just wouldn’t make sense.  So does that mean they will be unable to improve instruction and design learning experiences that are accessible, effective and engaging for all students, as outlined in the definition above?  Does it mean they are not knowledgeable about inclusion and curriculum, or skilled at teacher collaboration and sharing promising practices?  Of course not.

A Learning Coach, in my opinion, is not an individual but a philosophy.  It’s about building a culture.  It’s about providing the trust to experiment with new approaches.   It’s about learning together by sharing best practices.  It’s about taking advantage of the untapped expertise right in front of us.  Don’t just wait around for a silver bullet that may never arrive.  Start building the Learning Coach philosophy in your school tomorrow morning.

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

Getting to the How and Why of Student Blogging

This year every grade 2-6 student in my school has been set up with a Kidblog account. After successfully introducing this easy and safe platform with older students last year it made sense to continue to explore blogging as an excellent form of authentic literacy.  Here are some of the reasons why I feel every student should be introduced to blogging:

  • Blogging is fun.
  • Students can learn to communicate effectively.
  • Students can learn to share thoughts, ideas, and opinions, and support them with details that make understanding easy.
  • Students can become better writers, both in content and mechanics.
  • Students can become better readers, improving comprehension and the ability to read critically.
  • Students can learn to use Web 2.0 technology as a tool to publish their work to share with their peers, family, and friends.
  • Students can improve writing in an exciting and engaging manner.
  • Students can comment on other’s work, sharing thoughts and ideas.
  • Students can learn about using computers and web-based tools.
  • Students can show off their work to their parents, grandparents, and other family members.

The idea of student blogging has definitely taken hold with many of my teachers as the year gets underway. Already, we are planning a supper session on Kidblog. “Experts” on staff will lead two sessions: 1. How to Administer a Kidblog Account and 2. Using Kidblog to Support and Enhance Learning.  Needless to say, I am very encouraged that teachers see the value in such an endeavor. I’m looking forward to watching throughout the year as my teachers come up with ways to build 21st century literacy skills in our students through blogging.

I do, however, want to share a word of caution. In reviewing the archives of last years student blogs I’ve noticed something. Kids are quite competent at posting on the who, what, when, and where of their topic. What was noticeably absent was the how and why. Blogging, at it’s best, is not just the sharing of facts and information. It’s also the sharing of your own opinions and ideas. It’s about respectful debate. It’s about inquiry and investigation. It’s about incorporating the Blooms levels of synthesis and evaluation. If blogging is going to be a worthwhile experience for students and teachers, these last two questions must be given a lot of attention.

Whether writing posts or commenting, I will be encouraging teachers to expect a lot of their student’s writing this year. After all, improved literacy should be an automatic product of the blogging process. A big focus on the how and why will be the key.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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