Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Shift Away from "Tech Talk"

The nature of my conversations about technology in education have evolved over the past few years. Ten years ago I spent much of my time convincing colleagues, parents and community members about the benefits (and pitfalls) of technology in schools.

To some degree, I am still having those conversations but far, far fewer. Today I'm having far more conversations around meaningful learning experiences for students and teachers. I’m sharing stories of how teachers and students are collaborating, communicating and creating informed and meaningful learning experiences. I’m sharing stories of how we are communicating student learning in more dynamic and robust ways, stories of how our teachers developing classroom routines and practices teaching students how to self-regulate the use of technology, sharing examples of student projects that embed technology to enhance communication and collaboration.  

Grounded in our continuous improvement plan, we are having conversations on the need for students to be better thinkers, creators and innovators.

Ironically, although I am talking less about technology per se, a byproduct of our quest to make learning that is connected, visible, experiential and empowered we have seen a significant uptake in technology across our campus. For example, in the past two years we have seen requests for technology from teachers increase dramatically. We have gone from about 60 devices to about 400 – mainly Chromebook laptops – with demand only increasing and we are also seeing more and more students being invited by their teachers to bring in their own laptops into classrooms.

Like I was explaining to someone the other day, we don't have technology plan, we have a learning plan the byproduct of which is creating dynamic and effective uses of technology.

Still Figuring It Out......

Monday, December 26, 2016

Patience: A Christmas Messsge

The following is what I shared with my school community this Christmas season:


Waiting is a period of learning. The longer we wait the more we hear about him for whom we are waiting.” 
- Henri Nouwen

Advent is a time of patience and waiting. We are reminded that in waiting for Christ’s birth we are blessed with many unanticipated gifts - most importantly getting to know Him better.
As a parent, teaching my children about the importance of patience and waiting can be challenging.
For example, here is a typical exchange at home in the build up to Christmas:

Kids: “Dad, can I open the gifts from under the Christmas tree?”
Dad:  “But it's only December 5th! You need to be patient.”
Kids: “How about just one? Please…...”
Dad: “You know that patience is a virtue!”
(And the debate goes on from there)

We are living in times when immediate results get the most and loudest attention and instant gratification is the norm. Ironically, despite this growing sense of impatience, we know that the practice of patience offers us important spiritual and cognitive benefits.

Here at school, waiting and being patient is an important aspect of the learning process. Many of us might get frustrated when we encounter a problem, concept, or skill that we cannot understand or demonstrate immediately and might choose to give up or (worse yet) sabotage our own efforts for fear of failure.

Interestingly, patience in the learning process often requires us to be very “active” in our patience by requiring us to persist and to embrace the value of perseverance, even when the waiting is longer than we'd like.

In the first four months of school I’ve seen our teachers reinforce many of the virtues of “active” patience with our students and their learning - whether in the classroom, on the field, in the gym, or on retreat. I have also seen the benefits of this “active” patience in our efforts around continuous school improvement and campus redesign efforts.

As we look to embrace more patience in our lives, especially during this Advent Season, on behalf of the faculty and staff of Vancouver College, I extend to each of you a restful and blessed holiday, a very Merry Christmas with wishes of hope, health and happiness for the New Year.

Monday, November 21, 2016

When Pedagogy & School Design Intersect

I have written before about our Vision for Learning & subsequent Dashboard of Learning and how these processes were (and are) a vital aspect of our plans for building new spaces on our campus.

Now, some two years later, we are on the verge of beginning the first phase of construction. This short two minute “fly through” video captures, to scale, the spaces we are planning to build. What is also very important is that the Learning Priorities identified by our faculty, parents and students are already being implemented so that when the new spaces are completed, our pedagogy will be able to optimize the newly imagined, designed and constructed learning spaces.  One might say that these spaces have been imagined and created at the intersection of pedagogy and design.

As you watch this video keep in mind some some of our Learning Priorities such as: Learning that is mission driven, connected, visible, formal and informal, informed and empowered. You will notice new spaces that we currently do not have such Learning Neighbourhoods, informal common learning spaces, small multi-purpose breakout rooms and a large learning commons.

Still Figuring It Out......

Saturday, October 29, 2016

I Used to be Present to People But Now I Check Email

I was recently invited to give an Ignite talk as part of the Ignite Your Passions event held in conjunction with a Canadian Education Association conference. As presenters we were as asked use the theme of  “I used to ____________ But Now I __________ ”. 

I chose: I Used to Be Present to People But Now I Check Email

My presentation itself, part serious and part facetious, was a brief synopsis of my "hot and cold"/"off and on" relationship with email.

Personally, email hit mainstream as I was beginning my career in the mid 1990's and came with some exciting promises - it was going to save time, remove barriers to collaboration, streamline communications and improve work flow!

To some degree email has accomplished some of this. Today email can be a good "gateway tool" to access, sort and share information.

But there are some problems.....

The biggest issue with email is that it is being used as a  "one size fits all" communications tool.  Metaphorically speaking, email is seen as the "Swiss Army knife" of communications when, in fact, it should be seen as one part of the communications "knife".

Information Smog and the flooded inbox
We are living and working in an era of information smog and our flooded email inbox - often perpetuated by the misuse of email functions such as "Carbon Copy and Reply All" - is compounding the problem.

Has anyone ever tried to schedule a meeting using reply all?  Organizing a meeting with  four or five people with everyone replying all can easily generate 15 to 25 emails!

Too much emotion
Another concern is that email be can lead to harmful miscommunication and misrepresentation (cue the ALL CAPS message here). From my understanding, email was never intended to communicate sensitive and/or emotion filled messages.

More screen time and less people time
Another, more philosophical concern, is whether email has allowed for an unrealistic sense of time.  Put more simple, are we overly available?

I would suggest that the daily and even hourly expectation to clear our in boxes is drawing us more to our desks and screens and, by extension, contributed to what Charles Hummel coined, the  tyranny of the urgent.  The implications of this, from a leadership perspective are serious.  I worry, for example, that in our need to manage the day to day clearing our of inbox we are seeing an erosion of slow and thoughtful strategic thinking and diversions from what is core to who we are and what we do as educators.  On a personal level, my need to clear my inbox is taking me away from being present to those that matter most to me!

Today, before I send or respond to an email, I ask myself if there is a better way? Should I, for example, use a different tool or pick up the phone or have a face to face meeting over a cup of coffee?

Below is a copy of the slide deck I used for the presentation.

Still figuring it out....

Thursday, February 18, 2016

How Can We Re-Imagine School? An EdTalk

Recently I had the privilege of being an "EdTalk" speaker at the 2016 FISA Convention.  Below is the video of my 8 minute talk in which I attempt to answer:

"How can we best reimagine school for our students?"

Below are the slides from the presentation.

Still figuring it out....

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Leadership as Incubation

I believe that a learning disposition drives improvement and innovation.

A few years ago I may have said that "things" drive improvement.  You know....things like curriculum, the Internet, tablets, computers, reading programs, discipline programs.....

Now don't get me wrong, many of these "things" have brought great improvements and efficiency to the educational landscape. 

But programs are fleeting. Curriculum changes. And while technology is changing our lives and transforming the educational and learning landscape, it's effective adoption and implementation is, at its core, an iterative process. 

And while there is a place for leadership to introduce "things", real improvement, lasting transformation and innovation is about creating systems and conditions that promote continuous learning and improvement -for all learners.

I have come to realize that I am most effective when I promote the creation of systems and conditions that promote individual and collective improvement (& not necessarily programs).

This year we are embarking on a process of continuous school improvement that is less about initiating programs and more about creating the systems and conditions for the teachers to assess the needs of the students they serve and act accordingly (which can include introducing new programs, resources, etc). 

In a sense we are embarking on a process of creating a "learning incubator".

In the business world, an incubator is a place:
designed to accelerate growth and success..... through an array of (business) support resources and services that could include physical space, capital, coaching, common services, and networking connections .

We are striving to create the conditions and systems where the working professionals are given time, supports, resources and opportunities to reflect, act and network in order to provide for the further success of our students.  

Here are a few ways we are creating an incubator for learning:

A Visible and Connected Continuous School Improvement Plan

Pencil connecting the dots
Connecting the dots of learning...
Flowing from a comprehensive visioning process, we have now implemented a more formalized process whereby by faculty (and department teams) reflect and document their learning.  Learning goals and action plans are made visible by all in the school via our newly created "Dashboard" of  learning.  This Dashboard is publicly shared and posted for all in our community see in order that we make our learning visible, connected and networked.  We want people to "connect the dots" of learning.

Time for Learning
For the second year we are continuing with our school Learning Teams.  This year, we have added a learning innovation grant that teachers can access to further support their learning.  

Physical Space
We are currently in the process planning for renewed facilities for our students, faculty, and staff.  Some of the key design principles being implemented include: learning neighborhoods, learning commons, transparency and flexibility.

By creating some of these "conditions for incubation" we are already starting to see some new teacher driven initiatives.  For example:
  • Teachers are implementing online digital portfolios for students (e.g.  Freshgrade, Google Drive, etc.) 
  • New courses/programs have been created including a "Make It" class, a culinary class, technical theatre class, robotics club and the imminent launch of Google Apps for Education for students. 
  • The increasing dismantling of curricular silos and replaced by cross-curricular and cross grade connections. 
At the end of the day- this process is about creating a climate of continuous learning that empowers teachers so that they can, in turn, empower student learning. 

As usual, I am still figuring it out.........

Monday, September 21, 2015

The (Sometimes) Reluctant Principal

I have the best job in the world. Being around talented, passionate, inquisitive, creative, compassionate and fun people is inspiring.

Sometimes, however, I'd rather not be "the boss".  At times I'd rather not have the "buck" stop with me. Sometimes I'd rather not have the spotlight. Sometimes I'd rather not "skate into the puck". There are times that I'd rather not have to make difficult decisions. Many of these leadership competencies and responsibilities can be physically and emotionally draining- and sometimes take a personal toll.

There are times when I'd rather not be that person. There have been moments where I have felt like a reluctant leader.

However, these moments of reluctance are overwhelmingly overshadowed by a powerful internal force.  It's a force that comes for an internal restlessness to do what is right for those I serve.

It's a force that comes from a passion and a strong desire to do what is right for students. It is this restless passion that keeps me on this path despite my moments of reluctance. 

Some will read this and wonder...."isn't leadership about confidence and assertiveness?" Yes, I would argue that these are required leadership traits. Nonetheless my reluctance enables me to be more confident and assertive.

More than assertiveness and confidence, my reluctance fosters certain other dispositions and traits.

For example, being a reluctant leader allows me to be vulnerable. I am comfortable asking for help, admitting to my mistakes and letting people know that I don't have the answers.

My reluctance allows me to more reflective and less reflexive.

Being a reluctant leader allows for a natural inclination to include others in decisions - allowing for more collaboration and collegiality. 

My reluctance allows me to trust others. 

Being a reluctant leader forces me to be plugged in to my "why" - always reflecting on my own internal values and compass points.

My reluctance allows me to be a restless learner - always thirsting for opportunities to network, collaborate and learn from others. I'm always trying to figure things out - always wondering if there is a better way....

My moments of reluctance allow me to be humble and rooted in the those that I serve.

I feel blessed to have moments of reluctance because ultimately they make me a better person and a better leader. 

All of this ultimately leads to a fundamental question: What motivates you to lead?  The answer will ultimately define you as a leader. 

As usual, I am still figuring things out and would welcome any feedback...