Friday, December 30, 2011

80,000 reasons for YouTube at school

Three years ago our school (special shout out to @pholowka1) created a YouTube Channel to capture the many school videos created by our Student Council and Audio Visual Class.

Recently I was reminded of the power of this channel  when I encountered an alumni who told me she had just finished watching the annual talent show on our YouTube channel.

This prompted me to once again review the statistics of our channel in detail.  The numbers are telling.  Over the years we have posted 184 videos including school assemblies, school play promo videos, annual school promo "Celtic Life" videos or other current event related news.

In total, our YouTube channel is approaching 80,000 views to date! Our students, parents, relatives, alumni and friends are going to the site and watching.  We are staying in touch.  Our school community is finding this medium engaging, entertaining and informative.

Our YouTube channel enables us to:
  • Animate and enliven school life for our parents and extended community (if a picture is worth a thousand words -what is a video worth?)
  • Market our school in an authentic and engaging manner
  • Gives our students yet another avenue to showcase their talents
  • Connect with parents who cannot always attend school events 
  • Keep long-lasting connections with our alumni and friends
Moving forward I envision us using our YouTube channel in other innovative and informative ways.

For those schools (and school systems) still blocking YouTube at school - I have 80,000 reasons to make you reconsider.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Build, Nourish and Showcase

Our annual talent show is a great showcase of student talent and community celebration.  There are no "winners" or "losers".  We don't give out medals or ribbons.  We don't rate the acts.  Students share their passion-driven learning in front of a caring and supportive community.

As I sat a watched act after act - frequently moved to tears of inspiration  - I couldn't help but reflect on the role of "school".  Schools need to be a places that build and nourish passion driven learning and simultaneously provide avenues to showcase those newly honed abilities and talents.  Indeed our classrooms need to be places of daily  "talent shows".

I am grateful to our Student Council for, once again, hosting this great event.

All the acts and videos are now posted on our school's YouTube Channel.  I have hi-lighted just a few acts below:

Check out the video editing, story writing and animations skills in these clips

Do you like to sing?  Here are few acts

Shall we dance?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Learning For Life in Our Times - Get on with it!

I have just finished reading 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times by Trilling & Fadel.

The book presents a framework of key skills and competencies for teaching and learning in schools that meet the needs of the 21st century.

Some the Key Skills and Competencies include: 
  • CORE SUBJECTS (English, World languages, Arts, Mathematics, Science,  History, Government and Civics) 
  • CRITICAL THINKING AND PROBLEM SOLVING Reason Effectively Systems Thinking 
  • ICT (Information, Communications and Technology) LITERACY
For a  more detailed description you can see this: P21 Framework 

I  enjoyed reading about the key elements of the framework and particularly enjoyed  the latter half of the book - where the authors emphasize and illustrate real changes happening in schools today.   

In its practical application, 21st Century skills require students to be engaged in Project, Problem, Design or Inquiry Based Learning  - where the teacher is more of a learning coach (not just a content transmitter) and the students are drivers of their own learning - usually by solving complex, real-world problems . 

The authors also comment on such items such as assessments, curriculum, teacher professional development and innovative learning spaces.

One particular area of reform that I see as essential and potentially providing an  "ah ha" moment  for all stakeholders is in the area curriculum reform.  Like I've written before, the authors stress that it is time to get away from a "mile wide and an inch thick" model of curriculum -  established to satisfy a "teach to the test" system.  Instead, the authors advocate for curricula that have a have a" few big ideas that have real world relevance" and have students hone some essential skills (see above)

Overall the authors provide a clear and convincing vision for 21st century learning.

Here a few personal questions and thoughts moving forward:
  • We need to get to our preferred future sooner rather than later.
  • We all know of "pockets of innovation and excellence" in our schools and school systems.   As school leaders we need to find ways to have these "pockets" of best practice envelope our respective school cultures.  This can only be done by authentic and respectful  collaboration and dialogue.   In this regard, social media can exponentially increase a teachers PLN and deal and crippling blow to teacher isolation, apprehension and fear.
  • As individual schools we need to "push the envelope".  Rather than waiting for the system to change, perhaps our actions can shape the system. 
  • As  a secondary school principal,  I see a need to include leaders of post secondary institutions as partners in our efforts to reform and improve our system.    
Let"s get on with it already.....

Monday, December 12, 2011

Are We Dealing With Academic Snobbery?

Recently a colleague shared some insights from a book he was reading - Campus Confidential - 100 startling things you don't know about Canadian universities.   The authors, ex-Deans of Canadian Universities, raise a number of points regarding the role of high schools in preparing students for university. 

One particular issue the book deals with is "grade inflation" in high school.  My colleague shared the following quotes:
"On average, students grades drop by 10 points [when they start university]. Alarmingly, those who come to university with the highest marks suffer the biggest drop.. . . the reason is grade inflation"
And another one here: 
"Universities are not total patsies, and there is a secret they don't like to broadcast.  Registrars, who are responsible for university admissions, know that not all high schools are the same.  Over time, they collect data on the academic experience of graduates from individual schools.  They can then handicap the students from outlier schools. If Nowhere Secondary School consistently gives overly generous grades, applicants from that school will have their grade averages discounted.  An 80 percent student from Nowhere Secondary School might get credit for a 'real' standing of 76%"
This email elicited some interesting responses from some of my colleagues:

From one colleague: 
Having a son who just entered university, let me comment on his experience.   He entered university with a fairly high average.  On his first paper the prof gave him a score in the 70’s.  As pointed out, the result was far below what my son was accustomed to receiving.  After a couple other similar scores the prof told my son that he really appreciated his work.  According to the prof, my son’s writing was well beyond his classmates and more like a post-graduate student’s work.  Yet the marks remained the same.  So I have to ask; was my son’s work at high school inflated or is the prof’s assessment simply academic snobbery?   I trust that our teachers know who the university bound students are and are doing their best to give authentic and accurate assessment to those students.  I think that some of onus is on the university profs to give students accurate assessment feedback and not simply blame high schools for inflating marks.
 From another colleague:
In reality, I guess I knew how “to play school” (i.e. did all of the 50+ odd numbered math questions for  homework; wrote my name on the top left corner of the essays; regurgitate what the teacher wanted on command on tests; coloured within the lines; had perfect attendance; “was a pleasure to have in class”; arrived on time for class; etc…).

Thankfully I learned in subsequent years at university, the creative and critical skills that would support me in my professional life.
Some more thoughts:
They (the authors) also point out that preparing students for university is not the sole aim of high school so in many ways its unfair to expect high schools to cater to the needs of universities.  Its impossible to deny that primary and secondary education has to deal with many issues that universities don't.....However I do agree with the deans that inflated grades aren't a measure of success regardless of the method that is used to determine them.  Instead all they really do is paint a false picture of student performance. Which is why they said that the students with the highest grades suffered the most severe grade drops in university and is (in their opinion) the primary reason why the drop out rate is in university is approaching 20%.
I also have some of my own questions and thoughts:
  • Let's agree that grades are not the best way to measure and quantify learning.  At best they are an imperfect remedy to a complex process (that is the learning process).  As someone tweeted the other day, "in some instances grades corrupt ones view of success".    I do believe that as educators we need acknowledge that we learn from our mistakes.  Learning is a process.  Like I've written before  -  Grading Failure is not an option
  • I can only speak about my own under graduate experience in university.  I am not sure we can (or should)  always look to university professors as models of pedagogy and best assessment practice.   Again, from my perspective, most professors that I encountered in my under graduate work were interested  in their own research and writing – not necessary holistic assessment and good teaching pedagogy.
  • Any time we talk about fixing "grade inflation" we get into conversation about about maintaining "high standards and expectations"  and "Rigour".  I think we need to be clear about what each of these ideals look like in our 21st Century Classroom.
  • I have been immersed in many conversations and read much on how our K-12 system of education must adapt to the needs of our 21st century world.   I am hearing much about the need to personalize learning, to emphasize key skills surrounding literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, ICT, creativity and collaboration - and how technology increasingly enhances the teaching and  learning of these skills.  I am participating in conversations that de-emphasize grading and, instead,  magnify learning.  
  • Are Deans and professors having these types of conversations?  Are changes imminent in post-secondary institutions? If we want to change the "system" then surely our post-secondary instututions need to be apart of this change.
    I would love to hear the answers to some of these questions from those teaching and learning in post-secondary institutions.  Let's keep this conversation going..... 

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    Calibrating My Compass

    I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving. To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie anchor.
    Oliver Wendell Holmes

    Time for me to "calibrate my compass". What direction am I moving? Hopefully I am not "drifting" or rigidly "anchored" in the past.

    In my thinking about creating a "shared vision",  it is important for me to reflect and seek alignment with my personal vision with that of the "organisation's".

    As a reflective practitioner I have been discerning my own professional vision statement as I move forward as a Catholic school principal.  I like to think of this process as "calibrating my professional compass points":
    I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13
    My actions speak louder than my words.
    I strive to be a person of the Beatitudes,  living with integrity between word and action.
    I find ways to nourish and inform my soul.
    Faith and reason coexist. Love, compassion, forgiveness and empathy always trump intolerance and zealotry  
     Made in God's image, each individual student is unique, talented and "a gift".
    Students are given unique opportunities to develop spiritually, academically, physically, emotionally and creatively.
    Students continue to be a source of inspiration and motivation
    I am figuring things out.  I am a learner. I am dedicated to learning about emerging and proven teaching practices (pedagogy) that honours the "uniqueness and giftedness" of each child.
    Technology is more than just a gimmick or fad and enhances pedagogy.
    Our students need to be empowered and motivated to make a positive difference in our world.
    Our students need to be readers, writers, creators, innovators, critical thinkers, curators of information, and collaborators.
    I trust the students, staff and parents I work with. I model respectful collaboration and collegiality - within my school building and beyond.
    Parents are my partners. I am humbly grateful to them for entrusting their children to my care.
    Living and learning in community is "life giving".  Relationships matter.  I cherish "An Ethos of Us" in schools
    I trust my instincts as a leader. I learn from my mistakes. I embrace vulnerability.
    I don't take myself too seriously. I seek joy, laughter and humour.  After all, "it's only high school
    I seek comfort in this prayer:
    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    Courage to change the things I can,
    And wisdom to know the difference. 
    I would really like to see what others are thinking by way of their own professional  vision statements.  Thoughts and comments are always welcome.  Perhaps we can use the #mycompass hashtag to share tweets and thoughts.

    Still figuring it out....

    Monday, December 5, 2011

    Thoughts and Pictures from China

    I was recently in China visiting a few schools. As I reflect back on my trip I am left with a few lasting impressions: 

    • The Chinese people are extremely warm and hospitable. 
    • Students in China (like Canada) are most happy when given the opportunity to be active participants in their learning. 
    • All the Chinese educators I spoke to saw a need to improve their system of education. One official identified fostering creativity among students as a key competency for improvement moving forward.
    • Size matters in China. The large nature of Chinese schools (and classrooms) appear to be a challenge for many educators.
    The more people involved in education I meet,  at home and abroad, the more convinced I become that despite some of our obvious differences,  we share many of the same worries, joys and challenges.

    Much in China is done on a large scale.  Students in China spend at least 10 hours at school.  This is a picture of a high school gym.  The school is home to 6500 students.  

    This high school cafeteria can sit 1500 students at one time.

    Meeting with officials from a local education bureau.  Social/work gatherings like this are very important.

    Cranes fill the landscape in China.  Yes that is smog in the background.....

    Break dancing in Beijing - no, not me