Saturday, November 30, 2013

100 Days of Inspiration

I have been in my role as an Associate Superintendent for about 100 days. It's been a whirlwind and the learning curve has been steep.

But without a doubt, my first 100 days have been marked with profound inspiration and admiration for the incredible work happening within the CISVA schools.

One of the greatest parts of my job, thus far, has been my ability and privilege to visit nearly half of our 46 schools.  Whether meeting with individual principals, entire staffs, Parent Education Committees or visiting individual teachers in their classrooms - I have been completely inspired by the faith, dedication, passion and commitment to "best practice" of men and women working in our schools -  in humble service of our students.

Walking into our schools, not only do they "look" Catholic but the Gospel values permeate the hearts and minds of staff and students .  The daily actions of staff members and students embody the life giving values that honour the "whole child"- with their many and varied blessings, talents and challenges.  I am sensing a genuine and overall happiness from students at school.

I am learning things about schools that I never noticed before or even had access to.  Here is a small collection of noteworthy items happening in a few schools that caught my attention over the past 100 days:
  • Learning Supported by Technology: a school's 3:1 iPad initiative, a school using Google Chromebooks, a teacher is awarded the Prime Ministers Award for  her use of technology in the classroom, and how other schools are using BYOD and other resources to empowering learning through technology
  • An outdoor Kindergarten program 
  • some high-school teachers moving to "grade-less report cards" 
  • Schools moving to more holistic grading guidelines - placing the focus on student learning as opposed marks
  • a school taking Gr. 7 students to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre for a week  -where students actually "become marine biologists" 
  • a school community (parents, staff and students) coming together to raise funds and  build a new playground
  • Schools empowering students, teachers and parents to be agents of change for those less fortunate at the Door is Open and at the Agape Street Ministry
  • Students in our schools learning to code and even gaining employment in the field 
  • Schools using Social Media to connect with their communities- see the growing use of the #CISVA hashtag   
  • Schools being intentional about the spiritual, social and emotional health of students.  Whether through programs like Second Step,  I am a gift from God or high school peer counseling programs
  • Early Childhood Intervention Programs and Literacy initiatives that place an intentional focus on meeting the learning needs of individual learners at an early age.

I know that there are many more incredible things happening in our schools that I am sure to encounter in the coming months.

I have come to learn these things because my new role has allowed me to connect with people and schools on a different level.

And yet I think we are missing out on a system wide opportunity.

We need to get to a place where my "privileged" position as an Associate is irrelevant!

With today’s access to social media, we increasingly have an opportunity to tell and share our own story to a broader audience - beyond our local communities.

More importantly, as we look grow in our own faith, improve our own professional practice as Catholic school educators and enrich the teaching and learning in our school’s  we need to look to each other for support, sharing and learning.

The first 100 days have been full of inspiration.  I want others to see what I have seen.  Let's continue to create networks of learning across school communities, in an effort to share and inspire each other to continue to meet the needs of every student entrusted to our care.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Ethics of Innovation & Reform in Education

I recently read an article about the innovative and creative exploits of Google.

The article attributed many of Google's most innovative and successful projects to the idea of "moonshot thinking" whereby Google takes on "highly experimental projects that will become industry changing success stories or total failures"

Such thinking has been attributed to projects such as Google Glasses, Project Loon , self driving cars and more recently Calico - a health company that "will focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases"

The creative and innovative energy around these initiatives excites me. I want to create that same energy in schools - for both students and teachers.

As a teacher/administrator I want to inspire students to strive for "moonshot thinking" in their own lives.  After all, which educator wouldn't?

Yet, I'm left wondering.....

Is unfettered, radical innovation and reform in education morally ethical?

Is Google "totally failing" at a project the same as a school reform initiative "totally failing"?

Google losing a couple hundred million dollars (out of a couple billion dollars) is not the same as a school potentially "losing" even one student.

Reform in education is challenging. It involves real people in their most formative and vulnerable years.

I can't help but wonder about the effect on failed reform initiatives for generations of students - from the US polices of "No Child Left Behind" to turning schools into educational call centres

Picture taken from:

As educators, perhaps, before we look to the corporate world as exemplars, we need to think about who we are serving and the consequences of our actions.

I offer the following suggestions:

1. Ask yourself "why" before you moving forward. What are your school's values? Are your actions in alignment with these values?

2. What will be the possible impacts of your action? Predicting and applying systems thinking to this process is critical. Like Peter Senge writes: "today's problems are a consequence of yesterday's solutions"

3. What does the current research reveal? Research is important, but know the limiting aspects of your research as well..

5. Is this work creating the most good with the least possible negatives (there is always going to be potential "risk")

6. Ask yourself: Would you want your own child to participate in this "innovative program?"

I like the idea of "moonshot thinking". The world has changed. Education needs to change. But education is not the same as Google. The stakes are much higher in education.

Still figuring it out....