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The Slippery Slope

November 21, 2015 2 comments

“The principal goal of education in schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.”    ~Jean Piaget~

For the first time in almost 20 years, my school, along with the rest of Ontario’s public elementary schools are missing out on the annual ‘conversation’ about the results of the annual grade 3 and 6 provincial EQAO assessments.  EQAO opted not administer the assessments after public elementary teachers refused to participate in the testing process as  part of the work to rule sanctions imposed in the spring.  Whatever one’s opinions are on standardized testing (not the focus of this post) it has made for an interesting fall.

Normally, at this time of the year school and system leaders are responding to the results on multiple fronts. Depending on the numbers, one could be dancing in the hallways and serving cake in the staff room, or sweating through an angry parent meeting trying to articulate the plan that will raise the scores and floating in stream of the annual media hand wringing about the decline of our system and our inability to ‘compete’.

Serendipity being what it is, our school board did engage in some broadly-based data collection last year- we conducted a system-wide student engagement survey. Near the end of the school year students in grades 5 to12 were invited to complete a questionnaire on a few key aspects of their life at school.  Over 52,000 students completed the survey (mostly online) representing 72% of our student population- a pretty robust sample size.

One of the key areas the survey focused on was how our students perceived their schools as engaging, modern learning environments.  A slice of data in this area of our student survey is represented below:

graph

 

 

The percentage values on the left (light blue) represent responses from our gr.5-8 (middle school) students and those on the right (navy) are responses from our gr.9-12 (high school) students.  What is noteworthy for me is the quantity of students who feel that their voices, values and interests are not evident in the school they attend and the decline in each category’s percentages from the middle school to high school results.

 

It reminds me of the results reported from the survey the Gallup organization conducted with a similar aged cohort of over 500 000 American students in 2012. An 80’s themed piece on this report can be found in The Atlantic .

FullSizeRender

Engagement and motivation are essential for deep learning. Whatever one’s stance or perspective is on what school should be; it’s pretty clear to me our students are telling us in no uncertain terms that school is not what it could be. Do we really wish to be part of a system that gradually erodes the enthusiasm and joy of learning of the majority of the children it is designed to serve?

This past week I had the opportunity to listen to an address by Will Richardson in which he challenged us to consider the beliefs we hold about our own learning and reflect upon whether these beliefs were evident in the actions we take in our schools and classrooms.  I think (hope) most of us know that the things we do to children do not reflect what we know we ought to be doing- and yet we persist.

Regardless of your role, if you work in schools now, knowing what our students have told us, how will you respond?

Deja Vu…All Over Again

September 26, 2015 1 comment

…there are many committed, forward thinking teachers who will make (inquiry and authentic work) happen despite the barriers. But community members, parents, legislators and lobbyists will resist large-scale transformative change at every turn because they are tied so deeply to their nostalgia for school as they knew it or to the potential windfalls of making traditional schools better.”      ~Will Richardson~

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post. After a quiet, blissful summer with family and friends I’ve launched into the start of the school year at a new location with the opportunity to get to know a new team of educators, students and families. September did bring lots of new stuff; but to quote the dearly (and recently) departed dugout linguist Yogi Berra, there is an element of that deja vu all over again in our schools this fall.

Current circumstances and events, along with the some of the reading I’ve been reflecting upon, has got me thinking about where we are in our profession, in our schools and our systems. Specifically, I’ve been reading Will Richardson’s latest book From Master Teacher to Master Learner and hope to weave a narrative over the next few posts to share my thinking, connect with some fellow travelers and, hopefully, provoke others to do likewise.

I’m a tinkerer; a restless soul with a willing disposition to challenge the status quo. As a school principal and prior to that, as a classroom teacher, I’ve tried to meet challenges and solve problems with creativity, imagination and a willingness to try new things, take risks and make mistakes. It helps that I welcome the ideas and perspectives of others; especially when these prompt me to refine and revise my thinking. This is how I learn and, above all, I see myself as a learner.

This is why, I’m sure, that I’ve found Will’s blog posts, talks and books to be so helpful. I can connect with his ideas and perspectives, both as a father and an educator. They give me pause to think, help me reflect upon my work and support me in my advocacy.

To lead public schools today requires degrees of creativity, optimism, resilience and the capacity for what Roger Martin has called, integrative thinking; the ability to incorporate two seemingly opposite ideas simultaneously to create change out of unpleasant or difficult situations.

Right now, and for the past 20 years, the stakeholders in our school system have engaged in fierce conversations and debates about the structures of our system; allocation of resources, organization of schools, reporting processes, class size, standardized testing and sequencing of curriculum standards. These policy points reflect a belief that the imposition incremental adjustments to the structure of schools and systems can effect a change in outcomes for students. This hierarchical stance no longer serves us in our networked, connected world but it remains the dominant mindset that we apply to our classrooms, schools and systems.

Nested within this conversation is an actual problem; at every level of our system (classroom, school, district and and legislative) our structures reflect a scarcity mindset that is based upon one-way transmission. The teacher who limits student learning to content-based worksheet lists and discreet facts that are doled out incrementally in advance of the test is no different than the school administrator who is required to appraise teachers based upon student test scores and classroom look-for checklists; or the policy maker who makes the decision to mandate investments in resources (like school technology) without accounting for the front-line implementation of these resources in schools.

All of these examples reflect the belief that when information, or performance, or resources are transmitted and measured; learning is an outcome. But this is no longer the case.

Learning, Will reminds us, is actually an outcome of learning. And learning is a process that is provoked by the questions of the learner, not the information that is being transmitted by the teacher.

So the questions I want to explore over the next few posts relate to the things we can do as educators to interrupt this ‘deja vu’ and change our conversations (and our systems) to be learning-focused for all; teachers, administrators, parents and most of all, students.

Thoughts?

Moving on…

June 3, 2015 2 comments

“Farewell has a sweet sound of reluctance.”    John Steinbeck

 

http://www.fotothing.com/ujbanyiv/photo/1b2acce6300e1ea025fdf3778c26350a/

Photo: The Old Glory   Ujbanyiv’s Fotothing

Our district announces the appointments and transfers for principals and vice-principals for the next school year in early June and last night, my name was on the list. After 3 fun-filled years as the principal at Park Avenue Public School I will be moving on to serve as the principal at Clearmeadow Public School this coming September.

Changing schools is not a big deal for most school administrators; we get the chance to work in multiple schools as vice principals and, as a result, are well versed in managing transitions. We also are aware that we have committed to a school system, and not just a school. In a district like ours, with over 150 schools, principal movement is a reality. Additionally, a big part of what drives those of us who choose this role is an willingness to embrace change and experience the challenges and opportunities that different schools offer. This was certainly one of the aspects that drew me to school leadership.

That’s not to say that I am doing cartwheels about leaving the school I have served for the past 3 years. I’ve had the chance to get to know a wonderful group of students and their families and work alongside an amazing group of dedicated professionals. But I always knew my time at Park Avenue would end and it has.

There’s an old saying the goes ‘it’s better that people think fondly of you of wherever you go, instead of whenever you go’; I certainly hope that’s the case for me (although one never really knows). I know that together we have made many changes in our little school during my time here. Some of them were my idea but, honestly, most of the changes were ideas that our staff, students and community came up with- I was just the guy who said, “sure, let’s try it…” and, sometimes, “how much does it cost?”  Either way, I am proud of the changes we have made and the things we have accomplished.

As a staff we launched a school-wide modern learning professional inquiry on how to use technology to enhance teaching and learning, together, with our parent community, we explored effective mathematics instruction and have taken a much closer look at how we can respond to the mental health and anxiety-based needs of our students. All good stuff- and it will continue.

All this good stuff; the ideas and the initiatives, came from the staff and students at our school- and almost of of them will be staying around. I’m not-but they are; and the work we began will continue with our new principal Bruce Baynham. Bruce will bring a fresh perspective and add his ideas to the mix-this is the way of public schools.

So, soon I will bid farewell. I will miss this place but I am excited about the the next steps I will take in my professional journey. In the meantime, I plan on enjoying every last second of my time as principal at Park Avenue Public School.

The Power of Why: Learning in the Modern Age

October 25, 2014 1 comment

There is an old saying from that wise old author Anonymous that goes something like this; we are all experts on education because we have all had experience with education.  Of course, for all of us, to varying degrees, this is true. Every generation of schools has to understand, and wrestle with, change. In schools we see changes in student demographics, changes in pedagogy as a result of research and emerging technologies and changes in the demands and expectations that parents and society have of our schools.

Too often, we think of the changes and challenges we are seeing in our modern schools as being about technology or the moving away from teaching the basics. Not true. The real change and challenge is related to who actually ‘owns’ the learning and how this learning can occur. The schools we went to were based on the premise that the teacher owned the knowledge and gave it to the students- who in turn, demonstrated success by regurgitating this knowledge back to the teacher. The questions we asked as students; “will this be on the test?” are not the questions our students today are asking; “why is this important?” or “why should I do this?”

All the nostalgic whinging in the world will not change the fact that the children that this generation of parents have raised (and are raising) have been conditioned to ask these why questions. What we have learned about the brain and how people learn, along with the powerful, connected information tools we now have, is that learning is an instinctual process that is driven by the curiosity and creativity of the learner. The most recent research indicates that people who are curious and act upon their curiosity lead more productive, complete and satisfying lives.

It turns out that “Why do we have to learn this?” is actually the question all students should be asking. For us as educators and parents, this is a great challenge- the schools that we knew are not the schools we now need. The emphasis on recall and memory still plays a role but they are nested within the curiosity, critical thinking and creativity of the student.

At our school; we have noticed that this type of thinking and problem solving is an area of struggle for many of our students and, as a result, we have invested a great deal of time and energy in learning how we, as educators, can guide our students to use questions to launch, sustain and consolidate their learning.

Interested in reading more about this? Try Amanda Lang’s recent book The Power of Why.

Balancing the Basics

February 5, 2014 1 comment

Contrary to the stories of doom and gloom that we are hearing, our mathematics education system is not broken. Can we improve what we do? Certainly. Should we throw out the whole thing and go totally back to basics? Absolutely not. There are three key things that can improve what we have – balance, balance, and balance.                        ~Ian VanderBurgh~

I understand the concerns and restless anxieties that parents feel about the performance of our students; I’m the father to 3 high school students who happens to also be an elementary school principal. I also understand the reasons why our media outlets would raise and amplify these concerns- they play a valuable role in shining a light on our democratic, public schools.  It’s a good thing that we are having conversations about these concerns; in our communities, face to face, through the mass media and our social networks.  In that context, I’d like to share some of my concerns…

  • I’m concerned that people are starting to believe that, based upon recent standardized test results, our children are sorely lacking in their mathematical knowledge, when compared with previous generations.
  • I’m concerned that people are starting to see private or commercial tutoring groups  like JUMP Math or Kumon as sustainable solutions to these perceived concerns and beliefs.
  • I’m concerned that people are forming opinions based upon opinions, and not upon what is actually the state of affairs in elementary math education.

This is why I appreciated the perspective that the University of Waterloo’s Ian VanderBurgh shared in a recent op-ed piece in the Globe and Mail.  As a school principal and elementary mathematics specialist teacher I could relate to Ian’s point that community engagement, collaboration between parents, teachers and ‘balance, balance, balance’ are keys to supporting improved student learning in mathematics.

You see, our kids are not the dullards some would have us believe. It would have been great if those of us who occupied classrooms in the 1960’s, 70’s or 80’s had been asked to complete the most recent PISA or EQAO math assessments; it could have provided some baseline data and certainly add some context (and modesty) to the opinions we hold of this generation of children.  I’m certain that the rote learning and memorization that formed the  foundation of my ’70’s era mathematics learning experience would not have prepared me to face the adaptive, open ended tasks that form the core of our current tests. Not sure? Check out some of the questions on the recent PISA assessment.

Nor can we really count on private foundations and organizations to ‘solve’ this crisis. What makes our public schools essential is that they are public; accessible and accountable to all. Not all students and families can access the often costly programs and resources that are touted, which makes it even more important that we ensure that the teachers in our public schools have the knowledge and capacities to teach mathematics effectively to all students. Of course, as one who works in public education, my bias and my beliefs draw me to this stance (just as those who operate private tutoring services are drawn to theirs).

Opinions being what they are, for the most part, instruction in ‘the basics’ is alive and well at our school and this ‘discovery learning’ thing is not the evil, Birkenstock-clad conspiracy that some have opined. We don’t even use the term discovery learning-it’s seems like a rather redundant term- doesn’t all learning require discovery? We recognize that when we involve our students in posing questions and contexts we see greater participation, deeper thinking and more connections to the ‘real’ world. And we recognize that our students need direct instruction on ways to use mathematical models and strategies to help them make sense of numbers and solve problems.

For us, the basics include more than memorization of facts, they include different ways of showing number relationships and arming our students with multiple strategies and tools for solving problems. And we are learning how to better use a balance of direct instruction (teachers teaching) and problem solving (students learning) to do this.

 

Joint Work in the Digital Staff Room

December 10, 2013 4 comments

Dean Shareski makes me chuckle and makes me think- two things that are greatly appreciated. He has a well-developed sense of the importance of play and joy in learning and asks great questions.  Perhaps it is the amount of time he spends travelling, or those long, cold Prairie winters- but Dean’s blog posts speak to me, they are reflective, transparent and challenging. Because I appreciate @shareski and believe that a network is both a place where one gives and receives; I am happy to accept Dean’s invitation to engage in a (seemingly) random act of web-enabled joint work.

Need to activate some prior knowledge? Click here . I suppose that Dean is looking to engage in a little play and extend a capacity building task- he may have some other unknown goal-or, it could be he’s trapped in the throes of a Saskatchewan winter- who knows?

Regardless, I’m happy to play along…

So here is the task…

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger- in this case it would be me…
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

11 Random Facts About Me…

  1. As much as I love being a principal, my coolest job was working on an Aircraft De-Icing Crew
  2. Though I write with my right hand, I am actually left handed
  3. Between my wife @techieang and I we have taught every grade from Kindergarten to grade 8
  4. But I have taught more grades: 1,4,5,6,7 & 8
  5. I was a Boston Bruins fan until I was 6 years old, then I was told being a Leaf fan was a ‘family rule’
  6. Ever since I was 6, I’ve resented rules
  7. If there is a James Bond film on TV, I will watch it
  8. Answer: Yes   Question: Coffee?
  9. Any challenging, difficult or complex problem is easier to solve after a day of skiing
  10. I am an introvert
  11. I believe it is important to face my fears (see 10)

11 Questions from @shareski

  1. How do you feel about pants?    Levis, please
  2. What was the last movie you saw in a theatre?  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation at the Retro Holiday Film Fest in at the local cinema 
  3. Where are your car keys?  Hanging by the door on an appropriately key-shaped key holder
  4. What time is it?     EDT
  5. What’s the last tweet you favorited?   Here
  6. Outside of your immediate family; which relative do you like to spend time with? Brother-in-law’s don’t count as ‘immediate, right?
  7. Have you ever been to Saskatchewan? No
  8. How long did it take you to walk to school as a kid?  10 minutes- 5 if I had slept in
  9. Besides you,  blogger should I be paying attention to?   Paul Aniceto
  10. Name one golf course.  Bushwood
  11. What’s your favorite Seinfeld episode or line?  “that’s right- he’s a real sideler.”

 

A reminder of  the task…

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger- in this case it would be me…
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

My Questions for You Are…

  1. Who is your favourite superhero?
  2. What is the most interesting place you have visited?
  3. IOS or Android?
  4. Would you rather be a hammer or a nail-Why?
  5. What was your first part time job?
  6. Left on a desert island, what 3 books do you take with you?
  7. When do you usually write your blog posts?
  8. Pizza- thin crust or regular?
  9. What was the topic of your first blog post?
  10. Did you ever own an 8-Track cassette?
  11. Lennon or McCartney?

Now its Your Turn…

  1. Aviva Dunsinger
  2. Paul Aniceto
  3. Yoon Soo Lim
  4. David Truss
  5. Rodd Lucier
  6. Zoe Branigan Pipe
  7. Stephen Hurley
  8. Mark Carbone
  9. Doug Peterson
  10. Sue Dunlop
  11. Donna Miller Fry

Of course, your participation is not mandatory…if you do remember to link back!

Peace!

New Year’s Resolutions

September 2, 2013 3 comments

“Inclusivity will be the milestone at which we shift from celebration and the implementation of strategies to the fundamental restructuring of our organization – our schools, classrooms, departments and Board. Inclusivity isn’t just inclusion. It isn’t just about belonging. It is about the constant evolution of the environments in which we belong. “            Ken Thurston,  Director: York Region District School Board

 

 

The bells at our neighbourhood school just rang across the park. Our family has enjoyed an active, eventful and rich summer break and now it is time for us to return to school; my wife to her Kindergarten class, our 15 year old twins to grade 10, our eldest off to a 4 credit grade 12 Co-Op placement and me, well, I’ve really been back at work for a few weeks now.

As a family parented by two educators, we’ve always considered Labour Day to be more like New’s Years Eve.  Along with the reality that, like most teachers, we always seem to still be awake at midnight the night before Day One, there is also the obvious reality that September brings us, as my colleague Dean Shareski writes, a clean slate. For these reasons, I’ve always looked forward to the start of the school year and its blank page and this year, even more so.

We all know our last school year was both unusual and eventful; all I have to offer about the past year is my sense of pride on how as families, staff and students we navigated the conflicts and tensions with respect, consideration and integrity, ’nuff said.

I’ve had a few resolutions I’ve been mulling over the past few weeks related to our school’s continued focus on Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation. So it was with some measure of delight that I listened to our Director, Ken Thurston’s keynote talk at our district’s Leadership Conference last Wednesday. Ken talked about the importance of engaging and trusting our students, staff and families, shifting towards a collaborative, lateral system and away from a hierarchical, expert-based system and embracing the realities with which our digital, networked world is confronting us.  All messages I could embrace (and have been).

The quote that launches this post was the one that grabbed me. Inclusivity as more than just creating ‘belonging’ but as re-shaping our structures in response to the needs of our community-students, families and staff.  I’m excited about this shift because, not only does it grant us permission to inquire and innovate, it challenges us to look at our existing practices, evaluate their impact and change them if they are not working.

As a school, we have made the decision to change our practices in response to the genuine needs of all of students, in particular our struggling and disengaged students. We have embraced the use of technology to support teacher and student learning and creativity, adopted a BYOD policy to support teacher and student autonomy and choice and we have developed our web and social media presence to reach out to, and connect with, parents, families and educators from beyond our school.

As I look towards tomorrow, and the start of a new school year; these are my humble resolutions:

  • I will focus my efforts and energy on supporting our community (staff & parents) to grow the understanding we have of our students and their social, emotional and academic needs
  • I will use these understandings to structure and evolve our programs; at the classroom and school level, in response to our student’s needs
  • I will communicate regularly and clearly our challenges and successes, through this blog, our @ParkAvePS twitter feed and newly revised, weekly edition of our school newsletter, the Park Avenue Post

So Happy New Year to all; staff, parents and most of all, students. I’m looking forward to welcoming you all back and helping you learn to make your dreams come true!

 

Learning to Make our Dreams Come True

August 15, 2013 1 comment

“The real shortage we face is dreams, and the wherewithal and the will to make them come true.” Seth Godin

The dreamy days of summer are still with us. Over the next few weeks families will bask in the last of our summer days and evenings, fully aware that the first day of the school year is almost upon us. What is is that makes the days of summer pass by with such a leisurely pace? Is it the length of the days? Perhaps. Or is it the mid-summer heat that slows both us, and the passage of time? Possibly. Or could it just be that in the summer months, or during any holiday time for that matter, we, both the young and not-so young, are more likely to entertain and follow our dreams.

My eldest son has dreams- he’s been working and saving for a few years to make one of his dreams come true- to buy a pick up truck.  And this summer he was able to accomplish this task.  After months of scouring the web to research vehicle reliability, price points and market trends- the perfect truck was located- a four hour drive from our home. Off we went on a Sunday morning for the 10 hour round trip, father and son, to meet the seller, kick the tires and (hopefully) buy the truck. Those who know me best will know that my mechanical knowledge is limited at best. I tagged along for two purposes; company for the ride and, I was owner of the credit card needed for the trailer rental.

Dream accomplished! After a test drive and examination, the papers were signed and, since the truck was not really road-worthy, we loaded the truck on the trailer and headed home. Did I mention that truck repair is also part of the dream?

As my son drove us home I pulled out my iPad and re-read Seth Godin’s recent manifesto on education tilted Stop Stealing Dreams– see where I’m going with this now?  Godin makes some proactive and necessary points about why and how our schools are struggling and offers some suggestions for those of us who wish to try to face this challenge and address these struggles. The e-book is accessible in multiple formats and can be downloaded for free by clicking on this link.  If you want to get a better sense of why and how we are trying to change our school, Stop Stealing Dreams is pretty much required reading. While you are at it, you can add Will Richardson’s book Why School? to the list too.

Back to my original point about dreams and the summertime; a lot of learning and growth occurs when we tap into our dreams and passions. It makes me wonder, is our school a dream-stealer or a dream-amplifier?  All great ideas and inventions are born of dreams- not the literal dreams of our sleep (though some actually are) – but dreams that are the stuff of hunches, random flickers of combinatory thoughts and the deep belief in the ‘possible’. I’m wondering about where we find that curriculum.

Or perhaps meeting this challenge is more about developing a set of habits rather than a curriculum or body of knowledge? Perhaps the questions we as adults, educators and parents, ought to be asking are; “what are we doing to fuel our students dreams?”, and “are our children learning to make their dreams come true?”

Learning to make our dreams come true is a phrase that, for me, best captures the kind of school we are working to create. This creation requires that we think and act differently, as teachers, as parents and as students:

  • It demands that we adapt our pedagogy and use our tools to connect and create networks and communicate what we are learning in new and different ways and to wider audiences.
  • It asks that we envision communities and workplaces where adaptability, creativity and resilience are valued over standardization and memorization and so that these habits of mind may be developed.
  • It requires that we understand that learning is a choice that requires effort, struggle and perseverance- it is an action we undertake not something that is passively received.

I hope our students, families and staff have had the chance to dream, play and learn over these summer weeks and look forward to the start of the school year so that we may continue… learning to make our dreams come true.

Pocket Change

April 16, 2013 3 comments

‘Knowing what to change comes before knowing how to change.”      ~Andy Hargreaves~

 

Many of us have fond recollections of the tools we brought to school when we were young- binders, a pencil case filled with freshly sharpened Laurentian pencil crayons and, to mark our passage into adolescence; a shiny geometry set! Having the opportunity to personalize the tools we brought to school was (and is) important. Every August the aisles of local retailers are laden with backpacks, binders and booklets splattered with superheroes, sports logos and boy bands, all in the name of personalization.

The tools we use are important; in many ways they define the opportunities and outcomes that are possible; and this has never been more apparent than it is now. We carry in our pockets powerful tools that can, and will, lead to meaningful change in both opportunities and outcomes for all our students.

The short video by Cheryl Fiello is embedded in this post, not as an endorsement, but to open up the conversation we are having in some of our classrooms, with some of our students and our families. A conversation about tools.

BYOD is an acronym for Bring Your Own Device. The devices in this case being the smartphones, media players, tablets and laptops that belong to students and families. Most of you know that our school-based technology connects to our school wifi network. You may not know that students can also connect to our wifi network using their  student login and password on their own devices.

A few of our classes have embarked upon a school-based pilot project this year to explore the BYOD process, gather information and provide feedback and guidance to the rest of our school community. We have tapped into the guidance and support of our district support staff as well as teachers in schools where BYOD projects are already in place. The guidance included practical tips like how to store the devices safely, when and where to use the devices and strategies for monitoring the safe and appropriate use of these devices by students.

Of course we are still gathering, still learning and still exploring- but the early consensus is positive from the staff and the students. The ways that we can connect, collaborate and communicate are vastly different from our days of pencil cases and geometry sets (even though we still use both). The range and power of the tools these students bring to school far outstrip those of the tools I brought, but at the core, the premise is the same; given the chance, we like to use our own tools.

Over the next few months we will need to carry on this conversation in preparation for the next stage in our BYOD process. Our plan to ensure equity of access, our strategies to manage student safety and the security of their devices and the impact this change will have on many of our well established school structures.

The change might be in our pockets, but it is no small sum.

 

Weaving Our Web

March 23, 2013 3 comments

“We shape our tools and then they shape us.” Marshall McLuhan

We had a great conversation at our Parent Council meeting this week on the  changes that are underway here at Park Avenue P.S. Some may know that our staff and students have been quietly re-tooling; changing the way that we use technology for teaching and learning. Specifically, our staff and students are exploring the ways we can use mobile devices as tools for learning.

If you look carefully, you will see evidence of this all over the school. Several of our classes have been engaging in a pilot project on the ways we can incorporate students’ personal technology (iPods, tablets) into daily learning, how to appropriately use web-based learning systems like Edmodo and many of our primary classes have launched class blog sites.

As a first year principal, I take a great deal of pride in how willing our staff have been to embrace these innovations. Not only because I believe they are important innovations that our public schools need to adopt but also because these are observable and tangible evidences that provide me with feedback on the impact of my leadership. It’s important to note that everyone, even school principals, want to make a difference. It’s also important to note that all of these changes trace directly back to our school improvement plan goal to continue to work to ensure our school is inclusive, our learning is inquiry-based and our practices are innovative.

The video above gives a poetic view of how we can help our children learn that the tools we have now do allow for meaningful connections- to, as my friend Royan Lee often says, ‘expand and not escape.’ Of course our teachers play a critical role, as parents do, in guiding and structuring this learning. This is why we have provided many of our teachers with iPads so they may inquire into the ways that these tools can support their professional learning and their classroom practice.

At our Council meeting, some of our parents did admit that all this ‘hopey-changey stuff’ was putting them on a pretty steep learning curve and that is perfectly understandable. For many adults, when we enter a school, we expect it to be the school that we attended rather than the school that it could (and should be) in the now. Too often, I’m afraid this remains the case.

My colleague  Jackie Gerstein has written a great blog post that breaks down how the evolution of the internet has and can impact the pedagogy and practice in our classrooms.  Another great read is the book Too Big to Know by American author David Weinberger.

Schools only work when there is trust and trust exists when all stakeholders feel they have a voice and a choice. As parents and community members I hope you feel welcome to ask questions about the changes we are undertaking; why, when and how. I also hope you will feel that you can also respond; through conversations, notes and to these blog posts- it’s pretty simple all you have to do is click in the Leave a Reply box and share your voice- and you are all welcome to do so.

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