Saturday, November 24, 2012

hammer or the anvil

So far, I've avoided leaving even a single comment on any of the BC Edplan feedback forums. It's partly because of time, partly because of initial unease over the plan's origins, but also because I've often felt that the coming changes are inevitable. I'll adapt one way or another regardless of what it looks like, and help others do the same. Much like an anvil -- sturdy and reliable, but typically on the receiving end. A few discussions and experiences over the last while have convinced me to exercise my inner hammer and get involved one way or another. This was my motivation for applying to present at the recent Ed Leadership Conference and also why I've worn a path on this topic for most of the last two years at the district level.

During the Grad Requirements Dialogue that came to Prince George in October, a group of secondary and post-secondary educators, administrative officers and boards from various institutions (including our school district, CNC, and UNBC) parents, trustees, First Nations and partner group representatives (associations, unions, DPAC, etc.), political, business and trades types, and other stakeholders met to discuss how the structure and flow of high school might evolve in BC to meet new and existing expectations for our students.

One of the things we discussed at our tables and reported out to the whole group was how curriculum could or should change. Curriculum is currently organized into Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLOs) and Suggested Achievement Indicators (SAIs). For example, one of the PLOs in Social Studies 11 is to "explain how Canadians can effect change at the federal and provincial levels." One of the matching SAIs is to "compare mechanisms whereby public policy can be changed (e.g., elections, petitions and protests, lobbyists, special interest groups, court actions, media campaigns)." The plan is to organize the discipline-based curriculum around Big Ideas (the themes of the PLOs), Learning Standards (the heart of the PLOs) and Links (that connect to various applications, competencies, and assessments of curriculum, replacing the SAIs).

This topic is also featured in the latest issue of Learn (BC Teacher Regulation Branch Magazine -- "wisdom" from the Ministry of Education). The article Transforming BC's Curriculum describes a perceived need to reduce the total number of outcomes while emphasizing higher-order thinking and more depth (online version not yet posted, but here is some context from Janet Steffenhagen). I was encouraged to see the involvement of Peter Seixas (UBC Ed Prof) with the Social Studies portion -- I've been working with benchmarks of historical thinking for a few years and I think using these as a framework for understanding curriculum is great. I was a little worried that the minority of voices clambering for dumbed down outcomes would gain traction, but with folks like Seixas onboard I am hopeful that this will be a way to streamline without losing depth. The critical inquiry approach has changed the way I teach, and also assess. Colleague Rob Lewis and I got the chance to play with the benchmarks while making unit study guides for Pearson's 2010 SS11 text Counterpoints. This exercise in collaboration and professional learning has led us into a new way of doing assessment where we are firm on the critical thinking and soft on the factoids. I've already put my two bits in on Socials Studies 11 curriculum change, but the Ministry should also invite some of these other educators to dialogue as well as Counterpoints authors Mike Cranny and Garvin Moles.

One thought I had while reading the Learn Magazine article is that spelling out the big ideas of the curriculum could actually restrict rather than liberate diverse learning. The present focus on skills, content, concepts allows teachers and students to build their own narratives with the curriculum, discovering and applying their own big ideas. This is what makes Social Studies exciting -- having students make profound connections precisely because we haven't made these for them. The idea of passively "delivering content" to students is very much out of favour, but will we be "delivering meaning" instead? What if students disagree that a "big idea" is important? Yet, we are still accountable for outcomes based on that big idea?  Constructivist and Inquiry-based learning work best when the end goal is not pre-determined. Many of our texts (like SS11 Counterpoints) have already made the switch to big idea, focus questions, and supporting concepts, skills, content. I suppose mine is more of a philosophical or semantic concern as the new proposal looks like what many teachers do anyways (when they're not chasing content). There are also some teachers that deliver a course as they have had it handed down to them, and sometimes never reference what they do back to the curriculum, and many students who never take the time to figure out what learning outcomes they need to pay attention to, so a more teacher- and student-friendly curriculum may be in order. This also speaks to the need for exemplars to be shared in a non-threatening manner and maybe a chance to meet other educators to initiate informal mentoring and collaboration.

At the Grad Requirements Discussion, we were shown a prototype of what the new BC curriculum website might look like (slides 22/23 on the Slideshow ppt posted at, slide 22 shown above). The "Links" section caught the attention of our table, and we speculated about what would happen if the Links actually connected to an interactive space for exemplars and ideas populated by teachers and students. These would showcase regional applications to curriculum, multimodal expressions of learning, meaningful assessment practices, wicked lesson outcomes, and unique examples of ordinary students doing significant learning. It could feature adaptations for ESL/ESD, enriched, at-risk, or students with a learning disability. It would need to be moderated in some way (e.g. ensure FIPPA, monitor size and repetition, prevent corporate encroachment), but this could be a launchpad for teacher education, student research, parent involvement, academic study, expert input, and professional development. Wiki, mobile app, forum style, digital learning commons... lots of ways to go with this idea, not every form appeals to every educator. We have informal and formal "learning repositories" at many levels already; I'm not thinking about a one-stop centre for lessons plans or complete set of learning resources (uhh, that would be the "internet"). This would be more of an exhibit of successful teaching and learning achievements, including assessment and the role of technology. Using the Social Studies 11 PLO mentioned above as an example (affecting political change), the Links section could feature a curation of BC exemplars.  This might include sample student petitions, a weblink to a lobby group formed or investigated by students, a teacher's best lesson for letter writing to politicians or setting up a mock parliament, a comparative analysis of austerity protests in Europe, a rubric for self-assessing active citizenship, an RSS feed of current events that relate to provincial and federal politics, proceedings from a Personal Learning Network that has critiqued problem-based cross-curricular projects that include political agency, testimonials and student interviews (politicians, journalists, new immigrants, special interest groups), student video on what they learned from taking a Canadian Citizenship test, student media campaigns or field work, and so on. The Links would change over time to reflect new discovery, and balance friendly competition and useful cooperation among BC schools.

More than just a list of links and exemplars, some level of interactivity would be ideal. This could be user rating scale or comment section to evaluate posted content and ensure that curriculum change (at least at the achievement indicator level) is an ongoing process and not something that stops and starts every few years. This would create a fluid user-generated curriculum guide that builds on what the experts have laid out as big ideas and learning standards, a necessary step towards flexible instructional design and personalized learning. There could be a sandbox or "guild" space where new exemplars and learning schemes could be tested and critiqued by the BC educational community, perhaps directly in the Ministry webspace or alongside the "Links" via social media. The Ministry of Education is already using interactive digital tools for gathering feedback -- whittle this down to something sustainable and never stop asking for feedback. Another route is to build a registry of BC educators and existing web resources, lesson elements, and student exemplars that match the various learning standards and assessment goals of the new curriculum. This would formalize the data that is flowing all the time on social media , a constant exchange and evaluation of curriculum design, teaching strategies, and student support of all kinds for student learning. It could also kickstart local discussions about mentorship and personal learning networks. Whatever the approach, the final step of new curriculum websites should involve some kind of dynamic space that will benefit new and old teachers looking to explore new paradigms.

The other interesting idea I pulled from the Grad Requirements Dialogue was the uncommon discussion itself.  We had one of the most extensive collections of SD57 educational stakeholders assembled that I've seen in 17 years of teaching. Let's just say our district doesn't tend to reach out in this fashion. The sum of what was said (and then forwarded to a regional contact) can be seen as our local community's shared beliefs about education and expectations for youth as they become "whole selves" -- active citizens, fulfilled employees, empathetic adults, etc. I was struck by how the discussion fit as well for our top academic students as it did our at-risk and vulnerable students -- it wasn't about raising or lowering standards as much as it was about how much we care about how our students turn out. I'm looking at some new forms of assessment for my next year, some methods that anticipate rather than react to changing ideas about competency and cross-curricular learning. I want to be able to present my students next year with a framework of expectations not from me, but from the whole local community that supports their learning, an invitation for them to create their own path of assessment within a social context. This locally gathered data provides that context -- an actual community-based expectation for understanding student achievement. I saw a few community-based approaches at the recent Ed Leadership Conference, and this seems like the right scale to build ownership for students. Students already set many of their own expectations (especially when their identity is engaged in the learning process) and try to meet the expectations of their parents, teachers, and schools (sometimes). We also expect them to meet provincial standards, too, but what would it look like to meet the expectations of their local educational stakeholder community? This is the milieu in which their ambitions will sink or swim, the people who will be encouraging, supporting, judging, teaching, employing, cajoling, and depending on them. I think this could be exciting. I'd like to try this with a group of Grade 11 students in a new blended learning program next year -- start their first seminar session by learning how to do qualitative analysis using the community stakeholder data. From this we move into shared assessment design where students build a plan for the course program based on the big ideas, learning standards, personalized goals and passions, and community expectations. I'm not sure if this will appeal to every student, but we'll definitely take care of the "why are we doing this" question right from the start. This is especially important for at-risk students who are often at odds with what they think their community thinks of them. Maybe this would be a step past the academic judgement they receive and move into a more care-based ethos (as in, let's all care enough to give a you-know-what).

Just some ideas here to stretch my thinking; I'm actually pretty content to stay the course on my own pedagogical trajectory in concert with the great ideas that come from my personal learning network, but it's better to be the hammer than the anvil when it comes to changes to curriculum and assessment. I've seen some crazy schemes arrive, turn into cliches, and depart in the last 17 years, so if we're going to be plunged into someone's version of 21st century learning, we might as well "own" our capacity to craft something original.

Teachers and other educational stakeholders, if you are able to set aside reservations about system upheaval, the scary libertarian bits, pressure on the BCTF, and challenges to our comfort zones, I am interested to learn what cool things can you do in your space that are opened up by BC Edplan. I'm taking it for what it's worth, the first major self-evaluation of compulsory schooling in at least a generation, and one that not only allows but enables diverse instructional design and respect for student inquiry.

What do you want to get out of the coming changes? What can future Ministry Curriculum websites do to support you? What do you think about community-based expectations for students? Tweet your responses to @bcedplan, visit their forums, or leave a comment here.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

koolaid vs wild mushrooms

BC Educational Leadership Conference Fall 2012 - Nov 15/16 - Participant Report

I walked down Burrard Street toward the harbour last Thursday with thoughts of tall buildings and tall trees, the sight of well-dressed wealthy folk getting somewhere fast and street-tested poor folk in no particular hurry. A soft 7 a.m. traffic-sound bounced off the buildings like sea-breeze, broken by the cry of gulls. Sitting there behind my senses was the question of what to expect as I stepped into the Vancouver Convention Centre for the BCSSA Fall Conference. I expected to be greeted by jugs of koolaid but soon found I would feast on wild mushrooms. Let me share the difference between the two and what I took from this big gathering of "BCED" leaders -- senior administrators, trustees, principals, and others including parents, teachers, and students. The topic was "Parterships for Personalization: Leading and Transforming Together" -- putting some meat and potatoes onto the BC Edplan table.

First of all, my reservations about the jargon and embedded agendas in the BC Edplan go back a few years to the Premier's Technology Council 2010 Vision for 21st Century Learning. When I first read it, I thought "oh crap, what are they going to do to our education system?" Like many teachers, I am concerned that the vision is about reducing and privatizing services in public education and downloading costs to parents, students, and teacher volunteerism. That's the koolaid part. Read to the bottom and you'll see there is an upside to the koolaid, the part of the BC Edplan that says "what are you waiting for?"

I'll be the first to admit that the conservative service-reduction agenda was not obvious at the ELC conference. What I found instead was diverse ways that schools and districts across the province are experimenting with collaborative pedagogy, environmental and community connections, attaching children and teens, purposeful use of technology, and a focus on making the school experience more imaginative for all involved, primarily the students. There was very little teacher bashing (no more than any other stakeholder, and nothing we shouldn't "own" anyways), no examples that I could find where projects were designed as cost-cutting measures, and a general respect for the social, emotional, professional and contractual contexts in which we practice. There was also an emphasis on local knowledge and projects that reached out to people and places. It was in these contexts, incidentally, that technology and project-based learning found the right balance. This composite of unique offerings was the wild mushroom part -- homegrown, fresh, diverse, and special. Of course, the metaphor fits because we also had great local food at the conference. Yup, wild mushrooms were on at least one dish at every meal.

I went to sessions on blended learning in Rossland, heritage/place based inquiry in Arrow Lakes, and one on the Thomas Haney school experience. My wife (who also attended) and I noticed that the most functional districts tended to be the smaller ones. In the bigger ones, it was school-wide rather than district-wide efforts that stood out, with a few exceptions (West Van comes to mind). The plenary speakers each shared an hour of profound high-caliber research and observations. I found enough to either agree with or challenge my thinking that I am left with many ideas to consider. The plenary speakers emphasized how collaboration relates to school improvement, and encouraged leaders to do a few things well.

The Thomas Haney story was cool; they've been doing blended learning in some fashion for 20 years. Obviously lots of learning curve -- they relied heavily on paper modules or packages, and of course now these all are going digital. Sounds a bit like the Moodle trap our DE school is standing next to. Still, they are a choice school, full (in a district with declining enrolment), and drawing from almost every elementary catchment. They have huge open spaces in their school and smaller student study areas, lots of light and greenery, etc, which is a big part of what makes it work. Presenter and Principal Sean Nosek was a charismatic fellow who was obviously doing the right thing with his talent -- passion, pride and ongoing inquiry for the THSS school community. He remembered me my from summer session of teacher training at SFU in 1995... something about wearing a bearskin and shouting poetry in class. I don't remember that but it sounds like something I would do.

Rossland Secondary School is the only high school in a town of 4000, tucked up in an extinct volcano midst the Monashee Mountains. With declining enrolment, they were in threat of school closure, compounded by a preemptive flight down the hill to J.L. Crowe Secondary in Trail. So, some teachers in the school proposed a whole-school blended learning model for Sep 2012: Very interesting to see the start-up and how open and progressive they are with mistakes. Seems to be working great for the middle class masses, but they're having some issues with the few at-risk and LA kids they have; need more direct supervision, etc. They have put serious thought into how blended learning could/should work, and are open to visits and inquiries. This Rossland Telegraph article explains the context.  I have some friends whose kids attend the RSS program and it seems to be a good fit for families where flexibility is sought-after.

The Arrow Lakes SD10 schools had a focus on place-conscious learning, for example discovering the community through art. Big projects saw students doing field work and interviews around local cultures, landscapes, and issues, for example investigating the Japanese Internment experience and telling their stories through film (the Nikkei Memorial Centre is nearby in New Denver).  A key inquiry related to the local Doukhobor culture. Their work focused on recognizing and articulating values -- directly, in the case of the interview subjects, and indirectly, in that students discover what is important for themselves when they look for it in others. The students made the connections between the Doukhobor and Aborginal residential schools, and asked powerful questions about different forms of colonialism. The presenter, District Principal Terry Taylor, talked about how they clear off a whole week for students to do field work and interviews, parents and teacher involved but no regular classes. Their superintendent Perry also arranged for whole school TOC time, I day per month. She was a fiery, determined sort of leader who seemed absolutely committed to breaking down barriers any time a group of teachers or admin had a vision for something that supported innovative student engagement.

Of course, the "unconferencing" was also important. I tried to tweet some of the big ideas and funny bits -- look through my Nov 15/16 tweets before they disappear, or scroll though some of the conference tweets (archived below as well).  I got to meet a few people I've interacted with on social media but have either never met (e.g. Chris Wejr and Peter Jory) or haven't seen in a while (e.g. Cale Birk). I made some new educator contacts (e.g. Sean Nosek, Terry Taylor).  I very much enjoyed talking with Nicola Kuhn (Rossland Teacher-Librarian and a lead coordinator of the blended learning initiative). It was not hard to bump into folks that are making an impact on student learning and the education system -- these six educators make for good follows on twitter for anyone wondering about the value of social media. I had some awesome and frank discussions with superintendents from a few districts, like Mark Thiessen from Williams Lake and Greg Luterbach from Kootenay-Columbia. They are still close to their roots as teachers and were able to drop all pretense and TALK. Very encouraging. I asked about six Supers how they managed to clear their desks of tasks that didn't have lasting value and focus on relationships. Great responses! Favourite one was "I don't do politics!" The topic of trust also came up, as in trust for other members of the team to do their best work.

I presented at this conference as well, on the topics of personalized project-work for students, teachers, and leaders. I spoke about personal learning networks, social media, strategies for getting the "underground" work many of us do out in the open, and allowing this work to be subject to mutual accountability and further collaboration. My presentation and notes are posted here. I was anxious before I presented (too many topics, perhaps) but it went well, engendered great small group discussions, and got good feedback from people that seemed to have their act together. The exemplars and stories of student heritage inquiry generated the most interest. The discussion questions were basically "what ignites your interests or excites your learning and provides a hearth to centre your professional learning?" and "what can we do to welcome, celebrate, and support hidden but promising practices at schools from students, teachers, principals and within board office staffs and partner groups?"

Our School District 57 sent the two assistant superintendents (Johnston, Carson), curriculum & instruction principal (Heitman), human resources director (Patterson), finance manager (Reed), and five trustees (Warrington, Cooke, Hooker, Bekkering, Bella).  I'll link to them if they have any conference reports or thoughts to share. Yes, that's a hint... we'd love to hear your thoughts!

Maybe other SD57 participants can offer their own perspective, but I am left wondering how our district staff and trustees felt about the relative progress of our school district in light of the stunning exemplars from around the province. I would suggest that we have three major challenges that stuck out in comparison with other school districts:
  1. Need to pursue more creative and meaningful experiments in collaboration, both formal and informal. The idea of a regulated collaboration system with prescribed topics sits on the ridiculous end of the spectrum -- there were a few districts doing this -- do any of our school still do this? We need "co-creative" habits modeled at all levels, and active support for any group that embarks on a promising path moving from "sharing of practice" to "joint practice development." For example, the practice shared by David Hargreaves of one school staff visiting another school’s staff at work (and vice versa) led to diverse collaborations. Not suggesting we try this, but asking the question about what culture and design would need to be in place for this sort of thing to happen in our district? The need exists from the classroom to the boardroom. Simply acknowledging that we interact with partner groups is not enough; we should move into an interdependent relationship where we actually meet each other's ambitious goals. What actions would result if we asked powerful questions about the strengths of and challenges to our collaboration across the organization?
  2. Need for more thoughtful planning on technology. Our narrow focus on managing systems, maintaining network integrity, controlling platforms, reducing costs, and banning devices to comply with backroom purchasing decisions are holding us back. We need free-wheeling, inclusive, formal discussions on integrating technology into learning (to compliment the informal professional learning on the topic that already happens), and a support plan that begins with pedagogy. One the elephants in our room is the inexplicable and hushed decision to ban ipad purchase requests (and other devices and technologies) from principals and teachers for student use. Another elephant is the collapse of district-wide educator teamwork on tech philosophy and implementation -- the platform or devices is not the issue, it is the avoidance of a pedagogical discussion that leverages technology. The once-vibrant culture for collaboration on technology in our district died a few years ago and we are now left with an appalling lack of interaction between teachers and district leaders on technology. The examples across the province showed how good tech blends into the background of solid teaching and learning, but nonetheless requires district-wide dialogue, planning, training, support and shared decision-making. Every district that told me they had a BYOD (bring your own device) philosophy also had a complimentary purchasing strategy based on the expressed needs of educators. Our "prime directive" with tech needs to shift from network security & standardization to teaching & learning, creating & collaborating. These are not incompatible but the priority is important. To be blunt, the longer our school district sits on these issues, the more we losing technology capacity, educator excitement, and student interest.
  3. Need for improved communication and celebration of success. We certainly saw amazing provincial evidence from blended learning programs, attachment strategies, environmental and community connections, innovation with technology, collaborative practice, and students showing leadership. What’s happening in SD57? For educator examples, we have had some success with the mentorship program and learning team grants, but they are for the most part well-kept secrets. For student examples, each school I'm sure is doing uplifting work with kids -- but the success is often hidden. Adding more leadership structures or responsibilities is not necessary, we just need to "release the hounds" and benefit from the energy that is already at work (and often at odds with dominant thinking). We need to keep working on developing social media, website, news media and conversational connections to share our good work with the larger stakeholder community that supports us, as well as for our own professional learning and work with students. 
In short, if we want to talk about 21st century skills we have to plan for them and model them ourselves. Our province is pervaded with high quality examples, no need to look very far to see high bars for collaboration, tech planning, and communication.  We have a long way to go here, but we also have lots of positive examples in our midst, thought often hidden among the underbrush.

I was, nonetheless, proud to represent our district because the people I work and learn with place a high priority on the development of all children and generally have a good sense of humour... they put up with my blog posts, for example.
So, hurray for wild mushrooms - the diverse, local, and fresh experiences that we forge for ourselves and our students. Let us continue cultivating the ecosystems that result in sturdy specimens.

And, hurray for a bit of koolaid - the part of the bcedplan that actually recognizes that educators have been trying smart, dynamic, innovative "7C" student-centered work for a long time (and want to do more), and that their efforts for learning and system designs should be greeted with "YES" as often as possible.

Some references

The keynotes and most of the break-out concurrent sessions have been archived at

Conference program (full list of sessions)

SD20 Superintendent Greg Luterbach on what he pulled from Ben Levin's presentation:

SD43 Manager of Info Services Brian Kuhn on disruptive technology and conference interaction

SD45 Bowen Island Principal Jennifer Pardee reflecting on the conference and environmental connections:

SD57 Trustee Kate Cooke on what she pulled from the conference:

SD69 Kwalicum VP Rudy Terpstra reflects and asks a big question

Plenary keynotes:
Ben Levin - Building Great Schools (big file)

Daniel Wilson - Cultivating Effective Professional Collaborations

Andreas Schleicher - Teachers in the 21st century

David Hargreaves - The Shape of Things to Come, and Self-Improving School Systems:

Thanks to PGDTA, by the way, for covering my registration and TOC costs. Thanks to BCSSA (conference organizers) for covering flight and accommodation. Thanks to SD13 Pacific Slope for the evidence and support. Thanks SD57 trustees Cooke, Warrington, Hooker, Bekkering for table talk at the conference and Elephant & Castle. Thanks for to so many committed educators and leaders for F2F and SM chats throughout conference... as I said in the presentation, there is lots about the BC Edplan that causes concerns across stakeholder groups, but the push to try new things and remove barriers to change fits well with some really cool current and future projects around the province. I think our students will benefit from the thoughtful and resourceful praxis that has caught fire in so many jurisdictions in our province any time educators have been able to move beyond rhetoric to collaborative practice.

If you have a conference report, let me know so I can share and post the link.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

student and parent info for language and landscape program

Next year, Grade 11 students have a new option for completing English 11 at D.P. Todd, and completing Geography 12 at the same time.

We are launching a new program that uses blended learning to explore language, writing, literature, landscapes, and environmental education. This approach mixes classroom based learning (with a teacher), student-centered learning in small seminars (facilitated by the teacher), smaller groups (facilitated by students), and independent work (supported by all). The focus will be on the "spark" or learning passion that each student brings, creative use of technology, critical thinking, deep inquiry, project-based learning, integration of the arts, and use of digital portfolios. Examples in the course will come from diverse sources including Tolkien's Middle Earth, local writing and local landscapes, as well as work developed by the students themselves.

Students completing this program receive full credits for both English 11 and Geography 12 -- the learning outcomes from both courses will be addressed. This "Language and Landscape" program takes place in two blocks in one semester (e.g. A & B) and allows flexible attendance during one of the two blocks. All students who have completed English 10 and Social Studies 10 may apply; however, priority placement will occur for motivated students who are excited to learn in a collaborative learning environment.

Read more about this on the parent post on the Language and Landscape blog.  For more information, email, come talk to me in room 180, or read some of the other blog posts.

I think students have a lot more to offer than we often give them the space to attempt. This program is designed to see what that looks like.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

parents asked to do more

Many parents are indeed more involved; as a teacher I’d like to see even more partnership. The idea that parents need to subsidize our public education system, though, is not good. While I admire their support and respect for school staff, too many PACs are actually donating money to teachers to buy basic supplies for their classes. That should be fully funded by the government via the local district. I’m also not quite sure how to “place” the former chair's comments. He said that in 2001 when cuts and closures were on the agenda, parents were brought into the conversation and realized they had a place in the school setting. Is he referring to the public consultations around closures required by the School Act and Board Policy? Nine years later during the 2010 cuts the school district still hadn’t figured out how to extend the conversation beyond required meetings, and seemed shocked by the expectation from the public that they wanted to be a more significant part of the conversation. Partner groups (e.g. parents) were given a few hours to provide feedback on cuts, and were completely left out of the jigsaw puzzle plan that could not be changed until the final hour before schools were to be closed. Parents had to fight to get basic answers to financial questions throughout the process. Don’t take it from me… previous DPAC chair Don Sabo went through all this when he gave his “summary report card” at the end of the “Sustainability” process. Normally an uplifting and praise-laden fellow, he had hard words for many aspects of a process that could have been improved at any point along the way.

Personally, I was really impressed that the most coherent expression of support in 2010 for public education and vision for the roles of sustainable communities anchored around schools came from passionate groups of parents. Most everyone else just reacted, the bulk of teachers included. The cuts and changes were in some ways inevitable, even understandable (partly related to gov’t cutbacks, partly related to the way our district has spent its money in the past). However, we did not do a great job with either the consultation process or the repercussions to school district culture and educational programs; we are still dealing with them now and last year's job action did not help. I’d like to think we learned from this, but that’s what we said after the 2001-03 cuts, too. I think the former chair meant well by his comments (i.e. respect for parents) but perhaps he has his “optimism” hat on when recalling the opaque process around cuts. Yes, tough decisions had to be made, nobody faults the board for that. What was/is needed is a process with much more back and forth, more like the “conversation” that supposedly took place.

At a conference I recently attended, I was impressed with the convincing research on the power of meaningful collaboration to affect student performance and achieve change in organizations. This topic came up directly in two of the plenary sessions and indirectly in the break-out sessions and the table talk that included many of our own school trustees. I believe a majority of them are committed to seeing more collaboration with parents on future decisions and directions. For example, they will be doing open budget consultations this coming year including partner groups -- District Parent Advisory Council, Aboriginal Ed Board, Two CUPE locals (e.g. maintenance and ed assistants), PG Teachers Association, Professional Employees Association (e.g. speech pathologists) the  Ed, Principal/Vice-Principal Association. Ordinary citizens have to work a bit to get their voice heard through these groups, but the first stop for public input (beefs and bouquets?) could be DPAC or the trustees The board also has a half hour for public input at the beginning of every board meeting. With a budget bigger than the City of Prince George, we need to provide the School District with an improved level of public accountability. Parents, students, educators, members of the public -- watch for their call for input on budget consultation and consider adding your voice.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Input on year-round schooling at LDB

Context: my children's single-track French Immersion elementary school (LDB) is considering the pros and cons of year-round schooling. They have invited input at a public meeting on Nov 21st. I'm not sure if I want to lay all of this out at a public meeting, so I've put some thoughts together to consider in advance.

I appreciate the invitation to dialogue on this issue and trust the LDB community is ready for healthy debate on the many angles to the question of year-round schooling. I’m also confident that whatever direction the district takes on year-round schooling at LDB that it will continue to be a stellar place for many families to send their children. There are many valid reasons to consider calendar changes, many of which I can agree with, and would even support if this was a district-wide initiative. At this time, however, I would like to offer 18 concerns about pursuing year-round schooling at LDB.
1. School growth and program development is going very well at LDB -- at the heart of this is the fantastic staff who are committed and caring educators. It’s not clear why the current approach needs a redesign so soon into what has already been a success in our district. If year-round schooling was a preferred district-wide choice, these issues might subside, but introducing this model one-school-at-a-time creates unnecessary fragmentation.

2. An argument for year-round schooling based on academic study is a slippery slope. It’s easy to find articles and literature for and against year-round schooling as a method of improving student achievement. The literature is not definitive. Most common are the studies that report mixed results, and indicate that there are many other ways to affect student achievement that have greater, more immediate impact than adjusting a schedule.

3. If LDB is approved for this, it needs to be in conjunction with other elementary schools, if not the whole district. LDB would be splitting up family time for any child with a sibling at a different school, and would impact daycare schedules, work schedules, and vacation planning. LDB will find that parents will still need to pull kids from school to join family activities that follow traditions such as the provincial spring break or summer camping.

4. The district-wide policy context should be considered. The School Board needs to decide how calendar decisions will be made, what calendar options will be considered, and what consultation will look like, particularly parent and partner group input. For example, will they consider one-off schedules for each school, “family of schools” solutions, or district-wide changes? This process needs to be public and thoughtful, have a review process, and be district-based, not LDB-based.

5. The impact on district costs should be considered. For example schools in session during traditional breaks affect operational budgets like air conditioning for hot summer days, a significant concern in the LDB building. When “summer school” used to be at Lakewood it would run mornings only due to the heat in south facing classrooms.

6. Potential for unintended employee group contract commitments should be considered, For example, there may be issues around 12-month pay vs 10-month pay, pension & EI questions, new work schedules for CUPE, PGDTA, TOCs, etc.

7. A change in duties for Board Office and district staff would need to be considered. With full-year schooling, school services will have to fire on 12-month cylinders -- TOC call-out, psychologists, behaviour teams, District Resource Centre, technology support, etc.
8. Transportation costs will be impacted if other catchment-based schools consider full-year schedules. Additional complexity and costs would be added with overlap between 10- and 12-month bus routes. While this is not a issue at LDB (no buses), the long-term implications of district calendar changes need to be mindful of associated costs.

9. If LDB is approved for this, the school admin needs to successfully lobby the school district to re-open transfers to ECHE in Grades 2-7. Currently transfers are blocked, and some parents will want to switch to another French Immersion school if LDB goes with year-round schooling. This proposed change may appeal to some parents, but for those that choose otherwise their only alternatives are to drive to the already crowded Heather Park or to quit French Immersion altogether. That would be counterproductive to French language education in Prince George.

10. Losing French fluency in some students over summer months is, on its own, not sufficient reason to alter a schedule for all students at LDB. Parents who wish to “keep up the French” have many options with day camps, books and online tools, games and cultural events.

11. The particular example that LDB has circulated as a proposed 12-month calendar is a dramatic change. The school board’s calendar committee will be responsible for the end result, but perhaps less drastic changes would also be considered (e.g. steal one week from summer to add a break somewhere else, or consider making the two-week Spring Break the norm).

12. Summer is special, and a chance for kids to develop their identity outside of the school environment. Homework and schooling penetrate almost every hour of kids’ lives for 9.5 months per year... they need a big break every year to reset their focus and maybe come back to school with a fresh perspective. Having more breaks spread across the year may seem refreshing, but the magic of a big summer in a region with six months of winter and cold weather is not to underestimated.

13. Summer is prime time for passion-based commitments that are vital for children and families. Swim clubs and soccer programs come to mind, as do arts camps, summer camps, and extended travel. A full-year program kills many of these summer-based opportunities for children to find their spark and develop skills that cannot be taught in school,

14. Big breaks are needed for LDB teachers, too, a break from email, marking, planning, etc. Any break provides an opportunity to recharge, but summer gives teachers a change to unplug, renew, work, and study. Teachers with summer jobs or enrolled in post-graduate educational programs will certainly be affected by full-year schooling, as will anyone who gardens, camps, hikes, or travels.

15. Some ordinary social conventions in the community would be affected by having school in the summer months. Anyone who uses Ospika Blvd. or Rainbow Drive would need to know that school zones are in effect for parts of July and August. Students baking in a hot school would need a relaxed dress code to mitigate the conditions. Children in neighbourhoods would need to adjust to having friends absent when they are ready to play and vice versa. Parents would have to get used to fund-raising and school activities 12 months a year, they would have to be “always on” as involved parents.

16. LDB has active parents, well-supported students, very few of which are vulnerable or impoverished. Combined with the single-track French Immersion program, this often gives the impression of LDB being an elite school, something a step removed from “regular public education.” This perception would only grow if the school moves to year-round schooling. Countering this perception would require placing yet another “cause” on an already active group or parents that has worked hard to ensure French Immersion is part of the continuum or accessible public education choices in Prince George.

17. Do a few things well and be mindful of constant programs changes. A recent BC educational leadership conference speaker encouraged schools not to reinvent systems that are working or force change for change sake. Suggestions for improvement are easy to conjure up but can end up requiring a significant commitment of time, energy, or money. Like the proposed French Immersion program consolidation in 2010, or the sibling priority debate in 2011, any time a school comes up with a new idea, parents and educators are pulled into another cycle of debate and activism. The question of year-round schooling, while it is a conversation we need to have, should be taking place at the district level first in order to establish some norms, expectations, and criteria.

18. Lastly, the NIMBY argument (a personal one) -- as a teacher I entered a profession knowing that I would not be working when my children are on holidays and they would not be in school while I am working. I work hard and when I’m not working I get to be with my family -- this is one of the reasons I love my job. It would be a different matter if my own school followed a year-round schedule, but that is not realistic at this time.

Respectfully submitted,
Glen Thielmann

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Tricky Narrative

Fall 2012 Educational Leadership Conference breakout session presentation.

Presentation Speaking Notes: Nov 14th version. I will update this to include what actually happened (shorter, more earthy) compared to what was planned (longer, more esoteric).

hmm... video links don't work when you're to cheap to buy the full version of Slideshare... here are the relevant ones: emotional dimension to math and students responding to questions about what they got out of their heritage research. Just quick responses to questions but it sets the tone for why engaging identity is key to engaging all other aspects of school-based learning. Making identity connections is they key to students finding a spark to ignite all other ties to intended and unintended curriculum, just like identity connections are the key for educators as points of attachment to formal and informal professional learning.

My full thoughts on what I took from the #elcfall2012 experience...
Conference Report: "Koolaid vs Wild Mushrooms" -

Thanks to

Sunday, November 11, 2012

peace justice and remembrance

We had an interesting discussion in our library the other day about school Remembrance Day ceremonies. There seems to be a few basic ways these seems to turn out, mostly variations on the theme of respect for the war dead and remembrance of both the purpose, futility, and cost of war. Sometimes we dwell on the heroics, sometimes on the suffering. The students do a great job of putting the elements together, and often add something that shows they have gone beyond sentiment to probe into deeper symbols and meaning behind military remembrance. Some of us cringe at the "Pittance of Time" bits that equate quietness with peace (although I have more respect for that specific video once I learned it was based on the artist's actual experience). Everything has its place, I suppose, but we are often left looking for something else, something with an edge that might get students thinking about what is to be done with the sentiment.

I have written about this topic before -- Peace and Remembrance and the White Poppy (2010) and Peace and Remembrance, the Tight Rope (2011). This year I'm wondering what it would look like to transform our remembrance into some kind of call for social justice, restorative practice, an end to violence across society, a weeding out of the coercive tendencies in our institutions, a gaze towards what nonviolence and passive resistance has accomplished, and a rejection of war as a default means of resolving conflict.

I'm also concerned that the "Harper Government" is willing to exploit remembrance and rewrite some of the social and peacekeeping history of our nation and emphasize our warlike prowess. This aggressive persona is the one that they want to project on the world stage, and it is the kind of nationalist posturing that leads to armed conflict in the first place.  If we're going to interpret the symbols and conduct the ceremonies one way or the other (for they are never free of bias or instructive purpose), we should be adding Peace to the Remembrance.

I came across this when thinking about the topic -- something along these lines might give a Peace and Remembrance Ceremony the edge it needs to go beyond regret for past grief and give us pause to ask if we've actually changed the conditions that lead to war. We don;t need to take anything away from respect for the war dead, but we should be more fixated on preventing future youth from becoming war dead.

Here's another possibility for a Peace and Remembrance Ceremony after a reading of In Flanders Fields:
We remember Lt. John McCrae, soldier, poet and healer: a physician enraged by the madness of what was then the world’s most deadly war ever, he could not then see any other way but to ask us to take up his quarrel with his enemy. Now freed from bonds of time and space, now seeing all things clearly, perhaps he would ask us to take up an even brighter torch, to battle an even more deadly foe: to take up the torch of peace, to do battle with all that separates brother from brother, sister from sister.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Making Connections to Traditional Knowledge

My Social Studies 9 class has been working on a project off and on over the last few weeks -- an exploration of Heritage Skills. We do this as a tie-in to the Industrial Revolution and as a precursor to the full-on Heritage Research project our school's students complete in Social Studies 10.  Five of the SS9 projects stand out for me right now (still more presentations to come). I'm very proud of what they did with their guiding questions:

1. KM shared the story of Norwegian flatbread with us... krumkake... sort of a waffle cone, but rolled and stamped with careful designs. The recipe was a family favorite and helped them make a direct connection to their Scandinavian roots. Of course, she spent a few hours making up a big tasty batch for our class to try. The heritage skill lies in the preparation, use of special tools, and choice of fillings.

2. FJ put together an visual explanation of why she and her family dried fish. Everything she expressed was what she "knew" -- no obligatory internet surfing to add random details... refreshing. The traditional methods have been passed down in her family for generations, and she plans on passing it on to her kids and grandkids one day. Her smokehouse is a special place, filled with strong memories to go with the familiar smells. Two big strips of dried fish were wrapped and taped to the poster... FJ ate one and I ate one... perfect! The heritage skill lies in the options for catching, preparing, drying, curing, and smoking the fish.

3. SR shared his grandfather's passion for woodworking and the art of Intarsia -- locking in wooden elements to form an inlayed textured mosaic, a mix of clever design and skill with wood.  The examples he shared were ones that came from his house, a reminder of his grandfather's presence even though he lives a few hours away. Some of the Intarsia objects wee small and intricate, others as big as a chalkboard. The heritage skill lies in the mastery of wood and tools.

4. AC explored the history of the horse and buggy -- where, when, why, etc. Her grandmother remembered riding with horse and buggy as a kid, and we had some fun speculating what would happen to society if we had to go back to this form of transportation (pros & cons). The heritage skill lies in the care of animals and equipment. I mentioned that my dad, born in 1936, and the oldest of 8, used to get the horse and buggy set up each morning, load up his school-age siblings, and take them to school every day... as a 9-yr-old!

5. MS shared the "Portuguese Passion for Bread" -- a foray into both family tradition and a way of making bread that few people take on anymore. MS shared what she learned from her grandmother, this sparked similar stories in the class -- a quick survey found out that creation and consumption of homemade bread was more common than expected. The heritage skill lies in the attention to ingredients, process, and time, plus the careful (ancient) working of dough.

I'm looking forward to more projects this week on carving, speaking the Carrier Language, ranching, square dancing, and others.  We learned about canning today -- peaches, pears, and fish -- each one a grandmother's favourite for the three students presenting. Projects can be tricky with some classes -- the disorganized students have a hard time sticking to the timeline to get this done, but it's also a great way for students that struggle in other areas to engage with the learning outcomes and get some success. I think the key is making some connection to student identity -- in this case an interview with a family member.

Traditional Knowledge, whether it's an Aboriginal custom, indigenous way of approaching subsistence or simply an old and preserved cultural practice, comes to us like a gift from our ancestors. Who knows what skills are resting in our bones, placed their by our forebears and waiting for a trigger, waiting to be relearned and reborn for the next generation. In an educational world swamped with technology-induced urgency for change, these projects are a calm and focussed reminder of what really grounds us to each other and the dirt beneath us.

Monday, November 05, 2012

staff mtg course presentation

It's official... time to let my staff know where this is going. What started as a set of ideas about course combination and imaginative content, and became a project in curriculum and learning design is ready for the next level.

This course proposal for D.P. Todd Secondary will see English 11 and Geography 12 combined in a blended learning environment. Students enroll for two blocks of course work, half of it class-room based and half of it outside of class with individual, group,and seminar work. The "blend" refers to both the mix of traditional lessons with flipped or flexible learning, and the mix of in-school with distributed (e.g. online) content and coursework.

We will emphasize self-reliant learning, developing personal learning networks for students, cross-curricular themes, performance-based assessment, interactive technology, social learning, and exploring horizons of significance and authenticity.

In short, a new way for Grade 11 students to complete two courses with compelling curriculum in a two-block program that blends different approaches to teaching and learning.

Space permitting, this program will also allow Grade 12 students to audit parts of the double-course offering and complete a single grad credit board-authorized course: Middle Earth 12.

Comments and feedback welcome. An open planning site for this course can be found at or at

Saturday, November 03, 2012

School Plans

Our school's annual "Plan for Student Success" is at a crossroads.

Now a post about school data and goals might seem a bit dull for most, but I wanted to do a bit of work here to clarify my own thoughts about school growth cycles and lay out some history for my school's staff, some of whom are new to the process.

I want to begin by differentiating between the ongoing work we do to affect students learning, to make connections with students, to hone our craft as educators and so on, from the reports we file about how our school, as a whole, does this. I have read about thirty of these official School Plans in our school district (we call the School Plan for Student Success or SPSS), as well as the overall District Plans over the last few years, and have crafted or helped write five of them at my own school. These shelves full of plans are read by few, but are nonetheless required documents in British Columbia. They sometimes tell the story about how professional learning, reflection on data, and strategic actions translate into student success, but more often these documents contain shifty data, goals too broad to be useful or too complex to ever gain traction, and usually hinge on assumptions that teachers find themselves too busy to fully explore. I would also say that elementary school plans are generally simpler (more elegant?) than the secondary ones, and enjoy a higher level of buy-in from staff (and probably impact on students).

Here's what we've seen at my school:
2012 no formal plan?; used compiled feedback from staff
2011 diverse department goals
2010 diverse department goals
2009 break out school-wide literacy goal into dep't goals
2008 school-wide goal: cross-curricular literacy
2007 school-wide goal: cross-curricular literacy
2006 wrap up dep't goals & prioritize for school-wide goal
2005 department goals
2004 departmental and small group strategies responding to school-wide data
2003 departmental strategies responding to school-wide data
before 2002 the "Accreditation process" was used

The SPSS is a School Achievement Contract or Growth Plan (ie. ensuring student learning needs are met) that was introduced provincially in 2002 along with the School Planning Council (SPC) -- a team consisting of the principal, three parents elected by PAC, and a teacher elected by staff. The inclusion of teachers on SPCs has been boycotted by the BCTF since 2006. According to the BC School Act, the SPSS requires annual consultation, review, and approval by the SPC, and when this does not happen it defaults to the principal to submit the plan. The only references I could find to the School Plan in the School Act were in Section 8.3 (p. C-22). The defacto local policy until recently was to have a paid teacher position (usually one block) that includes SPSS-writing duties (secondary level), or a team of teachers/admin with varying levels of release time (elementary).

The SPSS looks different from school to school, district to district, is sometimes group-based (e.g. department) or school-based (common goal/s) although there is no policy about this at the school, district 57, or provincial level. Elementary schools, particularly those with small staffs, have often had an easier time focusing on school-wide goals (and collective problem-solving), while secondary schools are all over the place. Fragmentation of goals seems to result from diverse subjects, complex student needs, and the nature of departments (e.g dep't of one, some dep'ts have leadership time, some do not, some teachers work across dep'ts), and the tasks of administrators (more discipline focus in secondary). Some schools rotate through goals according to theme or custom, some are tied to collaborative groups or PLCs. Some are quite obviously "owned" by staff (again, more common in elementary), and others range from perfunctory to practical. A former Director of Instruction described her view of the plan as "a record of the conversations about learning that take place at each school." She thought this was the only way to make the plans useful, otherwise they appeared to be mere exercises.

When I've interacted with other SPSS writers, the elementary/secondary split was significant, and the level of disengagement over the planning process reported at the secondary level was stunning. That doesn't shock me, the disconnect between the goals-setting and what actually takes place in classrooms is not a secret in our education system.  When people are thrown together arbitrarily, because they happen to work at the same place or teach the same subject, their efforts at goal-setting tend to sink to the lowest common denominators, or acquiesce to the loudest voice in the room. What does shock me is that when teachers and principals find themselves midst a dysfunctional process they continue to press on and do a rush job with it just to get it done without too much complaining, and then complain about it as soon as it is done. That's a special form of cynicism that can rot school culture. I've got a bunch of ideas for fixing this but this post is long enough as it is (recurring problem!).

In other districts, the story at secondary schools is not always so bleak. One exemplary case stands out for me -- the School Improvement work done at South Kamloops Secondary: inclusive, practical, thorough, innovative, and appears to have won the respect of staff or least takes their engagement very seriously. Their planning also makes use of novel technology (see the list of skills they aim to model) -- e.g. google docs for collaboration and social media for staff development. Scroll back on the Dipity Timeline at the top (or here) to the beginning of their process to see how it was designed for success from the start.  The SKSS principal Cale Birk (blog/twitter) is very open to questions about the plan and process. I'm sure there are other examples of engaging school plans in BC -- please leave a comment if you can share a story or if you want to challenge my perspective.

In contrast to the arbitrary nature of school plans, the district's achievement contract is guided by the School Act and has many parts that respond to regulation. Locally, it used to have a mandate to build on what came out of the school plans, but this never really happened -- one can imagine how difficult it would be to consolidate themes and potentially incongruent goals from 48 plans, let alone use this composite to set direction and allocate funds. As a result there has not been a high degree of congruency between the school and district plan. Typically the district plan sets out one or more broad goals, finds data to support the goals, and reports on progress in provincially required categories (e.g. literacy) and local areas of concern (e.g. numeracy). It is in part a reflection of what is already happening to affect student achievement and in part a look ahead -- in this respect it is similar to the SPSS. The district plan also takes on flavours depending on hot topics from the Ministry of Education. For example, in 2006 it was PLCs, 2007-08 it was Success for All, in 2009-10 it was AFL, in 2011-12 it was 21st century learning. Alongside these are persistent goals related to literacy, numeracy, social responsibility, and Aboriginal achievement. The guided process and provincial requirements do not ensure that district plans are great -- the ones I've seen span the spectrum, but they do make them more predictable.

Back to the school plans. Our district encourages one of two types of SPSS: some goal/s with strategies, methods & assessment, or inquiry-based (centred around one or more questions and a plan for action research). Up to 2007 the plan was submitted to the board office using a web-based program with standard fields to fill in. In 2008 it took on the format of a written report. Plans can be written by administration, by teachers, or by both, but in theory are the work of the SPC. Goals can be set by administration, by teachers, or by both (again the SPC is supposed to have a role). Planning and work on goals can take place on the required administrative non-instructional day and voluntarily at any other time (e.g. department meetings or optional collaborative time). Some schools have developed structures to allow time for planning, facilitation, and goals within the work schedule (e.g. collaboration/tutorial models, release time, leadership blocks, positions of special responsibility). Some schools use staff meeting time for this.

According to the official district planning process, the SPSS is supposed to use a staff self-assessment tool and then sent in June for review by the board, with feedback and follow-up to take place in September and a final plan approved at a board meeting in October. This no longer happens -- for years the review has been tasked to senior staff, typically an assistant superintendent and/or a curriculum & instruction administrator. From 2003 until 2007, our plans were formally evaluated (e.g. rubric) and followed up with suggestions for changes from senior staff. The 2008, 2009, and 2011 plans were reviewed with minimal feedback. The 2010 plan was not reviewed at all (explanation given was board office retirements) and 2012 was affected by job action -- plans appear to have been optional. Throughout this period the deep purpose of the SPSS and explanation about what was to be done with the contents has never been fully communicated to staff. Most teachers spend an hour or two on the process and don't think about it again until it comes up again the following year.

This leads us to the crossroads. There are a number of steps in both the district and school planning process (locally determined, contained in past district achievement contracts up until 2009) and steps involving the SPC which have not been followed in the last number of years. The school and department leadership blocks have all but disappeared in our district, an easy target for funding cuts.  The awkward planning process and disinterest by teachers speaks to a need to change the approach.

The model was cumbersome by all accounts, but we should be mindful that changing it up or even preserving select elements from a partially abandoned method should be done with an understanding of process and a sense of purpose. We should recognize the costs, time, and structures associated with group, department, or school-based planning. We should also weigh the balance and impact on student success between traditional mandatory goal setting and work done by freely associated groups (individuals working interdependently with others). For example, the end of department structures as we have know them in the past and the rise of personal learning networks (often across teaching areas and jurisdictions via social media) presents some challenges to the status quo.

Past District Achievement Contracts:
Past D.P. Todd SPSS reports (2008-2012):
Other SD57 SPSS reports:

Questions to ask:
  • What value do we see in the current school improvement (SPSS) planning process?
  • What "total cost" value for students do we see in the time put into a School Plan (e.g. pros & cons)? 
  • Outside of the classroom setting, where are the deepest needs and desires for goal-setting, group inquiry, or projects for school improvements? 
  • What process can be used to translate needs and desires into meaningful goals and inquiries that will benefit students? 
  • How much time and passion is staff willing to commit to work on common goals, inquiry, or school improvement? 
  • What form would this take (people, scale, timeline, format) and how could a School Plan support these endeavours? 
  • What kind of preparation, data, and support/leadership structures would allow successful school planning and inquiry to take place? 
  • What kind of process, support/leadership structures, and follow-up would allow the School Plan to translate into action, ie. student success? 
  • How do we avoid "lowest common denominator" goals that often accompany whole-school and departmental planning? 
  • How can we leverage personal learning networks or alternate freely-associated groupings to develop goals, conduct inquiry, and provide accountability? 
  • Are there some new skills and technologies (ones we hope our students will learn and use) that we can model in the school improvement planning process? 
  • What are some ways we can challenge the dysfunctional aspects of the process at the school, district, and provincial level?

Thursday, November 01, 2012

SD57 website needs help

Here's my school district's website. My wife told me to stop complaining about it and do something about it. Fair enough.

With the recent addition of the Safer Schools link to a "LiveBinder" (great resource for anti-bullying), that brings to a total of four the number of things that have been added this school year. A list of principals, a calendar, and an enrolment report complete the list. The last superintendent's blog post was a full year ago (comments still disabled), and any other changes or interesting bits are a level or two in and pretty much hidden from view. No district logo, no interactive features, no celebratory pics or shared space for dynamic content. Stock images (very few local), and a "Soviet" design protocol. Parts of the site still in test mode after five years. What do you call that? Digital ghost town? A work in progress? We have 60 school districts in the province and our collective web presence does not rank well. The community expects a better site and experience from an organization with an annual budget approaching $130 million, bigger than the City of Prince George; a public institution focused on learning, technology, knowledge, skills, arts, and people. Let's have our site reflect the best of this, and model powerful use of educational technology.

Anyways, if this bugs you like it bugs me, let one or more trustees know about it. You can find their email addresses and phone numbers linked on the district site; no bios or statements, though! Also, feel free to leave a comment here if you want to share your thoughts on the topic.

Be constructive. Let them know to what extent the district site meets your expectations and give them a few ideas on what would make it better. They'll pass it on to the people who maintain it (not sure who that is), and more importantly to the people who decide what it contains (I guess that would be senior staff).

Here's a few free or inexpensive ideas to get things started:
  • Biographies and educational vision of people who speak for the district; trustees and senior staff (2 news ones in last year) would be a good start -- those of us that even know who they are often guess that they are passionate educators and advocates but we can't actually read anything that supports our assumption
  • A monthly story featuring the work of an ordinary or extraordinary teacher and something that is going well with his/her class; include a great picture with the 300 word write-up -- the focus could be random (ask and find out what's going on) or strategic (stories that reinforce district goals)
  • Up front pictures and short write-ups celebrating student success or achievement; link to gallery of stunning work and exemplars by students (include a template for gaining permission to publish)
  • Interactive features and a variety of ways to provide input and dialogue; make the district website a meetingplace of ideas, a source of qualitative data for stakeholders to use and study
  • Portal for the professional learning and development opportunities going on in our district throughout the year; our in-house email system has failed to make this consistent, and a public version would help share our "learning journeys" with parents and stakeholders (plus invite them to participate)
  • Space for the history of the school district; much of this work has already been done by the local Retired Teachers Association -- get their work online! Last year I noticed amazing historic photos of local one-room school houses displayed at the board office -- get these online!
  • Models of a thoughtful web presence -- links to district staff, principals, vice-principals, teachers and the tools they use (sites, blogs, twitter, pinterest, etc.) to affect/provoke/celebrate learning, share professional growth plans, or invest energy in educational discourse in a public sphere (include a standard non-endorsement statement!)