Monday, December 30, 2013

do your homework

O.K. I'll bite. A digitally dynamic educator from Penticton, Naryn Searcy (@ncearcy17) dropped a "getting to know you" meme-thingy on me and a few others:
  • 11 Random facts about yourself
  • 11 questions asked by another
  • 11 questions that you ask to another 11 people in your PLN (professional learning network)
11 Random Facts about me:
  1. I can exhale through my right eye. Busted tear duct valve or something -- makes a sound like letting air out of a balloon.
  2. Although I consider myself outgoing, humorous, loud, and prominent in a crowd (big guy, after all), I consistently place in the Introvert camp when I do a Myers Briggs test.
  3. Huge Tolkien fan, have a big bookshelf just for JRR. Named my kids after Tolkien characters... Luthien (Lu) and FĂ«anor (Finn).
  4. Snapped my ACL while boxing with oversized gloves in a bouncy castle in the gym with hundreds of students watching... too much pain to be embarrassed.
  5. Met my wife while treeplanting in 1991... at the time she was the camp cook and I knew it was love when she served me a up a whole chicken. Still, took us 6 years before our first date.
  6. During my teacher training studies at SFU, I lived in a tent in the woods near where I parked my car. Both G-lot and those woods are now developed into something called UniverCity (how original is that?).
  7. For my final project in my Masters of Ed degree, I wrote about the Epic of Gilgamesh, explored ecosystem theory in education, and made a film about a Sasquatch where I got to strip down, get covered in mud, and run madly through the woods.
  8. My first real job, and one I almost carried through to a career, was that of forest ecosystem geographer. While I loved the wilderness, map-making, and the study of plants, I grew weary of isolation and being chased by bears.
  9. I've had three concussions, had stitches 7 times, and been struck by lightning once. The latter happened in the woods of northern Alberta -- didn't really hurt, but the crackling waves of blue made me wretch.
  10. My favorite go-to lesson involves a spatial history of the English language, one I borrowed from a beloved prof (now deceased) from UBC... Fred Bowers
  11. I sometimes embark on endless bizarre undertakings because someone dares me to in a round-about way... intensive study of anarchism, massive genealogy project, building a web empire, challenging local school district decisions, creating a "Middle Earth 12 course," etc.
Answering Naryn Searcy's questions:
  1. How do you balance time spent on face to face relationships in your own district vs online relationships? My online "PLN" is really just a list of tweeps that amuse and/or challenge me... I'm not sure I would call them "relationships" although I do learn from them. I send/receive a hecka lotta emails, but am making headway trying to squeeze my screen time into smaller and smaller daily windows. I reserve as much of my professional face time as I can for get-togethers with teacher friends -- fellow Social Studies teachers aka @pacificslope.
  2. Where do you want to go in the world that you haven't been yet? Pretty much anywhere in Great Britain... I've started a list of things to do and see, and it already looks like more than can happen in one trip.
  3. Are you a morning or night person? Usually morning, although if there is some stress or pressure I often put in late nights, too. I'm usually awake by 5:30, and have slept in past 9:30 only a handful of times in my life.
  4. What was the last book you read/movie you watched or song you listened to? Reading: Fall of Arthur by Tolkien (posthumous publication), listening to Graceland today (introduced the album to my daughter), saw The Hobbit DOS a couple of weeks ago.
  5. In what school/position do you think you "grew up" as an educator? My current school.  In keeping with William Blake, my Innocence as an educator was College Heights (1996-2003) and my Experience is D.P. Todd (2004-present)
  6. What is one thing you would miss if you had to leave the community you currently live in? Friends, family, my street, the Knowing that comes from living in a place for 40ish years.
  7. What is the source you rely on most for news about what's going on in the world? CBC web/radio, twitter articles, some alternate media.
  8. What is your favourite movie and why? Groundhog Day, for reasons I don't fully understand.
  9. Who will win the SuperBowl and Stanley Cup this year? I don't watch sports so I have no idea about NFL or NHL... it would be nice for the Canucks to win once, but only if they don't get drunk, tip cars, loot and burn.
  10. If your son/daughter wanted to enter the field of education right now, would you encourage them? BC K-12??? Probably not, unless wages, respect for teachers, and relationship with management improved drastically. There are parts of the job that are unrivalled, absoutely fulfilling, but there are also parts that are mind-numbing and unduly stressful.  If my kid is going to be poor and misunderstood, I'd rather they be an artist or musician!
  11. What is a good moment from 2013? Watching my kids at a recent swim club meet -- progress and confidence. Taking a moment recently to be in awe over my wife as she holds 2 part-time jobs (including elected school trustee) plus amazing mom and potter. For me, having the local university recognize a "Tolkien-themed" course I developed as an academic credit for admissions.
My questions for 11 others in my PLN:
  1. If you morphed into an all-round Olympic athlete, what would be your Winter Sport and your Summer Sport?
  2. What was the most interesting book or written work you read in 2013 (and was it paper or digital)?
  3. What is a major change you would make to the BC Education system?
  4. What is a work of art (any genre or form) that inspires or challenges you?
  5. Considering the wealth of oil in northern Alberta that we seem anxious to liquidate in a single generation, are you in favour of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline?
  6. What is a food experience that you wish on your children (or nieces/nephews)?
  7. If your house was burning, but insurance would cover the obvious expensive items and your family & pets were safe, what meaningful artifact would you rescue from your home?
  8. If you had to pick a different career than the one you're in, what would it be?
  9. If you were to ever publish a book, what would you like it to be about?
  10. What was a great event or experience in your work life from 2013 (e.g. teacher experience for many of you)?
  11. What was a great family moment from 2013?
Here are the 11 people I'm inviting to do their homework, in alphabetical order... there are others in my "PLN" but they seem to have done this thing already, or they don't blog so they will find this activity frustrating. Some of these folks I just want to hear more from, others I have included because it will annoy them (Rob, Kate) and if they do this they can totally skip the last step of passing this on... but all of them excellent folks to follow on twitter for a variety of reasons:
Added challenge... optional: if you post your response on a blog or such, include a random childhood pic of yourself. The one I placed at the top shows my first bike in 1973 -- 4th birthday.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Crying Tree


A gnarled tolkien-like box elder (or manitoba maple) used to live on our front lawn right beside the curb. It was a delight to our children - the perfect climbing tree, filled with dozens of burls and natural places to sit or stand, half sheltered from the street below. When one of our kids was really upset or angry, and we had used up our meagre bag of parenting tricks, we would take them out to sit up in the tree until they had calmed down. As they got older, we could sometimes just send them out to the Crying Tree when they needed a break from whatever was brewing inside the house.

Lu was just a baby when we first used the tree for Comfort. I set her down, wrapped in a blanket and screaming, on the first burl-ledge and stood there thinking about why I got so upset she got upset. The twilight and fresh air, the play of fall leaves above her, seemed to work almost instantly, and when we came inside we had a name for the tree.

The last formal visit to the tree belonged to Kate and Finn, who climbed up to the big fork to have a deep conversation about something, now forgotten, that was very important at the time. In between these mileposts, it was a fort, hiding spot, guardpost, cat-perch, and tower in a castle. In addition to children, it was host to many woodpeckers, especially in the last few years, and was part of the squirrel highway that allowed safe passage along the street, out of reach by cats.


The tree has been dying for few years, a victim of whatever had caused the teeming burls, and it became clear that we had to do something with it before the rot set in. The City of Prince George made our decision for us, and came with chainsaws and a woodchipper to take it down last summer. We salvaged as many burls as we could, and handed them over to a local woodturner (Greg Clarke) to dry the wood and work them into something we could keep. He fashioned 20 or more objects from the tree, most of which we received today.


The Crying Tree bore witness to our laughter and tears, to our street barbecues, to our comings and goings, and our attempts to make a Hobbit-home out of our house. It had the power to calm, and was a source of fascination for neighbours and strangers alike. They gave it names like the Booby Tree, the Gnarly Tree, and the Schmoo Tree. On account of the low growths and step-like architecture, many of the kids nearby had their first solo tree-climbing experience here. I can remember at least three conversations when we were all talking out on the street and some kid asks a parent "can I climb this tree?" and the parent looks at it for a bit and says "yeah, of course, why wouldn't you."


The Crying Tree was a staging area for many games and role-plays that I was never privy to, a source of secrets and schemes, but it was the Comfort it gave to my kids when they were sad that makes me most thankful. The tree will have to continue this important work now as the Crying Bowls; maybe there is still some role they will play in the emotional health of our family.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Domination of Black

My class is having a Week of Poetry right now, and I've asked them to both find, share, and explain some poetry with us for our Friday Seminar. This is our weekly conversation where half the class circles around some core ideas from recent lessons for an hour, the other half works on independent projects, then we switch for the second hour. I'm not sure I'll have time to present "my poem" so I've flipped it over here for the students, and also as an exercise for myself.

Here's a reading of the poem I put together a couple of years ago:

video

I came across the poem Domination of Black by Wallace Stevens in two ways. First, it was in a book of poems that belonged to my dad (the book now belongs to me!).  My dad connected with a number of poets while in university in the 1960s, including Stevens, T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, William Carlos Williams, and the Romantics.  Books of these poets dwelt in our house when I as young, at first collecting dust in the basement, but slowly making their way onto my bookshelf. Thought the lens of these books, the smell and sparse artwork on the book, the poems and marginalia inside, I developed a sense that they were keys to unlock a portrait of my dad as a young man. And, as this kind of work goes, they were small signs of what I might be, pointing towards questions that I might ask about life, faith, love, purpose, and truth.  That's what poems should do... kick you in the existential ass and beg questions. I also prefer that they tell some kind of story. I can't remember if Domination of Black was one of the poems I stumbled across during this time of discovery, but other poems from Wallace Stevens stand out in my memory, particularly "The Man With The Blue Guitar." I wish I would have known more about jazz back then... the poetry would have made much more sense.

My second, more deliberate introduction to the poem occurred in university. My good friend Derk had heard his prof, Grove Powell, recite the poem in class and was particularly stirred by the experience. I planned to take Dr. Powell's class one day, but in the mean time we read the poem together and talked about a central idea: proliferation of resemblances, the notion that under examination, under poetic scrutiny, many things in life come together as one and it is possible to derive similar meaning from any subject if it is turned the right way. This was so important to us in our early 20s -- what did the world want from us, what did it all mean? Our close and intense observations of nature -- what was this telling us, what were we to believe if everything could be made into anything? The poem was a touchstone for memorable conversations over a number of years. Eventually the use of the word "turn" and the title itself became keys to the questions we were asking. The "turning" that occurs was a comment on poetic craft, on the act of using language to carefully consider separate images, like turning them over in one's hand, but also turning them into something, into each other, or something new (like a woodturner makes a bowl out of a burl).  Of course this led me back to the original dilemma, if "this" is like "that," and "that" is like" this," what has meaning?  Is the grand connection of all things, the ecology of meanings, the point of life? Or is the act of turning, of crafting images, or making poetic leaps, a necessary step for an "aware" person to make sense of the world?  This is where the title helped.  If all things can be made to seem like all others (through a proliferation of resemblances), what stands out?  In art, this would be the negative space, sometimes called the black space. Imagine a swirling jazz song, at times simple and melodious, at times raucous and doubling back on itself. How do we make sense of something complex. It is the small breaks in the music, or the line turns in poetry, or the background on an artwork, the things left out, the ideas we have yet to encounter or recoil from, the domination of black, that give shape and meaning to the main subject or set of images, to the part of life that is currently in focus. This still leaves me with many questions about the poem and also the topic of "resemblances," but that's where my thinking left off last time I delved into it.

I have deliberately avoided much on the topic of Domination of Black, i,e, literary criticism and interpretations.  I have such clear and meaningful connections with this poem and its meaning that I don't want to cloud it with what the experts have to say.  Not forever, mind you... I don't think my understanding of this poem is complete, nor am I satisfied with what I know now.

So that's the long way of saying that this poem has left a mark on my identity. To be a person that takes things seriously, that brings everything they know to almost everything that happens, is to be a person that is haunted by unturned stones from the past, present, and future, a person who is dominated by black.  I find respite in a poem that allows me to know this about myself, and at the same time gives me a sense of calm in making lyrically, emotionally, and intellectually elegant connections between the phenomena in my life.

I did end up taking Grosvenor Powell's English class in 1990 or 1991, but he did not read Domination of Black. He read a great deal many other things, though, and I think I still lean back on my chair and speak slowly with a deep register when reading poetry largely because he did. O to be that impressionable again!

Here's the text of the poem:




Monday, November 18, 2013

Uphill Battle

After a few professional conversations in the last while, I've come to the conclusion that we face many uphill battles when it comes to student-centered learning and other tenets behind what dominates the Ed Reform Circuit (e.g. the BC Edplan). I do believe these are battles worth fighting, but it is not without casualties.

I'd like to visit of few of these battles... let's start with Active Learning/Student Ownership:

Why we do it: we've come to associate passive learning with "the old ways" of doing school, receiving learning rather than constructing meaning, and we've spent a lot of time talking and trying to introduce more active learning. This takes many forms, but usually starts with students getting their own grasp of learning intentions, and designing many of the ways by which they will meet these intentions, with a focus on participation at each step, no sitting back and simply taking it in. This effort is often associated with critical thinking, constructivist learning, self-regulation, and authentic inquiry. It is done to combat apathy and increase relevance.

Casualties: it is hard work for students to be "on" all the time at school. This doesn't necessarily mean they are apathetic, it usually means they have enough on their plates (their interests, concerns, drama, problems, dreams, goals), that they are not willing to invest all of their "presence" and energy to your creative exploration of grammar, your innovative math lesson, or your backstory on John A. Macdonald. They are polite, though, so passive learning often seems a reasonable compromise. "We'll sit here and do most of what you ask as long as you don't push us too hard." I see this same sentiment among adults in the meetings, PD sessions, and public lectures I attend. Few have the capacity to sustain full engagement and active participation; we are simply not used to it and need to have breaks, sometimes just to listen for a bit, watch a video, doodle in the margins, get lost in our thoughts. As we raise the bar (e.g. expect and facilitate more self-direction and engagement), many of our students will jump higher, push themselves more, but it is also clear that those not reaching the bar find despair. This is the fundamental reason why so many teachers design banal, completion-based assessment for students -- it provides an easy way out for disengaged students. Easy to mark, students rarely complain, only the most truant and reluctant learners ever need to know course failure. If we truly expect students to own their learning, and are willing to back this up with interventions, support systems, etc. in exchange for high standards (e.g. the kinds of performance or evidence or learning that comes from engaged students), we need to be ready for the mess when students give up. School can indeed be a place of wonderment, discovery -- entertaining and engaging -- but it is also a place of work, some of it hard and uncomfortable, and a place of deferred rewards, requiring grit and patience. This second part is missing from most ed reformers lingo when they describe the magic of 21st Century Learning -- it is assumed that student-centered learning automatically engages students and leverages their passion. This is why it is an uphill battle -- students will often default to their comfort zone, and are more than happy to drift along without being challenged by their teacher or others. Maybe the years of compulsory schooling have done this to them, maybe it a basic human trait to seek comfort and safety (and boredom). We should also recognize that disengagement and perceived apathy does not have to be the fault of schools -- we live in a messed-up society rife with nature deficit, idiotic role models, corrupt rulers, corporate cynicism, engineered class divisions, sexualized media, digital addiction, and enablement of many kinds. That's for mainstream kids, for all. Add the lingering (and ongoing) impacts of colonialism, drugs, and abusive scenarios and it is no wonder that so many of our vulnerable students suffer from toxic stress and mental illness. Disconnect in all its forms happens long before they get to my class. Nonetheless, one must do what one can, and we can laugh at ourselves a little bit, acknowledge that the road ahead is steep, and carry out the idea that one of the best tickets for a better future is to get the most out of high school and emerge with both a diploma and a skill set for life, study, and work. Of course, it would help if they just showed up (ok, attendance is an uphill battle all on it's own).

Needed to win: persistence. Teachers need the license (permission from themselves, support from their community & employer, time to do it) to experiment with their designs for curriculum, instruction, and assessment. For example, I think we need something intermediate between failing a course and simply shunting kids through who are "close enough" (had some ideas about this last year) -- this would take some real time and collaboration to figure out, though, and this is hard to squeeze into a teacher's schedule (and too few administrators take on these challenges). In most schools, it is one or the other for reluctant and disengaged learners -- fail or squeak out a close pass -- often with indistinguishable effort. The fear of making kids sad or engaging their parents means that the quick pass is pushed as the default. We need to get over the widespread use of cursory interventions designed to push kids through to "minimally meets expectations" -- it sends all the wrong messages and does not lead to engagement. It teaches students that a little more or less than their mediocre effort is all it take to get by, just put in some time, complete whatever "work" you have with you, and we'll pretend that you've mastered some learning outcomes. We need to patiently persist, drop our own mediocre lessons and disengaging activities one by one, and collect our own data about the projects, trajectories, and assessments that build understanding for discouraged learners and also challenge our top performers. More than that, if we value critical thinking, constructivist learning, self-regulation, and authentic inquiry, then we need to build our assessments to measure these things. Along with other members of the Pacific Slope Consortium, this has been almost the sole focus of my PD over the last 3 years (e.g. Time for a New Exam). I'm sure others have more succinct ideas for how to navigate the challenges of engagement, the seemingly natural tendency of students to expect passivity in their school experience. Love to hear them. UPDATE: I came across this awesome blog while thinking about how teachers can shift the focus in their class to active student engagement --  a frank account of one teacher trying to unlearn bad habits and try on some new ones http://relearningtoteach.blogspot.ca. I think we need more of this kind of honest self-reflection and willingness to experiment.

Other "battles" I'd like to visit: AFL, Digital Learning, "depth vs breadth" curriculum change, personalized learning, PBL, and flipped classrooms.

Image source: http://www.theoffside.com/world-football/offside-rewind-uphill-battle.html

Monday, November 11, 2013

Peace and Remembrance 2013

The photo shows my grandpa Johann Heinrich Enns who served in the Russian Forestry and Non-combatant Medical Service during WWI. As a conscientious objector, this was the alternative duty afforded to German-speaking Mennonite colonists who refused to bear arms against other human beings. The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution ended the war and sent my grandfather home to his family in Neu-Samara, Central Russia (southwest of the Ural Mountains). It was then that the real terror began for the Mennonites in Russia. Between the frequent thieving raids from the Red Army (and sometimes White Army), wanton murder and molestation from gangs of bandits, they faced starvation, drought and crop failure, outbreaks of typhus, cholera, and malaria.

In the midst of this chaos, my grandfather married my grandmother Anna Loewen in 1921; their first home was a sod house on her father's farm. The first two children born to them on the cold Russian Steppe lived 18 months and 6 months respectively before succumbing to typhus and pneumonia. In the growing national fear and acts of state-sponsored terror against all who opposed communism (or held land, or spoke German, or withheld crops, or even their wives and children), many Russian Mennonites fled to Canada. My grandparents left in 1925, not long before this exodus became impossible. They arrived in Quebec on the SS Minnedosa, and (as my aunt writes in a family history book) "must have looked like a real show piece standing there on the dock in their plain dress with 'Schemadaun' in hand, not knowing a single word of English between them." By the time they had established a farm of their own in southern Saskatchewan, they managed to get one good crop yield in 1928 before the Great Depression made life difficult once more. Still, they raised 10 children in the Canadian prairies and never saw the ravages of war up close again.

War and service means different things to different people. For my, grandfather, during WWI, it meant hard work in the forests at Tossna near Petersburg, followed by two decades of hardships. I knew him as a happy, gentle man, and realize that he had it pretty good compared to others in his family and others who lived and served in WWI.

Thoughts on Peace and Remembrance 2010 and 2011 and 2012.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Open Letter on the State of Technology

Open letter regarding the motions from the last board meeting, the ones about:
  • A) reporting to the SD57 Management & Finance Committee about cost-savings associated with single-platform decision in 2010, and 
  • B) reporting to the SD57 Education Programs Committee about student learning initiatives using district technology 
Dear Trustees and SD57 Senior Learning Team,

First off, I appreciate your efforts to restart a long overdue conversation. When I attended an open segment of a Management and Finance meeting in April 2010, the audience was assured by the chair that a technology plan would be forthcoming and the topic of district-level leadership and support (for the kind of work with technology that existed at the time) would not be lost. Again in March 2011 a presentation by district staff at Van Bien T&D Centre called "Enhancing Learning using Technology" looked at where innovation was going in the wider world and hinted at directions for 1-1 student access, a BYOD policy, complimentary purchase strategy, improved consultation with schools, cloud computing, the need for planning, and better wifi. Six of these seven topics have stalled; the only tangible result is the availability of wifi in more schools, though not without issues including a reduced level of access and functionality for teachers compared to the wireless systems that were in place prior to 2011. We've been waiting many years for a real tech plan and for a return to a district-level conversation. Perhaps now is the time to see some movement on these goals.

Regarding Motion B), my suggestion would be to ask a number of teachers about this topic (about what is going well and what is not) in addition to the "good news" stories that will be supplied by administration. I, or any former members of the District Tech Team,  can supply an extensive list of teachers who use technology for teaching & learning if this is helpful. Another source of public information is the substantial district input given on the 2011 "Enhancing Learning" presentation. Morris Scarpino collected this information and I have kept an archive if the data is hard to find. The feedback from the PGSS Tech Committee was particularly lucid (see link below).

Regarding Motion A), my suggestion would be to ask a more relevant set of questions about the state of technology in our district. I am puzzled as to why the board would choose a question about cost-savings in order to start a conversation about how "learning empowered by technology" (aka BC Edplan) can remove roadblocks in SD57. The financial result of technology decisions and directions is fairly clear -- there has been a substantial cost-savings associated with educational technology since 2010 as a result of many factors:
  • single-platform consolidation 
  • non-replacement of key features, software, and services that were provided prior to 2010 
  • adjustments to "greening" schedules (computer lab replacements) 
  • elimination of the District Principal of Technology position (formerly a District Resource Teacher position) 
  • elimination of the District Technology Team and associated release time for DTT members and "Key Tech Contacts" 
  • rejection or deferral of technology innovation requests and project proposals at multiple sites 
  • reduction of school technology allocations (e.g. schools are spending less on technology budgets) 
No doubt there are other factors at play, and perhaps the district budget picture will indicate that total expenditure on technology remains high despite the cutbacks since 2010. Having a leaner technology presence at the district level may be positive in a decentralized model, but this has not translated to more independence for schools to make technology decisions. The point is that we spend less now, and face more restrictions than we did four years ago, for key aspects of technology that support learning and the work of teachers with a vision for how learning can be enhanced through technology. The vibrancy sparked by leadership and district-level collaboration, the engagement of teachers, and impact on students as a result of technology is simply not where it was a few years ago, in part due to financial decisions and in part due to approach. While most districts in BC are increasingly hardware-agnostic, and have embraced mobile technology as integral part of school technology planning, our district is still silent on basic questions about where we are going with educational technology. On a classroom by classroom basis, no doubt you will find amazing, creative, and powerful uses of educational technology by teachers and students; this happens as much in spite of, rather than because of district policy and direction.

I'm sure my thoughts on the topic of reviving a rich culture of technology innovation are not new to you; I have spoken and written extensively about this topic and and would be happy to provide case studies and references to support the arguments I have made. I can also share some very positive examples of how educational technology is being used and how this relates to budget priorities.

Finally, last year I invited those of you who had attended the BCED Leadership Fall Conference to think about and respond to three challenges that face our school district. The second one was the most relevant to technology in SD57 -- I've reposted these challenges here: http://thielmann.blogspot.ca/2013/11/bced-leadership-conference-year-later.html

Additional references:
Best regards,
Glen Thielmann
http://thielmann.ca

Thursday, November 07, 2013

BCED Leadership Conference a Year Later

Last year, I wrote about my experiences as a participant and presenter at the BC Superintendent's Association BCED Leadership Conference. I had hoped that other SD57 participants would offer their own perspective, but I am still 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. It would be awesome, though, to get even a single response from any one of the folks who attended the leadership conference. Sending a dozen or so delegates to this conference cost our school district about $18000, and while there is no formal duty for senior admin and trustees to publicly share what they learned or respond to a fellow delegate, I am puzzled as to why they would not. This is not "holding your feet to the fire" this is a genuine invitation to dialogue... teachers, principals, parents, even students are interested to know what educational leaders get from a professional learning experience, especially one that centered around how schools and districts are implementing personalized learning and the BC Education Plan.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ancient Forest

A couple Fridays ago I took my Language & Landscape group out on a bus to the Ancient Forest, a local hiking trail about 110 km east of Prince George. The paths lead through a unique ecosystem found almost nowhere else on earth -- an inland temperate rainforest. This particular patch is the most northern expression of this wetbelt ecosystem, part old-growth cedar forest but also part of the great boreal forest that stretches across most of Canada. Adding to the ecological story is the fact that the forest has "antique" qualities; very old trees with snags, openings, and diverse structure. Some of the enormous Western Redcedars (Thuja Plicata) are as old as 2000 years and may be one of the first to inhabit the region -- pollen samples from local lake bottoms reveal that Thuja only comes on the scene about 2500 years ago. There are also species of lichens in the canopy that are found in only a few locations in the world, none of which are even close to the northern interior of British Columbia. The Ancient Forest is a biodiversity capsule that holds stories from the time of Alexander the Great.


With a few students absent, it was a merry gang of 20 that climbed out of the bus into a dense fog that filled the entire valley of the Upper Fraser. I had a few questions in my head, learning intentions that I hoped could be fulfilled in the 2 or 3 hours we had in this place, but I also had enough experience to know that whatever happened would probably be fine, for there were 19 others that had their own ideas about fun and field trips. Here is what I wondered, and here is how it turned out:

1. What is the nature of this place? What themes or thoughts or actions make sense in this place?
  • Traditional Ecological Knowledge - the cedars are foundational to Aboriginal culture in BC (building material, ceremonial purposes etc.); the dominant understory shrub here is Devil's Club (Oplopanax horribilis), also an important plant for First Peoples, primarily  for powerful medicine as I understand it. There is a lot of potential for both the study and, with some respectful protocol, the practice of ethobotany.  We saw wild ginger on our walk (delicacy), but we also saw a highly poisonous hellabore.
  • Ecosystem Relationships - as mentioned above this place is unique and it is possible to see variety of biogeoclimatic processes at work.  For example, understanding soil moisture on this slope position anf within the local subclimate is key to understanding why these forests contain giant redcedars instead of the usual spruce, pine, and fir.  This forest offers many opportunities to examine the nurtrient cycle and the stages of forest renewal.  Beneath the rootwheels thrown up by trees blown over in winter storms there are natural soil pits that allowed us to see and touch the "till" (parent material) and clay loam (surface soil). We also happened across Dave King, a famous hiker and trail-maker in our region who was repairing a section of board walk.  He gave our group short talk and lent me his shovel and pulaski so I could did a little soil pit to show why these soils were part of the reason why the redcedars thrived. Digging through the first bit of humus was the opening to talk about biodiversity. Boreal and sub-boreal forests (like this rainforest) owe much of their vitality to biological action in the soil, whereas in tropical rainforests most of the action is in the canopy.
2. How much can or should I wrangle students; is it important for me to convey what I find valuable about this forest?
  • In the end, I think it is important to throw out some "teacher wisdom" when the scene is right, but there is only so much control that can be expected when you have teens running around in a forest. 
  • Maybe the key is to have a few places to stop with something specific in mind, rather than trying to create running commentary. This feels much more like being "present" which in the case of the Ancient Forest is not hard. Lots of "presence" in there to attend to.
3. What does nature/place-based learning look like? What can we learn about ourselves from this specific place?
  • For me this came down to senses. The sweet forest debris, the wash of scented needles born down on the mist, the noise of water (trickles here and there, a substantial waterfall at the top), the sounds of twigs breaking and students calling out and laughing. There was a warm and cool about the day, a chance to get dirt on one's hands and to feel something sharp in the form of a rock or branch stub. This simply does not happen in a classroom.
  • I tried to do two things to get students out of their urban armour. First, I led about half of them off the path into some blowdown and brush -- by led I mean I simply ran off towards a fallen tree and half of them followed me. Second, I egged almost all of them to climb up to the base of Treebeard Falls and play around in the rocks and water for a while. In the closed-in space (rock walls on three sides, clothed in moss and ferns, glittering stones about our feet), I asked them to close their eyes and listen for 30 seconds, just breath and listen. I have no idea what they got out of that but I sense it was a little magic moment. I felt that way, anyways.
  • Some students stuck in a big pack, others wandered around in 2s or 3s, and some were anxious to move on (e.g. pitstops to talk about lichens did not appeal) or did not want to catch up (having fund taking photos or looking at stuff). Learning in nature takes on intense differentiation -- I'm realizing that unusual settings can amplify the identity-rich markers that are often difficult to see when the kids are stuck in the melting pot of a high school. For example, it was easier to see who was a leader, who was a helper, who needed affirmation, who wanted to share stories, and who wanted to experience the perceived learning intentions on their own terms.  This concept was pointed out to me many times by an early mentor, Norm Booth -- we never really know what students learn. We assess student output using our up-to-date tools, and they sometimes tell us what they've learned, but the actual stuff that takes place in their brains is not easily defined; it is abstract and profound, perhaps even sacred.
4. What should I do next time, next semester when I take a group of Grade 12s out here?
  • I think a bit more pre-reading is in order, so that the forest denizens (the trees, the devil's club, the valley itself) have more a of backstory for the students.
  • I loved that we brought sandwich fixings and made our own lunch. Repeat that.
Thanks to my student DB for the pics... here's three more:


Saturday, October 12, 2013

GeoNarratives

For educators and others: this post is intended as a beginning, a draft for a Gr. 11 student project design. Your feedback is welcome, particularly about communicating these lofty ideas to students so they can understand it, managing steps in the project so they don't get lost, assessment suggestions, and weblinks to examples of similar projects appreciated. I'll also be seeking "critical friends" feedback at Mumbleypeg 2013, an annual meeting of the Pacific Slope Consortium. Virtually all of the students at my school have conducted Heritage Projects or Echo Projects of one flavour or another in Social Studies 9, 10, or 11. This means that they have spent considerable time gathering evidence and stories about past cultures and locations, mainly ones within their own family. For my current group taking Geography 12 and English 11 together in the Language and Landscape Program, I want to provoke them to examine the role that geography played in those stories, and to engage in writing and other creative expression to deconstruct these narratives. We will be assigning a significant number of our learning outcomes to this project, and working through it off and on for about two months.

Enough preamble; here it is:

GeoNarratives: Cross-curricular Project-based Learning about People and Places

Each of us has rich stories in our past, stories that woven together with places. For some, it is the tale of our ancestors as they endured challenges that we can only imagine. For others, the people, places and stories are more immediate, still present within our lives. In all cases there is direct and indirect evidence hiding in language, food, and song, and written into physical and cultural landscapes. 

This project will require building a “geography” and creating a “narrative” -- specifically:
  • heritage inquiry: taking the stories from your personal and cultural background and examining patterns, geographic relationships, and significance -- applying critical geographic thinking to an authentic context 
  • creative non-fiction: writing and creating narratives based on research -- perhaps there is some short cross-over into historical fiction and personal myth-making, but at its heart is the telling of a story that connects to your heritage 
  • embodiment: putting your senses, your artistic side, your physical presence into your research and presentation -- creative expressions of the parts of your research that you find most compelling 
 Aside from the critical thinking and creativity involved, some specific skills will be developed:
  • careful use of technology: placing a digital stamp on this project -- use of an online portfolio, use of technology for research and/or expression, experimenting with something new 
  • literature review and wordtake: surveying the reading and media that relates to your inquiry and using some of it to explore Self and Other, or global issues that impacted your own backstory
This is a broad framework created by your teacher, but it is important that you design the questions that will allow this to be meaningful to you. As your teacher, I can provide as much structure as you think you need to be successful with this project, including narrowing down your topics, suggesting courses of action, and helping you embed “benchmarks of geographic inquiry.” With all this in mind you are free to take this project in new directions, as long as we consider certain learning outcomes that are basic to English Language Arts and Geography, including a high standard for writing.

GeoNarratives at a glance -- considering the impact of geography on the stories from one’s past

The final presentation of your GeoNarrative will take in four parts:
  1. sharing the part of your portfolio that shows your heritage research, literature review, and critical analysis (the conclusions you have made about both the topic and your learning)
  2. sharing some or all of the creative non-fiction (or historical fiction) that you have built around your research 
  3. sharing a performative piece that you made to express or symbolize the deep part of your learning during this project 
  4. use of at least one effective of digital technology in the process of project creation or presentation 
Project Steps (not always in this sequence):
  1. look at and assess example of creative non-fiction, heritage inquiry, and “geographies” 
  2. develop questions and designs for your project 
  3. accumulate primary and secondary evidence and conduct a variety of research 
  4. co-develop aspects of your project and evaluation criteria with student groups and the teacher 
  5. create the pieces that make up your project 
  6. prepare the pieces for sharing, including presentation 
  7. share and present your project 
  8. reflection, celebration, and evaluation 
Examples of stories that would work well as GeoNarratives:
  • immigration experiences, so different depending on location and time period 
  • wartime from civilian or a soldier’s perspective 
  • grandma’s garden, grandpa’s workshop; practicing bygone skills and trades 
  • working on the land; pioneering and homesteading 
  • outdoor lifestyles, a tradition of hunting or fishing 
  • managing a farm and family, homemaking in the past 
Examples of global issues that could be examined within your project:
  • a study of racism/tolerance, language acquisition, or labour market among new immigrants 
  • evolving role and treatment of women in various places, cultures, and time periods 
  • aboriginal ways of knowing and relationship between First Nations and the broader society 
  • the power of wealth: studies of “class” and differences between rich and poor 
  • citizenship, rights and democracy: how much freedom or “agency” did historic groups really have 
  • the idea of sustainability and the relationship that different peoples have with the environment 
  • grief and hope: how did historic groups cope with challenges (could tie in to religious studies) 
Examples of evidence that would support a GeoNarrative:
  • non-fiction, documentaries, history books and websites, academic studies 
  • novels, short stories, works of fiction and poetry from the time period and place that you are examining 
  • artwork or crafts such as paintings, architecture, sketches, sculptures, carvings, jewelry, tools, heirlooms 
  • primary evidence, journals, memoirs, recollections, artifacts, photographs, recipes, travelogues, interviews 
  • genealogical websites, graveyards, government records, family history books 
  • existing “human geography” connected to your topics (studies that parallel your inquiry), historical atlases
Examples of a performative piece:
  • musical creation (e.g. write a song), interpretive dance, historical re-enactment, water colour painting, original poetry, food creation, a model or diorama, puppet show, simulation, class activity, video reflection, narrated slideshow, interactive display, build something
Examples of a digital stamp:
  • use of QR codes to link to key evidence, like a reader’s guide for someone to understand your work 
  • creating an attractive space in your digital portfolio to display some of your work (lots of applications to try for this one) 
  • using video or computer animation for part of your project 
  • conducting interviews via Skype and archiving part of it as portfolio evidence 
  • use of social media for “curating” (assessing and organizing) research or telling/sharing a story
Examples of a projects that put together many strands of inquiry:
Note on the image at the top: this is a map of the Molotchna colony -- home to Mennonites who left Prussia to settle in this part of South Russia from the 1780s onwards.  After WWI and the Russian Revolution, many of these Mennonites fled to North America, including all four of my grandparents. One of my own GeoNarratives is very much connected to this time, place, and people.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Professional Development has changed

Professional Development (PD) has changed in the last 15 years. For those of you who taught in the 80s and 90s, think back to a time before pervasive email, a comprehensive internet, and widespread social media. PD happened in trickles throughout the year and with singular emphasis on designated days — these were one of the few times when teachers “received” PD in the form of a workshop, presentation, or group conversation. They tended to be high-stakes in the sense that there were few other formal opportunities for teachers to orient themselves to the new ideas that circulated in the education world. My first few years of teaching was like this: hit-and-miss presenters, and random professional conversations around shared subject areas. The boundary between that and the outside world was pretty narrow and virtually unexplored. Other colleagues tell me this was a "golden age" --lots of organized PD (in the form of guest presenters) and he rest was quiet and unassuming. Now, for better or worse, we are saturated in educational ideas, competing paradigms, "must-read" professional articles, layers of jargon (each one "scaffolding" the next), intriguing links, and cures for what ails us in education — professional learning materials, ideas, and networks are available 24/7. In short, we are connected.

Much of the "ubiquitous PD" buzz has been facilitated by technology and the mobile devices that few of us are far from. For example, a brief foray into educational hashtags on Twitter reveals a river of PD that teachers can draw from sparingly or jump into with both feet. More than one teacher-tweeter has referred to twitter as a "firehose of PD." Thousands of BC educators contribute daily; it is hard not to be humbled by the sheer volume of earnest inquiry.

The buzz extends past social media. In many of our schools we have built in collaborative time or similar structures and release grants to continue the learning that used to take place in hallways between class. The last few years has also seen the rise of EdCamps, Open Space, and Unconferencing — all of which are recognition that teachers want to compare notes and challenge or support each other far more than they want to be passive recipients of expert conclusions, no matter how brilliant. These trends also speak to the power of informal learning. This is accompanied by a growing reluctance to spend our PD time alone — we get enough isolation from adults in our daily teaching, and social media leaves us craving something more embodied.

As we adjust to the ubiquitous nature of PD, it becomes more important that official PD days offer these opportunities to unpack or take stock of recent learning, to mull over and reflect on what this means for coming months, and to fuse or synthesize the ideas in the room into something useful or inspirational for ourselves and our students. For many, professional learning is a life-long habit, particularly for those who have made the digital PD leap and are rarely unconnected from other educators. Among the "connected" there is an awareness that formal PD time isn't about taking in new information or having PD “done to you.” Whether our handful of PD days each school year are spent as individual teacher inquiry or a co-creative process among colleagues, the customs are undergoing a significant shift and our administrative leaders, teacher leaders and associations need to change the way we frame, organize, and seek accountability for our PD time. Meetings of any kind — PD, staff, committee, boards — need to realize that assembling simply to hear information is no longer necessary (even offensive in some ways). Just as we're learning to shift our classrooms from content delivery to more dynamic, interactive practice, so to our meetings need to shift to acknowledge that solid communication is more than just passing on information; it requires conversation.

I have been very fortunate to have spent much of my PD time in the last few years with members of my personal learning network — they have challenged me to examine the ultimate implications of my actions on the social and intellectual development of my students, and we have kept each other accountable for high standards as educators. Most of this is done face-to-face, but we've left some space in our collective inquiry for social media — subtle, ongoing infusion of new ideas into our own conversations, all of us richer for the experience. We have come as close as we can to a common understanding that PD days are the teachers' assessment time for the professional learning that happens all year — a chance to unpack, to mull, and to fuse.

How do you spend your PD time?

Monday, September 30, 2013

And now for something completely different

This September has been the most unique for me in at least a decade.

I've jumped into an inquiry-based, blended learning program designed for Grade 11 students, a cross-curricular "interrogation" of the BC Edplan combining English 11 and Geography 12. I've called it the Language & Landscape Program and our focus is on imaginative storytelling within the context of environmental themes. My cohort of 28 students is yoked to me for the entire morning all semester long, but we've broken this up into lectures & lessons, student-led Groups, teacher-facilitated Seminars, and independent "Flex Time." Between big projects, "embodied" knowing, writing workshops, lit circles, and building of "geographies" is some place-based learning, too, meaning we have some great field trips planned to local physical and cultural landscapes.

I've also started a new afternoon job as the district teachers' association Professional Development coordinator. Aside from weighing applications for conference travels, managing a fund, chairing a committee, and planning a big conference in Spring, I get to talk with many educators about their plans for professional learning and help make connections to colleagues, presenters, and support time. Part of this is formal (e.g. district's mentoring program, setting up workshops and min-conferences) and some of it is informal -- conversations, visits, phone calls, emails, and social media.

Some career novelty for sure -- a good fit for where I'm at after 17 years teaching. I can feel the pressure I've put on myself for getting the most out of the morning and the afternoon each day (e.g. I can feel it in the form of insomnia!), but I'm loving the student learning that is taking place in the Language & Landscape program and loving the connections I'm making with educators about their professional learning. When the patterns settle out and new becomes familiar once again, I'm hoping I get the sleep part back. Work-life balance has never been an easy one for me, but it certainly helps when the work is dynamic and fulfilling.

The image above, if you don't recognize it, is from Monty Python's Flying Circus, the masters of "something completely different."

Friday, September 13, 2013

Book Talk

For the first seminar in the new Language & Landscape program, I invited our dedicated teacher-librarian to do her amazing book talk for my students as an introduction to a discussion on literacy, book memories, and social media. The way we've set up this inquiry-based, blended learning program gives us one morning each week for Seminar Time - two 80 minute sessions with 14 students each,  a chance to check in on the week's learning, unpack & discuss the focus questions, and do "formative rounds" -- mutual accountability in a safe circle (ok, I just made that up but that's actually what we will move towards). If you're wondering, the 14 that are not in seminar at any given time are provided with some choice as to what to do (e.g. ongoing projects, online work set up in advance, consuming various media resources that have been "flipped" from the lessons). A computer lab is open to them during this time, although some choose to work elswhere.

Anyways, like many lessons that don't turn out the way the teacher plans (but actually go better), this one started with a design for a free-wheeling discussion on a number of topics. What we got instead was a 75 minute tour through young adult fiction from our librarian Ms Jandric. She had a cart full of books, a laptop and sign-out wand, and an incredible knowledge of what students read and what they might want to read next. She spoke to the angst and dreams and life-lessons behind the titles, and probed the students to articulate what they liked reading and why. She has a gift at this, the ability to use thoughtful conversation to match books to students who walk in our "Learning Commons" (fancy for library).

Here are just a few of the titles she paraded through our midst, each one with brief description and an "identity question" to hook the students:

Room by Emma Donoghue
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult
I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham
City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
... lots of fantasy, these ones sell themselves for those already into the genre

The students seemed too quiet to me, something I mistook for reticence but was in fact a respectful patience... they were listening intently, placing themselves in the position of a reader. This is "identity work" -- it often means having an instant empathy for a main character, in this case based solely on the librarian's stirring invitation and what other students had to say about the books. When Ms. Jandric stopped, they jumped on the books, and after two Seminars, about 24 out of 28 had a book they were excited to read. I thought is was cool that our French exchange student happened to be reading The Help translated into French, so the English version was a natural pick for her. The librarian, naturally, will follow up on the other four, never willing to be stumped by students who can'd find a book they like.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

BCED Funding

The other day I came across an article by B.C. political journalist Keith Baldrey about the ongoing bargaining between BCPSEA the Liberal Government and the two main employee groups (BCTF and CUPE). In the middle are the school boards, both the elected trustees (who provide some advocacy and accountability for the local and provincial school system), and the senior staff in school districts (who make most of the decisions about how budgets are spent and programs implemented).  One sentence in Baldrey's article stuck out for me:
"Of course, school trustees can make a fair case that the system is inadequately funded, since every year they grapple with escalating cost pressures such as MSP premiums, inflation, pension adjustments, etc. [emphasis mine]" http://www.thenownewspaper.com/baldrey-the-game-of-chicken-begins-in-b-c-s-education-system-1.610077#sthash.Bkr3EpQm.dpuf
I tweeted to Keith Baldrey about the etc. in his article, with the suggestion that the list behind the etc. could be quite long. I followed up with an email and he was kind enough to include some of it in a Surrey Now follow-up article.

Here's the extended context...

Our school districts, especially in the north, face growing inflationary costs & the impacts of funding formula changes for bus transportation, building heat & electricity, and carbon offsets that do not respect the age or condition of our buildings, many of which were designed for warmer climates and lack proper insulation. The pressure to maintain adequate services for rural schools factors into this, too. Other districts face sizeable costs for seismic upgrades and new technology. These are just the start of the unfunded downloads on schools.

While no two districts are alike, we have also seen a sharp increase in the amount of vulnerable, at-risk & special designation students in our classroom, coupled with downloaded parenting costs such as meals programs, after-school supervision, and community transitions/support programs designed to develop basic skills and maintain safety of kids. While this shows our system has heart (which it should), it results in more complex school and classroom composition issues that we typically resolve by hiring more support teachers, educational assistants, Ab-Ed workers, transition workers, psychologists, etc. We already snatch from the money generated from diagnosed special needs students to pay for students who have undiagnosed special needs (e.g. need learning assistance time), and there never seems to be enough money to keep up with demand for diagnosis. Compounding this is the trend towards niche schools (where "respectable" parents send their kids) and more public funds for private schools -- this shifts more costly students (the ones that need extra supports) to the public schools that still service neighbourhoods. Let alone the learning difficulties, the amount of toxic stress in our "inner city" schools and some of our alternative programs is quite stunning; our passionate and justified response to these kids in need has edged into the territory that has traditionally been funded by Ministry of Health and Ministry of Children & Family Development.

The Ministry's BC Ed Plan comes with many challenges for schools to rethink use of technology and learning resources, timetables and calendars, style of learning and reconfiguration of school space. These intentions incur costs that are not funded by the Ministry of Education, such as the infrastructure upgrades to internet pipes and wifi systems necessary to handle wide-spread use of "bring your own technology/device" (BYOD). While the Ministry has committed to an upgrade to the BCED system's ISP (PLNet), internal costs in schools are not covered. The desire to see a "smartboard in every classroom" (some districts are already there) is a pricy proposition, too. For some reason, the BC Ed Plan has not been publicly costed; in fact many see it as a way to save money -- I guess the view is that creative and collaborative students will need less educational services. The reality is that any significant change has costs associated and risks failure if funding does not match commitment.

In the olden days student data management systems were very cheap, but then we got BCeSIS, a multi-million dollar boondoggle. It's time is up, but the proposed new AspenESIS looks to be no less expensive (but hopefully works better). The Saanich School District has developed an alternative system (OpenStudent) for about 1/10th the cost... but it does not have the Ministry's official blessing. Too bad, this could save a district like hundreds of thousands per year (if it works, that is). We are also scheduled for a total curriculum overhaul in the next year or two. In the past, curriculum changes were introduced for single subjects and spread over many years, and accompanied with inservice (curriculum implementation funds). They needed to be done this way due to costs such as new textbooks and the reality of displacing years of teacher prep and introducing new outcomes. Incidentally, we we not even close to being ready for e-texts -- our tech systems/culture, restrictions on tablet purchases (in our district anyways), and the licensing/tracking issues make this option unobtainable at the present, despite what the Ministry might see as best practices. Worth piloting or experimenting with, though. But the current "total" ed reform and curriculum change will be swift and completely unfunded. No doubt the Ministry wishes for us to take money from our paltry Pro-D funds to cover these costs.

When districts face pressures like these, it is no wonder that corporate partnerships, cash-cow international programs, and hiding program cuts within budget jargon look more appealing to school board staff. Our board, to some extent, has been aware of these issues and has tried to be open about the challenges we face, so my comments are not meant as any kind of criticism of what is happening locally. We've had surpluses for the last few years and the only budget arguments at the board level seem to be about how to spend them. It is still a mystery to me how there can be unresolved surplus spending discussions at one level but unfulfilled needs at most other levels in a school district. I suspect it is because providing care and education for our vulnerable students is a financial black hole -- no matter what we spend the problems will still be profound. This is also one of the reasons why the BCTF advocates for poverty reduction strategies and why our whole system has a focus on improving Aboriginal achievement -- eliminating poverty would transform education.

Anyways, I'm off to make sure my kids' backpacks have school supplies to add to the classroom stock and the cheques to cover "transportation fees" and "cultural activity fees."  It looks like my wife and I are doing our part to help fund the school system, too!

Regards,
Glen Thielmann

Thursday, June 20, 2013

District Achievement Contract feedback

Feedback for Senior Admin/Learning Team on the SD57 District Achievement Contract 2013-2014

“We hope you will take the time to read it. We also hope you will provide us some feedback by sending your input to: dacfeedback@sd57.bc.ca”
- retrieved from http://www.sd57.bc.ca/ June 17th, 2013 

To begin, a thank-you is in order to senior administration for seeking feedback on the District Achievement Contract (DAC). This was unexpected but long overdue. It is a positive development to see the DAC offered to stakeholders for input -- this has not happened in the ten year history of school district “Plans for Student Success” and Superintendent Reports on Achievement. As our superintendent pointed out earlier in the year, these have largely been compliance documents which are written for a very general audience, and have not been subject to intense scrutiny, editing, or statistical analysis. PGDTA president Matt Pearce and SD57 Trustee Kate Cooke have raised concerns about this at public board meetings over the last year, so I know this is not news to you.

So, with what seems to be a somewhat “fresh” DAC, and the first to go public for input, I have to say this is a good start. We need many more opportunities for open feedback on school district directions and decisions, just as we need more opportunities for reflection and celebration. This feedback needs to take on the characteristics of a dialogue, something that can lead to change or renewal. We had mechanisms for this in the past that, while not perfect, at least provided for some collaborative decision-making between stakeholders (like teachers) and senior administration. These structures dissipated over a four of five year period ending with the big cuts in 2010. Job action in 2011-2012 kind of sealed the deal, and we are left with a communication problem in our district, and a paucity of co-creative work being done between stakeholders. Seeking input on the DAC is a small but praiseworthy step towards a more dialogue-based set of relationships in the school district. I would encourage senior administration to work with trustees and partner groups to design more opportunities for exchange of ideas and collaborative decision-making, particularly in the areas of educational technology, shared professional learning, school reform, and student interventions. I would also encourage senior administration to turn each significant area of the DAC into a corresponding interactive webspace so that organizational change and support for students can leap out of the yearly report format and become something that invites dialogue and ongoing opportunities for involvement.

Comments, questions, critiques of the DAC.

First, a quick bio and some biases to declare. I teach secondary Social Studies, Humanities, and Geography at D.P. Todd Secondary (my school home for 10 years) in School District 57. I have been student of organizational culture throughout my 17-year career, and have served in a variety of formal and informal leadership positions. My wife is a school trustee and my family has been filled with teachers for at least four generations. I am an active user of social media and educational technology, and over the last eight or nine years I have written on my blog and elsewhere extensively, both in celebration and concern, about school district directions, decisions, and philosophies. Education is in my bones. Next year I will be serving as the PGDTA Pro-D Chair and Fund Administrator and I look forward to working with district staff on shared projects and common goals. I am not completely comfortable submitting this feedback, as it is necessarily critical and covers much of the same ground I’ve covered elsewhere, but there is a season for everything, and I would kick myself for missing the opportunity to respond to a request for input on a topic I feel qualified to discuss.

Introduction (p. 3) 

“The concepts and initiatives within this document have been created through a collaborative process”

It would be useful to know how the process for developing the plan actually works. There used to be an official “District Planning Process” that is no longer used; this is understandable as it involved many steps that were never realistic, e.g. the district plan was meant to support school plans, to synthesize them even, yet the two levels of plans were written simultaneously and the district plan had no way of resolving incompatibilities. The current DAC describes a feedback loop within senior administration and the senior learning team, but this is quite far removed from the frontlines, from the scattered leaders in schools and classrooms. Admittedly, it is difficult to take the pulse of such a large and diverse organization, let alone set common goals, but this does not excuse the need to engage stakeholders in setting district agendas.

“the Senior Learning Team has consulted research documents including the work of GELP (Global Education Leaders’ Program)” 

It is troubling that the only explicit mention of an external influence on the DAC is GELP. This organization is entwined with corporations that advocate the increased privatization of educational services. GELP is an influential player in the education reform agenda, and, while championed by many who have guided the BC Education Plan, should be balanced with broader influences, especially those that do not undermine public education with corporatization. Please list the other research that influences district agendas. Here are some resources on GELP that explain these concerns: 
1) http://bctf.ca/uploadedFiles/Public/Publications/TeacherNewsmag/archive/2012-2013/2012-11/index.pdf
2) http://thetyee.ca/News/2012/10/05/BC-Education-Plan/
3) http://www.staffroomconfidential.com/2012/10/origins-of-bcedplan.html

“In order to reach our vision, we know that it is important to examine our organization through a systems-based approach”

What is this systems-based approach? How exactly is this system examined or reviewed, and by whom? Simply having community partners does not equal a systems approach, unless perhaps they form part of the “examination.” Does the system in “systems-based” refer to organizational function, capacity, or hierarchy?

District Context (p. 4)

This description has improved over previous DACs and definitely brings home the reality of vulnerability in our district. One question -- 684 FTE teachers -- this figure does not match the one used at the PGDTA office for their calculations (closer to 705 I think). Is the number in flux? Also, these numbers are in contrast to the ones that appear on the district website http://www.sd57.bc.ca/index.php?id=493, and are different yet again from the numbers used on external job postings published by our district in the last year. Is it too much to expect the same office to use the same data set?

District Strengths (p. 5)

"Our district is decentralized in terms of financial and educational decision making”

I think this refers to a change in accounting that took place many years ago, whereas this statement implies a deliberate attempt to flatten hierarchies. We still have plenty of those -- key centralized controls still exist that prevent principals from advocating for public education and working with school staff to innovate, particularly in the area of technology and collaboration. What can we do to reconcile the declared "character strength" of decentralization with more support for site-based innovation?

District and School Connections (p. 6)

“moving towards seamless pre-K to 12 systems”

We need to see more evidence of this; our secondary contact with elementary feeder schools is minimal and has not changed in many years: some work by the counsellors, music program, and student leadership activities.

“School Plan is connected to the Family of Schools plan”

Our staff has never heard of a Family of Schools Plan -- what is it and where can we see it?

“School Plans are reviewed by a team with feedback...” 

This has been highly inconsistent, for example, our school has only received feedback on its plan once in the last five years, and the review was conducted by a team, not an individual. If any additional feedback was offered, it has not been shared with staff.

“School Plans and Family Plans are informed by the District Achievement Contract” 

This has not been the case -- school plans are written independently of the DAC and typically record school-based initiatives based on department goals or school-sponsored inquiry. The Family Plans are an unknown -- I have yet to hear from anyone who has seen one.

Enhancing Learning Through the Use of ICT (p. 10/11)

“Encourage use of the recently implemented Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) public wireless networks”

Effective BYOD programs need some kind of policy, a co-developed plan, and a complimentary purchasing strategy (we have none of these). All we have is a cumbersome public wifi that drops connections, restricts access, and works slowly. It does not differentiate between staff and student users who each have distinct needs.  The implementation forgot to include the communication part -- many staff do not know what BYOD involves and only experience the frustration of a wireless network that does not work as well as the ones we have generally had access to over the last six years.  I won't list the frustrations that have beed expressed to me from various schools because I'm quite sure you are already aware of them.

I've talked with tech analysts and systems managers at Northern Health and Canfor, and used the wifi at UNBC (not to mention coffee shops and fast food joints) -- why has everyone else figured out how to offer a secure/unsecure choice with a variety of functions (based on a needs assessment) that satisfy users and provide top-rate service, but a teacher can't even use a BYOD device to teach on SD57 wifi?  I'm sure board office discussions have described network wifi access as "mission critical" and "necessary for moving forward" -- they have been for some time, so put the budget and time into serving up a system that meets staff and student needs, please.

Whether it is cloud apps, wifi upgrades, server function, tablet pilots, tech planning, etc., our district seems to have a 3-8 year cycle for moving from design to implementation.  1-2 years would be more appropriate.  I'm still waiting for some remote access commitments to be fulfilled that were discussed by the District Technology Team in 2004. It borders on the absurd to wait nine years for a basic tech service (offered at other institutions) in an era where the landscape changes every few months.

In the 1990s, we had a free-for-all with technology and created many of the innovative practices (and needs, problems, positions) that are still with us now. In the 2000s we moved into standardization, inventory management, and decision making based on cost-benefit. It is 2013, and we need to learn from both decades and embrace support for district-purchased mobile technology regardless of platform or vendor. The systems management technology already exists to manage a variety of devices and cloud services in a secure and stable environment and in a cost-effective manner. The quiet district move to restrict tablet purchases and stifle attempts at school-based purchases, for example, reflects thinking locked in place during the last decade. The world has moved on; it is possible to have your cake and eat it, too.

“Develop a repository of web browser-based, device-independent applications”

Does this exist? Something like used to be part of what was called the “District Tech Standards” but the current status of this document has not been shared with teachers for a few years. Tech representatives from each school (“KTCs”) used to meet twice a year to share ICT progress and learn about new district supports; this practice was discontinued in 2007, along with the tech coaching program.

“Continue to work with the Provincial Learning Network (PLNet) to fast- track upgrades of Internet connections at schools.”

More bandwidth will be useful, but will not resolve underlying issues regarding access and lack of educational technology planning in the district.

“Develop a collection of inservice resources, and improve collaboration opportunities for staff through upgrades to the district's ICT infrastructure”

Infrastructure upgrades and improved collaboration are not mutually assured. Our district has lost capacity for tech-related inservice and professional development over the last 8 years (that was the last time we had a district tech plan, incidentally). What are you doing to restore this capacity and reboot the conversation on technology that used to be a high priority for senior administration? I have documented this extensively elsewhere, e.g. http://thielmann.blogspot.ca/2012/10/the-forbidden-ipad.html, so I’ll leave it at that.

“Continue to provide support for innovative, ICT intensive projects through Learning Team Grants”

These are a mystery to most employees of the school district. The LTGs need to be more public and the results shared more effectively. Flexibility is also needed; to illustrate, consider the case of the recent LTG looking at screencasting. This group volunteered their time (as opposed to using release time) in exchange for inexpensive software licenses. The group started with this understanding, but was later denied the software, so the LTG ended up being freebee “non-grant” and the participants were left frustrated. Where are the truly innovative Tech LTGs? The “buzz” around ICT-intensive projects has not been the same since the end of TLITE, the cancellation of district coaches, the end of the District Technology Team, elimination of tech leadership positions, etc.

“Support teachers with interactive whiteboards with professional development on lesson design and instruction”

Interactive whiteboards have some excellent uses, but they are far from innovative. This technology was introduced to our district in 2004 and is still being used largely as very expensive overhead projectors. If you want to lead change with innovative technology, putting your money on smartboards is a bad bet.

Reach out to teacher and administrative leaders in the district and ask them what they would like to see to transform learning spaces with technology. Look through the feedback gathered in the wake of the 2011 “Enhancing Learning” meeting and ask how many of the concerns have been recognized as legitimate problems and addressed. Talk to principals and teachers who have had technology proposal rejected in the last three years what effect this has had on their desire to put new ideas in to practice. Ask individuals like Ian Landy what he has been able to do with technology in his new school district that he was not able to do in ours. Read what Chris Kennedy has to say about BYOD programs and the support and complimentary strategies needed to pull this off. Read what Chris Wejr, Cale Birk, and so many others say about social media for educators and the need for leaders to flatten hierarchies with open, public, and frank discussion. Dig deep and ask why so many devices are quietly listed as banned purchases without discussion with the educators who have shown passion for their use as teaching and learning tools. Follow what most BCED leaders say about the real commodity when it comes to educational technology -- the passionate, supported educator is the most valuable asset, not the equipment or devices. How many teacher and administrator dreams have to die because schools are bound by district technology restrictions and the impasse created when the district won’t discuss the topic?

Engage and Action: Other District Initiatives (p. 19/20) 

“Learning Team Grants... we moved from collaborating only within the school, to collaboration between schools and across the district”

The idea that collaboration across the district is a new trend is problematic. This is a quality that has ebbed and flowed over the last 15 years (since email and the internet began to link us together in new ways), and involves a great deal of informal collaboration that is generally off of the district’s radar. Formal collaborative efforts have also suffered from ineffective top-down implementation of “Professional Learning Community” concepts. LTGs represent a promising form of collaboration and professional development, bottom-up in many cases, but a number of issues remain. I have commented on these issues already at http://thielmann.blogspot.ca/2012/12/effective-professional-development.html.

“We have invited teacher candidates to participate in many professional development opportunities and continue to strengthen our relationship with UNBC by partnering in research projects and programs”

Teacher candidates have always been invited to district pro-d events; this is not new. Similarly, Curriculum & Instruction has been approving post-secondary research projects in our district for decades. Is there some new protocol we should know about? What has changed?

“While the value of collaboration is clearly evident in our schools, it was not until 2010-2011 that the Central Administration Office began an initiative to share a vision across the departments in our own building”

This is quite surprising, for it implies that prior to 2011 there was no collaboration at the board office. While this might explain a few things, it does not seem likely. Let’s have a peek into this think-tank, a look at the ongoing work. I’m sure you share progress with each other, and publish the briefest of summaries in documents like the DAC, but if this work is important and impacts the school district, why wouldn’t you make it public and share with all stakeholders? This is an excellent opportunity for district leaders to model “21st Century Foundation Skills” -- communicate, host talks, tweet and blog about it, visit schools and attend staff meetings to share the vision as it shifts from year to year. Although teachers are notorious for feigning ignorance about what goes on at the board office, most of us actually care about what our district staff do on a daily basis, we care when it is done well and we especially care when it is not. Such is the nature of a school district. 

“[The Senior Learning Team is] implementing projects which include: utilizing personal electronic devices in classrooms, building online communities, developing professional growth plans”

The BYOD “program” has substantive issues (see comments above). The “57 Online Communities” project was not successful -- very few district staff want or need an employer-monitored and controlled social media forum that is closed off to the public. The whole idea of social media in education is to connect beyond the familiar environment and breathe new life into one’s practice, or share expertise. Professional Growth plans... whose? Teachers? Principals? Senior Administration? Can we see some examples?

“[The Senior Learning Team is] reinventing rural education. Our rural education initiative has begun as a learning team of educators and principals who will exam how to build school communities when the population of the school does not sustain a traditional- style classroom. The work is in its beginning stages, and we know it is vital to our District.” 

This sentiment has been stated in one form or another for about five years. It would appear our district has a strong desire to do something for rural schools, but is not actually going about it with any vigour. Part of the problem no doubt rests with our broken distributed learning model, and part with lack of funding, but even within existing structures we should see more progress on this issue.  The Rural School Initiative that included many district staff and teachers is a good example of "the work is in its beginning stages." That was 2005 -- surely we have moved past the beginning stages in the last eight years?

The Essential Eight (p. 22-28)

“Through the collaborative efforts of schools, departments, the senior learning team, and global research, we have begun the work of embedding eight essential learning strands”

This “collaboration” has taken place for the most part outside of actual collaboration with teachers (or students, parents, trustees for that matter).  Although it is not unexpected that the jargon in the DAC resonates with the BC Education Plan, there are far too many generalities in the “Essential Eight” to inspire confidence. At any rate, it will come down to implementation, and this presents four significant issues: 1) a literal reading of the “Essential Eight” would suggest that implementation would be expensive. 2) implementation would require a shift in the priorities assigned to administration, e.g. a greater emphasis on instructional leadership -- this will be difficult at the secondary level. 3) implementation requires a higher degree of communication, collaboration, and shared decision-making between employee groups, namely teachers and administrators -- if this sometimes dysfunctional relationship is not addressed then the “Essential Eight” will fare no better than other troubled initiatives we’ve seen come and go over the years. 4) the district needs to determine which the “Eight” are actually essential and desired by teachers, or at least which interpretation of the categories can expect mutual agreement and shared priority. Some of the “Eight” contain language with contract implications, for example, and should be subject to review by affected partner groups before suggesting they are valid solutions to problems (e.g. 1, 2, 7, 8).

2. Data-driven Evidence for Learning (p. 22) 

“Improve staff understanding, knowledge, skills related to utilization of data/evidence” 

Use of data for planning has been problematic for many years. A survey in 2011 of past school plans and district plans for student success reveals a few problems: 1) a general confusion of correlation with causality, 2) a tendency to mash up bits of educational ideas or data types with the hopes that they are congruent, 3) comparison across cohorts with expectations that the underlying factors are the same, and 4) use of backwards-engineered goals to describe ordinary activities in the school or justify existing practice. In other words, we’ve tried to use data to support decisions but we’ve often had a poor understanding of how to select, gather, read, interpret, and respond to appropriate data. A goal of improving this situation is valuable, but only if we recognize that current methodological practices are largely invalid.

“We would provide in-service and professional development opportunities... (release, supplementary service, online). We would hope to move towards a coach for each school” 

We don’t have the professional capacity for this without significant changes to PD funding models, and a change to the culture of collaboration on educational technology in the district. Also, see comments above on the four issues related to implementation of the “Essential Eight.” Are these coaches actually data analysis positions? Voluntary, paid, or release based? Which employee group?

“Move from pilot to district-wide implementation of the Assessment Management System”

More work is needed to discuss AMS with school staffs before assuming that this is something that will be valued by the people you expect to use it.  Increased use of student profiling carries some professional and privacy issues, and could also be a duplicate effort with the replacement to BCeSIS. Like so many other ideas in the DAC, communication is important. Most secondary teachers have never heard of the AMS (even at the one high school that is apparently using it) and there does not appear to be anything available on the district website in terms of examples or rationale.

7. Enhanced Learning Through Technology (p. 25)

“Develop the processes of integrating technology into the learning environment (communication, research, graphic organizers, presentation)”

This is particularly troubling as our district used to be a leader in technology-based professional learning and we’ve let it slide for the last eight years. Do you mean to revive, renew, or replace the structures and relationships that used to create partnerships and shared projects across employee groups in our district? This is hardly an elephant in the room -- our district has ignored its technology leaders’ repeated request for dialogue and action, and the result has been disengagement and resignation. Site-based technology innovation and integration continues in fits and starts, happening despite the restrictive policies and a lack of discussion at the district level. I applaud the effort to get something going again, but the work will be difficult if conducted in isolation of teachers and shared decision-making. An example to illustrate: when the district moved to single-platform computing in 2010, the board (Management and Finance Committee) and senior administration were informed that this would come at a significant loss to innovative practice and teacher enthusiasm, and a request was made to put a plan together to support specific innovations that would he affected. The board committee chair hearing these concerns assured the presenters that the district does not move without a plan, and that a plan would be forthcoming. That was over three years ago and there is still no educational technology plan. In fact, we have also seen the loss of virtually every other structure that used to support cross-district collaboration on edtech, with the exception of a handful of LTGs which are not generally public or shared. If the school district means to live up to the “learning empowered by technology” aspect of the BC Education Plan, it needs to repair some bridges and rethink how it is handing the technology portfolio.

“Enable more self-directed learning – students construct their own understanding”

What does this mean in the context of technology? An improvement to our distributed learning model? If so, this is long overdue and needs a shift in both culture and funding, e.g. http://thielmann.blogspot.ca/2013/05/tipping-points.html. Perhaps this refers to blended learning initiatives? Without an increased capacity for district-wide dialogue on educational technology, all we can hope for is school-based exemplars that happen to catch on. If for no other reason than to get going on rural education reform, this statement needs to be fleshed out and matched to some goals for an improved district relationship regarding educational technology.

Personalized Learning (p. 28)

“Continue work on personalized learning at the August District Principals’ and Vice Principals’ meeting... follow-up with sessions on personalized learning at our monthly District Principals’ Meetings.” 

What does this work involve? Clearly many of our administrators (and teachers) are not comfortable leading and discussing on this topic, so some professional learning is in order, but it would be good to know what staffs can expect from their administrators re personalized learning.

“In conjunction with school-based administrators, develop and implement sessions on management competencies as well as personal and professional growth for administrators. We will align the sessions to the needs of the Principals and Vice Principals’ portfolios.”

Where can we see the management competencies our district uses? Are the same as the BCPVPA Leadership Standards? How are administrators kept accountable to these competencies? Does senior administration actually guide the personal growth of administrators or highlight moral stewardship? How is this done? Will administrators make their portfolios public, and invite interaction regarding their goals and progress related to competencies? Will they be encouraged to make better use of social media? This is expected if we want our leaders to model personalized learning, at least the way it was been framed by the BC Education Plan. Here is a related tool for leadership self-evaluation: https://www.dropbox.com/s/t307ah9lxyzzx4n/21stC_Leadership_Assessment_Tool.pdf

“Our rural secondary schools are exploring online resources to meet the unique needs of their students.”

As mentioned earlier, our district has talked about renewing rural education for a long time but the progress has been unacceptably slow. A variety of proposals were touted as a result of the rural schools initiative about five years ago -- what has come of this?

Appendix A: 21st Century Foundational Skills (p. 30)

“Reading, Writing, Numeracy... Caring for personal health and planet earth [sic]” 

What makes these skills endemic to the 21st Century? Regarding care for planet earth, what kinds of green initiatives and incentives are underway in SD57? What is being done to replant the many trees (and carbon sinks) that were removed due to the pine beetle? Over the last year our secondary school libraries have been discarding thousands of books as part of their “learning commons” renovations. Do you think the district decision to send these books out for shredding is commensurate with principles of sustainability? Why was no effort was made to find a home among students or the public for these books? Recirculation of “ex-libris” books is certainly not new idea and meets guidelines for appropriate use of public funds -- I would suggest this practice has been one of expediency and not sustainability.

Appendix B: Superintendent’s Report on Student Achievement (p. 31)

“Six-Year Completion Rate [etc.]

Most of the charts use five or fewer years of data. Our district has collected at least ten years of data for most of these categories, so why not use a more statistically valid set? Many of the trends raise questions of confidence given the small sample size and comparison of different cohorts. My wife has more patience for combing through stats than I do, so I trust she will continue to provide better feedback here than I can.

Targets, Programs, Performance, Results and Intervention (p. 39/40)

“I am required to comment on the effect of interventions and programs with specific reference to goals and targets set out in our last achievement contract”

A couple of things appear to be missing regarding interventions in the DAC -- the issue of illicit drugs in our schools and problems with student attendance. These two factors have enormous influence on student performance, morale, and school culture. These problems are largely understood as school-based issues, and yet our principals look for district direction when setting policy with their staffs and enforcing existing rules and laws. These are also two issues that nag at teachers and beg for improved expectations for the school-parent/guardian relationship. We need more attention to these problems in order to quell the common perception that we are excusing drug use with minimal consequences, and that we have given up trying to make attendance compulsory. If we have successful intervention strategies for either of these two growing problems, they are not well communicated between schools.

Intervention for homophobic bullying is also missing from the DAC, but it is noted that this topic has been on the school board’s radar for some time and is partially addressed by the “inclusive communities” work currently done (e.g. p. 20).

Leveraging the District Parent Advisory Council and their web-based parenting, drug awareness, and anti-bullying resources would be a good fit for inclusion in future DACs. In fact, why not embed the DAC within a dynamic webspace that includes submissions from all partner groups and community stakeholders, including their feedback on the “central” DAC? Why should senior administration have all the fun?

“teams of teachers, facilitated by the Curriculum and Instruction Department, will develop rubrics to measure the use of formative assessment strategies and differentiated instruction strategies in each classroom. The work... is a stretch goal we will be hard-pressed to attain. The nature of teacher professionalism will both enhance and inhibit this target.”

This is quite ambiguous, and I have yet to hear of any teachers working on this. Where can we see the work in progress, so we can judge for ourselves whether it crosses lines of professionalism? Again, communication is an issue. If we have creative, important work going on by district staff, administrators, or teachers, it should not be so darn hard to find. Too much mist and mystery in our school district -- closed-door meetings, opaque reasoning for key decisions, teachers finding out after the fact what’s good for them... maybe fear of their “professionalism” inhibiting all the “moving forward” going on?  Let’s open the doors and let the light and air inside.

Respectfully submitted,
Glen Thielmann

P.S. For future invitations to offer feedback, please add a deadline and also an indication of what will be done with the feedback. Having no date or timeline attached suggests raises some flags -- is this feedback being collected for a reason?  Who will read it?  Will it be publicly available?  How will it be reviewed and how will a decision be made to respond to challenges?  I have only relevant past experience to suggest why this might be an issue. The last time district employees were asked to provide feedback (2011 "Enhancing Learning" presentation on technology changes), no indication was given as to whether the feedback had made any kind of impact. The Senior Learning Team issued a statement by email about the nature of the feedback (that did not actually match the feedback) and a description of the next steps that would be taken (but did not actually take place).  The dozen or more teachers and school technology teams that offered feedback were understandably cynical in the wake of this "show" of soliciting feedback.  I hope for a better outcome this time.

As with anything I post here, please feel to comment, make suggestions, correct errors, or ask for evidence to back up my claims. Again, I applaud the unique request made by senior administration for feedback on a district document and look forward to seeing how our school system evolves over the next decade.