Friday, June 19, 2015

Meaningful Marking

I haven't been a classroom teacher for a number of years, but there is one thing that is burned into my memory from my years of teaching Biology and Science--I hated marking.  I remember late nights in my living room with mounds of paper on one side of me and cups of coffee and red markers on the other, wading through virtually identical student responses to the stacks of assignments, quizzes, tests, and labs that I had given to each of my classes.  Tattooed into my brain are the steps in DNA replication, synthesis and decomposition reactions, terms like 'carbaminohemoglobin' (I still love that word) and a myriad of other trivial scientific factoids as a result of my marking thousands of assignments that asked for rote answers from students on topics that I had just taught them. Marking was dreadfully tedious.

But what if we approached marking in a way that made it much more enjoyable and meaningful for us?  More specifically, what if the assignments that we gave to kids highlighted the content through topics that we as teachers didn't know everything (or dare I say 'anything'?) about?  What if we used students as our researchers, as a team that was going to find out new and unique things that they would share with us and their peers that made all of us more knowledgeable?

At Sa-Hali, we have a large proportion of international students: we are a hub for the International Education Program here in the district.  Each year, we get students from every corner of the world coming to us, and not surprisingly, we have found that this can be quite stressful for those students and their parents, especially in the weeks leading up to their arrival at the school.   So bearing this issue in mind, and after a few informal conversations about our online presence for our international students and parents, our amazing language teacher Susanne Blohm decided to do her problem-based learning unit around the driving question of

"How can we use our website to make our international students feel comfortable coming to our school even before they get here?"

As adults, we often assume that we know what our students need, be they our local students or students from abroad.  And when presented with a question such as this, many of us would jump to a number of conclusions based on our own needs and biases, and more 'fixed' mindset in terms of what we have experienced in the past.  However, when kids are confronted with such a task, they have some distinct advantages over adults:  they have a student perspective, they don't have some of the experiences that adults have, and they are truly interested in finding out what other kids think, especially those from other countries.  In other words, they tend to be more curious researchers who are going to find out all sorts of things that we likely never would have considered.

So the students looked at our website and a variety of others through a student lens, and then interviewed our international students to understand what would have helped them and their parents feel more comfortable coming to our school.  They collected incredibly rich data.  Data that Ms. Blohm didn't know.  And data that, as Principal, I was keenly interested in discovering so that we can make our website speak for our school.

Oh, and by the way...
  • the students had to create and present their project in Spanish, as the PBL unit was for Ms. Blohm's Introductory Spanish class.  
  • by the very nature of the class, the students had little experience in Spanish, so they would need to find the relevant content of the course that would help them discover the best ways to communicate their ideas to a face-to-face audience in their Presentations of Learning and online international audience
  • the students had zero experience in web design
Ms. Blohm could have had her students do worksheets.  She could have used the textbook questions. She could have done grammar and spelling tests.  She could have done the same style of activities that I did in my science classes to 'cover content' that kids might never actually use.  And she too could have brewed up a pot of java to help her mark stacks of paper with identical answers until her eyes crossed late into the evening, learning absolutely nothing in the process other than how little she enjoyed marking.  And we aren't even talking about what the students would have (or have not) learned by a more traditional approach.

Instead, Ms. Blohm got to see a variety of different projects and methods of presentation, and she got to LEARN from her students:  the students gave her all sorts of different things that the international students would have liked to have seen, and then they created websites with all of these different elements.  Suddenly, Ms. Blohm was not having to do mundane marking, she was assessing something that was truly interesting:  she was getting a new perspective from her students and students from around the world.  The marking becomes so much more meaningful when the marker is learning something new.

As for the students, they developed skills as interviewers and researchers, as contributors to a group, as web designers, as content editors, as peer assessors, and as presenters to a live audience of other students, teachers, and parents, as well as real international students and parents when we link their work to our website in a "A day in the life of a Sa-Hali Student" section of our website this summer. Oh, and I almost forgot: the students also learned the Spanish content to best communicate their ideas on their websites.  And in reflecting with Susanne afterward, she said that without question, because the students were interested and had an authentic purpose for learning the Spanish content, they went light years farther than she would have expected an Intro Spanish student to go with a more traditional classroom approach.  In speaking to the students, the biggest issue they found was time--they wished they had MORE time to spend on it so they could have made their projects even better for the international students.

When is the last time you heard students wishing they could spend more time on worksheets?

In the last few months, I know that I have been extolling the virtues of designing lessons that require divergent thinking and outputs through PBL with our staff from the perspective of student learning. However, I believe if we want to make our assessment of students more meaningful and interesting from an educator's perspective, creating tasks for students that allow us to learn from their work is just one more reason why I believe PBL is an effective tool in engaging students and educators alike.

And if there is any way to make marking meaningful, I know our teachers would be all in for that.

*cross-posted at "The Learning Nation"

Friday, April 17, 2015

Learning By Doing

Several weeks ago, a team of Sa-Hali teachers and myself went to San Diego to visit High Tech High.  A few weeks prior to the trip, we received a series of Next Level of Work plans from our Instructional Rounds observers in February that indicated that we needed to design and implement tasks that required resilience for our students.  A trip to a school that utilizes Project-Based Learning fit perfectly into our Next Level of Work, and as a result, we determined that we had four areas of focus for our trip to San Diego.  We wanted to follow up on our May Professional Development day that we had with High Tech High teachers Chris Wakefield and Anthony Conwright; to find projects and inspiration for projects that we could bring back to our setting; to observe Presentations of Learning, and; to ask as many questions as we could on behalf of our staff.

As I said in my previous post, it was hard to describe our experience at HTH.  Personally, one of the things I am trying to get better at avoiding is helping our staff avoid the dreaded "wet dog" syndrome: I know that my staff tends to cringe when I go away to a conference or PD session, because I tend to come home, stand in the middle of a faculty meeting, and "shake off" the new ideas like a Labrador Retriever coming out of a lake.  Not to mention, I could imagine little worse than simply sitting and listening to a group who had just returned from a trip to San Diego wax poetically about all the great things about a school other than our own.  Ugh.

With this thought in mind. I approached our HTH Exploratory Team with my usual "shortest question possible" (the idea I steal over and over again from the TED talk which has had a tremendous influence on me--Dan Meyer's 'Math Class Needs a Makeover').  My short question was "How do we help our staff experience what we observed at High Tech High?".  I have found that when you involve a group of people with the mindset of  "How would I learn this best?" around a short question, they tend to come up with tremendous ideas--and again, I was not disappointed.

Three of main themes that we observed at HTH were:

  • a relaxed, can-do, and collaborative environment attitude where educators help one another  
  • peer-editing and iteration based in 'warm' and 'cool' feedback
  • a selfless, 'service to others' mentality
  • everything with purpose
But how could we re-create these themes at a faculty meeting?  A couple of things fell in to place for us: first of all, our team of teachers that went to HTH were champing at the bit to get started on some projects in their classes, and secondly, we were in the process of co-developing our school improvement plan.  As a result, the faculty activities that we came up with for the April Staff Meeting (after Good News and a few logistics) came to look like this:

Part One:  
  • Each of HTH Exploratory Team member got 1-2 minutes to speak about their experience at HTH, with a picture-heavy slide show (co-developed with another school here in our district) up in the background to provide some visuals and help us describe what we saw
  • Three of the team members presented their ideas for projects to be completed between now and the end of the year.  Their projects were:
    • Students creating a collaborative kinetic sculpture to demonstrate the concepts of Physics 11 and 12.
    • Creating/redesigning a library space where 'everyone wants to go'.
    • Creating travel blog posts about the Maghreb region, a French-speaking region of Northern Africa in order to be able to apply and get a job at to travel the world and write blog posts.
  • The three project leaders asked the staff to be a part of a Project Tuning Protocol so that they could get new ideas and help to make their projects even better.
  • The three other team members (and myself) facilitated the Project Tune (listen in on one of the discussions here)
  • The staff members self-organized into three collaborative groups according to the project they felt they were interested in and/or would have something to contribute and 'tune' project for their colleague.
  • Each group reflected on the process of "Project Tuning".
Part Two:
Peer-editing our School Improvement Plan
In each activity, I saw rich dialogue.  I saw people laughing, smiling, and working hard.  I saw people digging in and really trying to give critical feedback to their peers through the project tune and the peer-editing because people needed the feedback.  I saw frustration, and people trying to figure our the best way to articulate their thoughts to each other, and to the potential student and community audiences that will be participating in the projects and viewing our School Improvement Plan. I also saw a couple of people that were sitting back at different points and taking everything in, and that too was good: people have different ways of processing, and we need to honor that.  However, because each staff member knew that they had a task to accomplish for someone else, each staff member got involved.

By doing this activity, our faculty members 
  • got to work with each other in a relaxed, non-threatening manner
  • did two different styles of peer-editing through the project tune and through the SIP analysis
  • helped each other and did peer-editing with a purpose--they did it because they wanted to help their colleagues -- people needed their feedback in the form of a second set of eyes.  
  • got to do a great deal of "Learning Beyond The Content" (my next post--stay tuned).
While I would have loved to have taken our entire staff to High Tech High in San Diego, it was just not possible.  And although we will continue to send exploratory teams to California as we travel the PBL journey that we have embarked upon, we need to keep our entire faculty engaged and involved along the way.  By determining the most important pieces that we observed and developing activities that would help our faculty experience what we observed in the spirit of "learning by doing", I hope we whet people's appetites even more for Project-Based Learning!

I would like to acknowledge the work of Jordan Backman, Susanne Blohm, Jen Cacaci, Tanya Cail, Cecile McVittie, and Kirk Smith, our HTH Exploratory Team.  The leadership they continue to show about PBL has been truly inspirational.

*cross posted at The Sa-Hali Educational Sandbox

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Instructional Rounds at Sa-Hali

*Note - this is not the standard '1000 words or less' blog post--Rounds are too much to describe in 1000 words :)

Last week, our school hosted 24 teachers, administrators, and district staff to do Instructional Rounds at our school.  Over the past two years, I have been fortunate enough to have be trained to do Rounds at Harvard and facilitate the Rounds process in schools in Canada and the US.  However, last Thursday was different: for the first time, I was on the 'other side' of Rounds as the host Principal. Over the course of the weekend, I had a chance to reflect on Rounds at our school.   As well, I received some questions about Rounds from the great group of administrators that I worked with in Langley on Saturday. As a result, I thought I might try to give a picture of what Rounds looks like and feels like from the perspective of an 'insider'.

Before Getting Started: Don't DO Rounds.
The process of Instructional Rounds is not something schools or districts should "do".  When people ask "How can we get Rounds into our school/district?", I usually answer with another question like "Why would you bother with Rounds?".  The answers usually involve phrases such as "it would be good for our staff", or "we are looking for some way to see what is going on in our classes", or, "we need something to bring meaning to collaborative conversations".  And while ideas like these these may constitute some of the positive side-effects of a school going through the rounds process, they are not reasons to "do" Rounds.  Schools and districts need to "use" Rounds because the end goal of Rounds is not to "do Rounds": the end goal of Rounds is to help a school or a district adopt a learning stance to solve an instructional issue they have been unable to solve.  In Rounds, this is called the Problem of Practice (POP).

Developing the Problem of Practice
Our Attributes Assembly - Kicking off CCR!
Our school began this process more than 15 months ago. We began by using 'the shortest question possible', which for us was "Are we preparing our students for life beyond Sa-Hali Secondary?". From that discussion (and dozens more), our staff found that we needed to determine, define, and develop our Attributes of a Graduate, which culminated in our co-created Sa-Hali Attributes Assembly and resultant Attributes Survey of our students and staff.  From these surveys, our students and staff told us that the of the three attributes of creativity, collaboration, and resilience we needed 'to work on right now' was resilience. And so, the driver came for our Problem of Practice, which looked like this:

"Anecdotal data from staff indicates that resilience, particularly academic resilience, is the area where our students struggle:  when faced with tasks that involve multiple-steps or skills, students frequently look to the teacher for help rather than overcoming challenges to solve the problem themselves.   Survey data showed that nearly 70% of our staff were neutral or felt less confident that they were intentionally teaching resilience, or whether the tasks they were assigning to students required them to demonstrate resilience.  
At Sa-Hali, we have defined ‘academic resilience’ as persevering, advocating, taking risks, and utilizing resources to overcome adversity, stress, challenge and/or pressure to successfully meet outcomes in an academic setting."

From that point, we needed to define resiliency in each of our content areas in terms of what students and staff would be doing, saying and writing, as well as to describe the types of tasks that required students to be resilient.  And as a result, we co-created a POP with definitions and examples that would tell an external Rounds team where we were at and what we wanted them to focus on when we invited them to our school.

The week before Rounds:
The Principal of the school does not typically facilitate the Rounds day of their own school--the host school works with an external facilitator (in this case, another Kamloops Principal, Jake Schmidt, who had been trained in Rounds).  During the week prior to hosting the visit, I chatted with Jake a great deal about the make up of our groups, classrooms, length of observation times, and any other details for which I might have needed a sounding board or some different thoughts.  In developing a schedule for observations at our school, I had asked for volunteers who would be willing to have their classes observed by a group of educators from other schools.  I was amazed at the positive response--we had more than enough volunteers who were wanting to have our external Rounds team come in to a diverse cross-section of classes.  Junior classes.  Senior classes. Core academics. Electives.  And seeing that we had 24 educators coming to do 80 minutes of observations at our school, we knew we would get a great snapshot.

It was important to ensure that our group of 24 observers was trained in classroom observation, so I gave a 90 minute session in the week leading up to our visit on things such as 'learning to see, unlearning to judge' and the 'ladder of inference' (from Rounds training).  We also did some video observations to hone our ability to look for observation data specific to our Problem of Practice.

In order to do a final check on Problem of Practices created by schools using Rounds, our district created a 'Problem of Practice Tuning Protocol' (inspired by and loosely-based on the High Tech High Tuning Protocol) so that schools could bring their POP to a large group to 'tune' it.  This process was designed not to change the POP for the school, but rather to modify or deflect it so the POP gives the host school the best data possible.  This was powerful for me--we got specific feedback and helpful questions from the tuning group that concentrated our POP in to a much tighter lens to help our external team examine resiliency for us.

I also felt it was important to send a welcome out to the team who was coming to help us: we wanted to give them information about our POP and our context, as well as logistical things such as parking, start times, where they would be working for the day, lunch, and answers to whatever other questions they might have.  But most importantly, we wanted to let them know how excited we were to have them come to Sa-Hali!

The night before Rounds:
Wednesday night involved a lot of running around--I was gathering post it notes, markers, chart paper, tables, chairs, projector, laptop, school maps, groups, and whatever else the team might need to observe, make patterns, predictions, and provide us with direction about the next level of work. Having learned from the outstanding organization of logistics at Richland Middle School in Fort Worth, I have seen the importance of making sure this 'little stuff' is taken care of prior to the day--it just makes the process run much more smoothly.
The Rounds "table toolkit" from RMS - a good exemplar! 

The day of Rounds:
The team arrived at 7:30, and after a quick meet and greet, we got started at 7:45.  Our facilitator talked for a bit about the day, and then I reviewed our POP.  I talked about the process our school used in developing our POP, our definition of resilience, and some 'look-for' focus questions for the group.  I also described the structures that we have in place at our school to support student and educator learning for their reference. After a few quick bits of organization and some norms for observation, the groups were off!

Each of the six groups did four 20 minute observations in four different classes.  So, just over 90 minutes later, the group came back, took a quick break, and started going through their observation data to find points that were clear, descriptive, non-judgmental, and relative to our Problem of Practice.  Using post-it notes, they presented those data points to the other members of their group to vet them, and then they began to organize their observation post-its on chart paper in a way that would allow them to develop some patterns.
Making patterns from observation data

At this point, at the suggestion of Sara Bruhn (one of the authors of Instructional Rounds who was with us on Thursday), we did something a bit different.  We brought an internal team of seven teachers from our school into the process: they came in to help the external team make some predictions based on the question "If students did everything that they were asked today in the classes that you observed, what would students have learned?".  Our teachers were also there to help the external team to create the 'Next Level of Work'-- a set of plans that our school could design and implement going to help us with our Problem of Practice.

I have a hard time describing the dialogue that took place between our staff member and the external team.  I was actually shaking my head in amazement at the extraordinary depth of the conversations, the talk about pedagogy, the analysis of tasks that were observed, and the level of professional curiosity that each of the educators in the room had about the practice in our school and their own practice back home.  There were teachers, administrators and district staff working side by side, asking questions and respectfully challenging each other with things like (and these are a very thin slice of the examples)
Grinding through the data--rich dialogue!
  • "What did the student do that made you think that?", or 
  • "Did that task require resilience?  What was our evidence of that?", or
  • "I agree with you, but how is that related to the school's Problem of Practice?"
  • "If we asked the school to design and implement this, would they find it useful?", or
  • "Wow, I really want to go back to my class and look at what I'm doing in my classes."
And in the end, our internal team saw the creation of thoughtful, evidence-based patterns and cross-pollinated ideas that we can work on with our staff to move us towards our goal of solving our Problem of Practice.  All of this carefully and thoughtfully prepared by 24 professional volunteers through an accumulated 30-plus hours of observation.


After a lot of thank yous, hand-shakes, laughter, and pats on the back that I find comes from a day collective hard work and struggle, our facilitator, Sara and I debriefed on the day.  We chatted about things that we could have changed, timing, groupings, and anything that we could think of.  I also shared the feedback that I had already received from a couple of our staff members who were observed that day:

"Nervous at first but then settled in. My students (Grade 12s) also said at first it felt a bit weird (like they were being judged) but then they hardly noticed. I liked that the observers talked with my students...kind of wished they talked to me a bit more :) "

'The students really weren't phased by having the observers in the class.  I would say they were better behaved, though.  :)  As for myself, even though I wasn't being marked or judged, it still felt stressful.  Maybe after a few more observations that will subside and I can teach more naturally, but it felt a little forced at times.  The observers were excellent as well - very respectful."

"It was a great experience. Some students felt intimidated at first, but gradually warmed up to the process. They said it was cool and would do it again."

We chatted for a bit longer, I made a pile of notes, and the day was done.  And everyone was exhausted (or at least I was)! 

Looking forward to our upcoming faculty meeting this Monday, we are going to try a different method of working through the data with our staff, and we are confident that a number of the suggestions we got from our Rounds volunteers will help to shape where we want to go relative to our vision.  I will post about that next week, so stay tuned.

In summary:
Rounds continues to be the most powerful learning experience that I engage in as a Principal, and I only wish I would have been able to do it when I was teaching.  As a participant, as a facilitator, and now as a host administrator, I have seen the learning that has taken place by the observation team, the internal team, and the host school.  I find the process of Rounds to be unique and transformational in its ability to focus people on a specific problem.  If you have an instructional challenge in your school that you would like a new set of eyes to look at, Rounds might just be a mechanism that works for you!

Cross-posted at the Sa-Hali Educational Sandbox

Monday, February 2, 2015

Authentic Accountability

New Year's Resolutions are always interesting to me. Typically, I would make a whole host of lofty proclamations on December 31st to a few vaguely interested peers who themselves would be unlikely to repeat a single one my goals more than three minutes later.  For a few days or perhaps even weeks after I might pull the kids' snowsuits off of the treadmill, eat quinoa every meal, and drink sixteen cups of water a day in an attempt to squeeze into clothes that I purchased at a time when I believed the scale in the bathroom was much more accurate than at present. However, after a few weeks, much like the resolutions that I had made to a couple of buddies, my efforts would fade, and I would be right back where I was prior to the start of the year.  Pass the cured meats, please.

Just prior to the Christmas Break, our school made a type of 'resolution'.  After months of our faculty working hard to co-develop our "Attributes of a Graduate" , we developed our driving question to help us move our attributes of collaboration, creativity, and resilience (CCR) at our school from theory to reality.  Our question was "How do we get these attributes into the heads, hearts, and hands of our students?".

After our staff did a ton of initial planning at the December ProD, we also had to confront a couple of realities for anyone in education:  firstly, anyone over the age of 30 is considered to be "old" to our students, and secondly, "old people" like us are basically incapable of understanding what kids would actually find to be "cool" in terms of a presentation such as this.  (That I have even used the term "cool" as opposed to "sick" or some similar term demonstrates my own nerdiness).  So, we created our own "Sa-Hali Project Tuning Protocol" modified from the High Tech High Tuning Protocol, and assembled six of our students to work with our presentation project lead team.  We wanted to go "soft on the people, hard on the content" to determine whether our presentation would in fact get in to the heads, hearts and hands of our students.

I cannot underscore this point more:  the power of project tuning with students is something that truly has to be experienced to be understood.  The comments and suggestions from students were thoughtful and honest, and at the end of the process, each of the students said they were glad to be a part of co-creating something for the rest of the student body.  The people in the room developed a bond that day and without question, the presentation was immediately better than it would have been. It was better not just because the participants had a student's perspective, but because they were people that had really good ideas and cared deeply about their school.  Awesome.

So, back to my bit about resolutions.  Once we began the project tune, we had crossed a threshold--suddenly, our staff had "outed" itself.  Figuratively, it was December 31st, and we were telling these six students that we were going to do something different.  And to put even more pressure on ourselves, we were getting them to help us find a way to make the other 775 students and all of their parents remember the fact that we were going to be doing something different.  That creativity, collaboration, and resilience were going to be our focus from this point going forward.  Uh oh.  Not so fast on the cured meats.

The hard work of our staff and students culminated in our first ever "CCR Attributes Assembly".  I won't lie, I was tremendously nervous.  Usually, assemblies were something to do with spirit, pep rallies, holiday celebrations, or messages from the community.  But this assembly concept was totally different, unique, and untested.  As well, while I was doing the introductory segment of the assembly, the rest of the staff had self-organized into three attribute groups that all had equal (and equally as vital) pieces in the show.  While I had helped with providing a framework for the other parts and our kids had 'tuned' them,  I had not actually seen what the groups were going to do.  Not to mention, each of them had a physical task for kids and staff to do that would reinforce the importance of our attributes. Inasmuch as I had referenced innovator Guy Kawasaki and his "don't worry, be crappy" mantra, and had told our staff we needed to get on with it, this was getting a bit crazy.  It was all on the line in front of 775 kids!  We couldn't walk away from this New Year's resolution--aka. #thisishappening

Together - Attributes.jpg
Our culminating symbol for resilience--WE will do this TOGETHER.
...and it all came together.  The whole school came together because we all did it together, for each other and in front of each other.  And it was awesome.

This process has made me question what authentic accountability really means.  As a staff, a lead team, and a project-tuning team, we were accountable to each other.  We were accountable to a highly visible product and a large and interested group.  But there were no grades.  No percentages.  No rubric.  There was no one giving us a thumbs up or a thumbs down.  There was just our own sense of pride in doing our best work for each other and for an audience because they were there, and they would be watching us.

We will continue to make ourselves accountable to each other, to our students and to our parents.  As much as we co-created this assembly to promote our attributes, to get feedback about these attributes, and to find out where our students and staff wanted to get started with these attributes, we also are creating our plan to develop these attributes that we will project tune with another group of students and parents so we can make our vision of a graduate become a reality for every one of our students.  And by creating our own authentic accountability checkpoints to eachother and to our community, we can avoid CCR becoming little more than a New Year's Resolution and keep ourselves on track to achieve our goal of producing graduates that are creative, collaborative, and resilient.

Friday, December 5, 2014

"Don't Worry, Be Crappy"

I have never blogged 'real-time', in the 'between slots' while facilitating a professional development session - a new challenge, so here goes!

Today, we had our December Professional Development Day.  The day was co-created and tuned by our PD committee, and was a continuation of our thread of Attributes of a Sa-Hali Graduate.  Now that we have landed on the attributes that we will be focusing on for the forseeable future, as a group, we wanted to start to provide some scaffolding to our staff about creativity, collaboration, and resilience.  Building upon our point of inquiry of "How do we get our attributes into the heads, hands and hearts of our learners", we developed the following learning goals for the day:
  • to have a better understanding of required elements for innovation to enable us to think differently about the possibilities for connecting our students to our attributes, and to bringing collaboration, creativity, and resilience to each one of our classrooms.
  • to make our thoughts visible about these attributes (why they are important, where they fit, and what will challenge us in making these attributes a part of our fabric) to the entire group, and to our school community through large, visual posters created through the process of the "chalk talk" protocol
  • to determine common language around creativity, collaboration and resilience through the development of 'elevator statements', statements that, when asked, provide a framework for each of us to describe what our school believes are the elements of our three attributes
  • to co-develop the kick-off assembly so that it can be tuned by our community through the lens of getting our students thinking about creativity, collaboration and innovation.
We started the day watching the amazing TED Talk by innovator Guy Kawasaki.  He had a 'top ten' list of things he felt were essential for innovation:
  • Make meaning
  • Make a mantra
  • Jump to the next curve
  • Roll the DICE
  • Don’t worry, be crappy
  • Let 100 flowers blossom
  • Polarize people
  • Churn, baby churn
  • Niche thyself
  • Perfect your pitch
He also threw in a final, 'bonus' bit of advice around ignoring "bozos" (and also described the different levels of 'bozocity' - a term that I am going to adopt).  And while you can watch the video to get his entertaining clarification on each of these tips for innovation, there were a couple that resonated with me as our school goes forward on the journey to bring our attributes to life in our school, classrooms, and learners.
“Make meaning” - while a large part of the purpose for our day today is to make meaning of our attributes for ourselves, Kawasaki was referring to the idea that we need to DO things that are meaningful--meaningful for ourselves, and meaningful for others.  He talked about how people who start into something to make money often aren’t doing something that is meaningful, and others start by doing something meaningful and as a result often make a great deal of money!  As a school we cannot simply tell students to be creative, collaborative and resilient in order to get a better job, to have a better resume, or some other external reward-style incentive.  We need to give students opportunities to do meaningful things that develop and utilize their skills of creativity, collaboration and resilience.
“Don’t worry, be crappy” - this is one that is so important for me, not because I wish for anything that we do to be crappy, but because it is ok to try something and for it not to go perfectly.  Mr. Kawasaki talks about how we cannot wait for every possible factor to fall into place before we move forward; with respect to our school, we need to get going, and not worry if what we start out doing is less than perfect.  In fact, I’m sure that we can end the mystery right now--no matter how we start with bringing creativity, collaboration and resilience into our school, classrooms and tasks, it WON’T be perfect.  But we need to continue to iterate, and iterate some more.  It is what we want our students to do, and exactly what we need to model.
As a staff, we then went to “attribute stations” where there was a short, priming video clip on creativity, collaboration, and resilience, followed by an article on each, and then “Chalk Talk”, where teachers silently wrote down and doodled their thoughts, hopes, dreams, and challenges around
"Chalk talking"
implementing changes to their classes that would develop our attributes.  This was powerful for me--educators silently making their thoughts visible, and others commenting on those thoughts, adding to them, and providing different perspectives--all in a non-threatening and safe environment with their peers.  No one dominated the conversation, because the ‘conversation’ took place without anyone ‘speaking’.  Once this was complete, each group ‘carouseled’ to the next attribute, and continued the chalk talk from the previous groups that had been there.
To close out the morning, we co-created and co-edited our “Elevator Statements”.  Using Google Docs and the comment feature, we had each group create statements that thematically summarized the thoughts of our staff on each of the attributes in separate classrooms.  As they did this, the other groups would go “soft on the people” while being “hard on the content” to make edits and iterations to each other’s elevator statements so the true feelings of the group would be heard.  (As an aside, it is always amazing for me to see these tools in action, and to see the virtual editing that can take place to push us to create a product that more resembles what we had hoped for).  In the end, each of the groups presented to the large group.  Interestingly, the presentations of our “Elevator Statements” likely would have required an elevator to the moon--they were long and complex!  We realized that while each of us now has a better feel for our attributes, there is still more to do in terms of clarifying our thoughts for the greater school community.
After lunch, we split into a new set of groups to get to work on our attributes assembly.  With the mantra of “Hard Work, Together”, our group used a google template to develop our “to do” list for our upcoming student assembly.  At this point, there was dialogue about whether we were going to be able to pull our assembly together.  There were those who wanted to get going with it, as we have spent a great deal of our time over the last 16 months discussing our attributes and leading up to this 'attribute launch'.  There were others who felt that because we have spent so much time and effort to get to this point that we want to make sure we do it right, because we don't want our presentation to fall on its face.
To which I injected Guy Kawasaki's statement--"Don't worry, be crappy!".
We want our kids to take risks, to try things, to really get behind something and put their all into it.  To be creative in making it.  To collaborate to make it better.  But most of all, we want them to try something, and whether it works out or not, we want them to try again, to iterate, and demonstrate their own resilience.
If we want kids to do this, we too have to model it--to be unafraid to 'be crappy'.  And so, we will go forth.
Overall, it was a very productive day for us, and while our end product for this phase of the rollout may not be perfect when all is said and done, we will iterate, and try again! 

And not worry!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Inquiry-Based Discomfort

Over the last several months, our faculty has been working hard to co-develop our "Attributes of a Graduate".  As a group, we wanted to determine the skills and characteristics that we want for our students to have as they leave us to face an ever-changing and uncertain future.  We had come up with a number of descriptors as a staff, and solicited thoughts and input from our parents and community.  On our Professional Development day this past Monday, we determined our critical question to drive our learning for the day was  "How do we get Sa-Hali attributes into the heads, hearts, and hands of our students?".

This question led us to consider a number of things:
  • What are the most important attributes?
  • How can we demonstrate that students have an authentic voice in attribute creation and development?
  • How many attributes will students (as well as the staff and community) be able to focus on and remember?
  • What is the best way to kickoff/promote our attributes, and truly get them into the heads, hearts and hands of our entire Sa-Hali community?

So the day began, and were I to use descriptive, non-judgmental, instructional rounds-style data to describe the day, I might say the following:
  • the staff participated in a team-building activity focused on our collaboratively developed attributes
  • the staff did a distillation and consensus-building process that required them to analyse, evaluate, synthesize and then agree on three "Attributes of a Sa-Hali Graduate" that will guide our School Innovation Plan
  • multiple staff members led these small group discussions to engage all of our faculty and ensure each staff member's voice was heard
  • when I asked the staff to take a break for coffee, none of the groups left their tables to take a break--they just kept working on the task in front of them (they eventually left a few minutes later, but I had never seen that before) 
  • the staff used collaborative technology to crowd source ideas
  • the staff began collaboratively planning a promotional campaign (perhaps something that takes off from a creation by two staff members at our school) to showcase and co-develop our attributes, including a mixed media assembly and follow-up lesson plan to solicit input from our students
If one read the above observational data, they might say that it was a productive day that had our staff participating in higher order tasks.  And, going 'up the ladder of inference', I can tell you that without equivocation, it most certainly WAS a productive day.  Yet at one point, one of my teachers said to me "Why are you frowning? You should be really happy right now--look around!  EVERYONE is working on this!"

Good point.  Why was I frowning?   

I wasn't frowning because I was upset--quite the opposite, in fact.  Our staff took a very important task and ran with it...and they ran hard! I was frowning because a process that I had envisioned being a bit more linear and sequential went 'wide' in a short period of time.  Very wide.  And the number of amazing ideas flying around the room suddenly became overwhelming to me.  Too often in my time as a Principal, I 'knew' what the final product should be.  I would begin with that product in mind, be hyper-organized in my planning, and guide the group to a point which would look awfully similar to MY vision--sometimes with only scant bits of commitment from everyone involved.  I would utilize very little of the knowledge and expertise of the room, other than to validate my own ideas.


By starting with an inquiry-based mindset on Monday, the critical question rapidly moved us into a level of divergent thinking that I had completely underestimated.  I quickly realized that my role in the room had changed significantly:  I was going from 'leader' to...well,  learner, facilitator, cheerleader, and even 'granny' (from Sugata Mitra's 'School in the Cloud').  And while the level of engagement and discourse amongst our faculty was astounding, the level of complexity in terms of coming up with a solution to get our attributes into the heads, hands and hearts of our students had also increased dramatically.  Hence the frown.  And when that staff member saw me frowning, I'm sure I was overwhelmed and all-consumed with one thought:  "How the heck am I going to pull all of this together?".

Later Monday evening, I received a very thoughtful and kind note from one of our staff members. They were impressed with the thoughtful dialogue and discourse that took place throughout the day and the amount of headway that we had made with our attributes.  And then it hit me: it's not about how "I" alone will do this--it's about how WE will do this together.  I can only guess that had I used my traditional method of 'asking a question that I already knew that answer to', I would have gotten 'my answer', and likely been mostly on my own trying to figure out the best way to make it a reality. But by using a co-developed driving question that engaged the group, WE got 'our solutions', and with that ownership, WE will transform our solutions that we created into reality TOGETHER.  And WE will do a fantastic job because the product that we create will be visible to our students and our entire Sa-Hali community.

As successful as the day was, my reflections about Monday have also made me realize that if I was out of my comfort zone and overwhelmed by the divergent thinking of our group and my changing role in the learning that was taking place, others might experience this too.  Going forward, I need to be very cognizant of the fact that as we look ahead at the journey our school will take to help our grads to become creative, resilient collaborators (our three attributes that we are going to present to our students), many of us may be moving of our individual and collective comfort zones.  When we develop tasks and activities that truly require students to demonstrate our attributes, each of us will need support in working through learning that is non-linear, messy, and requires us to become a combination of learners, facilitators, cheerleaders, and 'grannies' all at the same time!

But if the net result of these tasks and activities that we co-create is the engagement and learning that I saw from our faculty on Monday, it will definitely be worth the initial discomfort that comes with inquiry-based learning.

*Cross posted at The Learning Nation

Monday, November 3, 2014

Connecting the Disconnected

On October 24th/25th, I was lucky enough to go to the 21st Century Learning conference in Vancouver, BC. I was particularly jazzed to see two presenters; Will Richardson and my pal Bill Ferriter have both impacted my thinking significantly since I added them to my personal learning network.  And while their methods were different, both Will and Bill had some common messages in terms of the learning that students are doing in schools today and how (or if?) it relates to the types of skills that students will need in the hyper-connected environment that we live in today.  They pushed the group to think about how we 'connect the disconnected' by highlighting a some points that resonated with me:

As kids move through the K-12 system, they become less and less engaged in their schooling.
And while Sir Ken Robinson and others have affirmed this fact for us, both Will and Bill quoted the 2012 Gallup Poll Student poll (of more than 500,000 students) that showed the percentage of students that described themselves as being engaged in their studies dropping by over 30 points as they move from elementary to high school.  Each of them challenged the group:  are we comfortable with this?   Are we willing to confront this?  And for me personally, no matter how many times I hear statistics like this, I still cringe and think about what we can do differently.

We need to give students meaningful work
Students want to do something that makes a difference.  They want to help others.  The Kiva Club developed by Bill Ferriter's Grade 6 that raises money to provide microloans for impoverished individuals and the #sugarkills blog to fight obesity that his students created are sustained by students who are willing to give up their own time to help others that they have never and will likely never meet.  But worksheets are not meaningful.  Memorizing answers to questions that we can simply search for using Google are not meaningful. Right now?  Meaningful.  There is a chance you might need to know this at some point in your life?  Well, not so much.

Classrooms need to be places to make connections, not disconnect
We can no longer ask students to disconnect from the hyperlinked, information-saturated, teacher-laden world (yes, teacher-laden--because students have the ability to learn so much from virtual and face-to-face peers and adults in their world who have loads of expertise in different areas) where they learn for two-thirds of their day.  As Will Richardson said, we need to completely wipe that scarcity-inspired thought from our minds.  We have to.  Because if we think that students are going to settle for anything less than that, they won't (and they aren't).

We MUST have a clear vision
We don't begin with 'all of our students are going to blog'.  Or 'each of our classrooms will have Smartboards'.  Or spending a billion dollars on iPads (as the LAUSD did, with decidedly 'mixed' results).  We don't begin with the mindset that 'technology engages kids'.  We begin with a vision of the attributes that we want for our children (like the excellent work being done in the Kelowna School District and Farmington High School), and then use these attributes to guide our decisions, our structures, our PD, and our approaches to student learning in our classrooms.  (To see a way to get started with your staff, check out this fun way to begin the conversation about developing a mission in schools.)

So, I know what you are thinking:

"Ya ya ya...we know all this stuff, but how do we do it?

Both Will and Bill were very clear--in British Columbia, we enjoy freedoms in our curriculum that simply do not exist in most jurisdictions across North America.  And they were also very clear in their plea for us as educators to take advantage of this curricular latitude to create the learning environments that children need.  And finally, they both told the participants one thing:  get started.  Now.  The urgency lies in the idea that every day the world is changing, so we have a moral imperative to change the environment that students learn in for six hours per day to more closely mirror the world they live in for the other eighteen hours.
So at Sa-Hali Secondary, what are we going to do as a result of the message that I heard this weekend?

  1. We are going to involve our students in the development of and execution of a process that will both highlight our work on attributes to this point and involve them in the selection and definition of these attributes.  We will use the High Tech High Tuning Protocol to develop this process starting with the question "How will we involve our school community in the development of our list of attributes so that they are in the heads, hearts and hands of students, staff and the community?"
  2. We are going to use these attributes as a start point for the process of Instructional Rounds in our school.  We will reflect on our school through the lens of the attributes that we feel are important, and determine how we can scale the innovative practices that are currently happening in our school through making the walls of our classroom permeable to our staff and to others.
  3. We are going to make student and adult learning visible at our school through the development of a school-wide digital portfolio.  Our staff and myself will learn the process of developing digital portfolios by creating a three-dimensional digital portfolio that will serve as our school improvement plan.  We will do this so that we can learn by doing, and model the creation of a positive digital footprint that will allow students to truly demonstrate what we know.  This will allow us to prepare students to develop a capstone project as a culmination of their K-12 learning (a great example of Capstone Projects can be seen at Chris Lehmann's Science Leadership Academy) that they can take away to support them in what they choose to do after they leave us.
  4. On a personal note, I am going to start a Kiva project at our school.  I don't know how this is going to work yet, but I am confident that like every school we have the students who want to make a difference in the lives of others.

Perhaps these are lofty goals, but I am articulating them here so I can hold myself to them.  I agree with Will and Bill, we can change how we engage and empower students in their education, and we need to start. Now.

So we will!  Stay tuned.

Cross-posted at The Learning Nation