The Perfect Storm

Tuesday night I had the privilege of talking to Alec’s grad students on my journey into connected learning. Having those with much more academic credentials such as George Seimens , Rick Schwier and Stephen Downes speaking before and after me, led me to craft my presentation into a really personal perspective. I shared a number of specific examples of connected learning and the ways in which it has impacted me in personal and professional ways.

During our question time, I was asked in particular about my current role and the work happening in our school division. Many of these students are aware of some of our teachers who are doing some very innovative work. I’ve blogged about them a few different times and certainly the fact that most of Alec’s students are from Saskatchewan, they are likely very curious as to how we do things here in Prairie South.

Alec called it the Perfect Storm.

As we began to uncover this idea I realized that we have several things in place that enables students and teachers to have many advantages other school districts do not have. This is not to say our school district has it all figured out, but we do have a number of key ingredients in place that provides the potential for Learning Excellence and innovation. Let me describe these:

  • A Board that values technology. While they may not fully understand all that is changing, they are committed to seeing technology supported and funded.
  • Senior Administration focused on students. Both our director and my superintendent believe firmly in allowing autonomy and innovation to take place in schools and classrooms. Budget wise, schools have a greater amount of de-centralized monies that are used at the school’s discretion. This has enabled schools to purchase things like, projectors for all classrooms, laptops and in general is a faster way to innovation. Trying to move every school forward together is very challenging. In this model, schools and teachers ready for change are not held back. In addition, my superintendent is fully committed to the idea of shifted learning. She is continually encouraging transparency and the use of all the read/write tools to help students learn. How many superintendent’s are even familiar with these tools, let alone uses them?
  • IT dept that understands their role. Our IT department,and its manager is concerned with providing reliable, safe computing. Unlike many IT departments they have do not want to make policy such as content filtering. Unlike many IT departments, they work closely with curriculum people to provide the best tools and environment for staff and students. We work together to find solutions. Case in point, a school wanted to provide wireless access for students with personal computers. The provincial policy makes if very difficult to this this within our current network. They decided to run a second line into the school to provide internet access for students. The time and effort of this type of work goes beyond their normal duty but typifies the type of efforts they make for students. We don’t always agree, we argue exchange dozens of emails late at night but ultimately come up with a solution. We push each other all the time.
  • School Administrators as instructional leaders. We have a number of administrators committed to changing schools to providing authentic, relevant and connected classrooms. They challenge their teachers to become better, and are truly instructional leaders as opposed to paper pushers. They allow their teachers to try and explore. I’ve begun many great conversations with them and sense their desire for change.
  • Innovative Teachers . I think we’ve always been blessed with good teachers but in particular teachers who are risk takers and learners. Their willingness to constantly seek to improve learning for students continues to amaze me.
  • Team Oriented Curriculum Support. This is where my team comes in. I work with 5 other consultants that, while we all have different roles, we meet regularly, talk regularly and all have similar philosophies. We do many things as a team and are working to build a common understanding of the changing nature of learning in the 21st century.

So while many school districts might echo many or a few of these components, few can speak about all of them as I have. If it sounds arrogant, I apologize but I simply hear too many stories of frustrated teachers, or administrators or support people who can seem to break past the barriers of some part of their organization. Whether it’s an IT department determined to keep a locked environment, a principal who fails to encourage teachers, teachers who are unwilling to change, or a board refusing to invest in technology or other leadership that has no vision of real learning, most school districts battle one or more of these everyday. That’s where the “ya buts” come in.

I always am proud to attend events and conferences and let folks know where I’m from. There are obviously many flaws with our school district, but when it comes to moving forward with change, we’re on the right track.

Photo: The Perfect Storm

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