Saturday, October 29, 2016

What Have We Achieved? -We Need To Do Better

Last weekend, I attended and presented at the Computer User Educators of BC Conference in Port Coquitlam. It was awesome! My session was really well attended (Letting Fish Be Fish-How the iPad Supports Universal Design For Learning), and I was excited to see the Keynote speaker, Chris Kennedy, West Vancouver Superintendent, and blogger (Culture of Yes ). Chris's topic was "Mission Accomplished", which is also the topic of his latest blog post. In his keynote, he identified some of the major hurdles we have faced and overcome in moving towards a true system of 21st century learning. Some of the key areas he addressed included:

  • internet access 
  • devices in the hands of teachers 
  • BYOD as a generally accepted practice, and the allowance of student cellphones in schools 
  • the use of social media as part of school and district communication strategies
  • moving past the concept of blocking sites, and moving towards teaching of responsible digital citizenship
Chris talks about "Now What?" Now that we have fought these tough battles, where do we go? He discusses how the new curriculum, with a redesigned focus on 21st Century learning and practices opens doors to embracing new technologies,  and moving beyond "The way we have always done it" so we can have students who are connected, empowered and engaged with learning. 

It was a great keynote (and blog post) and I agree wholeheartedly. I also agree with him, that some districts have embraced these concepts and have moved forward, and are ready to take the next step. Some however, are still on that early learning curve. In my district, we are still fighting this battle.

  • Internet Access- Being a rural district with a large geographic area, and many schools in remote locations, internet access is unreliable slow and often inaccessible. Long wait times to log in result in classroom behaviour issues, and therefore, many teachers are reluctant to even attempt to incorporate technology into their teaching.  There is hope on this front as a new NGN network has been installed with promises of increased internet access and speed across the district.
  • Student Devices-There is still a pervasive attitude that student devices need to be banned, as they are a distractor and a constant classroom management battle. 

  •  Support For and a Willingness to Take Risks: Despite pockets of innovation, there is still a pervasive attitude of, "It's the way we've always done it", and strong resistance to change.
  • Teachers are STILL pulling the worksheet-(Note the copyright date, bottom left) out of the filing cabinet, and using it as the principle tool for teaching and learning. How does this promote engagement? differentiation? student voice? critical thinking? 

  • Teacher Devices-There is still a strong reliance on desktop computers, and computer labs. Using computers is an "Event", as in, "I'm taking my students to the computer lab to do research." There are Smartboards distributed around the district, which run on outdated software which make them virtually obsolete. There are roving carts of Acer devices that take forever to load, constantly crash, and are hard to manipulate. There is more I would like to say on this topic, but at the risk of breeching district protocol, and getting my wrist slapped, I will leave it here. 
  • Social Media- is still largely seen as the "enemy". Very few teachers have embraced Twitter for either classrooms or as a means of their own professional development. It is NOT part of classroom, school or district culture.

Where is student work ending up? When students are ONLY producing work for the teacher, and there is no authentic audience or PURPOSE, we are robbing them of the opportunity to engage in MEANINGFUL work. Why are we still spending massive amounts of $$ on textbooks instead of investing in Open Education Resources (OER) readily available,  current, interactive and often cost efficient?
  • Vision and Purpose-It is very difficult for educational transformation to occur without strong leadership. Currently, our teacher's union has a Vote of Non Confidence in our School Board, and we have an interim Superintendent, with no concrete communicated plan for who will replace him or when that will happen. Our current Vision and Mission statement was created at LEAST 16 years ago (and I know that because that was when I moved to this district), and there is no language or articulated vision for where this district is moving in regards to 21st Century learning. 
  • Delta School Districts's Bold Vision. Without a clear vision from our education leaders, how do we move forward as a district? 

    I am not bashing the district. (Or at least that's not my intent.) There are talented, passionate teachers who are doing amazing things here. There are administrators and district staff that are working hard to provide the conditions and leadership to help the district forward. Our students, just as students everywhere are talented, curious, and have huge potential. But when I look beyond, I know we can do better. 
Original image taken by me, at Bella Coola Cannery, edited in free app, PhotoPhix
    I am fortunate in my job, to get into a lot of classrooms, and connect with educators not only in the district, but all over the world through Twitter, and through the connections I've made in my professional learning network. I agree with Chris, that many of our battles in regards to a vision and implementation for 21st Century education has been won. You don't have to look too far to see passionate educators, innovation in classrooms, and empowered students. I know we have barriers to overcome, but if we choose, we have the tools to overcome those barriers. As George Couros (The Innovators Mindset) states, we need to look inside the box, and work with the tools we have. There is no excuse for mediocrity. The worksheet from 1982 has no business in today's classroom. Students have access to technology-if we give them the power to use the tools at their disposal. We can no longer use the excuse of isolation. IT is a CHOICE.  It is imperative that educators connect to the larger educational community. We need to do better-Our students deserve it. 

Partnering with Parents

Image from:

Last week,  I attended a parent meeting to introduce parents to our current iPad classroom pilot. It was a tough meeting. There were a few very vocal parents who felt that:

  •  Students in grades 4-5 were too young to have unrestricted access to the internet. 
  • They were concerned about cloud sharing-students should only be able to "see" what is on their device.
  • They were concerned about 'screen time". 
  • They were horrified that students would have potential access to Twitter. 
  • They felt that it would be impossible for the classroom teacher to monitor what students were "doing" on the iPads. 

This despite the fact that we have worked hard to keep parents informed along the way.

  • We have given them a list of apps we are exploring. 
  • We have shared with them the digital responsibility lessons we have been working through (and will continue to work through), and the contract we all signed regarding responsible use. 
  • We have explained the rationale for the use of the iPads, embedded in research and sound pedagogical practice, and shared our plans for teacher training and ongoing support both through our established PLC and access to an instructional coach. 
  • We have set up a SeeSaw digital portfolio and given parents access to their child's account. 
  • We have hosted parent information meetings
  • We have crafted an informed consent that goes beyond the generic district form, and have explicit forms for each app we are using that stores any type of student data (ie SeeSaw Digital Portfolios)
After the meeting, I went back the drawing table. I went to the "restrictions" section on all the iPads and reset them all with restricted access, then drafted a letter to parents outlining the changes we made. I hope that as we continue to use the iPads in the classroom, and parents see the positives, we will be able to move them forward in regards to addressing their concerns, balanced with a more optimistic understanding of the positive aspects of using the iPad (and having digital access) . I truly believe it's imperative to have parent support and participation with any technology incentive, and I have to say I was initially discouraged with the pushback, but it forced us to reevaluate and closely examine all the potential pitfalls, and re-clarify our reasons and justifications for what we are doing. In hindsight this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

What do you do to garner parent support? Do you have examples of letters to parents? What types of restrictions do you impose on internet access if any and why? Does it change depending on age? How do you deal with a breech of privacy? What other considerations do you need to take into account when launching a digital initiative?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Reining" in Leadership

To rein a horse is " to willingly guide with no resistance"
Anyone that knows me, knows that outside of my job, another big passion for me is the equestrian sport of Reining. According to the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA), the sport of reining is designed to show the athletic ability of a ranch type horse within the confines of a show arena."," 

In reining, riders perform a series of manoeuvres including small slow circles, large fast circles, 360degree spins done in place, roll backs over the hocks and the exciting sliding stops. All of these manoeuvres are performed on a loose rein, and the horse must not show any resistance.  To the untrained eye, it is very difficult to see the subtle cues that the rider communicates to the horse that dictates the movements of the horse. If you have never seen a reining competition, here is one example. One of my favorite reining horses ever! 

Reining came into the mainstream spotlight in 2006 when reining trainer, Stacy Westfall performed a bridleless/saddleless freestyle (set to music) reining pattern in competition and it caught the eye of Ellen DeGeneres
There are many things I love about the sport of reining. It was the subject of my first blog, which I started for our local reining group, 100 Mile Sliders. It ties to my long standing passion for the human animal bond, which was the subject of my (long ago) Masters Thesis, where I looked at the social connections that could be built within our special needs classroom and the rest of the school, by bringing a dog into the classroom.

The relationship between horses and humans is unique. Horse are animals of prey and in the wild, survive on flight instinct. In other words, in situations where they feel threatened, or concerned, they will run away. They also rely on being part of a group (safety in numbers), being very aware of their surroundings, and being suspicious of any intrusions into the herd. They are very in tune to reading body language, as this is how they communicate their own intents. 

My little reining mare Jewel is a horse that despite her extensive training is very suspicious and cautious by nature. Every time you interact with her you have to reestablish trust. This can happen pretty quickly if you know what you are doing, but if not, you would think she had never been handled by a human before. Once she has your trust, however, she will depend on you in stressful situations. For example, she was used in a Para Reining event a few years back, which paired riders of varied levels of abilities with reining horses, and were coached over 2 days, culminating in a competition. 
My daughter, Casandra Jakubiec, acting as coach for para reiner rider, Tara Kowalski
I love this image, as it so clearly displays how Jewel is looking to her leader (who, at this point, is NOT the person on her back) for confidence and direction, in what would have been a very stressful and unfamiliar situation for her, with an unbalanced rider who would not have been communicating clearly with her riding cues at this point. 

Humans, on the other hand, are predators, by nature, and therefore hold a natural threat to horses, simply by our status as a predator. However, horses are quick to follow a leader in the herd, and look for a leader that is confident, decisive and trustworthy. The leader in the herd leads by showing the way! Good horse trainers know this, and study horse behavior to capitalize on the horse's instinct to follow a good leader.  For me, the sport of reining is a pinnacle showcase of the positive relationship between the leader(rider) and (follower) horse. 

In the past, the term to "break a horse", literally meant to "break" his spirt and create compliance. Compliance however is not the equivilant of willingness. Good trainers know now that developing a relationship with the horse built on trust and respect will create a a true partnership with much better results
Anyone who has tried to force a horse to do something it doesn't want to do, understands quickly the phrase, about leading a horse to water. A horse is a 1500 lb animal capable of running 40 mph. We cannot physically force a horse to do something it does not want to do. How then can Stacy Westphal have her horse perform highly technical skills without a bridle or saddle, in an unfamiliar environment, with lots of distractions, and no other means of control besides her voice and her body? 
Perhaps it is best explained by Nancy Lowery owner and operator of  The Natural Leader, where she works with corporate groups to build leadership skills through working with horses.  Nancy's program teaches participants that leadership: 
• is personal power not physical
• title means nothing; it is about the relationships you develop
• is earned through demonstrating authenticity & gaining trust. 
In her TED Talk, Nancy discusses the importance of "being present in relationship with others", by "finding the rhythm of another individual". She uses a dressage( often compared as the English equivalent of reining) term, SCHYUNG to describe this dynamic. 
Nancy's program focuses on the work of Kouzes and Posner, who developed the "Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership" :
 Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership & Ten Commitments (Pace OD Consulting 2015)
  These 5 practices closely align with the "Characteristics of the Innovative Leader" as described by George Couros, in his book, "The Innovators Mindset. 
1) Visionary
2) Empathetic
3) Models Learning
4) Open Risk Taker
5) Networked
6) Observant
7) Team Builder

What does it mean to "be present in relationships with others"?
These were the attributes we discussed as a staff, when I ran a Nancy Lowery styled day at my place, where I introduced my Student Support Services staff to my small herd of 3 horses. Using some of the activities that Nancy shares in her workbooks available for purchase on her site, we worked through the day, exploring our own leadership skills and reflecting on the questions of strengths and areas of improvement. 
What is Jewel's body language telling you here?
Do you have a vision of the direction you are
 going when leading others?
At what point do extrinsic incentives become un-motivating in challenging circumstances. What are the alternatives?
How do you remove barriers and show the way forward?
Are you a risk taker? How do inspire and support others in taking risks?
It was a fun day, and for some of the staff, it meant stepping way outside their comfort zone.  As articulated my my friend, Carla Webb, who runs "Empowered By Horses", a program focused on developing confidence, setting boundaries, and building self esteem for girls and women, "Herd dynamics are powerful metaphors for leadership, teamwork, non-verbal communication, setting boundaries, and for illustrating group and family dynamics. Horses show us a different way of relating with ourselves, others, and our environment, while teaching us awareness, trust, integrity and respect."