Sunday, October 23, 2011

What is Our Role? What is Your Role?

As part of the design process for a new high school (opening September 2014) our district has recently been seeking input from students, staff, parents, and community members. I've enjoyed hearing what different people want to see in a modern high school, and also hearing from our architect and representatives from Alberta Infrastructure and Alberta Education re: the design and function of other new schools.

At this stage in the process, the focus of the design efforts has been to ensure we have a facility that will meet our needs in September of 2014, as well as many years from now. Flexible is among the most common words I’ve heard used to describe the facility design. Beyond facility design though, I'm looking forward to when the new principal and staff will begin to focus on programming and instruction!

As we begin discuss our vision of what the high school experience for students will look like in 2014, it is evident lots of changes are on the horizon.

Historically, teacher preparation programs describe the system of public schooling originating for the purpose of helping students acquire the knowledge and skills required to be productive members of society upon their maturation into adulthood.

It is common today for educational reformers and educational critics to claim that our current model of schooling is outdated. Our system is no longer current, some reformers claim, because public education was originally created to produce graduates able to focus on tasks, perform in structured environments, and meet time-constraints that exist as students graduate to work in a factory environment. Those critics feel today's society, however, needs students to graduate with different knowledge and skills than in the past.

Historically then, our public education system has deep connections with our communities. Schools exist because of communities and I believe communities thrive because of schools. In Grande Prairie, our district celebrated our 100th anniversary in 2011, which means the school district began before the city did, as GP was incorporated as a village in 1914. After all this time, I think we need to dig deep and look to see if our current relationship with our community is still meeting those needs.

If school exists to meet certain needs of society, it is a certainty then that parents of our students and their peers within our society have a role to fill in education. Who better to provide us feedback on our roles than those who expect us to fulfill a role? Just as students, teachers, administrators, district-level staff, and School Board members have a role in our system, so must our communities.

We’ve opened a door with our recent consultations on high school design. I hope we keep that door open and look for more opportunities to engage in these discussions with ALL OF our stakeholders. There is a lot to be learned, and gained, from conversations such as these.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hi. Remember me?


With October beginning, the busiest period of my professional life, that I can remember, concludes. Busiest. Ever.  This year I had no summer holidays to speak of, and I have spent the last 8 weeks wondering a fair bit if I may have may bitten off more than I could chew.  Glad it all turned out OK. SO, with the experience of:  helping to convert our district to a new Student Information System, plus continuing with coursework for my doctorate, while also trying to focus on my dissertation, at the same time as ensuring quality family time (whoops - should have put them first here), all under my belt, I think it is time to start talking about education, education reform, instructional leadership, and technology integration again.


Before that, I thought I'd share a little bit about me for anyone new who stumbles upon this blog and is wondering what my context is:

I am the Director of Educational Technology in the Grande Prairie Public School District, and I like to think out loud. I've been blogging for a few years now, and I originally started blogging when I was principal of Derek Taylor Public School as a way to share items of interest I'd found with my coworkers.  I wanted to avoid overwhelming everyone's inboxes with all the interesting content I find.  Since that time, however, over the last four years or so, this spot on the web has morphed into a significant source of my professional learning.  I still share what I find interesting and relevant, but I also use this space to reflect on ways to improve education to benefit our students.  It is sort of like thinking out loud, and I enjoy the conversations that leads to, so feel free to subscribe and to share your thoughts by commenting on anything you find interesting.

It's a pretty fun learning journey.....I'm pretty lucky to be doing it here! Alberta, Canada is the land of opportunity in Education right now and we are on the verge of some exciting changes.  The Action agendas promoted by our provincial ministry (Action on Curriculum, on Inclusion, etc.) are very exciting.  The changes that are coming are good for kids, and I'm glad to be part of them...

Let's have a conversation, shall we?


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Educational Innovation

Not that I'm ever really uninspired or not optimistic, but I've been working quite a bit at work and also quite a bit on my coursework, and as such the working on different kinds of work has worn me down a bit.

Until now, however.

Tonight a young teacher in one of our schools shared a recent product of his and he totally inspired my thinking.  His message is spot on, and 100% appropriate as we end one year and focus on our planning for next year.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Innovation in Education:

Cool huh?

Are you inspired? What are you going to do to contribute to the change we know needs to take place re: how students engage in their own learning? Summer is a time for reflection. If you come back in the fall with a plan, please let me know how I can help you make that plan a reality!


Sunday, June 12, 2011

December Babies Never Really Catch Up: Study

There is an interesting concept shared in a recent article from the Montreal Gazette, and it serves as a great reminder to me re: why (and how) we need to question our existing educational practices.

December babies never really catch up: study

In talking to kindergarten teachers over the years, concerns over the progress of early entrance students (in our district, you need to be 5 by December 31st) has been a common theme. The research in question identified the difference in graduation rates if December students achieved at the same rate as January students, claiming an additional 1700 BC students would graduate each year.

That is significant, as is the amount of money potentially saved if more students were to graduate on time. I wonder how many other practices common to our systems might be seen in a different light if we simply asked the question "What is the ultimate impact on graduation rates?".

Practicing critical inquiry is not just for teaching social studies, :), it has to be an essential leadership practice as well.

It is obvious we need to ensure we are making the most efficient and effective use of our limited resources. As I've shared earlier, Hattie's book Visible Learning is an excellent resource in this area, providing an easy to understand summary of research into student achievement. If we don't ask the critical questions about our practice, how can we intentionally make the changes that will allow us to maximize the use of our resources on impacting student learning?

My takeaway from reading this article in the Gazette: I am going to try reflect more on the assumptions I (and others) hold about our existing practice. I need to ask more questions, and find ways to spur others to reflect on a systemic scale as well. I think my copy of Hattie's meta-analysis might be in for some sticky notes....


Thursday, June 9, 2011

What Does Society Expect From Schools?

Accountability is a funny word.

It seems like a simple concept, to be answerable for something, but in a complex open system (like education) it is not such a black and white issue.

It is reasonable to expect people working for you to be accountable for their results.  The practice of paying employees, or of hiring contractors, is that you pay them to do a specific job for you.  If they don't do the work, the accountability process kicks in and there are consequences.  Makes sense to me.  In fact, in education we are not opposed to the idea.  Accountability, in one form or another, is a discussion between teachers and students in most classrooms at some point in the average school year.

In the context of complex open systems however, accountability is not that easy of a concept to understand.  Who is accountable, to whom, and for what? actually has the following as the secondary definition of the word:

Education . a policy of holding schools and teachers accountable for students' academic progress by linking such progress with funding for salaries, maintenance, etc.

See?  Education and accountability are perceived to fit together. As a taxpayer myself I’m concerned about how effectively our system is making progress.  But what is progress?  If we use student achievement, what is achievement, and what scale do we use?  Absolute achievement?  Relative achievement? I think in general it is assumed to be, and is generally measured as, results on system-wide participation in standardized testing, but does that tell us what we really want to know?  What do we really care about in terms of results?

On the surface, it makes sense to measure accountability by using student achievement results, but the many internal and external variables involved in student performance on single-sitting standardized assessments raises lots of questions re: the validity of that measure of accountability.  Consequently, some proponents of educational reform make a very compelling case for not using standardized assessments as a major indicator of progress.  But as we argue back and forth about standardized tests, are we really arguing about what is truly important?

Instead of arguing about current measures of accountability, I wonder if our time might be better spent on discussing what society really wants for students as a result of their participation in school?  With all of the talk about 21st Century Skills, as seen in Tony Wagner's book The Global Achievement Gap, in blogs such as Seth Godin's (below), and in provincial educational circles (i.e. initiatives in BC, AB, NS, ON, etc.) I think there may be value in engaging society in conversations about what they really want for students upon graduation.

What is truly important?  Have we specifically asked that question of parents?  Of the rest of society?

Might student marks on PATs and DIPLOMAs be the most important results society wants?  Or might the development of competencies, graduation rates, emotional intelligence, and the ability to think critically in any setting be more important?  I wonder.  

When we opened a new school a few years back, I asked parents what they wanted for their children.  The result of that process was their sharing they wanted their kids to be safe, to graduate as good citizens, and to be academically ready for any challenge and prepared for success as adults.  My hypothesis is that most parents, and most members of society, would provide similar answers if asked.

Not once did anyone say they wanted to see our students at the top of the Fraser report.  

As a result of that work we did with teachers, students, and parents, to define what was important, our school set about identifying ways to report student progress in other areas (besides marks) to parents.  We focused on developing good character and emotional intelligence in our students, and we focused on REPORTING on that to our parents.  Funny thing is, after 3 years of work, their academic results are pretty good too.  (note:  might be that I’m not there anymore too.  There.  I said it.  No need to leave that comment now!  J)

I think there is more and more opportunity for parents and the community to provide input into educational planning.  When do they get asked that question?  What would happen if school boards (or individual schools?) held a series of town-hall meetings or used social media or other electronic means, to ask the community what they really want to see as an output of our system? If we had the answer to the question of "What Does Society Deem Important?", I bet it might give us some focus.  I know enough to not ask the question if I’m not prepared for the answer.  In this case, I think we need to ask explicit questions like that in our local communities.  Different communities have different values.  How do we capture those in our provincial system with standardized measures of accountability?

Just some thoughts.  Work in progress.  Love to hear what you think about the role of community standards in accountability.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Possessions of GREAT Value and Our Guiding Principles

In my last year of university, I lived with a friend who was working full time already.  One afternoon I was studying intently on the sofa in our living room, and he came home and woke me up to tell me had a new car.

A Porsche 911.

The context here is that a Porsche 911 has been my dream car for some reason since I was a little gaffer.  Thinking he was pulling my leg, I replied with a laugh "Sure you did.  Let me take it for a drive then, I've always wanted to drive one."

When I grabbed the keys that were flipped to me, I saw the Porsche key ring.  The Porsche key.  And when I went to our parking spot, I saw a red 911 Targa.  Before he changed his mind, I hopped in and took it for a drive.

After getting over my initial surprise that I fit in it, as legroom is often an issue, the drive was everything I thought it would be, and then some.  I brought it home, gave him his keys back, and vowed to myself I'd never drive one again until I owned my own.  As I came home from work today, 20 years later, driving my mini van and not having driven a Porsche since, I was reminded of that story by a new 911 passing me.  And I thought of how that story applies to my current context in education...

Someone I can't remember once made a comment about the chances of people asking strangers to hold items of great value.  I wish I could remember who raised that point, I'd love to give them credit, as I think it is brilliant.  I  really don't think I know any strangers who would walk up to me and ask me to take care of their $100 000 car for the day.  Or to hold their 5 carat diamond ring while they go to work.  Yet that is exactly what countless people do on the first day of school every year.  They drop their most valuable possessions, their children, off with mostly complete strangers, the staff at the school.

Why?  It speaks to trust, doesn't it?  Thinking of that trust they have in us, it makes one think next of responsibility, doesn't it?  We have a responsibility to ensure we live up to our responsibilities!  I was doing some writing tonight about ethical decision making, and thought of the 5 Universal Guiding Principles we have adopted in our school district.  When we are making decisions, we need to consider our Guiding Principles, which are:
  • Is it good for students?
  • Will it help build trust and good relationships?
  • Will it help us improve?
  • Is it the responsible thing to do?
  • Is it open, honest, and ethical?
As I reflect tonight on our guiding principles, I've reaffirmed my belief in their value.  Those are the kinds of principles that support people entrusting their children to our care.  Reflecting on our Guiding Principles consistently, regardless of where the decision is being made, and building practices that will support their use is evidence of our commitment to the responsibility we owe our parents.

There is a lot involved in answering these questions.  We need to use good research to identify what practices are goo for students, for example.  We also need to balance costs and benefits to determine if an improvement is worth it.  Etc.  These are not easy questions to answer.  But that does not mean they are not worth the effort.  Haven't you ever noticed the most satisfying things in life are usually those you have to work the hardest to attain? 

That is likely why I still drive a mini van.  But one day.  And in the meantime, I have the honor of working to support our staff, students, and parents.  More valuable than a Porsche, for sure, but not quite as filled with the same potential!


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An Evening With Sir Ken Robinson and a Message of Hope

I had the great pleasure of taking a bus with 35 district teachers and administrators from Grande Prairie to Dawson Creek last night to attend a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson on personalized learning, creativity, innovation, passion, and the need for education reform.  Thanks to Lance and the senior leadership in our district for sponsoring the lot of us to attend!

Look how happy everyone is in the picture, as we stand beside what is apparently the second largest semi-aquatic rodent in the world.  Next time we stop at the BMI!

If you've not seen Sir Ken speak in one of his talks on TED, or read any of his books, you really should.  He's funny, engaging, has an inspiring message, and I think you'll like what he has to say.  You might also take the hint: @jenclevette gave me and listen to his latest book The Element in audiobook format.  SKR reads it himself and is equally engaging on iTunes as he is in person.

Sir Ken didn't say anything especially new or unique yesterday.  He didn't rock us back on our heels with challenging or controversial claims.  He simply shared what I consider a message of hope for the future of our education system!

At the 40,000 foot level, you can't argue with anyone who says kids need the opportunity to explore their passions.  Who says kids need caring people in an education system to personalize their learning.  Who says kids need to develop the skills that will prepare them for a future that we are not entirely sure what it will look like.  Sir Ken's message was quite clear at the 40,000 foot level.

But we live at ground level.  And things are not that clear close to the ground.  The talk today was about what we do with his message. Logical sequential people may have felt a gap today, while random abstract people will likely last a few more days basking in the message before moving on to something else.  Regardless of one's position, I think the next step, however, is not evident.

I'm optimistic that enough people heard, and value, the message though and that it will gain traction over time.  The same message is coming from Alberta Education as the Action on Curriculum builds momentum.  It is inherent in the new Education Act.  It is a common message from a number of different directions.  It is also a common perspective in all of these messages that I think the specifics of changing our practice have to be left up to us.  As a district, we need to construct our own meaning of what this message of hope means for us.

Who will lead our transformation?  How will our Board engage our community on a deep and meangingful level to get involved so that we can help all our students embrace their passions?  How will our Ministry give us the authority to truly personalize individual curricula?  How will our district and our administrators create the conditions for teachers to succeed and then get out of the way to let them do what they need to do?  And, finally, how will our students handle the responsibility we need to give them?

Of all the questions in the preceding paragraph, the one I'm most sure of is that our students will amaze us.  They always do.  And I can't wait to see that.  Sir Ken's message of hope resonates with me today.  Let's get to work.  Together.  We need to work on those first few questions from the paragraph above...


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Simple Question. A Complex Set of Answers.

I came across what I consider to be an excellent question on the topic of teaching today.  I think there likely to be as many answers suggested as there would be people who might answer it.  I'd love to give the question (see below) out at the start of a staff meeting and spend a good hour discussing the qualities of effective teachers.

Lack of consensus on an answer would be a problem for instructional leaders however.  Our goal as instructional leaders has to be always to increase the effectiveness of the instruction in our schools.  It is clear (and is backed up by substantial research) that classroom instruction is the single most important school factor that influences student achievement, which leads me to the question I came across today:

What are the most common differences between good teachers and expert teachers?

If we want to increase the skill level of our teachers, where should we focus the majority of our resources?  What will give us the biggest bang for our buck, so to speak?  What should our instructional priority be?
  • The ability to differentiate?
  • The ability to develop effective and caring relationships with students?
  • Skill with small group instruction?
  • Effective planning?
  • Effective technology integration?
  • Skill with classroom management?
  • The ability to provide descriptive feedback to students?
  • Something else?
WWMS? (What would Marzano say?)
WWHS?  (What would Hattie say?)
WWLS? (What would Leithwood say?)

What if they all said the same thing?  Would that be enough evidence to demonstrate an urgent need for specific action?

I'd love to have this discussion with a room full of teachers or administrators....I think it would be fascinating and passionate!  And if we could turn that into action, wouldn't we have a clearly established vision of what instructional leadership is all about and a common understanding of where we need to go?


Sunday, May 15, 2011

After School Sports or After School Learning? Is Anything Non-Negotiable?

Further to my last post, re: Hattie's book Visible Learning, I've been trying to reflect on the value of different aspects of our educational system on student learning and assess whether or not we are maximizing the value of our investments.

There are lots of places in our system where emotions can come into play and a decision focused solely on the impact on achievement should be weighed against the impact on some of the other goals of the system.  Extra-curricular athletics is an example of a part of our system that I think might generate some interesting conversations if a change to those programs was suggested.  Thinking about the idea of radical changes to our system makes me wonder about what might be considered a non-negotiable part of our current system.

Reflecting on the impact on achievement is tough one considering the resources we put into extracurricular athletics, for example.  School sports are the one place where some students experience success, and can be of considerable worth in regards to school culture, relationships, etc.  The problem is though, Hattie says that extra-curriculars, and in particular sports, do not have much impact on student achievement:

Outdoor education programs however, do have a significant positive impact on student learning:

In my community we have EXCELLENT minor athletic programs including hockey, baseball, volleyball, basketball, gymnastics, soccer, swimming, dance, tae kwon do, and skiing, among many others.  We also offer many of those opportunities in our schools, with volleyball, basketball, soccer, etc. offered throughout the school year.  What is the impact of that duplication on our access to resources?  Are we missing other opportunities by sticking with our standard school sports? 

I've been thinking about this idea in general terms for the past several days, since I first saw the images above in Visible Learning, and we had a discussion at work about how we might use the book.  What if we left the sport development and instruction to the communities, and instead focused our extra curricular efforts on providing our students with outdoor adventure programs?   If we changed how sports were accessed and delivered in our communities, what would the impact be on our schools if we then changed how they are delivered in our schools?

Community groups could take over all sports, and schools could focus their resources on other learning opportunities.  Instead of running after-school athletics, perhaps we could provide students with other outdoor education opportunities?  We could combine Science, Social Studies, and Outdoor Education into practical and relevant community projects and provide our students with additional sporting opportunities in the community outside of school hours.

Considering one of the reasons behind my decision to enter education many years ago was related to a desire to coach, this thought does cause me some not unsubstantial internal conflict.  :)  Participation in organized sports is something I consider essential for kids, but perhaps a change in focus in how that opportunity is provided could be a way for our schools to meaningfully involve our communities?  We might also avoid duplication of efforts, provide kids with outdoor learning opportunities so many of them do not get AND positively influence student learning as well!

I don't believe I'm advocating this....I'm just thinking out loud....and maybe this will generate some conversation about what constitutes reform....penny for your thoughts?

Making Data Easy To Understand With Visible Learning

It is hard to argue with the role that data can play in informing educational decision making.  That we need to make decisions to increase student learning is a given.  In an era of increased competition for educational funding it is important we maximize the value of our choices.

The challenge for educators is to know how to find and use data when making decisions in schools and districts.  There is no shortage of data in educational systems, when you consider financial reports, student achievement data, community data, etc.  Factoring in the data we collect locally with that generated by the significant world of educational research can be overwhelming.  There is so much data available, it can lead to paralysis before it leads to analysis.

Recently while attending a session on systemic improvement presented by Kenneth Leithwood I was introduced to a resource focused on educational research that I believe is quite valuable in this regard.

John Hattie is an educational researcher and professor of education at the University of Melbourne.  His book, Visible Learning, is an easy to read synthesis of other meta-analyses of educational research and presentation of the impact of different strategies on student achievement.  Hattie's summary and the effect of different factors on student learning has the potential to be very useful when trying to decide how we might make the best use of our available funds.  If we start by asking the right questions about our existing practice, Hattie's book can provide valuable data for making our decisions.

One of the unique features of Visible Learning is the way Hattie presents the summary of the research.  The visual gauge Hattie uses, below, is an excellent visual representation of the summary.  The use of formative feedback is something we often talk about as a necessary part of effective instruction.  As Hattie shows below, it is a very powerful factor influencing student achievement.  If you want to take a look at it the book before purchasing, you can check it out here on Google Books.  Much of the book is available for preview online.  If you are wondering if class size or teacher training will have a more powerful impact on student learning in your district, for example, search in the book and see what discussion ensues...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Potential of Online Mentoring

I have been reflecting quite a bit recently on the potential for change in Alberta's education system.  With a move from a very prescriptive system to a more collaborative system with more local input/control a possibility, I see even more need for focusing on the relationships we create personally and professionally.  

In terms of building the capacity of district and provincial teachers and administrators, I see a place for an increased focus on formal and informal mentorship as a way to facilitate those relationships.  More than a simple focus on team building, mentoring is truly a powerful way of supporting personal and professional growth through tapping into the potential of relationship building.  The impact on the culture of the organization is potentially quite powerful as well!  I wanted to share two examples that I believe illustrate the power of virtual mentorships on individuals and the organization.

I was talking with one of my sources of inspiration a while ago who is doing some work with the Apollo Group as they refine their practices in the Canadian higher education market.  He mentioned that the Apollo Group has an employee mentoring program, and shared the example of a very high-ranking Apollo executive (I believe the CEO) mentoring or coaching one of the young IT employees in Nova Scotia, Canada.  They email, talk on the phone, and occasionally meet when the executive's schedule takes him to Canada.

This commitment to individual employee growth, at the highest level of the organization, is an example of the potential of mentoring programs at the organizational level.  What does it say about the value of people in that organization, that the CEO works to mentor someone in the IT department?  Does that kind of relationship across departments build trust and organizational loyalty?  I think a little bit, don't you?

At the school level, in the past I have encouraged young female students from our remote northern location participate in the Cyber (SCIber Mentor) program offered by the three universities in Alberta (  This program puts talented and interested female science and math students in mentoring relationships with females in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) professions.  It is simply an amazing program.  It has been in place for many years, and I think/hope it will continue to grow in popularity!

Of course, with children and mentoring programs, the safety issue is something that is of extreme importance.  I have trust in the SCIber Mentor program, but I believe extreme caution is warranted if directing a student to join a mentoring program offered by an outside organization, such as, as opposed to an institution I am familiar with.

As we plan opportunities for ourselves and others, we need to remember that structure is an important part of a successful program. Online mentorship programs, as with face to face programs, will benefit from a core structure, whether curricular or attending to other needs, that shapes the interactions between the mentor and the protegee.  Additionally, providing a framework to guide interactions and offer direction for the future can help begin a relationship and guide participants until they are comfortable with each other. Until safe and trusting relationships are formed, having a structure in place can help guide the interactions between mentorship participants.  

For individuals and organizations in small geographic areas, I think the potential of building an online pool of mentors is something to consider!  As individuals are more and more connected outside of traditional work hours, there is benefit to this sort of relationship as well.  

I think it is something worth considering!  Our people are the most important resource we have in a school district, and more than any supplies we could possibly buy, they are essential to the achievement of our students!  If differentiating the support our adults get helps the students, it makes sense, doesn't it?


Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Ethics of Globalization

A lot of consideration is being given to globalization, and to corresponding changes that may be necessary to prepare our students for an increasingly global society.  Personally, I think that is a good thing!

I've had some very interesting talks with junior high students over the past few years discussing what the phrase "China and India have more honors students than we have students" (as shared in the Shift Happens video prepared by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod) means to them.  

The most recent version of Shift Happens can be viewed here.  If you haven't seen it yet, take a few minutes and watch it.  It is great for stimulating reflection!

Most recently, tonight, I was engaged in a discussion online about the ethical implications of globalization and the outsourcing of production.  I have to confess that despite my more liberal tendencies, I think quite highly of profit!  

In my conversation tonight he impact of moving production from our society to areas where labor costs are substantially cheaper definitely raises ethical issues worthy of attention.  It is a very complex issue though, with some interesting twists possible in the conversation.

I think the primary reason why organizations move their production is to attain a lower cost of production and correspondingly higher profits.  Other ways to do achieve higher profits would be to leave production where it is, and to either lower wages or to increase revenue.  Both are viable means to achieve the same end result, yet for two reasons only one option is realistic.  Organizations are not likely to seek to increase profits by lowering wages because western workers are not likely to accept lower wages.  Also, organizations are not likely to increase profits by raising revenue because the public is not very likely to pay higher prices.

I believe it takes strength of character, of an organization's Board and of those in formal leadership positions, to strive for a balance between profits and what is right for all concerned.  The vision of the organization, to be responsible and ethical profit seekers, is an especially crucial element to achieving this balance.

Focusing solely on the wages paid the workers is, I believe, another concern that can at times be a red herring of sorts.  Without question, if workers are physically at risk or are taken unfair advantage of, or if vulnerable populations are taken advantage of, the organization should be taken to task.  In other cases, the low, by our standards, wages are quite welcomed by the workers receiving them.  Relatively speaking, the wages paid in some developing countries are having a very positive effect on their societies.

One of the pleasant end results of the movement to outsource production to developing nations is the rapidly expanding global middle class (Das, 2009).  Das shared the increased prosperity in developing nations is significant, and while the typical wages are generally substantially lower than those paid in developed countries, the standard of living, as measured by per capita consumption levels, has grown dramatically.  With more money available, middle class comforts such as options for health care are more likely to be made available for people to choose.  

In a book that I thoroughly enjoyed, New York Times Reporter Thomas Friedman shared compelling statistics about the implication of a greatly rising middle class composed of people from Brazil, Russia, India, and China as well (Friedman, 2005).  Ethically speaking then, outsourcing can be seen as having a positive benefit to some geographical regions while having a negative influence in others.  How relevant is it to look at the balance on the whole?  I think this thought shows the importance of our challenge to convert Alberta's economy to a knowledge-based economy from a resource-based economy.  I see that as significant urgency to act!

From this perspective, I believe it will be interesting to see the implications of the increasing costs of production in societies where the middle class outgrows the low wages offered, as I believe happened in our society.

In summary, I believe the ethical impact of choosing to outsource production is something companies must consider carefully.  The choice, if made correctly, is something I believe can be mutually beneficial. 

Statistician Hans Rosling excels at graphically representing data and has several interesting talks posted on the Internet.  In a short video, approximately 5 minutes long, he creatively and graphically illustrates how the health and wealth of countries has changed, illustrating how the gap between the west and the rest has decreased. I find it fascinating, and hope you might find it interesting too!



Das, D. K. (2009). Globalisation and an emerging global middle class. Economic Affairs, 29(3), 89-92.

Friedman, T. L. (2005). The world is flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Black and White and Educational Reform

Someone famous said something about those who are certain.  I'd say who it was, but I don't like to appear too certain about anything.

Well, actually, I can't remember who said that.  I'm hoping someone will comment on it. 

But still, forgetfulness aside, I don't think there are too many things that are 100% black or white.  Context is pretty important.  Aristotle's concepts of virtues were based on his assumption that the right virtues are in between two extreme instincts.  It makes sense to avoid taking a position at either of the extremes, because the power of context makes what is right live on a sliding scale.

Now, what the heck does that have to do with anything?  Well earlier tonight I was reading more about Salman Khan and his Khan Academy.  I believe in Khan's vision to provide resources to students online, but I disagree those who see his approach (including Bill Gates) as a way of completely transforming education. 

I've read today many reactions to Salman Khan's recent talk at the TED conference, on both sides of the fence.  It seems to me people are taking very strong sides on the issue of Khan's thoughts about education.  Depending on some who have written about it, Khan's ideas about education are the next best thing to sliced bread.  To others, his approach is completely off-base.  Read more about his ideas for developing individual mastery, including watching a video about his exercise software, here.  Exercise software?  I'm not sure how that makes education relevant and engaging for kids.  That approach to learning might be kind of distasteful for some students, wouldn't it?  But likely it might also be a good approach for others, depending on the subject and/or their interests?

There are no extremes. 

Khan's resources, and other similar tools, have a significant role to play in transforming how we structure the learning our students have access to. Kids need access to content any time and anywhere, and content like this could be HUGE when planning reverse instruction for our classes.

Resources like that won't replace teachers, however.  Or rather, facilitators as their roles change.  Differentiation instruction is the ultimate support for avoiding the extremes.  Learners (of any age) are so different, we need to use a variety of strategies to support them all.

Why can't we be grey on this issue?  I see huge value for some students who can make use of Khan's resources as a primary source.  I see other students using it for review.  I see other students who will learn best getting dirty and messy and hands-on in class with a teacher near by for support.  There is no one size fits all approach to learning (and therefore to teaching) and I don't think we can budge on that. 

Check out the Khan Academy.  It is interesting...give it some thought.  Let me know what role you see for resources like this in education...


Friday, March 11, 2011

Something OLD, Something NEW, Something Borrowed, Something True

Over the last little while I have been trying to give some focus to assistive technology.  This is a big challenge for us, and it is something I think we need to build a systematic approach to in our district. The potential for assistive technology is great for our neediest students, obviously, but potential exists for technology to enhance the learning of ANY student! 

With respect to meeting the needs of students, it is convention week, and there is an awful lot of talk this week about ensuring we meet the 21st century needs of our students.  I made the point in a presentation to GPRC students this week that an effective teacher could meet prepare their students for the 21st century without using ANY electronic technology!  Effective OLD ways of teaching are still valuable in our classrooms.  With respect to engaging students, and making education relevant however, ed tech can certainly be used in NEW ways to make a difference for kids.

I had some fun this week spending an afternoon helping facilitate a session for Zone 1 school administrators to help them build their personal learning networks using Twitter, blogs, and shared Google documents.  It was an excellent session, and compared to the recent sessions in Edmonton and Calgary, it looks to me like our adminstrators took to things very very well!  We BORROWED the NRLC lab at PWA to deliver this workshop, and the learning that was shared in those 3 short hours was pretty impressive.

In one of his presentations at convention today, Rick Wormeli mentioned that we need to focus our teaching and be more mindful of what we know works and what we know about kids.  How TRUE that is.  We know kids need to move to help them learn.  Let's let them.  We know they need timely and specific descriptive feedback to learn.  Let's give it to them.  We know they need to make mistakes and learn how to recover from them.  Let's let them learn by doing and redoing.

It was great to see the enthusiasm and energy spilling out of those doors following his standing room only sessions today.  My parting question though, is:  How do we move that enthusiasm and energy into our classrooms next Monday?  What one thing can, scratch that, WILL each teacher do to enact change in their practice that is best for kids?

I look forward to (and am hopeful for) meaningful curriculum change that will facilitate the big changes we need to make.  Read about the curriculum redesign project in Alberta HERE.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Welcome Beginning Teachers!

It is that time of year again where my sidekick in the Department of Educational Technology, Ross, and I get to visit with first year college students from The Grande Prairie Regional College who are considering a career in Education.

Our presentation, without the context of course, is embedded below:

Students:  If you have any questions after watching the presentation above, reading content on this blog, or just in general, please do not hesitate to ask!  You can ask me by using an online form that I've put together just for this purpose:

Good luck with your program, and with your careers!


Friday, February 25, 2011

Research Based this....Data Driven that...

I hear phrases such as 'research based', 'data driven', and 'data informed' used quite a bit in discussions about how we need to change our educational practice to improve student achievement. 

Those are pretty powerful statements, and it is hard to argue with them.  I mean, who would argue against using data to be more effective at what we do?  Ditto the research-based statement.  Everyone knows that it is sound reasoning to base our actions on what previous research has taught us, correct?

The problem is, as I see it, is that things are not quite as simple as they might seem on the surface.  If someone is talking about using data to improve instruction, what data are they referring to?  How was it collected, what is the purpose of using it?  What does it really tell us about student behavior and/or teacher behavior?  When it comes to research, what is research?  Research is not using Google to find articles, it is more than that.  Pure research involves the scientific method, focused purpose and problem, and critical analysis of the results. 

I stand by my original position, presented above, that it is hard to argue with statements such as I shared, but with a caveat.  We need to truly understand what those statements mean before we agree to use them to make changes in our practice.  We need to have common agreement on definitions, and about assumptions, before we start making changes.  We need to focus our actions, and be precise and intentional based on shared understandings and shared vision.  As instructional leaders, we need to ensure staff understand the urgency behind what we are doing as educators!  The relationships we build with each other and the culture we build in our schools is essential to supporting that clarity of vision and the development of shared understandings.

There, I said it again.  Relationships, vision, and focus are keys to student success!  Bet you never saw that coming....

Now, having said all that, where do our teachers collect their research and what do we do with it?  Google doesn't necessarily cut it.  Google Scholar is better though.  And how many teachers in my district are working on graduate degrees?  Are we sharing articles with each other?  Are we engaging in conversations about research on practice, how students learn, etc.? 

I think we need to take advantage of the things we already have going on, tap into our networks, and focus our conversations on those topics.  It is not about doing is about changing what we are already doing.  Focused and precise.  Those are my buzzwords of the weekend.

Before we do anything...let's understand why we want to do it, and identify what we want it to achieve.  We MUST develop deep common understanding about what we want to do, what it means, and why we want to do it....


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Of Mistakes and Kids These Days (Or...They're Going to Have to Know it When They Graduate)

I'm surprised CONVERGENCE is not a more popular buzzword in education reform circles.  Or perhaps it is and I am standing outside the circle?

Just about everything I have been reading lately, or that others are sharing with me online or within my district, has to do with one of 3 strategies for improving education:  (i) focused and specific instructional skills and leadership behavior, (ii) developing deep and sincere relationships with our students and parents, and (iii) preparing our students with the skills needed for success in our modern society.  You can't, it seems, reflect on one without having the others creep into the picture.

I like that.  It makes sense.  Approaching all three provides focus on basic skills, and support for taking a less rigid and more fluid approach to educational programming all at once.  Just enough mixture of loose and tight, built on a very solid foundation!

Two TED talks one these topics have inspired me.  Neither Diane Laufenberg's message, nor Chris Lehmann's message, are earth shatteringly new.  For me, they are effective reminders, however.  They have the potential to be transformational for us, too, if we can elicit the instruction they promote in all of our secondary schools. 

HIGHLY relevant learning opportunities will create HIGHLY engaged students.  Period.  Expecting the kids to change to meet our inadequate schedules and structures doesn't work.  That's pretty clear to me.  When they graduate, they won't be asked to reduce fractions to lowest terms.  Sure, they are likely to have some performance expectations, but assuming we do a good job delivering our basic curriculum, they will be OK.

We need to step back, let the kids step up, and be willing to let learning be messy.  Kids these days don't have poor work ethics, as I hear frequently.  Rather, they are different.  Their makeup is different, their experiences are different, their worldviews are different, their expectations are different.  Find a way to align with their needs, I believe, and we will see as much work out of them as any generation has ever given.  AND....what inspires me about the work they will give? I believe this current generation of students has the potential to be the most socially conscious group yet...

I've embedded Laufenberg's talk below.  It is 10 minutes.  If you are interested in hearing what engaged students do, watch it: