Monday, March 19, 2012

What Did I Learn This Week (March 12-16, 2012)

On March 15 and 16 I attended a learning symposium organized by Alberta Education and the College of Alberta School Superintendents.
If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen my tweets from this event containing the hash tag #cass2012.  In addition to taking notes at a learning opportunities like these, I like to share items I find particularly interesting or relevant with others.  Twitter is one of my key outlets for sharing, and I find great value in the content others share via Twitter.  I like to do my part to contribute to the conversation.  

So, on that note, for those of you who may not follow me on Twitter, I thought I'd share some of the other key learnings I learned this week. My observations and questions for self-reflection (or for you to comment on - if you like) are in bold, blue text. 

Relationships Matter - an incredible amount! The importance of building deep and meaningful relationships with staff, parents, and students was evident in sessions focused on high school completion, anti-bullying, curriculum redesign, increasing FNMI student success, and improving student attendance.  It was equally evident in our keynote presentations too.  What does this look like in our schools?  

If relationships are THIS important, what must we do as a district to facilitate the development of strong student-student, teacher-student, teacher-parent relationships in our schools?  How can we support everyone to grow the kinds of relationships that will allow us to maximize student learning?  

We Are Responsible For Intellectually Engaging Our Students!  One of the staff from Alberta Education presented that the 2010-2011 School Year resulted in the most impressive academic results in history.  According to the this presenter, based on our students' results, and the Tell Them From Me surveys, for an average class of 30 students, the following would be true in Alberta last year:
  • Of 30 students, 22 (73%) will graduate HS in 3 years after starting High School.
  • One additional student (77%) will graduate after 4 years of high school.
  • One more additional student (80%) will graduate within 5 years of graduating.
  • 14 of the 30 (48%) students are intellectually engaged in MA/SCI/LA
  • 8 of the 30 (27%) students are interested and motivated in their courses.  
Is this good enough?  I don't think so.  It is not what I want for my kids, or your kids either, for that matter.  So what are we going to do about it?

This is not just an Alberta problem, either.  Check out this graph showing student engagement and motivation from a national study of 6-12 students in 2009:

From What Did You Do In School Today? First National Report, May 2009, Canadian Education Association.
An 80% 5-year graduation rate is pretty impressive, really, compared to previous years.  It is not enough though.  Assuming the survey results referenced above are valid however, the intellectual engagement and motivation should be cause for concern.  Where do we start?  I'm thinking the key to hooking our students on intellectually engaging and motivating courses might be a combination of relationships and instructional practice.  What do you think? 

Instructional Practices and Instructional Leadership are the Foundation of School Improvement - The difference between leaders and managers has been discussed at great length in many by many other better writers than I, so I won't get into it here.  I think we all agree Instructional Leadership is more important to student success than Instructional Management.  At the district level, we need to support our administrators so they may be able 
to support their teachers to provide effective instruction in every classroom.

On the topic of classroom instruction, there is SO MUCH research to support what we know are effective instructional techniques.  As schools and districts, we need to expect those effective techniques are used whenever appropriate.  I'm sure it is not just me who has been noticing that Marzano's research into effective teaching practices is a foundation of a great deal of the action research taking place in Alberta right now.

My thoughts on this?  I really think our district is on the right track in this area.  If we want different results, we need to do things differently.  Our expected instructional practices and our focus on supporting administrators to be instructional leaders are great for kids!

I Think Competencies Might be Bigger Than Outcomes. - I like the direction Alberta's curriculum re-design will be taking.  Of course students will always need to learn specific course content, but education is so much more than specific learning outcomes.  When I was principal at DTPS, I used to talk to the students about the types of neighbors they could be once they were done school.  When they are 40, and taking care of all of us now, we need them to be knowledgeable AND to be good people.

I love that Alberta Education's vision is to prepare our students to be engaged and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit.  That is powerful.  We might need to help people understand that entrepreneurial does not necessarily mean that our students will want to start their own business.  :)  But on the whole, this vision works for me to describe the kind of students we need to graduate!

And in general, to summarize:

The Good Old Days Are Great Memories... - ....but the future will be different.  This is pretty much guaranteed!  The move away from Carnegie Units and CEUs at the high school, the move towards flexibility, personalization, and inclusion, etc., are all topics we heard about repeatedly.  Our schools, and our system, are on the right track.

Let's not wait. 

Let's change now if we know it will be better for kids.

100% high school completion is not just a dream. The impossible is made up of possibilities!  Let's keep moving towards the possible!

See you there!

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