Reflecting on a year of SHIFTING

Like most teachers at the end of the school year, we ask ourselves questions like, “Was I effective this semester?”  We usually ask our students to provide us with some form of feedback.  This year, it’s a little bit more challenging.  We are nearing the end of a year long experiment: release two innovation coaches to work with educators across the school board, work alongside educators, plan with them, imagine with them, teach with them. At the same time the innovation coaches would “pop up” and be home-based in redesigned innovative classrooms in Halton schools.  

We wondered, as coaches, can we be actively be planted in school communities, to allow ease of access to those educators wanting to experiment with new and improved ways of doing school?

We covered a lot of ground this year with this experiment in mind.  We launched a website, a new blog (which you are reading right now!), and a podcast to make our learning transparent.  We created a demonstration classroom in Milton District High School, then a second location at Burlington Central School.

Grade 9 Students designing in the WONDER room in the Burlington Central SHIFT space

Grade 9 Students designing in the WONDER room in the Burlington Central SHIFT space

One of the most impactful things that “Shifting” has brought here, is a change in the attitude of most students who now accept that things might not go as planned when trying to complete a challenge, but know that there are a myriad of other things that they have learned along the way, that can be applied to other areas.
— Mark Maunder, Intermediate Innovation, Inquiry and Science Teacher, WI Dick Middle School.

As Shift Innovation Coaches we wore many hats this year, in an effort to have the maximum positive impact. The Shift became a think tank team for teachers, leadership teams and administration; allowing them to re-imagine and improve a process, a product or an understanding.  We used design thinking, integrative thinking and the tools of the Hack Mindset to generate creative solutions for schools and teachers.  We’ve spent a lot of time planning and dreaming with various people in the Halton Board.  The question we ask the most? “Why?” Quickly followed by “What do you hope to get out of this?”

Being innovative isn’t just doing something different or fancy or flashy.  Innovation in education, schools and classrooms is purposeful and driven by need.  What are we trying to improve? Why does <that thing> need to be improved? Often, those we’ve coached couldn’t answer these questions, at least not right away.  We struggled, individually, with how to approach these conversations. People get really excited when they think they have a good idea and we never wanted to squash that.  At the same time, we needed to make sure what individuals wanted to accomplish, we could support within our coaching portfolio.

Working with the SHIFT introduced me to an incredible collaborative group of educators within the school board from grades 7-12 in all different roles that I would have never met and collaborated otherwise.
— Hilary Rivett, I-STEM and Science Teacher, Milton District High School and Aldershot High School

Did we end up making a difference?  Did we have an impact on the system?  This is hard for us to answer as the skills we were coaching do not directly translate into quantitative data.  We wouldn’t expect to see student achievement directly changing because of our work. Rather, we expected to see a change in student attitudes.  How does one measure that?

It was a year of growth and immense learning for us. We learned the I-THINK tools and even more about working with amazing educators implementing the tools in their classes. We have learned how to support teachers and classes in elementary, middle and high school. Prior to this year, we were working primarily with secondary classes. We learned how to create, record and publish a podcast. There is room for growth too. In working with elementary classes for the first time this year, we realize that there is so much opportunity to grow that support and we’d love to work more with K-12 educators. We had a number of guest blog posts from educators this year, and we’d love to find more stories to bolster the voice of Shifters around HDSB.

...Seeing the way the students problem-solved together in the Shift space was invaluable. Not only was it an experience that they will never forget, but it has also motivated me to be more innovative in my future planning of science. The conversation we had afterward about what they learned was every teacher’s dream! They recognized that they learned not only Science but practical skills like using different tools. Most importantly, they recognized the value of having a growth mindset.
— Sherry Somers, Grade 4 Teacher, Central Public School
Grade 4 students building in the CREATE room in the Burlington SHIFT Space

Grade 4 students building in the CREATE room in the Burlington SHIFT Space

One piece of data offered up to us when we were supporting the three I-Think cohorts that took place this year was around student engagement.  In total, 200+ students were surveyed by the board’s research department. By a large margin those students enjoyed the work they did with the various I-Think tools.  The biggest realization from us was that none of those students mentioned being bored or disengaged when their teachers used the tools of integrative thinking.

Students Podcasting in the SHIFT space

Students Podcasting in the SHIFT space

The SHIFT has helped me to look at problems as opportunities to try new things. It has reassured me that trying something outside of my comfort zone turns the classroom into a true learning environment where both teacher and student learn side by side.
— Sarah Cronin, Head of Special Education, Milton District High School

This information in and of itself convinced us that the work we supported was good work.  But we also wanted to dig deeper. Whether it was in a PD Day, in a conference session, in I-Think training, as a consultant, or 1 on 1 co-planning and teaching, we have worked with 910 educators in HDSB from September 2018 until today.  We have also been lucky enough to work directly with 1427 students from elementary, intermediate and secondary. These were students who shared shift spaces with us, or who invited us into their classrooms to work with them. It was a privileged position we have been in for the past year, and we are glad to have supported so many great teachers, administrators and initiatives.  Looking forward to our next Shift!

Working with the Shift pushed my team out of our comfort zones to try something new with our students. With their support and help to visualize and actualize our vision, we were able to try new things with our students, and this brought out the best in them. It not only empowered them, but empowered us to take risks too.
— Emily Horner, Grade 6 Teacher, Viola Desmond Public School
The SHIFT has created the safe space necessary for educators and students to try things in new or different ways and has amplified student voice in a way so clearly and loudly that no one can ignore how necessary it is for us to continue to shift.
— Michelle Lemaire, Principal, Burlington Central School