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.
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.
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.
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.
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!