Posts tagged Shift
Happy Shiftiversary!
It’s hard to believe that one year ago today we formally launched The Shift.  It feels like an amazing coincidence that this blog surpassed 20,000 views today too!

We’ve learned a lot over the past twelve months by talking to other educators, reading lots, visiting other teachers classrooms and generally taking risks and being open to failure.

We both are looking forward to more time in this role.  We like to think big and we aren’t done dreaming yet.
Ignite the Spark
Last year, Halton was able to send 25 teachers to the 2017 OAME Conference.  There was lots of good learning and discussions during the three day conference.  What many realized was that there wasn’t much of a secondary conversation after the conference.  People were inspired, but what was lacking was a way to share that inspiration with other teachers in the board.

Enter Janet Juby and Laura Gatey, who were inspired enough to propose a Halton Mini-Conference in order to promote sharing.  Part of this mini-conference was a series of Ignite talks.  If you aren’t familiar with the concept, participants get 20 slides that auto advance after 15 seconds, giving you five minutes to speak about one topic.

Constructing an Ignite talk is a challenge, as you are forced to be very purposeful with what you decide to share.  I spent my five minutes speaking about Risk Taking and why I think encouraging our students to be risk takers is so important.

I was much more inspired by the other nine Ignite speakers.  I was left with a list of things I want to learn more about.

Tammy Knetchel validated my feelings about Interleaving and Spiralling.  She made me wonder what Interleaving might look like in other subject areas.

Erin Kinsella spoke about the need for Wellness in our classrooms.  The more I explore the ideas of Wellness, the more I see it is linked closely to Community Building.

Stephanie Briggs shared a story about her teaching philosophy and her desire to convince others that thinking is always greater than memorizing.

Lindsay Kueh nailed a talk about coding in math classrooms.  She made me want to diver back into coding and find ways to incorporate it into my classrooms.

Sheri Hill asked us why we are so excited about Fridays and asked how we can use play to engage our classrooms.

Todd Malarczuk encouraged us to jump on and off the various educational bandwagons at will.  Find the things that work for you, leave the other things behind and grow your own personal pedagogy.

Virginia Houston told the group about having students build their own Escape Room and show off their own learning by creating something.

Aaron Neal speaking for Michael Szarka, who was absent due to illness, stepped in and improvised a talk from Michael’s slides.  He did a great job convincing us that it’s ok to ask What If?

Matt Coleman joined the math world for a day and talked how we can gain longer periods of time with our students by Hacking the School Day.

What I really loved about the Ignite talks was how everyone focussed on personal inspiration, the teacher’s journey, their philosophy, their “why”, and not necessarily a strategy.   Passion was on display all day long!
Shift Your [Blank]

earlybird_shiftkey.jpgSo, we have nearly made it!  Another year down.  Hopefully you have been reading the blog (heck, you are now at least!) and you have been thinking about ways that you’d like to experiment, to push, to shift.  The end of the school year, however is a bit of a tricky time to implement big changes.  Well, how about connecting with fellow shifters a little bit before the next school year ramps up?  We are offering you a chance to “Shift Your [Blank]”, a summer symposium on Thursday, August 24th.   It will be a chance to connect, think about some ways to shift your _____ for the upcoming school year.  There will be a free lunch and Shift swag to boot. So, what do you say?  Want to shift gears with us and start dreaming about September?  We know, it is a tricky thing to think ahead to August, but the early Shifter gets the worm.  Open to All Secondary Teachers.  Register Here to Embrace the Shift!

Square Pegs and Round Holes
First, as we learn about our platform for blogging we’ve come across some shortcomings.  We often embed videos in our posts.  If you are reading this post in an email update, you can’t see the video.  It’s worth it to click through to the actual blog to see all of the content we add.  We’d hate for you to miss something.

Second, this post is deviating from our norm a little bit.  I’m (Jamie) offering up some of my opinions and I’m probably being a bit more direct than I usually am.  As always, we welcome feedback in our comments.  Discussion is good.

This was an interesting week for me, as I came across several unrelated things that really got me thinking.  While unrelated, I think they go hand in hand.

The first was the short animated film Alike, which was shown to Matt and I when we were talking about iteration with Wendy Spence, Sarah Alexander, and Kelly-Ann Cameron. Do take a few minutes to watch, if you can.  It is an outstanding video, one that will stick with you.  Trust me!

We started our talk about iteration by discussing how children develop.  Think about a child learning to walk, it’s all risk taking and failure and trying again and failing until suddenly they get it right.  Then it's on to running, same process.  Throwing a ball.  Riding a bike.  Dancing.  Singing.  Playing.  Drawing.  Try, fail and learn over and over again.  Then the child gets to Kindergarten and they play and explore, a lot.  They are trying and failing, a lot.  For the most part, children thrive in this environment.  It’s how they’ve learned for all their lives so far.  However, something changes when children graduate from Kindergarten, and that change is reflected in the graphic that was shared with me by Jeff Catania.

I think we’ve all noticed that as children move through school, their enthusiasm decreases.  Their desire to be risk takers and explore new ideas decreases.  School becomes something to dread.  That’s on us.  By the time a student enters Grade 9 they have spent over 10,000 hours in school.  Long enough, according to Malcolm Gladwell, to achieve mastery in a field like learning.  However, what we’ve probably noticed is that for each hour that goes by, they enjoy their time less. The educational system is leading students down this road, so what is causing this drain of joyful learning and risk taking out of our students?  I don’t have answers, but I do have suspicions.

Which leads to some data I had a chance to read over this past week.  Earlier in the school year, secondary teachers in Halton were invited to participate in a voluntary survey regarding their attitudes surrounding Final 30% tasks and whether we should be returning those tasks to students.  The thing that struck me about this survey was that many teachers felt it wasn’t worth it to return a student's final exam or final performance task.  The reasons were varied, but many centered around the fact that “students only care about their marks”, or that students wouldn’t learn anything from reviewing what they did wrong.

My feelings about final exams are no secret.


So if teachers don’t think students will learn anything from their final exam and looking at what they did wrong, why are we all still so hung up on giving a final exam?  Are we really happy with classrooms filled with students who only care about their final mark?  Aren’t we all trying to create young adults who want to learn for learning's sake?  For me, the implication is clear.  We are a part of a system that is its own worst enemy. As players in this system can we hack the system to break out of this cycle?  Is there something we can be doing about this?  The film Alike, the decrease in school enjoyment, our attitudes about exams are all symptoms of the same disease.

We place too much value on testing and marks and if students are ready for the next level.  Students are square pegs, school is a round hole, and when a peg comes along that doesn’t fit, we shave down the edges and force it through.  Then we keep doing that, over and over again.  Every time we do that, our students enjoy school less.

So why can’t we just make the hole bigger?  Why can’t we find ways to offer rewarding projects, individualized for each student, that hopefully more people would find value in?

You can read the survey data here and draw your own conclusions about final 30% tasks.  We’d love to hear what your takeaways are.

Call to Action #2 - Twitter Challenge
On June 1st, the Halton District School Board wants to celebrate some of the great things that happen in our schools and community.  The medium for this celebration?  Twitter and the hashtag #LoveMyHaltonSchool.  If you are reading this and are already using twitter, we think that is great!  If you haven’t had a chance to try out twitter yet, or are reluctant to jump into the world of social media, allow us a moment to try to convince you to join the conversation.

We want you to create your own professional twitter account.  We also want you to know that it is ok to sign up for twitter and never tweet a thing.  Being passive in an online community is a great way to be introduced to the ins and outs of the community…and what a community it is!  There are so many educators using twitter, and their practice is enhanced by the sharing that goes on in this space.

So here is our next Call to Action
  • If you use twitter, send out a tweet on June 1st identifying something you’d like to celebrate about your school.  Use the hashtag #LoveMyHaltonSchool
  • If you don’t use twitter, consider signing up!  Then send a short message into the void, introduce yourself, jump into the deep end!
  • Follow some Halton teachers who are already on Twitter to widen your network.  You’ll probably find lots to follow if you search for the #LoveMyHaltonSchool hashtag during the day.

Maybe we should slow might be wondering what the heck a hashtag is anyway?

“Hashtags are keywords that categorize what you’re tweeting about. For instance, you might use “#edtech” at the end of a tweet about how your students use tablets. You can also search Twitter for a hashtag that you’re interested in. This will bring up tweets from other users who have tweeted about that topic.”

Still interested?  Here is a short breakdown of some things you might want to know about tweeting.

Are you an educator, inside or outside of Halton, that uses twitter professionally?  We’d love to connect with you, why not post your twitter handle in the comments!
Want to know even MORE???

twitter handle @
This is your Twitter name. You want this to be both memorable and easy to remember. Sure, you can use your first and last name, but there are a lot of Jane Smith’s out there. If your name is taken, use something that identifies you. Ours are, for example, @DFJH_Mitchell and @MrColemanArt Some of our friends include @pjdavison and @Mrs_Newcombe. Short, spelled correctly, and identifiable is key.
A 140-character public message.
News Feed
twitter home
The home button gets you to your news feed. This is a constantly updated list of everyone you choose to follow. Occasionally you might see promoted tweets too (meaning someone paid Twitter to get seen).
twitter #hashtag
The pound sign before text means that the text can be searched. This is really useful. If you want to find everyone talking about innovative things in Halton you throw the hashtag on the front, and you can find any tweet that someone put #HDSBInnovates in. They can also be used for humor. #MitchellRocks #TwitterIsCool
DM (Direct Message)
All tweets are public and can be seen by anyone at any time unless you use a direct message. A DM means that the conversation is only between you and the other person (or people) in your message.
RT (Retweet)
twitter retweet
Anyone can repost your tweet, which is similar to quoting you. Your name is still attached, but everyone who follows the re-poster can now see your tweet too. This is usually done as a form of agreement or flattery.
Hit the heart when you want to say you like a tweet, or agree with it.
Quote Tweet
twitter quote
Quote was formerly a MT, or Mention. You can attach an original tweet to yours and add your own commentary.
twitter notifications
When someone mentions your handle, or retweets what you wrote, you will get a notification. You can choose if you get text alerts, emails, or phone notifications in your settings.

April PD Day with Business, Computers, Math and Science!
I really enjoy our April Professional Development day in Halton.  It a chance for our various program areas to get together in one central site to do some sharing.  This past Friday, the Business, Computers, Math and Science teachers from around Halton gathered at Craig Kielburger Secondary School to hear about some of the innovative things that are happening around the board.

The day started with a session on Equity.  The student reflections about equity that we were provided were a sobering reminder that there is always more that we can do to create safe and inclusive communities in our schools.  After reading and reflecting on these quotes we watched a short video on equity by our Director, Stuart Miller.  It feels good to work in a board that values student voice and equity.  I was glad to start the day this way.

This was followed by learning sessions that we got to choose.  I started my learning off by listening to Kristy Morrison and Kristen McCoy talk about ways to provide students with more descriptive feedback.  Their tool of choice is Google Forms, which I have a very basic understanding of.  They dove deep into their method of crafting online quizzes, their rationale behind why they want to provide instant feedback to their students and the outcomes that they have seen.  You can check out their presentation here.  There are some really detailed instructions on how to make your online Google Form quizzes.  I applied my learning right away and was able to push a short quiz out to my students before the session was even over.

After listening to Kristy and Kristen, I was in the presenter seat for the rest of the day.  I led a session with Phoebe Ching titled “Do You Want to Throw Out Your Traditional Final 30%?”  The room was pretty full, so we spent the first few minutes of the presentation circulating through the room asking people what made them decide to attend our presentation.  My favourite answer was “I don’t want to throw out my final 30%, I’m just looking for ways to make it better!”.  Perhaps next time I present on this topic I should retitle it, since I’m not looking to get rid of all final 30% tasks.  I’m looking towards creating tasks that are more authentic, something that our students might encounter in the real world.  I want to give students a chance to be excited about what they’ve learned and share that learning with the class.  As it stands now, I don’t think our traditional Performance Task - Exam mindset allows for that.  I think the end of a semester should be a celebration for students.  I don’t think they are getting that right now.  Of course, I could be wrong, I only really see what happens in math classes.  I haven’t found the magic answer to revising my Final 30% tasks, but I’ve tried lots.  My favourite to date has been offering my Advanced Functions the choice in what type of final exam they completed.  Some chose to write a very traditional final exam where they answered questions that I thought were important.  Others chose to complete a more open ended exam where they provided examples of their own learning that they thought were important.  

Finally I presented with Troy Tennant again on the topic of “Responsible Use of Technology in Classrooms”.  We’ve presented on this topic before and you can read a reflection about it here.  The participants really seemed to like the signs that Troy developed for tech use in his classroom and the Green/Yellow/Red signs that Cindy Cosentino, Instructional Program Lead for Science, adapted from them.  
I like both, mostly because after establishing the culture of appropriate tech use in your classroom with these signs, your need to use the signs will diminish quickly as students become comfortable with when and how to use tech.  

All in all, Friday was a great day.  I wish there were more opportunities for us all to get together and share.  One day isn’t enough!
Road Trips - Rethinking Furniture, Going Gradeless, & Community
A requirement about being part of The Shift  is that we travel to other schools around the board.  We do this so that we can get perspectives on the innovative things that are happening in all schools.  We also want to help people share their thinking.  The profession of teaching can’t grow if everyone always works in a bubble.  A few weeks ago we had a flurry of travel and unfortunately haven’t been able to write about our experiences until now.  So...where did we go and what did we see?

Rethinking Furniture
We had the opportunity to visit Lester B Pearson High School to get a first hand viewing of some classroom furniture that rethinks the instructional flow of a classroom.  We tried rocking chairs and stools (Matt always calls dibs on the rocker) that encourage movement as a tool to help keep students focused. We saw a variety of smart, well thought out tables as well,
The discussion with classroom teachers was honest, exploratory and excited.  The talk centred around the most important point: does the furniture work to better support teaching and learning of students?  There was talk of layout, and how it can be moved around the room in different configurations to work in different learning situations.  The tables had two wheels that enabled easy moving around the room by lifting one end of the table and pushing it like a rolling suitcase, which was neat.  Other tables were height adjustable, which would allow teachers to set bar height seating if desired.  One aspect that would have been really cool to see in that scenario would have been hydraulic height adjustment (like an office chair), so that the height could be easily adjusted in the moment.  Hey we can dream, can’t we?  In a couple of weeks, we look forward to visiting Milton District H.S., which is a pilot location for a full classroom of this new furniture.  We will be sharing our further impressions on how that  pilot is going.  Dibs on the rocker!

Going Gradeless
One fascinating trip we recently went on was up to McKenzie-Smith Bennett Public School in Acton, upon the invitation of Kim Phillips, Principal of the school.  She wanted us to meet Michael Primerano, an intermediate teacher who is doing some truly innovative work around going gradeless in his class.  We are very conscious of not overusing the word “innovative” in this role, but in this case, it is truly merited.

The new “thing” is seeking a way to better motivate and engage students in the classroom by eliminating grades from the learning experience.   Michael was in tune to the fact that students in his ACCESS class were not motivated by grades and noticed that grades were more often  a deterrent to learning because they were a source of stress and heartache.  As such, he chose to eliminate quantitative means of assessment  altogether, favouring qualitative observations as evidence for learning and to  use while determining grades for his students’ report cards.  
Yes, as teachers in the province, we are required to put a grade on the report card, though the tools used by the teacher to inform that decision are left to the professional discretion of the teacher.  Michael has been using a triangulated method of assessment that combines observations, student conferences, and co-constructed success criteria, with a focus on using descriptive feedback to help students benchmark their progress rather than grades. Thus far this year it has been working rather well.

The student and parent feedback to this shift has been encouraging, too! S

Students are saying:
“I don’t miss getting Cs.” -BM
“It’s more work in the end, but the product is always better.” - GD
“I know that you want to help me because you never judge me.” - WT

And parents are saying:
“My son doesn’t hate going to school now - he gets up and goes in the morning without me having to bug him.” - CL
“I don’t ask my daughter how she’s doing in school anymore, I ask her what she’s doing instead.” - JB

That feedback is a clear indication that Michael is truly onto something. As teachers, Jamie and I have had frequent chats about how going gradeless would benefit our students.  This topic is top of mind and this won’t be the last you hear from us on this subject!"

If you want a deeper dive into Michael's thinking, you can check out his presentation here.

Engaged Community
Finally, we took a trip to Craig Kielburger Secondary School to gather some footage for the next video in our Case For series.  Suzy Koh was nice enough to welcome us into her classroom, which was a Grade 9 Applied Math class.  This class was a continuation of the Unlimited Potential program from Semester 1.  We were lucky enough to witness a classroom where all students were engaged, willing to talk to each other, work with each other and most importantly not rely on their teacher for too much guidance.  Students were working on problem sets with each other, asking their peers for feedback and help BEFORE switching gears and looking to the teacher for solutions.  Everyone was smiling.  The classroom was comfortable and it was obvious Suzy had done work establishing a positive classroom environment first, before diving into curriculum.

Jamie was able to sneak away for a bit to reconnect with an old friend who also works at Craig Kielburger and is working with a team that delivers a combined Drama and Comm Tech course.  The purpose of the course is to have students gain a better understanding of the entire production process, from both the technical and artistic sides. They're currently working on their biggest project to date, creating, acting in, filming and then finally producing a sitcom.  Kyle Hume and his colleague Anna Burnett are the teachers working on this project, but really he and his colleagues have found a great way to involve all players in the creation process.  When I arrived to class another teacher was at the front of the room, organizing her students, handing out roles and jobs.  It was only when I sat down with Kyle to talk about this Sitcom package that I found out the teacher leading the  students was actually a student in the course.  The feeling of empowerment among his students was palpable and I left Kielburger feeling inspired by the possibilities of different ways to engage students.

What do you think?  How important is the community you build in the classroom?  Have you experimented with going gradeless? Or thought about doing so? Have you been experimenting with alternatives to the typical class furniture layout and structure?  What about alternative ways to deliver curriculum while engaging students? How has it shifted what you do?
The Case for Innovation
Matt and I dove headfirst into this pilot project.  We had goals; highlight innovative practices in education; get more people sharing what they do; publish our observations.  We had a vision on how to share; blogging, videos, podcasts.  We knew these things would take time to establish.

What we didn’t have was a clear idea about what innovation is.  Thankfully, we had experts we could rely on.  Cindy Cosentino, IPL of Science for the Halton District School Board, provided us with a great foundation of what it means to be an innovative person.  Add to that our participation in the Innovator's Mindset online course and we were ready to roll!

So here is what we’ve come to understand about Innovation:

1) Innovation is a process that improves something
Innovation is a process

Let’s be clear on this, if something is labelled “Innovation” but it isn’t improving something, it isn’t innovative.  Innovation is needed to improve products by making them more efficient, or compact, or aesthetically pleasing.  Innovation drives improvements to processes that make them more inclusive, or less hazardous, or more sustainable in the long term.  Innovation increases understanding by making it more precise or deeper.  Trying something new and different that doesn’t result in an overall improvement is just extra noise.  If we want to be innovative educators who in turn raise innovative students, we need to make sure the ideas we try with our classes are targeted specifically to make improvements.  Teaching with an Interactive Whiteboard is not innovative, but having a Smart Board available for students to work on might be…

2) Innovation requires a specific set of skills
The skills of an innovative person

It takes a special person to look at a classroom or school and say “If I try this, I bet I can improve that”.  These leaders possess skills that not everyone has.  They question the common wisdom, asking questions like “What would happen if we tried this…?”.  They experiment and tinker; intellectually and physically.  They pay attention and are able to notice everything.  They network and look for knowledge everywhere.  Finally, and this is the biggest one, they are able to associate unrelated questions, ideas and problems in a way that drives their innovation.  

3) Teaching innovation needs to be done in a specific environment

What's good for the student is good for the teacher!

Teaching students to be successful in the 21st Century requires teaching them the skills identified above.  This won’t happen on its own, rather it will require learning in a classroom that has a specific environment.  The classroom must be one that is safe and inclusive. Students must be encouraged to try and fail and then learn from their mistakes.  Risk taking is the norm as it promotes self reflection.  Problems posed in this classroom are authentic and promote inquiry.  The learning uses technology as the tool to drive deeper experiences.  Finally, the classroom (and teacher) is grounded in the course content, but not driven by curriculum.  Oddly enough, these same conditions should be what educators experience in their workplace.  The learning conditions for good student development are the same as the conditions for good teacher development.

4) Innovation demands creativity

Creativity is always at the core

Finally, to allow innovation to thrive we must answer three questions; what, why and how?  What refers to the expertise we bring to the classroom.  Teachers need to know their stuff and to ensure that students know it too.  This can be driven through the why; what is the purpose of the learning, how does it engage the students?  How can we do this?  Be engaging with our students critical and creative thinking skills.  If educators can address the what, why and how of teaching, they we will create the creative students who will be successful in the 21st century.

Still unsure about what innovation is?  

Find a problem, adjust to try and solve that problem.  That’s innovation.  It isn’t a huge thing and it’s probably easier than you thought.

So without further ado, here is our Case For Innovation.

#ObserveMe to #Observe'em?
First of all, some required reading before you dive into this post.  

The #Observeme challenge was issued at the beginning of this school year by Robert Kaplinsky, an educator in the United States who was inspired by some images he saw on twitter.  Several teachers and administrators in the Halton District School Board took up the challenge.  

Not familiar with #Observeme?  The challenge is easy and anyone can do it.  Simply put a sign on the door to your classroom or office inviting anyone into your space to observe what you do.  Point out some things a visitor should look for, ask for feedback, be inviting.  The great thing about the #Observeme challenge is that it isn’t about being judged, or showing off.  Rather, it is about being open to sharing what happens in your classroom with others.  Educators should be modelling good behaviours to their students and sharing is certainly one of those behaviours.  By being open to sharing you are showing your students that you are willing to take a risk.  That’s a key ingredient in being an innovative educator.

Participating in the most recent #IMMOOC meetup, I can’t help but wonder if it is time to go deeper with the #Observeme challenge.  We can do lots by opening up our classrooms and allowing outsiders in.  Certainly, there shouldn’t be closed doors in our schools.  I spend lots of time roaming the hallways of my high school, walking in and out of classes to watch the magic that is happening or to chat with students about their experiences.  It’s fun, as a math teacher, to see what happens in a history or drama class.  Even spending five minutes out of my comfort zone allows me to identify different strategies that I’d like to use in my classes.

It's tough to close your door when you have so many windows...

I’m comfortable talking to other students and I believe accessing Student Voice is important.  But I haven’t often spent time in the shoes of a student (not in a few years, at least!).  I don’t know what it feels like to arrive to class for first period and spend the rest of the day learning.  Are we placing expectations on students that we ourselves would find unacceptable?  Would I feel as happy learning in my building as I do teaching in it?

These are important questions.  So I’m wondering who else is ready to change the challenge from observing me to observing...them?  Keeping in mind that it isn’t about judgement of the classroom teachers, or the culture of the school or even the behaviour of the students.  What we want to shift is the culture of education.  Are we expecting students to be compliant each and every day?  Will that yield successful citizens once they leave our classes?  Do engaged students sit in our classrooms?  Does engagement always mean that they are learning?  Have we empowered people in our schools to take charge of their own learning?  Would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?

Are you ready to SHIFT your thinking?   Participate in the #Observeme challenge. Better yet, try the #Observ’em challenge!  Calling all teachers and administrators!  Ask a student if you can shadow them for the day in their classes.  Perhaps you could stretch yourself to shadow throughout their lunchtime, nutrition breaks, ‘chill times’ and after school activities!  Arrange coverage with your school leader to make this happen.   Challenge yourself to shadow classes outside of your own comfort zone.  Try to visit classes in different pathways and subjects.  Don’t be passive when you do this either, you are living the day of a student, so take notes, participate in discussions, write the quizzes.  Then share your observations on twitter,  #Observe’em and comment on the blog below.  What were your insights from the day?
Halton Goes Back To Class
Halton Goes Back to Class
As we mentioned in a previous post, this year the Halton District School Board has gone to the movies.  Keeping with this theme, last Monday the board went back to class.  Two hundred staff from the board spent their Monday evening watching a video discussion on the first chapter of the Innovator’s Mindset and participating in a live chat as part of a massively open online course.  It was fun seeing so many colleagues participating in professional development outside of the normal working day.  It was especially great for us because the conversations revolved around innovation and how it applies to the classroom.
In addition to some reading and thinking, participants in this MOOC have been asked to respond to the video chat with a blog post.  Well, here is what we thought about the discussion on Monday night.
1. What do you see as the purpose of education?  Why might innovation be crucial in education?
Man, George, talk about starting with a whopper of a question! The purpose of education is to prepare for life in society.  The thing is, what a productive life in society looks like is rapidly changing.  Employers are increasingly looking for innovators, with flexible, creative thinking, to drive their projects forward.  Our education system needs to catch up to this new reality.  How can we not only innovate as teachers, but also train our students to become their own innovators.  The purpose of education is NOT to prepare students for university.  That is not everyone’s destination.  Also, which university are we preparing students for?  The one we went to, or the one you went to, or another one?  Is each one the same?  Of course not.  So, education should be preparing students for whatever life might put in their past.   Resilience, perseverance, critical thinking, soft skills that make a big difference.
  1. “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.” How are you embracing change to spur innovation in your own context?
Well, for us, The Shift means finding ways to create dialogue and build and reinforce a culture of sharing in the our board.  Sharing isn’t really new for us and it certainly isn’t new for our board.  What we are trying to do is find better, more efficient ways for all teachers in our board to connect and share their ideas.  We are diving headlong into that!  The huge change for us are the all of the extras and unknowns.  We’ve dipped our toes into video making and editing and are looking ahead to starting a podcast down the line.  All this is very fun and very much out of our comfort zone.
  1. If you started a school from scratch, what would you see as necessary, and what would you take out from what we currently do?
Having a set of guiding principles or a founding framework is the most important thing.  A well articulated vision of what the school could be or wants to be makes all of the other work easier.   It would be interesting to build a school where community is at the very core of how it functions.  Schools do a pretty good job of this but there is always room for improvement.  When we think of the total community of a school we wonder about how to foster and build student engagement and also, equally importantly, staff engagement in the community.  It is important to find opportunities to celebrate, reflect and play in order to create engaged, energized humans who are willing to take risks.  It would be great to see genius hours for all members of the community built into the school day.  
All cards on the table, we would take out grading, in favour of some sort of pass/fail system with some sort of demonstration of mastery built in.  Obviously we would need to be giving students lots of descriptive feedback in real time.  We don’t want to squash students creativity by assigning a mark to it (that one is for you Sir Ken!)
Obviously a change like that would require a major reset on so many aspects of school culture and teaching.  We think it’s time for that change!  A Shift to put a renewed focus on allowing students to follow their passions, helping students discover what on Earth their passions might be and teachers in mentorship roles who are along for the ride sounds pretty idyllic (wide-eyed optimist you say?).  Hey, we being asked to dream here, aren’t we?  
4. Your choice from the book on the YouTube Live session.
One little bit that we particularly latched on to from the YouTube live session was the notion of advocating for Vintage Innovation.  AJ Juliani, John Spencer and George Couros were mentioning old ideas, perhaps repurposed for the 21st century learner in mind.  They Socratic Seminar (which was highlighted also in the Most Likely To Succeed Film), building with Duct Tape and Cardboard, and Sketchbooking (sing, art teacher hearts, sing!).  

Caine's Arcade and the Power of Innovative Use of Cardboard

credit: Susan Murtaugh
On the topic of sketchbooks, fellow art teachers Jordie Burton, Toge Heersink and myself sat down with at least one of us (Hint: It wasn’t Jamie) last month with Meredith White, professor of Photography at Sheridan, and she talked about how their photography students are using sketchbooks to catalogue, ideate, and get inspired in their practice.  In an age of Pinterest, Flipboard and Tumblr, the humble sketchbook has a powerful place in helping the brain to work creatively.  There is something about the physical writing, pasting and sketching of ideas that are core to the creative process.  Innovating is not about ipads and smart boards, it is about problem solving and improving practice, and there are so many successful “vintage” tools at our disposal that we can use for this.  This is something that can make innovating a less daunting task too, when we can say “Hey! I’ve used that before.” as an entry point to innovate in our classrooms.  As long as we are pushing to know the “WHY”? - What is old can be new again if it has an authentic improvement in mind. How about you? Do you use any "vintage innovation" in your class? Comment below.
How to Create a 21st Century Classroom
I spent last Friday morning presenting with Joanne Eliuk at the Canadian Safe Schools Network 20/20 Conference.  This conference, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Safe Schools Network had a focus on Technology and Digital Citizenship, Diversity and Inclusion and Health & Wellness.  While we were identified as being a workshop that fit into the "Technology and Digital Citizenship" focus, what keeps being reinforced the more we dialogue with educators is that these practices are all interconnected. It all comes down to the relationship we develop with our students and how that relationship can help students learn and grow that creates a 21st century classroom.

Joanne and I gave a presentation on The 21st Century Classroom.  This was a presentation we’ve given before at Halton’s Innovation and Technology Symposium in the fall.  At that time, our presentation highlighted our own “Ten Easy Steps” and then some points within those steps for an educator to consider.

This time, Joanne and I decided to take away the points from our presentation and just provide the steps.  We did this for a few reasons; we wanted a more informal presentation, we were hoping for more discussion, we wanted to be able to field questions more easily.  However, the biggest reason we changed our format was because we believe that there are big picture philosophies that go into a 21st Century classroom but also that the way each teacher dives into those philosophies is different.  Again, as in our classrooms, what we noticed is that the more you allow people to explore their own ideas, the more our understanding grows as well.

Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.  Everyone has different ways they can effect change in their classrooms or schools.  What works for me might not always work for someone else, and vice versa.  Once you peel back the day to day strategies that are used and look at the deeper thinking that goes into a 21st Century Classroom, you’ll see aspects of our “easy steps”.

So what do we identify as the steps needed to make a 21st Century Classroom?

  1. Make the classroom student centered
  2. Create an environment that is invitational
  3. Teach students how to take responsibility
  4. Ask students to be reflective
  5. Have a culture that promotes inquiry
  6. Make the learning adaptive
  7. Have assessment that is performance based
  8. Make your assessment transparent
  9. Mentor your students
  10. Integrate technology

On Friday, we intentionally put technology last, because technology is the least important thing in a 21st Century classroom.  Technology alone doesn’t make a classroom innovative.  Technology is a tool that should be used to improve student outcomes in your classroom.  It is not a magic bullet.  No amount of iPads or Smartboards or Kahoots will make a difference if the other 9 ingredients in a 21st Century Classroom aren’t being addressed.  

Joanne and I enjoyed the conversations that our presentation sparked.  It was interesting to hear so many other perspectives, especially from teachers in the elementary panel.  I found it fascinating to realize how interconnected the steps for a 21st Century classroom are.  We spoke about mentoring many times before finally coming to that step in our presentation.  Many participants spoke of the need to build a positive relationship with their students which ties in well with student centered, invitational classrooms.  

In the end, we spent a lot of time talking about what a classroom “looks” like and what it “sounds” like.  I think the biggest challenge comes down to understanding what it “feels” like to be in our classrooms.  If students feel welcome, included, listened to, empowered and respected that is when true learning happens.  If you are thinking, “My classroom feels like it needs some Chromebooks...”, you might be missing the point.

Notice, no technology
For anyone getting ready to join the Innovators Mindset book club, the look fors that George Couros identifies link up well with the steps Joanne and I spoke about.

I might be paraphrasing...
Creating a 21st Century Classroom of your own doesn’t have to be hard.  Really, it’s been the 21st Century for seventeen years.  If you want to make your own 21st Century Classroom, just find a classroom and walk in.  Maybe we should re-title our presentation to “How to Create a Classroom”.

In the spirit of Open, if you are passionate about creating a 21st Century Classroom of your own, feel free to use our presentation and adapt it for your own building.