I am a Secondary School Principal in Northwestern Ontario, an Education Officer with the Ontario Ministry of Education, a proud member of OSAPAC, co-lead of OSSEMOOC, and a member of the Board of Directors of ECOO.
Often, when discussing digital literacies with leaders, someone will say, “but I have a student achievement lens, and I am focussed on how we improve student achievement“. It is at this point that I know this educator sees “technology” and “digital literacies” as “add-ons” to the student achievement agenda, rather than critical components of it.
So then, what drives student achievement*? (Or, if you prefer, student learning.)
Research suggests that “teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling” (RAND 2012)
The role of the teacher is to ensure that every child in their care moves forward in their learning.
Teachers can’t do this alone. In collaboration with their colleagues, they learn the strategies and practices that work best with each and every individual student in the room.
When a student is stuck in his or her learning (think, for example, in a grade 9 applied math class), the teacher must find a way to help that student learn. This involves looking at what works in other contexts, and adapting it to the needs of a particular learner.
Thinking about what is working now (best practice), and using it as a lens to evaluate and adapt what is working elsewhere to a specific context (next practice), relies on a collaborative professional environment, and the opportunity to learn about a wide array of promising practices.
At one time, teachers closed their doors and taught in isolation.
Now, a much more collaborative approach to professional practice is encouraged. However, no longer should collaboration among educators be confined to a school or even to a single district.
The most capable teacher in the school is the school, unless the teachers are connected learners, and then its the world.
Teachers who know how to self-direct their learning online with their peers from around the world, have access to all the best thinking, the best strategies, and the best conversations about how to help each and every child learn.
How, then, can Principals enable self-directed learning by teachers in their schools? We know now that the most effective leadership practice is to be a visible lead learner.
(*I won’t take the time here to define “student achievement”, but it is always worth asking the question, “What IS student achievement?” whenever engaging in conversations about it. Also, ask how it is being measured in research studies that claim to show an improvement in student achievement. We have vastly different ideas of what “student achievement” really means.)
How can Ontario Leaders become Connected? How do they improve their understanding of digital literacies? OSSEMOOC – free, no password, 24/7 support and learning to become a Lead Learner.
For example, we don’t know how to safely dispose of nuclear waste. We are destroying Arctic coastlines with oil spills. The tar sands have far reaching environmental and health impacts. Our population is aging. Our First Nations, Metis and Inuit citizens are isolated and can’t access the basics we take for granted in the south.
I would argue that our education system must build the capacity and desire in our future generations to solve these problems. As Pak Tee Ng says, if we want our graduates to be creative and curious citizens, consider that’s how they arrive in school, so do no harm!
Yesterday, I was reading about some of the work my cousin, Robert LeRoy, has done in chemical and physical sciences, and I stumbled upon this quote from an interview with him:
Q: Are there any words of wisdom you could pass on to a novice in the world of science?
Finding something which interests you enough that you are willing to work really hard on it, and which challenges you to use your abilities to the fullest, is the key to a fulfilling and enjoyable life. Whether this involves basic or applied science (as in my case) or any other area of human endeavour is immaterial, and whether or not it pays particularly well, is also of no matter. Don’t choose something because it is easy – choose it because it is challenging and worthwhile.
We know there are barriers that keep some of our best thinkers from accessing opportunities to contribute to the solutions to Canada’s problems. How could we collaborate as educators across the country to remove some of these barriers?
Our current system of high grades as a filter for future formal education is one such barrier. In countries like Finland, there is the recognition that high marks are not proven indicators of success in all professional fields. For example, high marks in high school do not predict success as a classroom teacher, so high school marks are not used to select candidates for the Finnish Education Program. In fact, about a quarter of successful applicants to the Teacher Education Program come from the lowest quartile of secondary school grades.
When we look at the number of disengaged secondary school students, we have to see a national tragedy. This, in itself, is a big hairy problem for Canada. How many of these students could be the ones with the ability and desire to find answers to our global and national challenges?
How can we create a system that embraces and enables all learners to reach their full potential, for the common good of all Canadians?
The story of the Genetic Genius, Dr. Lap-Chee Tsui, the man who isolated and identified the gene that causes Cystic Fibrosis, exemplifies some of the barriers faced by brilliant minds. Dr. Tsui was not a good student and he could not score well on tests. Without numerous interventions, he would never have had the opportunity to make this important discovery. The results of his work have changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
As a child, Lap-Chee Tsui lived in China before fleeing to Hong Kong with his family, where frequently, his family was unable to pay his tuition fees for high school. A kind and generous teacher loaned him money for the fees, until the teacher could be repaid by Lap-Chee’s father, so that he would be able to continue to study. His parents stressed the critical importance of a good education, but it was his free time out of school that nurtured his curiosity.
Without many toys, Lap-Chee turned to ponds and tadpoles for entertainment. He loved to draw and build things. He experimented with his sister’s kitchen toys, burning salt and sugar to see the chemical reactions.
Dr. Tsui characterizes himself as a very good learner with a very curious mind, but he could not write tests, the primary form of assessment in school. As a result, he did not get good grades.
Other students could regurgitate class notes, right down to the punctuation errors, and score very high marks. Lap-Chee felt he knew the material well, in fact he still uses some of that learning today, but he could not provide rote memorization of the material on the tests.
His poor grades would have stopped most people from pursuing further education. However, he persisted, and with some luck, found an opportunity to begin laboratory research.
In January, we asked educators, “What’s your ONE WORD for 2015?”. In Ontario, we used #onewordont as a hashtag to collect the ideas, and Julie Balen created a word cloud to share.
So how’s it going? Six months in, is this word still a focus for your work?
Today I am thinking a lot about my word for 2015 – COURAGE.
What does courage look like in practice?
Over the past six months, here are some places I have observed where courage is needed:
The courage to stop and not walk by. If you are a leader and you just walk by, you say by your actions that “this is fine”.
The courage to take a chance on people. I think of hockey players – talented players who flounder on one team, then thrive and lead on another. Take a chance on people who may thrive in your organization while wilting in others. Not all teams are right for all players.
The courage to pick up the phone and call, rather than defaulting to an impersonal email message.
The courage to hire the right person, rather than the person who will make the fewest disruptions.
The courage to let people rise up out of the little categories we put them in – to have a growth mindset about our coworkers and not just our students.
The courage to pick yourself up and dust yourself off again, and again, and again, because kids really do come first.
The courage to give others a chance to be great.
It’s the courage to support failure as a part of learning not just in your words, but in your practice, especially when it comes to those you work with.
The courage to ask for feedback when you fail.
In high scoring PISA nations, the courage and tenacity to stand up for what is best for children is valued and encouraged.
Earlier this year, Ron Canuel reminded us that being a connected leader is not enough. You must also have the courage to use what you learn and move forward with change.
What have you learned by focusing on your #oneword this year?
I think we have done a huge disservice to our children. We’ve known for a very long time that kids can communicate, access photos and share online, but by prohibiting this behaviour in schools – by taking the stance that it is not okay to use devices in school – we have neglected to teach them the competencies required to be successful citizens in the online environment.
So who will teach them now?
Unless we truly believe that digital literacies are important and that the competencies required to be successful in the future must be taught in school, nothing will change.
We need to ensure that our education leaders have these competencies.
Full immersion in digital spaces is arguably the best way for people to develop these competencies (Doug Belshaw, The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies) and to understand how best to develop them in others. This requires the use of a number of devices (and reliable access to the internet). Deciding what device is best for what purpose is part of the learning. It also requires time to immerse and try and play and network and learn. Educators need these opportunities.
We can’t let our children continue to play online without the knowledge and skills to be safe, to be responsible, and to lead change in the digital environment.
The change begins by building confidence and competence in digital literacies with our education leaders.
We talk a lot about the importance of openly sharing and curating resources.
One pushback I often hear is, “I just don’t have time”. I get that. The job of an educator never ends. There are always more opportunities to look for that next practice that we could adapt for a particular student need. There is always one more possibility to try to help a learner move forward.
But what if we could organize our own resources, making them easier to access, and share with others all at the same time? We could save time for ourselves and for our colleagues – and isn’t that one of the things technology is supposed to do for us anyway?
Earlier today I stumbled upon this fabulous “how-to” video for teachers to help them use Pinterest to organize and share resources. It is worth your time to watch even if you are using PInterest already. There are several helpful tips here.
(The video was posted on this blog for primary teachers. Check out the blog for even more tips on curating, organizing and sharing with colleagues.)
At OSSEMOOC (@OSSEMOOC), we have collated a number of resources on how Pinterest can be used for educators, including for school and system leaders. I have posted them below for your reference.
Here is a quick look at some resources for education leaders:
Here is a step-by-step text guide to connecting and sharing through Pinterest:
Here is a screencast that walks you through the resources included in the above text instructions:
Pinterest as a form of curation (this post includes the above screencast and further resources):
Do you need further help in getting started with Pinterest for Professional Learning? Fill out the form here, and OSSEMOOC will add it to the agenda for the 2015-2016 plan for learning.
This is the quote that first attracted my attention:
“… digital literacy across generations..”
I immediately thought of Ontario’s Renewed Vision for Education.
“Our children, youth and adults will develop the skills and the knowledge that will lead them to become personally successful, economically productive and actively engaged citizens. They will become the motivated innovators, community builders, creative talent, skilled workers, entrepreneurs and leaders of tomorrow.”
When children attend a school, their experiences should not be limited by the knowledge and skills of the adults in the building. The educators, as digitally literate, connected professionals, should be able to bring the world to the children.
[Edit: Please see the comment below suggesting a rephrasing of the above statement –
My thinking: “The educators, as digitally literate, connected professionals, SHOULD BE ABLE TO FACILITATE THE CHILDREN’S LINKING THEMSELVES TO THE WORLD.”]
The school building can be a community hub for all to access the world outside the community. This concept of connected learning is well-explained in the short video below.
The recent report (Driving the Skills Agenda) from The Economist states that only 44% of the students surveyed (ages 18-25) feel that schools are providing them with the skills they need to enter the workplace, and while teachers report that technology is changing the way they teach, 77% of students report that schools are not effective in using technology for instruction.
How, then, does Digital Literacy for all become an integral part of learning in our schools?
If we are educating learners in our communities to be full participants in society, digital literacy must become a priority.
These are great words of advice for creating a presentation.
Could they work as well for those of us designing professional learning?
In his address to the Ontario Leadership Congress in April 2015, Simon Breakspear emphasized the importance of having a clear vision of what future learning looks like, sounds like, feels like.
He said, “We cannot lead others into a future we cannot see.”
Our role as leaders is to get out of the conceptual, and move from vision documents to “here, let me show you”.
So what is our profession, then, at the bare bones level?
Teachers cause learning to happen. They cause learning to happen for every child and student trusted into their care. Every single one.
It is not okay for a child to be ‘stuck’ and not learning in a classroom. It is the responsibility of the teacher to ensure that child is learning. No teacher has to do this in isolation. Teachers are aware of their best practice, and they search for their next practice that will help that child learn. The wider the professional network, the larger the opportunity to find solutions to learning problems.
This remains one of my favourite simplified statements about the work teachers do.