The Reflection Pool

What’s So Hard About the Digital Classroom?

Our lives are digital. The interwebs have changed everything, which sounds like the tagline for a really cheesy film. But in all seriousness, it’s amazing how we are using the applications and tools out there. The podcast “Spark” from CBC recently talked to people who are vision impaired about how the Amazon Echo is making a huge difference to accessibility and speed for them. I was up at a friend’s cottage and watched him set up dimmer switches for lights for his fire pit that can be controlled by an app on his smartphone (that was cool).

So what’s happening in our schools and classrooms? I’m considering how educators are using digital tools across our district. We are entering the fifth year of a 1:1 pilot in seven elementary schools and also in all of our secondary schools. In addition, the vast majority of teachers and all administrators have one to one access to a device. While change is exciting, and we have seen teachers, principals and vice principals embrace digital tech in many ways, there are still many barriers. Educators struggle to figure out how to use tools for more than handing assignments in through Dropbox and Google Drive, simple substitution with worksheets or games or posting the weekly memo on School Sites.

I’ve seen staff meetings where everyone brings a device, and I’ve seen others where almost no one does. I’ve talked to grade 9 and 10 students whose teacher expects the device at every class and uses it, and others where they don’t bother bringing it because the teacher never asks.

I’m left scratching my head. When people post all kinds of updates on social media, send e-transfer funds zipping around and book their vacations through online sites, what’s so hard about using the tools for workflow and to learn? I know we have amazing resources in our district to teach and help, but these seem to go largely untapped.

Please comment or engage in this conversation on Twitter. I’d love to know more about perspectives out there.


My Great Privilege: To Work in Schools

There I was, in the classroom with a principal, chatting with a small group of primary aged children. One little one approached, “Can I show you my thinking?”  How fantastic is that?!

Photo Credit: quinn.anya via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: quinn.anya via Compfight cc

Great things are happening in schools. Educators have the opportunity every single day to expand a young person’s thinking and make a positive difference in their life. Not many of us can say that. It’s an awesome responsibility and a huge opportunity.  Our educational infrastructure – school board, central office, finance and facilities department, program consultants, and yes, superintendents, all exist to create the right conditions in schools for those opportunities. That is our primary, essential purpose.

It would be easy to become disconnected from classrooms as a superintendent.  That’s why it’s so important to me to look up from the planning, the emails and the phone calls and get in there.  My best days include these activities:

  • talking with a teacher about an interesting learning situation;
  • meeting with a principal learning team to dig into our leadership inquiries together;
  • attending an Arts event that showcases educator and student talent and work;
  • hearing students share ideas and exploring student work;
  • enjoying a parent led event like a school anniversary celebration;
  • discovering how I can support a principal and vice principal in creating a positive and collaborative school culture that focuses on student learning.

It’s my great privilege to influence and support the hard work that is already being done by school staffs. When I think of the day to day efforts of teachers, educational assistants, support staff, early childhood educators, and principals and vice principals, I feel very proud that I can be a small part of it.

Wanted: Learning Organization that Seeks Problems

Problems can shut everything down. Sometimes the problem feels so big that we can’t see a solution. We give up. In a learning organization, the only way to overcome is to seek those problems out, putClassified them under a light and work together to find solutions. Sounds so easy, but I know it’s not.

Peter Senge‘s vision of a learning organization is inspiring and exciting as described in The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. According to Wikipedia, he says it’s “a group of people working together collectively to enhance their capacities to create results they really care about”. Wow! That’s an organization I want to be part of. Our district’s strategic directions echo his five characteristics, and we are trying to work in structures to move toward shared vision, personal mastery and team learning.

Senge also suggests that problems can stall the process of learning. This comes up for me when I hear people say, “We’ve always done it this way.” I get it. The way we’ve always done it is comfortable, it’s part of our culture and trying to change it seems to involve so many people and structures. And a lot of people get angry when you try to change something we’ve always done to solve a problem. They come up with loud counter arguments, they post on social media, or they call the mainstream media. It’s hard to move forward.

Still, I don’t think it’s a reason not to try. Although I may want to run from those tricky problems, give people that shout the loudest their way, or work quietly away in my own little corner, I need to always have the courage to face the issues, have the hard conversations and find solutions. And I certainly can’t do it alone. We need educators and partners with a growth mindset who have a nose for problems and want to collaborate to learn how to solve them. Let’s seek them out together.