Sunday, May 31, 2015

Amelia Peterson - Harvard Graduate School of Education

Today we are excited to feature Amelia Peterson on the blog, with reflections from the NOII Symposium and other international learning 'convenings' she attended this month. Amelia is currently a PhD candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her comments are brilliant and helpful - read on!


Four convenings and a principle
(with apologies to Richard Curtis) 

Last week, I was fortunate to attend the Annual NOII Symposium as part of a little consort of British visitors there representing the Whole Education network in the UK. I was travelling with the group in my role as a doctoral student, where I’m in the wonderful early stage of being allowed to follow my nose to seek out interesting things to try and learn from (hence ending up in BC).

As a student, the start of May means the end of the Spring semester and a pile of Finals papers. This year, however, it coincided with four events that took me to four different cities to learn directly from and with practitioners in schools, district and state departments, and school partner organizations. My reflections on the Symposium are now enmeshed in these other experiences, and thinking across them I am struck by what progress there has been in designing adult learning: none of these was a typical conference (and proudly so: alongside the Symposium, the events were a ‘gathering’, a ‘design convening’ and a ‘learning festival’). Each placed an emphasis on creating space for informal interaction, for practitioners to present, and for authentic conversation about education work. More strikingly, three of the four included students among the participants – although given the quality of their contributions, we could have had more.

At the Oppi Learning Festival, I was lucky to be on a panel with students from City-As-School and a Big Picture Learning school in New York. Nothing can convey the spirit of the personalized learning these schools aim to provide better than seeing these three very different students tell very different stories about how their teachers had helped them reconnect with learning. Hearing these students reminded me of another I had met at the Symposium, who was worried his dyslexia would hold him back from higher education; this same student had founded a start-up, aimed at helping students find passions and develop a future pathway (I won’t mention his name to protect his privacy – and because I want to keep this investment opportunity to myself…) Traditional schooling still struggles to allow the level of personalization these students need and thrive on; inquiry, however, can open up the space for it.

I’ve been grappling with this possibility since wrapping up my finals and returning to England this week. The motto of Big Picture schools is ‘one child at a time’. In England, it is more everyone at the same time. As in the U.S., our system is full of structures to ensure that ‘no child is left behind’: principals and teachers are under extreme pressure to demonstrate that everyone is progressing at the required pace, or faster, regardless of what else is going on in their life – or whether the destination is somewhere they want to reach. It is when I am able to talk with students that I feel most sharply the limitations of the deterministic edge of value-added measures and of mandated progress towards standardized goals: as the U.S. student and author Nikhil Goyal has written, ‘One Size Does Not Fit All’.

Yet the last few weeks have also been a stark reminder as to why such systems emerged. One of the events I attended took place in Durban, South Africa, where one legacy of apartheid is lingering inequality in school provision. Likewise in the U.S., where I live for most of the year, we are reminded on a daily basis why ‘different but equal’ is treated as a hollow promise, and the possibility of promoting diversity and equality simultaneously is looked upon with some skepticism. As long as we do not confront racial biases – and engage in the serious work of coming to understand and really appreciate the cultures that make up our countries – different will not really be equal. This is as true of beliefs about intelligence as it is about race: in B.C. I did not hear the fixed-sense language of ‘ability’ as I do in England, and I can only hope that in the future we will look back at that as an outdated form of prejudice.

While these biases stand, it is understandable that some systems can only interpret equality as standardization, and pursue it at all costs.

This brings me to my (design) principle. It was with interest that I read a speech this week by Scotland’s Secretary of State for Education, Angela Constance. She spoke of teachers who ‘[see] the children they teach not just as pupils or learners, but as individuals with foibles, weaknesses and challenges but importantly too, strengths, opportunities and enthusiasm – all the qualities that make each of them who they are.’

From that perspective, everything becomes so simple. If all system leaders believed that teachers saw students in this way, they would design systems where practice is driven by the needs and enthusiasms of each child, and where standards exist just as useful tools – way-markers to take into account on the way to some larger goal.

Many, many educators already hold this perspective and its accompanying beliefs. The accountability structures in England and the U.S., however, assume otherwise; that the system must enforce adults to care for every child, in the only way that systems know how. Jal Mehta, my teacher, has written about the importance of replacing ‘bad man’ education policies that assume non-compliance, with 'good (wo)man’ theories that assume people want to do good work and to get better at their work. In B.C., I saw what a system based on good person theories can look like. Not one that blithely assumes we will all be good all the time, but knows that with the right structures of support and mutual accountability we can try to get better. Spirals of Inquiry seems to be shaped by that spirit of optimism, and, as a process, by starting with the experience of students and planning adult actions from there. Scotland’s government, in various ways, and sometimes haltingly, is promoting the same philosophy. England and the U.S. have many strengths in Education, but we also have a lot to learn from our northern neighbours. 

So what can we do about it? This, for me, is the role of convenings that bring together participants from different parts of a system and different countries: they provide opportunity for people to talk with others who see the world from a different perspective; to question some of their own assumptions; and maybe, over time, shift their beliefs. For this to happen, convenings need to continue to bring new people into the fold, and to bring in the voices of a generation who are – sometimes – not as weighed down by some of the assumptions we are still shaking ourselves out of.

But now I am just preaching to the converted.

I look forward to seeing the networks continue to grow, and thank you again for letting me learn from you.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

First Peoples Principles of Learning - Now en français

The First Peoples Principles of Learning, developed by British Columbia’s First Nations Education Steering Committee, is a key resource to guide both the inquiry process and one’s approach to learning and teaching. It is a useful resource for school/district wide professional learning, as a tool to help shift thinking around using wise ways to develop Aboriginal understandings.

Network members are already very familiar with the First Peoples Principles of Learning, and many have been actively incorporating them into the core of their teaching and learning. Thanks to Richmond School District’s Coordinator for Library and Information Services, Gordon Powell, and Ecole Secondaire R.A. McMath Secondary School teacher Carl Ruest, the Principals have now been translated into French! Check out the French version, as well as the French/English document. 

The First Nations Education Steering Committee website has a number of other resources, including classroom resources and the First Peoples Learning Blog. They are also hosting a Summer Institute in August: Indian Residential Schools & Reconciliation – limited spaces are available.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Celebrations of Learning

With the end of the school year in sight, school districts across BC are coming together to host Celebrations of Learning – opportunities for school and leadership teams to showcase their inquiry work and share learning from the past year. Taking time to learn from each other through in this way is important.  Not only do year-end celebrations provide a space for networking, collaboration and professional learning, but it’s a time to recognize the effort, time and energy that goes into the commitment to improving our practice and positively influencing student learning. It’s also really nice to just take the time to recognize each other – to congratulate each other for being a risk-taking, brave, curious community of leaders and learners.

Last week the Lower Mainland region hosted their Celebration in the Delta School District. School teams showcased their work with poster boards and colleagues had time to chat with each other and their about the projects. Please remember to send your pictures to us at or share them with us via @noiiaesn. 

On June 1st the Northern BC Region will host their Celebration in Prince Rupert from 10am – 3pm at the Museum of Northern British Columbia. Judy and Linda will be there to share in the learning. To register for the event, please click here for more information.  

In addition to celebrations, you can learn about what others are working on by reviewing school case studies. Both NOII and AESN case studies are available on our website. 

Hosting an event in your region? Please let us know!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Inquiry and Innovation Summer Institute at UBC - July 7 & 8

July 7-8 | UBC Vancouver

Registration is now open for this 2-day intensive working session for teachers, teacher/district leadership teams, or others interested in making inquiry-informed and innovative practices a way of life in your school and district settings.

You will leave well prepared to make a difference to your learners by leading inquiry-based and research-informed learning in your school during the 2015-2016 school year based on:

  • Applying a disciplined framework for professional inquiry
  • Exploring and learning from innovation and change cases from BC, England, New Zealand, Australia, Asia and Europe
  • Developing knowledge of the key learning principles that are central to innovative learning environments
  • Considering the connections between social emotional learning and physical well-being
  • Understanding how inquiry-based approaches for learners of all ages can build motivation and engagement

Facilitated by Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert, BC coordinators for the OECD / CERI research study on Innovative Learning Environments, Co-Directors of the Centre for Innovative Educational Leadership at Vancouver Island University, as well as authors of Spirals of Inquiry: for equity and quality and co-leaders of the BC Networks of Inquiry and Innovation and the Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network.  Exemplary school and district leaders will be joining Linda and Judy in facilitating this session.

Share a copy of the flyer with your colleagues. 

Register online by June 5:

Early registration is recommended as seats are limited for this program.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Paddling Together - Our Journey Continues

Our minds and hearts are full on this sunny Sunday morning after another amazing journey through the NOII Symposium over the last 2 days. We were at standing room only (really!), packed to the brim with thoughtful, engaged, empowering educators working together to ensure that every kid crosses the stage with dignity, purpose, options, curiosity, passion, resilience. The theme of passion and purpose was a good reminder to be excited, to stay energized, to continue to ask and seek answers to hard questions…and to be thoughtful and focused when putting this all into action. Over 20 students participated in the Symposium this year, sharing their unique perspectives and contributing to rich dialogue, making this one of the best legs of the journey thus far. 

My mind is full with new ideas and new ways to move my practice forward. My heart if full with all the new friendships and connections that I know will help me along the way, even when things get tough (as we know things can). That’s powerful. But it can be overwhelming too – I don’t want to forget the multitude of perspectives presented over the last 48 hours (uncovering curriculum, passion to praxis, grounding our work, putting the Ferrari into gear!). Luckily, with so many participants capturing ideas at #noii2015, we have much to now reflect on. Thanks to Jennifer Delvecchio, we also have this storify (see below) which pulls many thoughts into one place. We’ll also be posting more on the NOII website very soon – more to come.

To everyone who attended, contributed, volunteered in numerous thoughtful ways – we thank you…meegwetch, gilakas’la, huy chexw, kw’as ho:y, kinanâskomitin, (add others in the comments below!). The Network has always been a combination of multiple moving parts. As Judy and Linda have so thoughtfully reminded us, the Spiral of Inquiry is about all of us – it doesn’t exist without our collective efforts.

On that note, remember to save the date of May 12 – 14th 2016 for next year’s Symposium!