Saturday, April 27, 2019

Connecting Across Networks - Connecting Through Story

Last week Linda and I had a chance to meet with the team from NOII NSW who were visiting Hollyburn Elementary School in West Vancouver. While we were there, Nathan Blackburn joined the conversation and shared a very moving  story about how a focus on Indigenous Heroes had a powerful impact on his Grade 4/5 learners. We asked Nathan to put his story down in writing for us to share - and here it is. Thanks, Nathan. 

Connecting Through Story 

There are times when the power of a story isn’t fully realized until it’s shared out loud. For me, today was such a day. I was lucky enough to sit and learn with the NOIIE educators from New South Wales this afternoon when we began to discuss the power of “story” as a question that guides practice. Wanting to share the ways in which I’ve used storytelling in my classroom, I began to talk about a project that my grade 4/5 class had recently completed titled “First Nations Heroes”. We were learning about nonfiction writing with a focus on biography, and in collaboration with a wonderful Teacher Librarian, I developed a project where students would research, possibly interview, and write a short biography about a local or global First Nations hero. 

Many students chose hockey players, wrestlers, singers, and other globally famous stars. While hockey players are certainly heroes to ten year olds, we defined the term “hero” as someone who gives back to their community.

One of my students knew exactly who he would write about, he would write about his dad. His dad is an engineer with the local ferry system, and when he was able to share with his classmates that his dad helped to keep everyone safe when they travelled to Vancouver Island and back, he was beaming with pride. I was glad that he could see his dad in a new light -  as someone who is a hero in his own community. 

I had another student who couldn’t decide who to write about. I reminded her that her mom might be a good example of a hero. Her response was to shrug off the idea entirely, “My mom’s a lawyer, she’s not a hero.” 

The next day my student came back to school with a list of famous Indigenous Canadians. None of them were her mom, but I still thought all of her choices were great. She was excited, and promised to get to work that weekend on her research. I was surprised then when she came back on Monday with four paragraphs of research about her mom. Her mom, she learned, was not just a lawyer. She was a lawyer that worked with kids to keep them safe. Her mom, as it turned out, studied hard in school because she wanted to make sure children in our community were always happy, healthy and protected. She was proud to tell me after all that lawyers canbe heroes. 

A week later she presented her findings to the class. She told everyone how her mom was a hero, and that she was really proud of her. We hung up her poster board in the school, and for the next few weeks I got to see how excited she was whenever someone stopped under the board labeled “HEROES” and said, “Hey, isn’t that your mom?” She would beam, say yes, and proudly share her mom’s story, which became her story, which she was honoured to share with however would listen. 

I helped write the assignment, mark the biography, and staple to poster to the wall, but the power of these moments never really sunk in until I shared it. This is the power of story, and how stories connect us. Sharing my story reminded me of how stories can change the way we view ourselves, our history and each other. I wrote this down to remember it and to share it, because it's important, and it makes me proud too. 

Nathan Blackburn, 
Vice Principal, West Vancouver Schools

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Reflections on ICSEI in Vancouver - Ten Years Later

Reflections on ICSEI in Vancouver – Ten Years Later

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On January 4, 2009, in the midst of a record snowfall, delegates from over 50 countries descended on Vancouver to be part of the annual convening of the International Congress of School Effectiveness and Improvement. When we were asked to chair the program with the BCSSA as the organizing committee, we knew that this was a unique opportunity to bring some of the best thinkers in the world of school improvement to BC and to share some of the strong work of BC educators.

The theme for 2009 was New Departures for a Learning World of Equity and Quality riffing on the Diana Krall song Departure Bay. Our gift to each of the speakers was a CD of her newest album at that time. Listening to her music still brings great pleasure and special memories of ICSEI 2009. 

One of the expectations of ICSEI is that international delegates get a chance to experience some local culture. The excursion that Lynne Tomlinson organized to the Hiwus feasthouse at the top of Grouse Mountain was definitely a highlight.  Lynne buckling large numbers of unprepared delegates into snow shoes in the midst of a blizzard and then watching serious academics like Vivianne Robinson and Helen Timperley dancing in the feasthouse are experiences we will never forget. Also memorable were the comments by Swedish educators who toured Strathcona Elementary School in Vancouver.  They said the school was filled with 'burning hearts' – high praise for the passion and dedication of the staff. 

Another of the expectations of ICSEI is that hosting the congress will lead to positive impacts for the host community. From our perspective, ICSEI 2009 did lead to a number of positive impacts for British Columbia. 

The Ministry of Education was an important partner in ICSEI and with the support of then Superintendent of Liaison, Sherri Mohoruk, twenty-five BC educators not only attended the Congress, they also provided a number of sessions focused on the ways in which BC schools are addressing the challenges of equity and quality. David Istance, the lead in the OECD/CERI research study on Innovative Learning Environments(ILE), was part of the group who attended a number of the BC school sessions. He was impressed by the caliber of educators he met and by the ways in which inquiry networks were supporting innovative practices. Shortly afterwards, David invited us to attend a meeting of the group involved in the ILE study and that was the start of BC’s involvement culminating with the publication of The OECD Handbook for Innovative Learning Environments in 2017. 

Through this connection a number of BC colleagues became involved in the ILE work from submitting case studies to attending international gatherings of the ILE countries. Through their involvement in ICSEI and the ILE study, BC educators are creating new connections with colleagues around the world. From presentations at ICSEI in Cyprus, Malmo, Singapore, Malaysia, Ottawa and Stavanger, BC educators are becoming a strong presence in the international educational community. Through the connections with the ILE work, there is now a large group of schools in Barcelona using the spiral of inquiry to change the experiences of learners in Catalonia. 

We haven’t always had a strong culture of study tours in BC. This has changed. Over the past ten years BC has hosted study tours for educators and researchers from Australia, New Zealand, England, Sweden, Barcelona, Switzerland, Germany, the US and the Netherlands. With the support of the BC Principals and Vice Principals Association, school leaders from BC are participating in the LEAP exchange program.  BC educators – and a high school student  - have taken centre stage for the past two years at the NOII NSW and Queensland  annual symposia. 

ICSEI 2009 also sparked debate and then action in BC connected to innovation and curriculum. The flames of possibility that were kindled by the provocation of keynote speakers and the relationships that were formed subsequently influenced the substantive provincial  curriculum redesign

ICSEI 2009 started in a snow storm, created some very special memories, opened up many opportunities, sparked new thinking and action – and helped propel us towards a learning world of quality and equity. The journey is far from over. See you in Marrakesh and Auckland. 

Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser
Co-Chairs ICSEI 2009

Monday, January 14, 2019

Reflections on the Spiral of Inquiry from Hudiksvall Sweden

Linda with Bjorn Gundstrom
Comments at the end of the day

A couple of years ago Lillemor Renhberg from Uppsala University brought a group of researchers to BC and through their visits to schools they learned about the Spiral of Inquiry. This opened up a new network of connections and now the start of NOIIE Sweden.
Earlier this month, Linda and I had the chance over two days to introduce 500 Swedish educators to the Spiral of Inquiry in Hudiksvall, Sweden. We loved the group, the town (especially the white candle lights everywhere) and the connections. We also learned that some English acronyms don't translate perfectly into Swedish. To our great amusement we learned that in Sweden, B.C. is understood as Before Christ, not British Columbia! Nevertheless, the concept of the spiral seems to make sense wherever we go. 
One of the educators in Hudiksvall was Ingela Netz. Ingela is not only a passionate principal, she is also an active blogger and twitter user. After the session she wrote a post on her blog and with huge thanks to Mia Moutray from Nechako Lakes School District we share Ingela's observations here:

Swedish article published on January 9 2019 by Ingela Netz
Translated to English by Mia Moutray

The Adventure: The Spiral of Inquiry

This thing with conferences, workshops and professional development for school staff is not easy. What is actually needed in order for a one- or two-day conference will guarantee to return more than acknowledgement, inspiration or provocation in that particular moment? How many times have we all left these thinking that “I’ll do that” but then never get around to it.  
The whole point with professional development is that it should generate new, broader or deeper learning which, in turn, leads to positive effects of the core element: our learners’ learning. It, in turn, demands just not inspiration to want a change but also time to reflect about where one is situated in the knowing and understanding, what of one’s understanding needs to be revised as well as reflect on the insight of the importance to gather courage to not just talkdifferently but also dodifferently. One also needs time to think about how to prioritize differently as well as remove hinders that are obstacles of the new or different.
There is also an aspect of “copy and paste” which can make one of the most inspiring methods or ways of working (you know when you leave a conference or workshop feeling how you RIGHT NOW want to implement exactly the same thing in your own learning environment) completely bomb after some poor attempts to copy that strategy or technique in your own setting. 
“Inquiry is not an initiative. Inquiry is what great teams do.”
There is no quick fix for school development. There are no right or wrong, nor simple, answers to what educators should do in a particular situation. The simple reason is that every situation is unique. They may seem the same on the surface, but they all evolve in different contexts, with different teachers, with different students, in different learning environments, at different times of the day, with different frameworks, possibilities and solutions. Therefore, it is in that unique context where the answers should be explored and researched, by those who live that context right now. 
So why am I on fire from have been to yet another day long conference?
The reason is that Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser have been giving trust and energy to educators, principals, superintendents, and politicians in Hudiksvall (and area). A humble yet determined encouragement to take action to put roles and positions aside and instead all together dig in and explore their own practice with curiousity and honest exploration. Their own practice is the one that is focused on student learning. Where learning happens. It is therefore a hidden call to action to the players in the upper part of the hierarchy to let go of control  and to let educators, the ones that interact and work with students daily, gather information, choose focus, reflect on their impact, ask students, explore new ways of working together, try these new ways and then evaluate what happened. 
Not all at the same time and definitely not the same way.
Small, thoughtful whirls of research and inquiry spread like rings on the water, make new rings and eventually create movement that actually make changes on a deeper level. 
This is what Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser give as well: A steadfast academic base. Deep and wide research in close collaboration with Helen Timperley for several years. One cannot just ignore this kind of thing. Instead, we need to lean on this and feel a deep, warm affirmation that those seemingly small interactions where we speak to and about our learners, how we genuinely believe in their capabilities, and how we let them support our learning through their reflections and experiences of the learning environment, are neither small nor pointless. They in fact determine our direction and the decisions we make on all levels in our education system. 
So, a one day conference is a beginning. Little whirls of inquiry are next. A wave of learning environments and networking will follow. The adventure has just begun.  
Linda and Judy with Bitte Astrom and Lillemor Renhberg
Lillemor Renhberg introducing the session in  Hudiksvall.