Don’t be a donkey…embrace educational change!

Thank you to Principal Greg Kostiuk for the inspiration for this blog. He wrote a blog about how the times are changing. I have to agree with Greg, times are moving quickly. Teacher Lyle Parr reminds us how we have to teach independent learners.

I sometimes hear the following statement from teachers and teacher assistants. WHY? Why should I change if the student is successful now?

Better yet, think about it this way–WHY NOT? Think long term, in education this is difficult as teachers sometimes do not get the pleasure of seeing what a student will grow into later on in life. Think about how great lessons can impact a student.

I know this YouTube clip is almost 1 1/2 old, but it should make you aware that shift happens and supports that times are a changing.

Better yet more proof!

Here are 10 Jobs That Didn’t Exist 10 Years Ago by Forbes. My personal favourites are Chief Listening Officer, Social Media Manager, and Data Miner. If you still don’t believe me, check out what CNN published about Best New Jobs in America.

My message to teachers…

  • Is take chances and try new innovative approach to your lessons.
  • Find a colleague that you can do a project with (school, province, country, out of country).
  • Ask your students how they want to display their learning (might need some guidelines).
  • Push your educational leaders to get the tools that your students deserve to learn and grow.
  • Take a professional development day to learn a new technology for your students and yourself.
  • If your new innovative lesson flops…big deal! Albert Einstein said…

    “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

Thank you to people like George Couros for showing us many examples on how to improve education. One of his latest posts Online Building Offline Relationships is awesome. This is a great example of a teacher trying something different to connect with students on their level.

This you video by Melinda Kraft will get you thinking, but as educators we must solve the problem by delivering education differently.

Don’t be a donkey…embrace educational change.


Education stuck in a RUT?

Albert Einstein once said the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

If that’s the case, I’m pretty sure we’re all guilty of occasional bouts of insanity.

Our education system in Alberta is tied to our broad program of studies and provincial achievement test (PAT)/diploma exam results. It is stuck in a rut. Teachers work hard to cover the entire curriculum and cover all the outcomes. The outcomes are too broad and lack engaging depth. Actually, the outcomes can be engaging, but many teachers feel pressured to rush through each outcome instead of exploring them with students. To add insult to injury, schools are measured based on PAT performance in a section of an accountability pillar. Basically, a report to demostrate how well each school authority is doing. I am not sure this is the best way to help change our education system (but this is an entirely different topic).

Greg Miller (Principal of a Pre-K to grade 6 elementary school) posted these comments on his blog that he has heard from teachers. ”I barely have time to cover the curriculum as it is” or “how is this going to prepare my kids for the standardized tests” or “the technology doesn’t work right half the time.”  Unfortunately, those individuals usually choose to stick with the comfort of what they’re already doing. Well stated Greg. The scary issue is, as educational leaders, sometimes we hear this too often. So how do we change this? How do we get out of the rut?

1. Help teachers with more of their own time! Build in common time to learn. How do we expect teachers to grow and improve? We must allow them to work together and share ideas.  We are not going to quickly change the structure of the day, so we need to change what teachers can do within the day. This is supported by We need to build calendars and professional development days that can support this innovation.

2. Give students choice on how to improve their learning. Check out what Noa Gutow-Ellis has to say

Or, give students a Fed Ex Day or Innovation Day. These 4th grade students took the concept of Fed Ex Day and made it their own with an Innovation Day – one day to work on whatever they choose, to just create and invent.

3. Leaders must limit the number of new initiatives coming into the school and keep only the initiatives that relate to the school/board and the teacher professional growth plans. If you work with your staff on these initiatives with honest and open dialogue, then you might have some tangible change that will benefit students. The curriculum redesign might be one of those catalysts of change.  Here is the explanation from Alberta Education:

 As we look for new, more effective and efficient ways to develop future provincial curriculum for K-12, one model we will be using is prototyping. Alberta Education will be posting a Request for Proposals (RFP) in the new year to invite school jurisdictions, Francophone Regional authorities and charter schools to take the lead and form partnerships at the local level and submit proposals. The proposals will be focused on beginning the development of new, competency-focused programs of study for K-12 subjects (mathematics, sciences, social studies, language arts, wellness education, and arts education) and to identify and/or develop classroom-based assessment and learning and teaching resources. Our Curriculum developers will be going out to the field and informed by research, will be working with the successful RFP applicants. Together we will co-create this new curriculum.

This sounds great; we might need to provide some release time for this to work or maybe some Fed Ex Days for teachers! Or, maybe let students sit in on our curriculum redesign project. Could you imagine a competency-based education that matches the education to the student? That might get us out of the RUT!

Random Thoughts About Assessment Reporting

I am not an assessment guru! But it seems that many schools still report grades the same as 20 years ago. I hate generalizing but, it is sad to see a percentage grade and a general comment to report our students’ learning. We have improved in the area of online reporting of our grades, but many schools still have print out report cards with comments on them. I think it is extremely odd to report our 21st century learning on a paper report card. Why don’t more schools have a paperless report card? Here is a New Jersey school district that have moved to paperless reporting. We have paperless banking, why not paperless report cards. We could also use technology (texting, email) to update parents and students when report cards are released. Currently, my dentist and mortgage broker send texts to remind me of my appointments and to wish me a happy birthday.

Or should we head down the road of a checklist-type report card. This idea stems from Atul Gawande and his book “The Checklist Manifesto: How to get things right”. The book’s main point is simple: no matter how expert you may be, well-designed checklists can improve outcomes. Gawande applies the book to surgical teams, pilots, and  people that build skyscrapers. Maybe teachers could improve the learning of students by using a checklist system for curricular outcomes. Attached is a surgery checklist used by the World Health Organization developed with Gawande.

Surgical Safety Checklist Production

Or why don’t we move towards a more competency based system? In Alberta, we have the new Framework for Student Learning, which has a graphic that covers the competencies that we would like in a 21st Century student.


A collegue of mine, Greg Miller, had an excellent post on his blog titled ” How Do We Measure a Competency?” In his blog, with which I agree, Greg states “that we should be exploring competency-based authentic assessment with a great deal of enthusiasm in our schools today.  Let’s give our teachers the necessary time and support to come together and work on this.  They’re the best resource we have.” Greg makes a super point of who should be completing the work, but when and where is the BIG question!

I have found a district in Denver, Colorado that has moved to a Compentency Based System (CBS). The entire educational system is organized around engaging students in 21st century skills. Students work at their development level and only advance when they have demostrated proficiency or mastery of a skill. Check out their site and look at their four core beliefs – learning is constant, time is the variable, personalized delivery, and systemic and systematic in nature. If you have extra time, take a look through the CBS that they have established. This was a system wide movement; if you need a quick brief, then check out the FAQ section.

Like I said at the start of this post, I am not an assessment guru! I think things should change and the biggest hurdle might be where and who will start a movement. I personally lean towards the CBS model; to implement this system it will take leadership from all levels – students, teachers, board members, parents, and adminstration.

Professional Learning Network or Student Learning Network or Both?

We have heard the buzz for years that we need to make learning authentic for our students. Maina (2004) states, authentic learning “involves increasing motivation and enthusiasm, helping learners to make decisions concerning their learning, as well as identifying non-traditional ways learning is enhanced and accounting for such learning” (p. 7).

So how do we do this with our current students? Here is an exercise I like to do with student teachers and myself as a self-check. Print off a class list and place a check next to a student that you connect with. Not just a question and answer connection, but an authentic connection with meaningful dialogue in or out of class. You might notice that the students who are not doing well in class are missing checks next to their names. My point here is we must make a connection in class before we can push the envelope to help build their global connections to learning.

connected students

Connectivism is a theory that works much the same way the internet works, with knowledge not in one central location, but more of a network with information being shared by a collection of ‘nodes’. We need to help students, and students need to help teachers find these nodes. Nodes could be people, institutions, movements, and/or organizations. Therefore to develop knowledge, you must develop a network for yourself and teach your students to develop their own learning network. They will also share knowledge back with you.

Take the internet for a great example; it is a large, super collection of knowledge. We teach our student and ourselves to sift through this collection of knowledge with a critical eye. As we develop these skills we will teach these similar skills to students. The 21st century learner needs to learn the skills on how to access the information they specifically need.

We need to look at the definition of Connectivism. George Siemens, who is considered as the precursor of Connectivism defines his theory as a learning theory for the digital age (Siemens, 2004).  Simply put, it is a learning theory that is based on the idea that knowledge exists in the world rather than simply in someone’s brain. Connectivism defines learning as a continual process which occurs in different settings including communities of practice, personal networks and in the workplace. Siemens has defined the following principles of Connectivism:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up–to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • Decision making is itself a learning process.
  • Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. (Siemens, 2004).

Since connectivism relies on sharing, any form of technology that allows for sharing could be utilized to make connections between people and ideas. Cellphones, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and wikis could all be used to convey knowledge. We need to build our own professional learning network (PLN) to help our students build their own student learning network (SLN). I made up the SLN acronym, because we love them in education!

So if you are interested in expanding your professional learning network (PLN) or helping your student learning network (SLN), here’s a directory of some of the best connectivity tools:

Category Value Examples and Guides
Social Networking Keeping up with personal, more   social contacts like friends, family, and former students Facebook,   Myspace, Google   Circles
Microblogging Populated with educators from   around the world who share best practices and resources in short bursts Twitter
Professional Profiles Find other professionals and   experts in your field LinkedIn,
Wikis Community-monitored sites that can   function as websites or for group organization and projects Wikispaces,   pbwiki, wetpaint  
Blogs Great sources of information such   as classroom best practices as well as personal opinions; Blogs monitor the   heartbeat of new trends in education and the commenting back and forth leads   to many great ideas and relationships WordPress,   Blogger, Typepad,   Edublogs,Kidblog
RSS Reader RSS means “Real Simple   Syndication” – an RSS reader is a tool that allows you to keep up with many   of your favorite blogs, all in one place
(see this video ‘RSS in Plain English’)
Netvibes,   (My   Netvibes), PageFlakes,   Google   Reader
Nings Communities of people interested   in similar topics, with forums and messaging Classroom   2.0, Future   of Education, Ning
Social Bookmarking Share bookmarks with others, see   what others are bookmarking; you can join groups and get email updates on new   bookmarks Diigo,   Diigo Groups,   Delicious
Webinars Live, on-line presentations or   conferences, with real-time chat, hosted by experts on specific topics; Great   way to learn about new things and to meet new people Classroom   2.0 Live!, EdTechTalk   Live, Elluminate
Backchanneling of conferences When there are neat (and   expensive) conferences that you can’t attend, follow conversations and links   about the highlights Twitter   search latest acronym of conferences

So in summary, connect with your students, build those relationships, connect with your PLN and help students create a their own SLN. This will help boost your connectivism and authentic learning in your classroom.


Maina, F. W. (2004). Authentic learning: Perspectives from contemporary educators [Editorial]. Journal of Authentic Learning, 1(1), 1-8. Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2004). A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from