Within Parkland School Division, our mission is stated as the following:
Our purpose is to prepare, engage and inspire our students to be their best in a quickly changing global community.
As there was a lot of work to create this mission with our stakeholders and community , I looked deeply at the work that I do as the Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning and how we could help make this mission come to life. As there are often overarching vision, mission, and value statements, it is essential that we look at these areas and break them down into more achievable “chunks”. It is important we define “why” we do the work, but it is also important to bring these statements to life as well.
“The path to success is paved with small wins. Even the grandest and most glorious victories rest on a string of modest but constructive steps forward.” Robert I. Sutton
Having the opportunity to present to our entire school division at the beginning of our school, we have looked at this mission and have broken it down into three areas: Create, Innovate, and Voice.
So why are these elements so important in the work that we do? If we are preparing our kids not only for their future, but in reality, for their present as well, we want to empower students in their learning, not simply be passive in process. To do this, we are in the process of implementing Google Apps for Education and using Edublogs to create student portfolios throughout the entire division. We believe that this creates a strong beginning to build capacity amongst all staff, while still encouraging the “innovators” to be innovate. By also narrowing the tools we use, we feel that we will be able to get to the “transformative” level of learning and give students and staff the opportunity to do things that there were unable to do previously.
Here is a quick synopsis why I believe these three areas are essential to our (and any) learning organization:
1. Create –The Center for Accelerated Learning states that, “Learning is Creation, Not Consumption. Knowledge is not something a learner absorbs, but something a learner creates.” Understanding that fully, our goal this year has to really shift the focus on student’s being able to “create” and to be active in their learning. We are seeing student created media, blogs, as well as the “traditional” forms of literacy which are actively being shared through social networks.
It is imperative that students have ownership and are active in their learning. How much did any student ever learn from writing notes off the board? Through this creation process, we want students to make meaningful connections to their learning, while also giving them the opportunity to share this work with others. This leads directly into the next objective.
2. Innovate – We have focused in Parkland School Division, the opportunity to share our learning openly with each and the world. Tapping into the wisdom of others has accelerated our own learning, and hopefully helped the learning of others. Liz Wiseman states that, “Organizations that can access the most brains will win. Its not what you know but how quickly you can access knowledge of others”, and by understanding that as educators, we are more likely to help students develop their own Personal Learning Networks to pursue and further their knowledge in the areas that they are passionate about.
Social media has created, as what John Seely Brown would refer to as “spikes”, and how people go to the places where they are most likely to be successful in their career paths (go to Hollywood if you want to be an actor, Nashville if you want to be a country singer, etc.). If we can help our students not only find these “spikes”, but perhaps even develop them, they are more likely to grow in their own learning. Notter and Grant (2011) discuss how innovation “…values a future focus, creativity, and the discipline of experimentation, where answers come through learning, rather than pure imitation.”
To be innovative, we have to not only be able to tap into the learning of others, but encourage and model the need to take risks in our learning. When we openly share this process, we learn from each other, and invite anyone to take part in this process with our school community.
There is no limit to innovation when we share.
3. Voice– Howard Rheingold succinctly states:
“People create new ways to communicate, then use their new media to do complicated things together.”
So now that we live in a world where everyone can have a voice that reaches far and wide, it is imperative that we teach our students what to do with this opportunity.
Examples such as Martha Payne, a nine-year old blogger who inspired many with her “Never Seconds” blog, show us that students will not only have a voice in the future, but can take action on things that they feel are important to them immediately. As we have worked with many students in our school division, we have focused on the notion of “Digital Leadership“, which discusses the opportunities that they have to not only exist online, but to actual use that presence to reach far and wide, and make a difference. Again, as educators, we need to model how we can effectively use our voice in a positive way to create change, and we are seeing more teachers in our district now actively blogging and tweeting, to share their insights on education and how they are actively trying to improve the “system of school”.
By sharing our voice with others, we hope to achieve Rheingold’s notion, and create a better environment for our community as well as our world.
As we continue to develop in many areas of our school division, the areas of “create, innovate, and voice“, seem to come up over and over again within all of the work that we do. Whether it is a project regarding healthy schools, or assessment, if we continue to share and develop our learning, we are hoping that the good work we do will become “viral” and impact change past school. What I am most proud of in our work, is that our leadership has focused on the notion that we are all learners, and this is not something we simply do to students, but do with them. If we continue on this path, I truly believe that it will not only schools that improve, but our society as a whole.