A Culture of Learning – Tim Monds (Superintendent, Parkland School Division)

I have had the privilege of working with C21-Canadians for 21st Century Learning and Innovation.  Twenty one Superintendents were invited to join the CEO Academy to look at the future of education in Canada.  Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 8.57.07 PMRecently “Shifting Minds 3.0 – Redefining the Learning Landscape in Canada“, was released, authored by Penny Milton (former head of the Canadian Education Association of Canada).  All members of the CEO Academy contributed to the position paper that “…offers a vehicle for learning systems to reflect and inspire innovation that supports competency and resiliency in a global economy”.Recently one of my colleagues from the CEO Academy, Chris Kennedy, blogged “Keeping a National View“.  Whether it be Chris or other members of the CEO Academy, it became clear  to me, we have similar cultures being developed that allow each division to move forward in shifting our learning in Canada.  In Parkland School Division, we have created an innovative culture where we see the necessity of learning together.   Creating a team that is diversified and also focused on putting our children first in an ever changing world, have been keys to our growth.  Our vision of exploration, creativity, imagination, exciting learning and aspiring to reach ones dreams has brought us together as a division.  Speaking to one vision has been integral in growing our culture.  Our vision/purpose united a team of dedicated educators creating a culture which accelerated amazing learning opportunities for all learners of PSD70.In Parkland School Division, we are focused on two priorities – engagement (students, staff, parents and community) and stewardship of resources. Our goals of inclusion, quality learning, culture of wellness, and universal leadership, continue to be embedded in all we do.  
To be successful, our work must be embedded in our culture.  It has become part of our daily work as we prepare, engage, and inspire our students to be their best in a quickly changing global community.Our school division values and beliefs, speak about learning for all; collaboration; engagement; open honest communication; trust; respect; leadership; excellence; innovation; risk taking; citizenship; safe and caring;  and resiliency.   All wonderful words yet they mean nothing without implementation.  Here in PSD, no matter the position, we strive to bring these values/beliefs, as well as the mission, to life. Trustees and our senior executive team must model the culture we are striving for, but also we are open to learning from all stakeholders in our community.   From there the culture grows.

Parkland School Division students/staff and community are helping to grow a culture that is guided by what is in the best interest of our students.  Here in PSD a culture of learning together is well underway.  I look forward to leading the continued growth of  this culture.

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Sharing as the Default

In Parkland School Division we believe we are all learners.  Each one of us challenges ourselves to do the best we can to create a world that truly opens up for our youth, for our future leaders.  True change means as leaders together we must strive to create a culture where we share our learning so innovative practices can flourish.   Collectively we can have an impact on the future  and create  an environment where our children are developing key 21 St century skills and competencies; where our children have s strong literacy and numeracy base; where we have engaged ethical citizens with entrepreneurial spirit.  In PSD I am proud to say sharing our learning, creating a culture of innovation continues to grow.  This can be seen through recent sharing and tweets from PSD’s attendance at the  #NCTCA2015 convention


Teachers sharing what they are learning…

Teachers presenting at convention 

The importance of change from Hayley Wickenheiser

As always, I am proud of our school division for being one that constantly shares their learning with others and models the idea of, “where the world opens up”.

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I have a dream……

I am a teacher and my mom would tell you that I have been teaching since I was a very little girl. I spent my time dreaming of being a teacher and those dreams got bigger when I listened to my grandma tell her stories of being a teacher is a one room school house, lighting the fire when she got there and using a hand cart on the railway to get to and from school.  When I wasn’t dreaming, I was practicing by sitting my little sister in front of the chalkboard while I “played” school for hours and hours – always making sure that she was grasping the lessons that I was teaching (whatever they were).

Then I was teaching, in front of a room full of children and I felt excited – at first.  It wasn’t long before I realized that all of my students weren’t learning in the same way.  I knew I wasn’t reaching some of them and I felt like I couldn’t manage some of the behaviors that were constantly present.  I grew more and more anxious and it wasn’t long before I was feeling that if these students weren’t learning the way that I was teaching then they needed to be somewhere else with someone else – after all I was trained to do was I was doing so if I was in the right place these students were obviously not.  I really cared about them and wanted them to love learning and love being at school so I advocated having them working in a place that could meet their needs because I didn’t know how.  Looking back I now know that I had a very single sighted view of the world of teaching.

So how did that change for me?

Something really important happened in my life that was truly a gift.  My third child developed a serious retinal disease when he was 1 and we had to travel to Boston over 30 times for eye surgeries and eventually he had to have his eyes removed.  He has been blind since the age of 3.  He started his school journey early as a Program Unit Funded child and as he progressed through the grades I learned more and more and began to see the school experience in a completely different way.

I learned that the system isn’t designed broadly enough to authentically embrace all students.  The focus is driven by mastery of content and the expected results are celebrated through academic achievement. The experience of parenting my son and my own research has taught me that a successful school experience is bigger than this – as teachers we are not just teaching content to the mind, we are teaching young people to discover themselves.  We feed their minds by providing experiences for them to learn how to learn, to problem – solve to synthesize and analyze.  We feed their bodies and minds by providing healthy, happy environments where they feel accepted, welcomed and belong.  We need to continually remind them that they have a contribution to make and we need to partner with them so they can discover what their passion is and how to develop a lifestyle that allows them to do whatever they want to do.

For the past couple to years I was of the firm belief that implementing an inclusive education system could deliver on this agenda – an educational system where all students truly belonged and had successful experiences of making contributions. Recently I have been inspired and have learned that this dream of an inclusive education system isn’t big enough.  Our schools not only need to focus on feeding the mind by teaching important learning skills and developing positive caring relationships we also need to ensure that we have healthy learning environments.  Healthy learning environments ensure that our students are physically activity, eating healthy and have the social and emotional supports necessary for them to have a healthy emotional outlook.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have integrated the philosophical underpinnings of an inclusive education system and the comprehensive school health curriculum.  I have developed a dream about what this could mean for our students.  In this dream I am envisioning what our schools could look like if we were to successfully integrate these two powerful agendas.

I am a teacher but I also want to be a leader. I am busy defining my role in leading PSD forward in this work because at the end of the day I believe it will truly make tremendous difference not only to the students we serve but to all of us as well.

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Shaping the Future …. Future

Wow – what an amazing weekend.  I’m on my way home from the fabulous experience of the “Shaping the Future” conference in Kananaskis and I’m feeling so inspired and excited about the future.

(As an aside, PSD had the largest group representation at the conference, 41, and everyone of them were rock stars. I feel especially proud. )

Now – about the conference.

I haven’t been to this conference before and my impressions going into it were that the focus was going to be on health – and I had a traditional interpretation of health (nutrition, exercise, rest and cleanliness primarily) but I was so wrong.  This conference was about quality of life, and changing the way we do business – a call to action to take care of ourselves so that we become empowered to provide leadership and an example for the important children and youth in our world today.  It was the importance of learning how to live life to its fullest and having the ability to embrace anything that you wanted to embrace just because you could if you take care of yourself.

I was hooked and as I listened to speaker after speaker I felt compelled to spread the word – it was infectious.  I captured profound quotes in my notes and wanted to share them so I highlighted them as possible “Tweets”.  As my enthusiasm grew I reached out to Felicia and Archie, showed them some of these thoughts and asked them to tweet them out.  I heard from George – a gentle little push, my conscious calling.  “Yahoo, Dianne we are waiting to hear from you!!”  I told him I needed to review my notes, edit the possible tweets, vet them and then move them to publication.  Oh boy….. the road to becoming a “tweeter” is longer for some than others, slower for some than others and for some they are probably going to find other ways to be sharing and connecting.

The big take away for me from this conference is that we have to ramp up our intention of changing the way we do business.  The lives of our students’ depend on it.  PSD is off to a great start.  We have created a platform based on Martin Brokenleg’s work of the “Circle of Courage” and our commitment to embracing the principles and ideals of implementing an inclusive education system.  We are serious about creating environments where all of our students feel that they belong, are welcomed and have opportunities to feel valued and have a contribution to make but I’m wondering when what we know is going to start changing what we do?  When are those important aspects of wellness (physical and emotional healthy living) going to be the normal way we live and work in our schools?

I know I’m all in and I’ve made a promise to myself that starting today. I am going to be more intentional about making the choices that I need to make to enhance my own quality of life.  I’m going to begin a Shaping the Future …. future journey beginning with an exercise of being clear about where I am going and what I need to do to get there.  I am going to step back from making assumptions and judging and I am going to show caring behavior.

I am going to look carefully at my job and find ways to practically apply the things I learned at this conference to influence the PSD journey and lead the changes that we need to make to ensure that our students get to have a life that allows them to do whatever they desire.  Please join me so that you also can be part of the Shaping the Future…future.


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You too can have an AMAZING practice

I had the privilege of joining a group of engaging and passionate PSD teachers one morning last week.  We came together to talk about the meaning of innovation and specifically their individual experiences of innovative teaching within their respect practices.

I am currently reading for the third time one of my all-time favorite books, “You Can Have an Amazing Life in Just 60 Days” by Dr. John Demartini.  In this little book, Dr. Demartini reveals 60 inspiring laws or universal truths that he has researched and practiced over a span of twenty years.  According to Dr. Demartini these truths have enabled him to live a truly fulfilling life and he has dedicated himself to studying and sharing these truths as they apply to personal growth for anyone interested in learning about them.  Every day he presents a different law, provides some example and a practical application to daily living.  He then prompts the reader to reflect on this law and apply the law to their own lives.  In this way as the reader integrates the laws into their own lives they are rewarded by a fulfilling and enriched daily living experience.

So you are probably asking yourself, “What is the connection between this little book and my experience with the PSD teachers?” The simple answer is that as I listened to the teachers in the room sharing their experiences and responding to the tasks at hand I couldn’t help but see the connection of what they were telling us, to some of the laws that I was reading about.  Here are a couple of examples:

Law of Love

This is Dr. Demartini’s first law.  He teaches that everyone longs to be cherished for who they are, and that if you share the truth of your own heart the people you touch will become the wonderous individuals they’re capable of being. That is, love individuals for who they are, no matter what.  He says that if you do they’ll become more, accomplish more, and have more in their lives – and so will you.  The power of unconditional love is unsurpassed in its power to transform.  If you were as lucky as me to be in the room with these teachers you would have heard them telling their stories about their students from a place of unconditional love.  To these teachers every student was important, every student was valued and every student had something to offer.  They expressed a desire and responsibility to create an environment where every one of their students could thrive.

Law of Reflection

This is law number 42. The law of reflection has to with judgment – judging ourselves and judging others.  Dr. Demartini teaches that what you say to others and what you see in others is a mirror or a refection that is meant for yourself.  Those traits that we judge in others are often traits within ourselves that we need to learn about and address.  A perfect example was a story that one teacher told about a student that she found particularly challenging.  She was frustrated and often felt impatient.  As she reflected on this situation she reported that one day she realized that this student was teaching her patience – she no longer saw this situation as a challenge but as a gift.

Law of Growth

A third law I thought relevant is the Law of Growth.  This law teaches about the willingness to let go of old practices and relationships that allows both you and others to evolve. A couple of stories that depicted the application of this law came from the stories that a kindergarten teacher and a middle years teacher told in their group. Both teachers talked about how a change in thinking allowed them to have the courage to allow their students to take responsibility for their learning.  In the first story the teacher reflected on how she used to direct students through a particular task and when she turned it over to them to figure and stood back to observe, rather than direct amazing things happened.  Real learning took place.  In the second story, the teacher shared that where she once believed that there was one way to solve a problem – her students taught her that when they were encouraged to make their learning visible and they worked cooperatively together, many different pathways lead to the solution.

So the relevance of this book to my observations of the teacher’s discussions is the connection to PSD’s exploration of changing practice.  In PSD we are busy exploring the “how” to implement an inclusive education system by changing practice to respond to the changing demographics within our classroom environments.  I’m thinking that if individuals consider the universal truths of unconditional love, reflection and growth they too can experience a journey towards an “amazing practice”.


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Student Engagement Through Innovation

One of PSD priorities is engagement – of students, staff and community.  Continuing our engagement feedback loop, today in PSD we had a wonderful opportunity to bring together a group of teachers to talk about student engagement and innovation.  We asked a number of questions, one of them being;  what is innovation in education?  Here are some of the responses:

“Innovation is about creativity, originality and the teacher’s role in setting the environment for the students.”

“Innovation is doing what works best for students; not what works best for the teacher.”

“Innovation should NOT BE change for the sake of change, it needs to be purposeful.”

But what does innovation “look like”?  That was also shared by participants in the day.

“Innovation models risk taking, it’s more about the process than the product.  It captures more learners and learning styles.”

“Innovation allows ALL students to shine.”

“In order for innovation to be successful, the teacher also needs to be comfortable to take risks and learn with their students.”

This was a great opportunity for PSD to hear from our teachers that inspiring education is alive.  It was exciting to hear the passion in our teachers voices are they strive to ensure our children are ready for the 21st Century.  We are keenly aware that innovation is not only associated with technology.  We know we have teachers who have embraced the shift from a focus on knowledge acquisition (what to learn), to the focus on skill and competency development (how to learn).  Teachers are helping students “think to learn” and “learn to think”.

Hearing our staff speak about innovation needing to be purposeful, that we are a learning organization and the importance of creating an environment of creativity was inspiring today!  We look forward to hearing more from staff.

It is exciting to be on this journey of creating a school division where exploration, creativity, imagination and aspiring to reach one’s dream is alive and well!


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Supporting Our Children

In Alberta we have been talking about inclusion, wrap around services and the RCSD model (Regional Collaborative Services Delivery).   What are examples to show this work is coming to fruition? In Parkland School Division I am excited to share our story about a recent Traveling Low Vision Clinic that was hosted at our PSD office. The Low Vision Traveling clinic ensured that no one was working in isolation, an example of collaboration at its best; doing what is right for children. Partners in attendance worked from their area of expertise to contribute to solving each and every child’s educational challenge created by visual impairment. This one stop shopping as some call it saved a great deal of time, ensuring that professionals worked together to create a full service program that would have taken months for families and educators to access.

This innovative work is essential to ensuring inclusion comes alive and every child is supported both in and out of school. No longer do we need to be talking about what it might look like because the example of the Low Vision Clinic provides us with the experience and confidence to move forward on initiatives, bringing them to life.   Parkland School Division Board of Trustees speaks about risk taking as long as we are doing it in the best interest of our children.   We cannot wait for Provincial mandates, we must move forward to support our children now!

Below is the video that was recently shared across the province.

Thank you to each member of this team for ensuring our children are supported and able to strive to reach their dreams. I am proud to be part of a school division where we always focus on what’s best for children.

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