Below is my full speech to staff on August 30, 2011.
Good afternoon and welcome back
Before sharing a few of my thoughts I would like to make a few introductions:
I would like to start by introducing representatives from our Employee Groups who will bring you greetings:
- Alberta Teacher Association – Paul McCann
- Central Alberta Association of Municipal and School Employees – Christine Sauer
- International Union of Operating Engineers, Local Union No. 955) – Regan Cwynar and Virginia Parrill
- Non Union Group – Natalie Dzioba
- Deputy Superintendent – Kelly Wilkins
- Associate superintendent – Emilie Keane
- Associate Superintendent – Claire Jonsson
- Division Principal – George Couros
- Director of Learning Services – Leah Andrews
- Director of Human Resources – Margaret Jacob
- Director of Transportation – Brian Hauptman`
- Director of Finance – Ryan Stierman
- Director of IT – Tracy Newton
- Director of Facilities – Ed Paras
Our Senior Team, working with Lead Team including Principals, Assistant Principals, Directors and Learning Services staff, will play a key role in supporting the work you do in your school and in looking to the future. It is an honor to have these talented people on our team.
Last year I stood before you as Acting Superintendent. I shared parts of my life, my family and my thoughts about education. I shared my views about the importance of connecting and caring for each of the children entrusted in our care. A lot has happened since then and I am happy to be starting a new school year with you as your Superintendent. You have had a few opportunities to get to know me and experience the leadership style that I bring to Parkland School Division. I strive to use a collaborative approach whenever I can. I hope that you have seen that I believe in sharing leadership. I appreciate you and the amazing staff in this division who work together to meet the needs of each and every child in a changing world.
I thought a lot about PSD and what I wanted to share with you on this opening day. So like most students, I Googled “the most inspiring thing said” and this is one thing that came up.
So what did I learn from this? Don’t use the first thing you find on the net, even though The Office is funny! However, I thought I still needed to share this with staff to start the afternoon off … after all it is important we keep humor in our lives.
I did however find a quote on Twitter from David Britten, a Superintendent in Michigan. He said this fall; “The Class of 2025 enters our school halls. When they leave, 21st century will be one-quarter behind us. What/how will they learn?” As I chat with you I ask you to keep that quote in the back of your mind and reflect upon it throughout the year.
So this past year what have we been up to…
We’ve been working with Trustees, Senior Executive, and our Lead Team which has been very rewarding. We spent time connecting with our school communities, partners and other stakeholders. We invested time in learning the organization, conducting environmental scans and looking at where we need to go next in PSD. In the spring we held PSD Voice conversations at each school/department about Parkland School Division priorities and transformation in education. We appreciate the responses we gained from you as a staff.
The reoccurring theme we heard was that you wanted to “understand where we are going and learn together”. So let’s take a few minutes to talk about that.
As I am sure you know, the challenge that faces us now is that kids don’t learn in the same way you and I did 20-40 years ago or even 10 years ago. The world is much more connected, information is readily available and kids know how to find it. They are not afraid to ask questions … inquiry is alive and well. To me that it is a great thing. However, that means we need to learn how we can best facilitate the learning experience of our kids.
I think back about when I was in grade six, living outside of Ponoka. I remember being so excited because our family got its first black and white TV, with a TV antenna on the roof – two channels, and you had to walk to the TV to turn the channel dial. Later when we lived 18 miles west of Ponoka near Mecca Glen, I remember we had exceptional phone service – a party line, where five neighbors could listen in on our calls if they wanted to – or we could listen to their calls too – I never did that – not too much. We were really connected then! Boy, I’m dating myself, but some of you may relate.
Kids nowadays can’t relate to that. In fact, many of you in this room can’t relate. Many of you were born in an age of computers and instant information. For children entering school today that is all they know. Using iPods, computers and mobile devices is their way of life. Instant response, surfing the net, finding information is at their finger tips. So if they are using this technology what does this mean for us? Take this young lady, her doll is now her step stool!
It is becoming more and more evident that the factory model of schooling developed over 100 years ago is extremely limited in its ability to meet the needs of today’s students – our future leaders.
We know that Alberta Education has set goals, which in turn become Parkland School Division goals:
- Success for all children
- Students demonstrate proficiency in literacy and numeracy
- Students achieve educational outcomes
- Students are prepared for the 21st century
- Transformation through collaboration
- Students have access to programming and supports to enable their learning
- Education system demonstrates openness to new and innovative ideas, leadership and collaboration
- Success for FNMI students
- First Nation Métis Inuit students are engaged in learning
We also know that Alberta Education has identified the need for competencies to ensure our children are active participants in a knowledge based and globalized society.
Personally, I know this is important. I have four children. Here’s what’s going on for my two oldest. Chelsey is a chemical engineer. Skyping and connecting with engineers in other parts of the world is a common theme. Together they are learning to solve problems in the sour gas industry. My son Josh is a mechanical engineer. Regularly he is connecting with members of his company’s team throughout the world. I even look at how Patty and I are using these connections in our own home – texting, face book, twitter and Skype have been our saving grace to talk with our son Jevin who attends University in North Carolina. My goodness, the world is shrinking.
There has been an increased focus on the following competencies with Alberta Education:
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Creativity and innovation
- Social responsibility and cultural, global and environmental awareness
- Digital literacy
- Lifelong learning, self-direction and personal management
- Collaboration and leadership
Parkland School Division’s Three Year Education Plan reflects these competencies. Our AISI (Alberta Initiative for School Improvement) project is critical thinking. Our priorities include CSR (citizenship and social responsibility) and preparation for 21st century learning is seen through our new student learning report card. We are a learning organization and we have grown and will continue to grow in our collaborative approach. We are not stagnant – transformation is under way in Parkland! Comprehensive reporting and the introduction of a division report card is a prime example of transformation. We know that performance cannot be based on one assessment; one point in time has little value for understanding someone’s ability, let alone their potential future success.
It’s important for us to set goals and plans, but what do the students think about this? Wouldn’t it be wise to involve them in the process? Our Board of Trustees and Senior Executive do meet with students throughout the year to discuss various topics and hear from our students. This Student Advisory Committee ensures our decision-makers hear our student voices. More and more in the school we are asking our kid’s questions so we can learn how to more effectively support them. We continue our learning.
ESchool News recently asked the question, “What’s the one thing you hear most often from students about what they want in school?” Here are their responses:
- Interactive technology – use of technology to learn, time to reflect on what they learn, more hands on – they want a deeper understanding of their learning
- Teacher Mentors – a teacher who respects and cares about them, engaging rather than telling them what to learn. Connect the what and why to their lives
- Innovation – children’s lives are much different than ours were 30 years ago, yet sometimes we are still using activities we did when we were in school. Are we modeling change and innovation?
- Choice – freedom to participate in decision making for themselves and their school. Are we educating the whole child?
- Real world application and relevancy – there is a desire to see and experience firsthand, to learn how to apply learning to their real world experiences.
A few months ago we formed a Future Planning Team to do just what these kids are talking about … look at our learning organization and how we can meet the needs/learning for each and every child in Parkland. This team included Senior Administration and four Principals. Together we spent time at a leadership workshop with CASS (College of Alberta School Superintendents). Our focus was Goal Two – transformation through collaboration.
From this Future Planning Team we chose three verbs to represent the work underway in Parkland. Collaborate, Create and Learn.
I believe in collaboration … Muhammad Ali wrote the shortest poem known to man and he simply said, “you, me, we!” Phil Jackson said, “Everybody needs help in this game. We’re all susceptible to falling down and being exposed. But when we lose our fear of that and look to each other, then vulnerability turns into strength and we can take responsibility to our place in the larger context of the team and embrace a vision in which the group imperative takes precedence over personal glory.”
So what does all of this mean for you and me in Parkland School Division? No matter what our role is we need to recognize kids are learning in ways we never envisioned. That means we must learn with them. No longer is it necessary for us to just pass on the information. Our students have access to the information and that information will grow exponentially. As an example, right now if you chose to watch all of the YouTube videos downloaded in just the last 24 hour period, it would take you four years.
I had an interesting thing happen this summer.
In July my son Jevin and I were at Chapters and we both came out with the same book. Mindset…the new Psychology of success by Dr. Dweck. I had heard about it and wanted to read it. Jevin runs for High Point University in North Carolina. The track team was asked to read this same book before their training camp in the Appalachian Mountains.
In the book Dr. Dweck talks about mindsets as being beliefs … beliefs about yourself and beliefs about your most basic qualities. Are qualities such as one’s intelligence, talents and personality fixed traits, carved in stone and that’s that? Or can you cultivate them throughout your life?
Dr. Dweck spoke about two types of mindsets, people with a fixed mindset or people with a growth mindset.
People with fixed mindset tend to believe that their qualities and traits are just givens. Each one of us has a certain amount of brains and talent and that’s it! People with this belief often worry about their traits and whether they are adequate.
People with a growth mindset believe their qualities can be developed through their dedication and effort. Accepting one has a growth mindset means you understand the no one has ever accomplished great things without years of passionate practice and learning.
“What is your mindset – fixed or growth?”
Do you believe you are a learner and will embrace the world we are entering?
There was great learning for me in this book and I invite you and encourage you to read it.
As we learn together in PSD, we will continue to focus on literacy and numeracy and prepare our children to be critical thinkers who are connected to one another more than we can imagine. We will model this for our students. I recently set up a blog for our Lead Team. It was new for me and I was not ready to go beyond the Lead Team at that time. I am now. I was learning and needed to feel comfortable with blogging. In July, our Future Planning Team attended a 21st Century Learning conference in Niagara Falls. At that conference I began tweeting. Me – tweeting? I’m a busy guy. Who has time for that? However, I have been following a few people and looking up recommended articles and I am realizing the connections are making me a better educator.
Does it take time? Yes, but I am finding as I become more proficient it becomes easier. And I have grown much and look forward to learning more. Twitter has become one of many tools I am learning from. That said, we must be discerning in what we choose to believe and ensure we connect with reputable educators.
What else are we doing?
We want to continue to share/collaborate in our daily learning in Parkland School Division. I see amazing learning in Entwistle all the way to Graminia. I want you to have those opportunities to share and learn from one another. From a project that began in Atlanta evolved our 184 Days of Learning Project for the 2011-2012 school year. The number 184 represents 184 instructional days. The idea is simple: every school day this year, one resident of Parkland School Division – a student, staff member, parent, will post a reflection based on the question: “What did you learn today?” These stories, told by kindergarteners, high school students, artists and mathematicians, and learners of all ages will hopefully help us to remember the purpose of schools, the deep value of learning, and push us to find and share our own everyday stories of learning.
184 voices. 184 stories. This project will allow us in Parkland School Division to connect our learners, deepen our conversation about learning and share our learning with the world.
We will be looking at Google apps and Electronic portfolios this year. Keep your eyes and ears open for a Learning Leader Program opportunity involving innovative and connected learning.
Support will be there for the implementation of our Division Progress report cards, those schools that look at electronic portfolios, the AISI project, curriculum implementation and other initiatives underway. One of our Transformational Initiatives is professional learning as the foundation of a learning organization. We will be continuing to ask ourselves, “What is best for kids?” and if so “Is now the time and can we do it?” As our decision makers, The Board of Trustees is looking to the future through their strategic plans, focused on expanding the system review, as well as transformation and what it means to PSD. We want your help. You will have an opportunity to share your wisdom, through different social media opportunities such as blogging and twitter. As a leader, I want to focus on providing many opportunities to learn and listen from the amazing community within Parkland School Division.
Remember, the baby is not being thrown out with the bath water … two primary areas of focus from Alberta Education are literacy and numeracy. However, we must also look to the future and what makes sense for our learners entering kindergarten who already may be making movies on iPads.
Here at PSD, we have a strong team working collaboratively – Trustees, Senior Team, Teachers, Education Assistants, Secretaries, Centre for Education staff, IT, Custodial maintenance. You are an extremely important part of the team. Personally, I am thrilled to be part of your team.
Some describe the time we are in as an educational revolution, a time where together we can chart a future for our youth so all will live successfully in a global world. Social connections, learning anytime, any pace, anywhere, with the amazing technological tools we have has been compared to the impact the printing press had on the world many years ago! What a great time to be in education … the opportunities we have are immense.
I have always loved being part of education. Today I find myself with a renewed passion; we have the autonomy to really touch the future of our kids. We can make a difference in the life of a 21st Century Learner.
I want to share this final quote from the National Center on Universal Design for Learning:
“The goal of education in the 21st century is not simply the mastery of content knowledge or use of new technologies. It is the mastery of the learning process. Education should help turn novice learners into expert learners—individuals who want to learn, who know how to learn strategically, and who, in their own highly individual and flexible ways, are well prepared for a lifetime of learning.”
Today I referenced my family a number of times. This is because I recognize the importance of balancing all the work we are doing in PSD with the most important job there is … being a role model to our own children. Covey does talk about sharpening our saw. So, do amazing work everyone, but don’t forget to sharpen the saw.
As you go about your interactions in Parkland School Division this year, I invite you to remember, you are never alone. Look around you. Listen, and get a sense of what it feels like. You are part of something big, something wonderful and something that is changing the lives and the landscape for generations to come. As a member of this amazing team, you and I have an awesome privilege and a huge responsibility. I am proud to serve you as your Superintendent because working together, we are touching the future.
Let’s make this a wonderful year!!