How Social Media is Changing Education

CC Image from http://kexino.com

The title of this post is a bit misleading.  It is not social media that is changing education, it is the people involved in education who are collaborating by sharing great ideas and challenging others to continue to grow as learners.

Before social media, there were pockets of brilliance in every school, district, and education system but very few people knew about them.  In some countries education was (and still is) viewed as a “race to the top” in which you do not share ideas, you hoard them and hope that your ideas are better than others’.  Schools competing with each other do not share ideas and, as a result, they do not grow as effectively.  What social media has done is allowed the spreading of great ideas in more efficient manner.  Educators in British Columbia can connect and learn from practices taking place anywhere in the world; in addition, they can receive feedback on ideas from any people interested in education.   Good ideas not only become viral but these same ideas also grow to become even better.  I love stealing ideas (and giving credit) from other educators.  George Couros told me one time, “the more people I connect with on Twitter, the more ideas I can steal to make our school better.”

Yes, we still have rankings of schools and countries and these do create much harm and stress; however, as Chris Kennedy said, we can now connect with educators in the other countries to find out what they are doing well and how we can work together to bring those ideas into our own systems.  Let’s be honest, do we want ONLY our students to do well or do we want ALL students to do well?  Can we help create a better society if we are only helping students within our walls to be great?  We don’t hope to be the best by knocking everyone else down… we hope to be GREAT alongside those who we work and grow with.

On Saturday, I had another great edcamp experience at Edcamp Fraser Valley.  The Edcamp experience is highly promoted through Twitter and blogs and the actual day can almost be like a microcosm for Social Media.  We had sessions facilitated and participated by parents, teachers, professors, admin, and students (from elementary through university) and it was all about sharing great ideas and making them better.  People left the edcamp reflecting on how they are going to bring these to their school or learning community… and they left with connections to people that can help them to do this.  We meet people who have like interests that inspire us and we meet people who respectfully disagree and cause us to look at things through a different lens (in my opinion, this is what we need to see more of in social media – those intellectual collisions that help us grow). Edcamps and social media are driven by passionate participants who want to share a voice in education.

Social Media is a place  in which there is less hierarchy (I realize it still exists).  Prior to social media, the idea of me connecting with the author of the book I just read or the keynote speaker I just heard would have been absurd; now, I almost expect to be able to continue the discussions with others, including the speaker or author, through social media.  Also, when conversations are occurring on Twitter, I rarely know the formal position of the person I am chatting with as it is about the dialogue, not the position.  We purposely did not include position or affiliation on our name tags at EdcampFV for this reason… it is not about where you work or what you do but more about what ideas you bring to the discussion.

Gone are the days when we believed we should be trying to be the best by outdoing the school or country next door.  In today’s world we are starting to realize that in order to become great, we need to collaborate and help each other grow by sharing ideas and challenging mindsets.  Yes, policy changes need to take place but the people that can drive system change are those who work within the system; educators, including everyone that impacts education, can affect change by modeling and sharing great practices.

So, how is social media changing education?  It is not… but the people using it to continually connect are directly and indirectly affecting those ‘around’ them and thus, changing what we call education.

 Thank you to George for the chats that have inspired this post.  Just realized that George has already written on this topic so have added it here.


Good Luck, Thank You, Farewell

I have been asked by a few parents to post my Farewell Speech to the Grade 6’s that was said at our Grade 6 Year-End Honouring Ceremony June 24th, 2010:

When principals come up and give farewell speeches to classes leaving their school, they often talk about moving on and getting a step closer to the ‘real world’.  Lately, I have been pondering this idea and I have come to the realization that to our students, school is the real world.  This is not some fantasy fake world that exists in some other level or continuum – this IS the real world.  We have to be careful about ‘warning’ our students about entering the real world because as I have grown to know these amazing students, I have realized that their present real worlds may actually be more difficult than the world in which they will enter after high school.  Many of the kids in front of you are determined, supportive individuals who have overcome an unbelievable number of challenges and obstacles just to get to this point in their education.  This needs to be recognized.

EACH student needs to be recognized for all their strengths and talents that they have; they also need to be recognized for the contributions they make to our school and community.  As you are well aware, the Kent Staff has made a monumental step to change the way we honour our students.  In the past, we would be here and watch a select few students get recognized; we still want to recognize those athletes and academic students, but what about the students who spend every lunch hour working with younger students?  How do we recognize them?  They do not do this for any award, they just do this because it is the right thing to do – and this needs to be recognized.  I will never forget last year when I overheard a student say that they “lost the athletic award”.  This student has a strength in athletics yet he viewed not getting the award as a loss.  This is exactly why the First Nation program at our school puts on an honouring ceremony that recognizes the strengths of every FN student in the school and why we have expanded our year end ceremony to include all members of our grade 6 class.  The recognition of all our students is so important and so very well deserved.

In the next few minutes you will hear teachers talk about their students’ strengths and qualities.  It is our hope that these students are already aware of these amazing qualities and will leave our school and continue to focus on these talents.  It is our hope that these strengths are, in fact, passions and that they spend their time doing something in which they are passionate about.  So grade 6’s, you know what you are good at – do it!  Really challenge yourself in these areas.  Push yourselves and encourage each other in these areas of strengths.

When you push yourself you might actually go outside of your comfort zone and take a risk.  When you do this, you WILL make mistakes – please remember mistakes are made because you are pushing yourself and that is a great thing.  That is how we learn and move forward in life.  My wife, Tonya, is a dance teacher and there is a saying that she uses in dance:  “if you fall, make it part of the dance”.  That is what we want you to do – push yourselves, take risks, fall, get up – and make it part of the dance, make it part of your plan.  Times when you fall is when the best learning takes place.

Although, there are many teachers in this school that have put in significant amounts of time to help you to learn, I just wanted to take some time to thank you for some things YOU have taught ME:

  • Thank you for teaching me that field hockey can be played with lacrosse sticks and can involve teamwork of players in grades 1 through 6
  • Thank you for teaching me the importance of buddy reading and the power of having an older literacy mentor
  • Thank you for teaching me that it is ok to show emotions and that growing up can be one of the most difficult times in our lives – and that we need each other so much during this time
  • Thank you for showing me that kids do NOT need to do things for a reward – the volunteer time you have put in to help supervise our primary students at lunch time, run our gym equipment room every single day, go out every lunch and help students in our strong start centre, preparing lunches for gatherings of our families and elders, helping to ref mini-hockey games in the primary end, for giving back to our community by giving up your Saturday to accompany two of our valued elderly adults as you pushed them in their wheelchairs to attend the Highway of Heroes event a few weeks ago.

These are just a few of the things that you have taught me.  You have not participated in these important activities for any reason other than ‘because it was the right thing to do’.  We need to recognize and honour all of you for not only your accomplishments and strengths but also what you have taught us during your time here in your ‘real world’ at Kent.

Today is your day, enjoy the moment and we wish you nothing but the best in the next phase of your education.

Thank you.


How we teach IS what we teach

Larry Cuban once wrote, “How you teach becomes what you teach” and this is something that I have lived by for a number of years.  I have it written above my desk and I often use this when discussing pedagogy with parents and teachers.  Although teachers teach the formal curricula, it is the way that it is taught that truly teaches our children how to lead their lives.

Have you ever pretended to not hear a comment so that you would not have to deal with the conversation that would result from the inappropriate nature of the comment?  By doing this, you have just taught your kids that the comment has your approval.  For example, if a child is walking down the hall and states, “That is so gay…” and the child realizes that you heard him but you pretend not to hear and keep on walking, you have just told that child that it is acceptable to use that term.  Children are very aware of what teachers and adults hear and how they respond (some boys seem to have those “spidey” senses).  The small amount of time it takes to stop and have learning conversations with students can have large impacts on the way they develop character in school.

I was in one of the elementary school classrooms the other day and I was listening to students discuss why it was so important to be caring and compassionate toward each other.  I was encouraged to become part of the discussion so I asked the students how they had learned to be this way; they responded by pointing to the teacher.  I took this further to ask how it was taught to them and one student summed it up best when she said, “it’s not something she tells us it is just what she does”.  How you teach becomes what you teach.

I also had a conversation with a different teacher around promoting active, healthy lifestyles with our kids.  He discussed how this year has been so different because he has been able to model the healthy lifestyle. He spoke about how he has become so much healthier and physically fit this year and how he uses this to motivate his students.  “If we want to promote this lifestyle, we have to do this with the kids and we have to BE this lifestyle”, he commented.  How we teach becomes what we teach.

These 2 examples occurred in the school this week led me to these further reflections:

  • If we want to teach the qualities of care and respect, we must demonstrate this to our children on a regular basis.
  • If we want learning to be the key part of school, we cannot focus on grades and achievement.  By focusing on the latter, we teach students that the result is greater than the process.
  • We cannot teach democracy by running our class like a dictator.  Encourage student voice.
  • We cannot teach the importance of environmental awareness without DOING this in our class (recycle centre, natural light, conservation)
  • We cannot teach kids to do the right thing by rewarding them for doing the right thing; the focus then becomes the reward, not the feeling that one gets while doing the right thing
  • We do not teach a student that their strength or talent is important if we take this away from them as a punishment

As parents and teachers, we need to model the qualities that we want to see in our children.  We teach our children more than just the curriculum.  We have the opportunity to teach our students to become caring, compassionate, and collaborative people; the best way to do this is not through the formal curriculum but to have the lessons come from our actions.  How we teach IS what we teach.


Summary: Sir Ken Robinson in Nanaimo

On April 26th, I had the privilege of attending the Windows of Opportunity seminar in Nanaimo, BC that featured world renown author, speaker, and educator Sir Ken Robinson.  He did not disappoint as he used his dry wit to not only entertain the audience but also motivate us to participate with him in his educational revolution.

Although there were too many things to possibly write down, here are a few key thoughts (paraphrased):

“All people have talents; some find them while others do not… Some are provided with ample opportunity to showcase their talents in the school system; many have talents that are not emphasized in the current system… the education system needs to provide opportunities for students to reveal their talents.

“The education system does not often respond to who students are.”

“It’s very hard to know what we take for granted… Because we take it for granted!”

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save the country. — Abraham Lincoln

“Our current education system was designed for the industrial revolution and remains a manufacturing process where conformity, standardization and linearity is the norm.”

“School subjects are still divided into “useful” and “useless” according to the opinions of society/schools. Things that are useful are those that lead to university or can supposedly get you a job. Those that are considered useless are things like the arts.”

“We often punish people by taking away the things they enjoy doing.”

“Human life is not linear but our education systems are; human life is inherently creative.”

“We are in a state of cultural evolution.”

Flowers came to life in Death Valley following the extremely rare rainfall in 2005.

Flowers came to life in Death Valley following the extremely rare rainfall in 2005.

“Analogy of gardening: Gardeners do not grow plants – plants grow themselves. Gardeners provide the optimal environment for plants to flourish (sunlight/shade, water, heat, etc). One environment can cause one type of plant to flourish while another to die or become dormant. In Death Valley in 2005, it rained 7 inches. In an environment that was supposedly ‘dead’ of plant life, under the right conditions, a beautiful layer of flowers formed. Under the right environment, people flourish.”

“Education must be personalized, not standardized.”

Anaïs Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” “We have no choice but to push the system and start to blossom.”

For more on Sir Ken Robinson, please watch his TED Talks Video or read his book, “The Element”.


Inquiring about wondering

I read a blog the other day by Seth Godin called “Wondering Around” and it made me think of how important “wondering around” is in education. In a time filled with standardized testing and ministry curricula, I wonder how much time we leave for students to just… wonder?

You see, we live our life and lead our thoughts through the use of questions. Listen to your thoughts for a minute and see how many questions you ask yourself; take note of how often you wonder. If this happens so naturally, how often do we allow our students’ minds to wonder?

Something that I have always had a concern with is the way we teach science in schools. Science is ALL about wondering! Scientists start by wondering about something, develop a hypothesis, and then spend days, months, and years testing and reworking their hypothesis. The majority of time spent by scientists is on questions! So how do WE teach science? We provide students with avenues on how to find the answers to questions we give them – what are the similarities between a plant cell and an animal cell, what is a fulcrum, or describe the scientific method. How much time do we allow our little scientists the opportunity to wonder about something, develop a theory, and then test/rework their theory? Do we spend more time fact finding than inquiring? What will benefit our students more – encouraging the memorization of facts or promoting the process of meaningful inquiry?

When I watch 1 year-old my nephew enter a room, his eyes are filled with wonder – he just wants to check out everything! Primary aged children are filled with questions – and they often ask the most important questions of ‘how’ and ‘why’. For some reason, as students progress through school, the amount of questions they ask becomes less and the amount of memorization becomes more. Instead of asking why and how, they ask “is this for marks” or “what is the answer”. What role do we, as educators, play in this?  How can we change this? How can we create more time for wonderment?

How can we encourage students to do as Godin says and spend less time “wandering around” and more time “wondering around”?


A deeper look into school rankings

As a teacher I never paid much attention to the annual Fraser Institute Rankings; when our school did well, people applauded and when our school fared poorly, people raised questions.  The interesting part for me was that we had the same staff and same curriculum, yet our rankings changed year over year.

When I became a principal, parents began to ask me about our FSA results and Fraser Institute Ranking.  I cannot say that I am now actually interested in this harmful process but I do feel I need to comment.

The latest rankings state that our school is ranked 761/876 schools in the Province of BC.  Lets look a bit deeper into the “data” the FI has used to determine this ranking.  The primary piece of data that is used for these rankings are the results of our FSA tests that our grade 4’s wrote in February of 2009.  Last year, parents had the option of requesting their children being exempted from writing this test; a letter was sent home from the Teachers’ Association explaining this.  Many of our parents were concerned about the educational value of this test so only 27 out of 58 students wrote the test; LESS THAN HALF of our students were included in the data used for the FI rankings.  On the FSA reports website, it states that only 29% of our students were meeting /exceeding expectations; in actuality, 17/27 students that wrote were meeting/exceeding.  I am no statistician but I do know that 17/27 is much higher than 29%!  In addition, a large number of the students that did not write were students who, on their report cards, were in the C+ or higher range – meaning that they were meeting expectations – so if they had written this test, it would have helped our results and our ranking, although it still would not change my view of the rankings.

Each year, the principal works with parents to develop the school goals.  Our main goal is to help each student to ‘develop his/her unique talents and interest and leave our school as a confident learner’.   Spending weeks on a test does not really align with our goal and we could not even use the resulting data from 2009 because we know that with that few students writing the tests, the data had little use.  ( I will avoid sharing my views on the test itself but if you would like to discuss this with me, please contact me at any time!).  Using this data to represent our school makes it seem like we have taught all our students for a number of years.   We had 4 students register at the school in January and February of 2009 and they wrote the FSA for our school.  How can we use the data that tests students who we have barely had the chance to work with?  A more valid and reliable form of data to assess literacy would be to test the students who have actually been at our school for at least 60% of the education.  If we looked at these students, they would have had the opportunity to obtain support to increase learning through a variety of teaching methods.  (Having said this, if we tested our schools/students this way, we would also be testing the impact of remaining in the same school for a number of years.)

I am not opposed to using data/evidence to help determine school goals but this data must be valid, reliable and not used to rank schools.  Michael Fullan, a respected author and educational researcher has been working with the Ministry of Education in Ontario to develop valid and reliable assessments; he has an agreement that any data from schools is NOT to be used to rank schools due to the harm that it creates in the system.

Looking at the rankings on a broader scale, schools are expected to maintain/improve their test results year over year; this becomes a challenge when, at our school, the school counseling position, learning assistance teaching support time, administrative time (principal and vice principal’s opportunity to work with students), special education assistant time, library teaching time, the lunch program, field trips, and learning resources have all been cut to an all-time low.  At our school, we continue to do more with less and I am very proud of what all our staff and students achieve.  Our successful art, physical education, science, music, culture, and extra-curricular programs are not included in the rankings and these are some parts of education, in addition to numeracy and literacy, that we truly value.

Someone once said that “ranking schools based on a test score is no different than ranking dentists based on the number of cavities”.  What they were commenting on is the fact that so many other factors come in to play when assessing children and their schools: socio-economic status, access to resources, funding, student nutrition/health, urban vs suburban vs rural schools, student transition rate (how often students move to and from schools), parent education, home situations, etc.  How can schools accurately be ranked when there are so many variables?  I teach my grade 5 science students to always ensure their experiments are a “fair test”; even they would tell you that there are far too many variables to consider the assessment of schools (based on one test) a “fair test”.  With this, comparing schools throughout the province is not helpful at all; can our school be effectively compared to a “choice” school in Abbotsford, a rural school in Fort St. James, a school in the British Properties, or a private school with a tuition of tens of thousand dollars a year?  We always look at ways to improve our school but we do not look at schools that are that dissimilar and say ‘we need to do what they are doing’.

We have a school, like most others, that has a number of unique challenges; many of these all help to make our school so great!  As the saying goes, “the greater the challenge, the greater the triumph!”.  I, along with the staff, look forward to coming to school every day to learn alongside with the students and work with other staff, parents, and community members to continue to increase student learning.

There is no ranking for student happiness nor is there a ranking for true education (one that leads to a healthy, worthwhile life); what I can tell you is that Kent School is a great school and if you ever want to rank us, spend a week, month, or year with our staff and students – you will never rank us that low again.  Better yet, if the Fraser Institute actually spent time in a school, they would soon realize that it is better to not rank at all.