21C Round Table Panel 20131029


I had the privilege of participating on the Ministry of Education 21C Round Table Discussion panel this week along with Dany Dias,  Grade 7 and 8 teacher at Le Sommet High School in Hawkesbury;  Mark Melnyk,  Head of History at Markville Secondary School in Markham, Ontario;  Catherine Montreuil,  Director of Education, Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board and Sharon Moss, Principal of Leadership Development, YRDSB.

Each panel member was provided a question focusing on a particular aspect of 21C learning to respond to.  I wanted to extend a thank you to the other panel members as I appreciated hearing their perspectives and learning from them.  I have included a copy of my question and resopnse for the session.

My Panel Question

“Our external research team reports on findings such as technology’s role in providing opportunities for cross-curricular learning in manageable and efficient ways, together with a move toward systems thinking by school districts. Curriculum Services Canada (CSC) notes that a number of school boards reported that changing the operational structure in some areas was valuable, such as establishing working relations between IT and curriculum. Please tell us about how the Waterloo Region District School Board has approached the alignment of resources and departmental coordination in order to create the supporting conditions for an innovation such as Futures Forum to become embedded system-wide. What are the benefits for students that inform and motivate such changes?”   We would also be interested in insights connecting  with ‘digital citizenship and literacies,’ and/or ‘learning culture shifts,’ 

My Response

We are fortunate to live at such an exciting time.  The rate of change is rapid, opportunities are abundant and the possibilities for education exciting. Technology is a powerful element and enabler for learning when skillfully and effectively used with best instructional and assessment practices. Technology breaks down time & space challenges and really lets you dig into the notion of “the anys” – anytime, anywhere, anyone, anything access and engagement.  When I reflect on my various experiences, technology has the greatest impact when focused on the C’s or hooks as I sometimes refer to them:  communicate, collaborate, create, critical questions & thinking and (digital) citizenship/character development.  From a technology point of view, the reality is that the actual devices used, are only the devices of the time, and will continue to change and evolve at an amazing rate, so keeping the focus on learning, assessment and best practice is very important.

I believe a second area of importance is fostering a culture of risk taking and providing entry points for staff to shift their practice and “jump in” is critical to scaling across systems. At any moment in time, we all have access to using the same technology tools. It doesn’t matter whether you are 3 or 60, we can all use the tools available. In today’s terms, that includes a variety of web 2.0 and social media tools.

I have also found that studying change models such as SAMR which defines levels of technology use as substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition.  At the redefinition level, technology is used to enable learning that was not possible before.


The TPack model is also helpful as we continue to learn and consider change processes.


With specific reference to the Waterloo Region District School Board, I want to begin by acknowledging my colleagues here today:  Mark Harper and Kim Keena.  The work we have been doing on an ongoing basis is a team approach.  It is important that we vision, implement, problem solve and celebrate together.  We have created a number of forums for us to work together.  I attend the Learning Services Leaders chaired by Mark Harper.  I am responsible for our Technology Steering Committee. Mark, Kim (along with others) participate this this forum.   Mark also leads a Digital Learning Steering Committee which brings together key staff representing a variety of stakeholders within our organization. These forums provide an ongoing avenue to share thinking, ask questions, consider resources and supports, gather feedback and  address issues.

The roots of our Futures Forum Project (FFP) go back 6 or 7 years, to a time when we were outwardly exploring the notion of 21C learning and what the classroom of the future looked like with staff, students and community partners such as Communitech.  We also enrolled in a year long program at  Powerful Learning Practice  (PLP) in order to immerse ourselves in a year long job embedded PD experience to put ourselves squarely in the role of the learner as part of our professional learning.  What we now have as the Futures Forum Project  is the implementation of our action research project from the PLP experience.  Centrally, we were able to stand united to visibly support the idea of taking risks, breaking traditional moulds of delivering instruction and exploring different avenues (timetabling, staffing, technology use).

Core elements of the Futures Forum Project include:  a cross curricular approach with grade 10 English, Careers and Civics taught by one teacher across a 2 period block of time. Classes at each site are timetabled in a common manner (all mornings or all afternoons) to facilitate collaboration between staff and students.  Specific strategies used to deliver this program include:

– blogging for writing, journaling, creating, commenting, peer review

– cross school novel studies where students choose a novel to study with one of the FFP teachers. Interactions occur through a variety of collaboration tools such as Adobe Connect licensed through  OSAPAC.

– collaborative research and content creation to produce online web publications

– Ted Talk Fridays – teachers select a common Ted Talk to watch, students then share learnings, questions and comments through a cross school twitter chat

This approach to teaching and learning provides  ongoing opportunity to engage in digital literacies and digital citizenship. In a situation such as this, digital citizenship is something front and centre as you live it & role model it on an ongoing basis each day. To me, this is how we need to live our lives, making good digital choices on a continuous basis.  As we become more “Googleable” we should be aware of, and manage our digital legacy.

The FFP has been scaled at a manageable  rate over the last 4 years, with careful consideration being given to sustaining and scaling the various supports  required.  The project started with approximately 1 teacher in approximately half of our  secondary sites, then expended to most sites, then to multiple sections and now we are seeing spinoff impact within each site.  This strategy has given the new approach visibility at each site which is proving beneficial.

It is important to continue gathering information and data to inform the process.  We have completed student, teacher, administrator and parent surveys, conducted hundreds of individual and focus group interviews through an independent critical friend partner.  Results have shown that this approach does make a difference and a statistically significant difference in many cases.  Additionally, teachers continue to meet regularly to share and reflect on best practices and needs.

Going forward, we continue to talk about  scaling the system from a strategic point of view considering our current state, defining our desired future state and determining the best path forward while factoring in areas of emphasis & focus, sustainability, supports and professional learning needs.

Related Resources

WRDSB Futures Forum Project
WRDSB Futures Forum Program wins award
The SAMR Model
ON21cLearn Twitter Stream via Storify
TED: Ideas Worth Spreading


Twitter summary from the MoE 21C Round Table Discussions

The 21C Round Table discussions were filled with energy and optimism.

It was truly a great day.


If you were not present, you will get a good sense of the day from the action packed Twitter stream (pre discussion from Sunday and the full session today).   [View the story “MoE 21C Round Table 20131029 ” on Storify]


ECOO13: Call to Action

It is hard to believe ECOO13 is done.   Following the event, a number of people asked if I could post my closing remarks.  Wanting to be timely, here they are.

There is no doubt that ECOO 13 has been an amazing experience.  The energy is high, the synergy amazing, the networking extensive and an incredible amount of learning & sharing.  Each of us will have personal take-aways that will impact and change our professional practice.  Awesome! 

In terms of conference takeaways, I believe there is much more.  As education continues to transform, each of us has a vital role to play in shaping the future.   It is important that we be purposeful in what we do.   Technology is a powerful enabler and game changer when skillfully used with best instructional and assessment practices.   

With that said, I ask that you reflect on what you can do as an active change agent. 

  • keep yourself in the role of the learner

  • tell your story: be visible, live out loud, create value, leverage video and social media, reflect and blog 

  • stay connected

  • consider frameworks such as the SAMR model as an ongoing change model 

  • consider the power of students teaching students through video

  • nurture those around you

Be brave, responsive and make a difference as we keep adapting to teach the web generation wired learners. 

 Travel safely.  See you online. 



Digital Citizenship: A Parent Perspective

Within the context of  Connected Educator’s  month, October 21-25 is digital citizenship week. After recording an earlier Google Hangout session on the topic of  Digital Citizenship  with staff, I thought it would be interesting to record a second hangout to gain a parent perspective on this topic.

Earlier today, I was joined by  Susan Parr, a parent from our school board community and  Chris Vollum, a social media consultant and parent to share some conversation on this topic.  If the notions of  online safety, openness, academic honesty, integrity and social success capture your interest, then this conversation is for you.

Many thanks to Susan and Chris for sharing their time and interest in supporting this important topic.  Until next time …


ECOO13: Building Capacity Panel Discussion

Ed Doadt  and I are looking forward to hosting our  ECOO 2013 Conference  panel discussion on the topic of Building Capacity. We have lined up a wonderful panel of Ontario educational leaders to dig into this important topic.

Meet the panelists:

Lori DiMarco, Superintendent, TCDSB
Donna Fry, Education Officer, MoE
Brenda Sherry, UGDSB
James Bond, Principal, WRDSB
Gwen McCutcheon, Principal, WRDSB

When: Oct. 24th, 2013 at 12:00
Where: Fallsview room
What: building capacity, leveraging technology, fostering risk taking, change

Option: BYOQ (bring your own question)

Please join us!

~Mark & Ed


Connecting Students with Google Hangouts

After 2 days of being immersed in conversation about technology enabled learning, focusing on using technology to get to deeper learning, and engage the relationship aspect of the possibilities with George Couros, I was thrilled to hear how WRDSB  teacher Ryan Wettlaufer is using Google Hangouts with his students.

To me, this is a perfect example of the SAMR model.  Ryan has thoughtfully and skillfully created real life opportunities for his students by leveraging his personal learning network (PLN) giving his French language program a whole new meaning.  I was able to connect with Ryan for an interview via Google Hangouts.  Learn about Ryan’s insights in our interview.

Thank you Ryan for taking time to share your leadership and best practices, and a perfect topic for Connected Educators month.


The ConnectED School Leader

As part of our Board capacity building program, we offered 2 full day sessions for our school administrators and instructional leaders with  George Couros.  George’s session aligned perfectly with  our  system plan  and Ontario school improvement framework.  The timing of our sessions also support the global work of  Connected Educator Month.


George is very personable in front of a crowd, and that in itself helped drive home one of the key messages of the day – the human connection.  His approach captured and reinforced an important message in my recent blog post providing a perspective on  technology enabled learning.  It is NOT about the technology itself.  It IS about the human connection: how we connect, develop relationships, learn, support the learning journey of others and reflect.  Technology plays a powerful role in the “C’s” – communicate, collaborate, citizenship and character development, creating and critical questions.

The “C’s” provide connectors for us to  learn, tell our story  or tell the story of our school or system.  The “C’s” help us connect beyond our school and system.  We gain a wider perspective on innovation and best practices from educational counterparts around the world.  Who can better tell your/your school story than you, the administrator and instructional leader?

Through personal and heart warming examples, George shared a journey that connected the dots on the benefits of becoming connected.  In the end, the tools themselves, and the technology involved, was simply that – a mechanism to get to the relationships and the story.  Tools that supported the journey included Twitter, Google tools (docs, hangouts, youtube etc.), Ted Talks.   Use the tools to make your job more streamlined.  Deal with information once:  Google doc vs word processor to pdf to email for example.

One can not under estimate the value of developing a personal learning network (PLN) to give you access to sharing, resources, problem solving, exchange ideas, thinking and best practices and asking questions – all part of telling your story.  I really enjoyed George’s analogy to using your PLN to ask questions and source the wisdom of the PLN  crowd to lighting up the “Bat Signal” – a call for help, information, collaboration etc. – awesome!

Dovetailed with blogging, you have a powerful method of communicating your story to a real world audience.  This journey certainly does require one to step into the role of the learner and that in itself may be one of the most powerful things that you do as an instructional leader.  People around you will benefit from watching you learn, ask critical questions, share through blogging & other means,  and shape your thinking.

Sounds like this could be messy – right?  So what – learning is messy, and that is simply OK.  Why wouldn’t it be messy?  Process vs end result.  This journey does require that you put your self out there and demonstrate transparency in what you are doing.  And just like the first time skier on the 60 foot run (reference to video) – go for it — it is just a little longer and faster than the 20 foot run.

You can do it.

Take action.

Start building your network by spending a few minutes a day on Twitter. Commit 10-15 minutes daily – that is all it takes to get started.  Commit to contributing to your board/district hashtag (#edwrdsb for us).

See you online in the “Twitterverse” and “Blogosphere”.


View the session Twitter Stream at Storify

Digital Citizenship “Pathway”

Today I am sharing a framework from WRDSB to consider digital citizenship and literacies in the K12 environment.



Technology Enabled Learning: a Perspective

Yesterday,  my morning started with my  with my usual routine – a  check on the ‘Twitterverse’. There is always something interesting going on there, and this day was no different. I took note of a tweet from  Donna Fry  announcing her new blog post  Changing the Trajectory.  I always enjoy reading Donna’s blog as I find her writing thought provoking and insightful.

This article inspired as anticipated, digging into critical aspects of student learning – learning is for ALL, learning is messy and sometimes very messy.  Then there were “those words” that REALLY caught my attention:  building capacity, personalized learning and towards the end of her article a strong statement of importance of  Assessment data Thinking, collaborating teacher + Technology. 

This last statement fit nicely with a diagram I had sketched various of versions of on my office whiteboard.  These words capture the essence of what I think of as Technology Enabled Learning (TEL).  The journey is all about student learning.  The use of technology should not interfere with best instructional and assessment practices. We should not use technology because it is there or perhaps new, but use it in ways that make a difference in the learning.

I am a believer in a thoughtful approach to the use of technology in the learning process and encourage educators to familiarize themselves with both the  TPACK  model as well as the  SAMR  model.  The C’s,  as often described in 21C learning references,  provide what I think of as key “hooks” for leveraging the potential of technology for learning.  All to often,  I think we get caught up in thinking about the hardware …. desktops, operating systems, mobile – laptops, netbooks and tablets.  Ah yes, and don’t forget about the bring your own option.

In the end, these devices are well, simply devices.  Today, the rate of change in technology is staggering.   Devices will come and go, improve, get faster, and have more capabilities.  If we are lucky, the price of a device suitable for student learning will continue to drop in price over time.  In the spin of the “device of the day”, we do have to learn them and design support models. BUT, we need to be prepared for change as the churn of hardware development and operating system advances will never stand still.

The focus must remain on best instructional and assessment practices and how we use technology to support and enable learning, and not what the technology of the day is.  I have attempted to capture a way of connecting these ideas in the diagram below.


I appreciate the timing of Donna’s publication, that she  wrote such an insightful article and created an opportunity for me to share how some of my thinking and learning as it  links to her  learning.