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