Transformative Educational Leadership Journal | ISSUE: Fall 2022Education in BC is in an exciting and challenging place. We embarked on a transformation journey approximately ten years ago. When I look back upon this journey, I am thrilled at all that we have accomplished. So, for me the question that remains is how do we embed transformational learning into our learning communities. By Lynn Archer
Education in British Columbia is in an exciting and challenging place.We embarked on a direction of modernizing, transforming, and redesigning learning approximately ten years ago. Amazingly, we are well along the path of this transformation journey.
- We developed a new framework for learning focused on core competencies.
- We developed a one page framework for curriculum based on a learning design beginning with the core competencies, leading to big ideas with connected content and curricular competencies learning standards.
- We re-wrote all the areas of learning for kindergarten to grade nine.
- We are three years in on the path of transforming and implementing the redesigned kindergarten to grade nine curricula.
- We have rewritten all the areas of learning for the Graduation Program and have begun to implement the redesigned Graduation Program.
- We are developing new classroom assessment resources to support formative assessment practices.
- We are in the process of piloting a new student reporting policy for kindergarten to grade nine.
Working CollaborativelyThroughout the majority of my career, I have valued working collaboratively with other educators. This preference began in earnest when I was a Helping Teacher for English Language Arts and Assessment in the city of Surrey, British Columbia. During the 1990s, an initiative we in BC’s education system referred to as the Year 2000 was alive and full of promise. The Year 2000 culture included revised curricula, criterion referenced assessment, action research, reference sets (the precursors of performance standards), educator networks, and lively debates about assessment and pedagogy. It was an exciting time – Year 2000 was ahead! Yet, all that we envisioned did not come to fruition. Why? I believe we were missing coherence, collaboration, and curiosity across our system. Overall, we did not have a coherent understanding of the big “why” for change. As well, it was not common for our schools or districts to organize for educators’ collaboration and collective inquiry. Also, technology was not yet such an influential component of educational systems, or daily life. We had not yet experienced how quickly life and learning could change with technology as part of every moment of our lives. In the decade from 2000 to 2010, we slowly began to work and learn in a system and a world changing faster than most of us could have imagined. Educational leaders renewed the focus on the importance of changing the education system. The factory model would not equip our youth with the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values needed for a world we could not even fully envision. As a vice principal, I was part of the team who designed collaboration time, based on the model of Rick Dufour’s professional learning communities, to Burnaby North Secondary. As a school, we were focused on strong learning experiences for all students, but we realized that we could do a better job if we had more opportunities to collaborate. When I moved in 2005 to be part of the team opening Byrne Creek Secondary, it was an opportunity to create a learning environment where all students would be welcomed, valued, and supported. No matter what their previous or current experiences were, we would work together to add value and increase their life chances. Amazingly, we managed to bring much of this philosophy and perspective to fruition. How did this come to be? We had a set of guiding principles that provided coherence for staff; we opened the school with collaboration time built into the weekly schedule; we had a strong focus on professional learning; and we were curious about how to provide engaging and successful learning experiences for our students. The three capabilities, as defined by Senge, Hamilton and Kania were alive and well (2015, p. 29). In many ways, Byrne Creek, in its development, was also an illustration of deeper learning’s intersection of mastery, identity, and creativity (Mehta and Fine, 2015). Yet, the question still arises – how do we keep this alive and not settle into being the type of high school that Mehta and Fine see across the United States? The type of high school which does not foster engagement and deep learning in all areas of learning. Additionally, the following characteristics for building a school as a learning organization (OECD, 2016) were also present in Byrne Creek Secondary’s development:
- Develop and shared vision centred on student learning
- Continuous learning opportunities for all staff
- Promote team learning and collaboration among all staff
- Establish culture of inquiry, innovation and exploration
- Embed systems for collecting and exchanging knowledge and learning
- Learn with and from external environment and larger learning systems
- Model and grow learning leadership
Coherence and CuriosityNow, as a district level leader, I am continuously pondering and acting upon how to embed coherence, collaboration, and curiosity at a district level. When I was a Director of Instruction, our team of Directors worked together to strengthen the network of K-12 families of schools with whom we worked. As educational leaders, we met regularly to share what was happening in our schools and learn together. The team of directors also worked with the staff development team to create District-wide professional learning opportunities. Teachers were encouraged to become part of District learning teams focused on topics such as assessment, literacy, and inquiry-based learning. Professional learning was structured as much as possible through teams and over time which was influenced by the work of educators such as Michael Fullan, Rick Dufour, and Dylan Wiliam. The intent was strong professional learning for strong student learning. Connecting personal professional growth with school based professional learning and district based professional learning brought together the components of coherence, collaboration, and curiosity. As a school and district leader in Burnaby, I saw the value of flexible coherence, or loose tight frameworks where there was an overall focus or framework for learning with multiple entry points for educators. In my current role as Assistant Superintendent, I have recently been captivated by the concept of symmetry and emergence – “parallelism between the work of adults in the system and the work we hope that teachers will do with students” (Watkins, Peterson, & Mehta, October 2018, p. 13). In particular the word, symmetry, has resonated for me as I reflect and look forward to what constitutes rich professional learning for educators and in turn rich learning for students. To be simplistic in my application of symmetry and emergence, the components of coherence, collaboration, and curiosity come to mind. With regards to coherence, professional learning and innovation grants in the Richmond School District are organized according to three areas: big ideas and inquiry, social emotional learning and learning environments, and assessment and communicating student learning. The process of inquiry and collaboration are the structures and strategies for how the learning takes place and grow into being part of the learning culture. I am observing that the symmetry of how teachers learn and students learn needs to become more intentional. It is not one thing for the educators and another for the students. The importance of symmetry and emergence is increasingly evident in our District as school leaders work with teachers to develop their Framework for Enhancing Student Learning, School Stories (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2015, Framework for Enhancing Student Learning). All schools in Richmond have a School Story posted on their school website. The school’s story is based on learning they are engaged in through using the spiral of inquiry (Kaser and Halbert, 2017). This has been a slowly evolving process that has required persistence and a combination of internal and external professional supports. This learning process takes time and patience if the result is to be the development of professional understanding and application of inquiry learning in our schools. From conversations with Richmond School leaders, it is apparent that as with everything in education our schools are on a continuum of symmetry and emergence; understanding and application of the spiral of inquiry process is continuing to develop thoughtfully. There is also a wonderful symmetry between the time and patience it takes to use the process of inquiry to lead school improvement and the First Peoples Principles of Learning (FPPL) principle that learning takes patience and time (First Nations Education Steering Committee). This is truly a positive and organic connection to understanding and applying the FPPL to what we do day to day in our schools. I have for many years been working with educators at all levels to achieve symmetry and emergence and, based on my inquiry conversations with school leaders, I think it is happening, but it is not yet system-wide or at scale. Why not, I wonder? First, we need to have greater coherence among our educators as to the “why” of what we are doing. We have truly been working to develop coherence, but in a large organization, coherence does not emerge overnight. It takes time. Second, we need to support collaboration even more deeply. This may require policies at the district level and not just school based structures. Third, we need to encourage and celebrate curiosity even more than we have been doing. This, I believe, comes in the form of understanding and engaging in all that we do with an inquiry mindset and a common understanding of the processes of inquiry. This ideal takes time, patience, and system leadership.
Mind, Heart, and WillAs stated earlier, Senge, et al wrote that there are “three core capabilities that system leaders develop in order to foster collective leadership. … The first is the ability to see the larger system. … The second capability involves fostering reflection and more generative conversations. … The third capability centers on shifting the collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future” (2015, p. 29). Fortunately, the “field has begun to recognize the parallel importance of supporting adult learning and development” (Severson, 2018, p. 23). Adult learning is important for symmetry and emergence, coherence, collaboration, and curiosity because educators need to engage with their professional learning in ways that mirror the type of learning we want for our students. It is also important for the development of future ready learners who have the necessary knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to have agency in whatever endeavours they may find themselves. We can make this happen by “opening the mind (to challenge our assumptions), opening the heart (to be vulnerable and to truly hear one another), and opening the will (to let go of pre-set goals and agendas and see what is really needed and possible)” (Senge, Hamilton, & Kania, 2015, p. 29).We have the desire to transform; it is up to us to ensure that we have the necessary system inputs such as policies, quality educators, and an open system to make the transformation happen.
Mehta, J. & Fine, S. (2015) The Why, What, Where and How of Deeper Learning in American Secondary Schools. (draft provided with permission from authors – do not distribute).
OECD. (2018) The Future of Education and Skills: Education 2030.
OECD brief. (2016) What makes a school a learning organization: a guide for policy makers, school leaders and teachers.
Senge, P., Hamilton, H., & Kania, J. (2015) The Dawn of System Leadership. Stanford Social Innovation Review.
Severson, D. (2018) Theory for Understanding and Supporting Adult Development. Leading Change Together. ASCD.
Sinek, S. (2009) Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Action, TEDx Talks.
The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited. (2017)Worldwide Educating for the Future Index: A benchmark for the skills of tomorrow.
Watkins, J., Peterson, A., & Mehta, J. (2018) The Deeper Learning Dozen Transforming School Districts to Support Deeper Learning for All: A Hypothesis.