Sunday, September 11, 2016

Creating Change: Week One

This past week was the first time in 15 years that I didn't step into the classroom during the first week of September. If I can be honest, I miss the kids. I miss the excitement of getting to know everyone and re-establishing those connections that sat idle since the end of June. I miss the keen-ness of the new grade 9s, and watching new student leaders step up to the plate in grade 12.

But I'm in a new position now, one where I step back from "the trenches" and get to work behind the scenes in education to coach teachers and school leaders through forward-thinking inquiry projects and innovation. And I'm pretty pumped about it.

We are in an exciting time in our profession. For the first time in over one hundred years, HUGE changes are on the horizon as teachers move from being the "keepers of knowledge" (the Internet does that, now) to the "facilitators of learning;" helping students develop their soft skills (communication, creativity, citizenship, collaboration, resilience...) and navigate, as well as harness, the seemingly infinite amount of information at their disposal. Teaching students to make a difference, rather than make a grade.

Schools don't have to be institutional: neat rows of desks, hands-in-laps-feet-on-floor students, silent classrooms. Teachers don't have to rely on the textbook to guide them through what must be taught. We are at a time when creativity and outside-the-box thinking can truly drive the teaching process and the learning environment.

As our group of student success co-ordinators met formally as a group for the first time this week, we centred a lot of our conversation on how we were going to create this change. We have read up on why this change needs to happen. We've seen the amazing things being done in schools that have broken the mould. We have seen pockets of teachers shaking things up, but on a large scale - on a board-wide scale - we seem to be dragging our feet.

We know WHY this change is necessary. Our next question becomes, HOW do we start creating it?

  • How do we convince others that change is necessary?
  • How do we encourage principals to lead (and model) change in their own schools?
  • How do we help introduce change in a way that teachers become receptive and open to try things that, when you've been teaching a particular way for 20 years, are very scary?
  • How do we help teachers and principals do this when they already have a million things on the go in their schools/classrooms?

It seems overwhelming, and we are up against a lot of challenges. It's daunting. But then I saw this fly by on Twitter this morning:

Regardless of the obstacles, we have to begin now. We can't just preach innovation, we have to be innovative ourselves. We have to meet teachers and school leaders where they are at, and introduce change in any number of ways we can think of to get the ball rolling (differentiation, anyone?). We have to continually reflect on what we're doing, why we're doing it, and how we know it's working. 

And it's okay to start small. But we have to start. We have our work cut out for us. 


  1. Your work at the system level is important, and it is gratifying to see admin step back from quantitative indicators and acknowledge the importance of the qualitative data around student success.

    Nonetheless, until the assessment model changes (grades, content, one-size-fits-all standardized tests, university acceptance based on numbers), it is hard to convince teachers, parents, or students to value growth, learning to learn, and 21c skills.

    Having said that, there also needs to be basic content that students own without having to look it up, so our challenge is to find a balance that instills confidence and competence in both skills and (perhaps to some extent standardized) content.

    We miss you in the school, Heather!

  2. You will be working behind the scenes to affect a lot more students now, Heather. I'm sure you'll rock the role... enjoy!

  3. I'm excited to follow your story this year. I also miss having students and a classroom...more this year than ever, I think. You've written a great reflection here; this work is not easy. It's like trying to change the heading of a very large ship and all you have is your paddle. :)
    Find and celebrate the great innovative work going on around you. Give as much support as you can to those who are interested in trying something new. Look for every little open door that might help start a conversation with teachers who are skeptical or afraid of change.
    Cheers to a new year, full of possibility!

  4. You are, hands down, the best person to step in and run with this challenge! There will be frustration and the occasional setback, don't for a second feel you've made a misstep when those happen. Your position is not a straightforward one. I really look forward to reading (and hearing!) about your progress, in this pivotal year!


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