Transformation? Maybe it is just down the hall.

Written by: Jordan Tinney

Published On: November 23rd 2014

system change transformationOne of the big things I try to do in my work is to push people to be clear about what they mean. “Mushy thinking” as someone once called it drives me a bit crazy. Now I’m certain that I am as “mushy” as the next person from time to time but when we talk about education, I tend to see us bandy about terms with little clarity about what those terms actually mean. For example, discussions about educational innovation and transformation are all around today but just stop someone sometime and ask them to actually tell you what they mean by transformation and you may begin to feel a little like Alice going down the rabbit hole. If you ask 20 people, I am pretty sure you will get 20 different answers. If we are to lead any initiative that is intended to be transformative, we certainly (in my humble opinion) should talk about what that term actually means. With that in mind, I decided to ask a few people.

My mom told me if you want the truth, then you need to go to the source. So call me crazy but I decided to email out to our teachers asking for their help in determining just what we mean by “transformation” or “innovation.” When I say crazy, what I did was craft an email to over 5000 of our teachers asking if they would mind inviting me to their class to see what they call transformative and then I want to hear from them what this means to them and what support did they need to get there.

I wrote the email, gulped, closed my eyes and hit “Send.”

A week later, I’m sitting wading through well over 40 pages (and growing) of replies. It is fantastic. The comments from teachers inspired me to write this blog. I cringe a bit when people say that schools today are no different than they were 20 years ago. Yes, I fully agree many of the pieces of these institutions and systems we call “school” are indeed identical to decades ago. However, many of the practices we see on a daily basis are unlike anything we have seen in the past and certainly not like in the 1800’s as some may suggest.

As I started to wade through the list, I thought it would make a great blog for people to see just the types of activities that teachers are engaged in every day. By no means exhaustive, here is a list (with very little editing) of what I was told by teachers. I apologize in advance for a lengthy list but I wanted to show what people actually said. Every day in their Surrey classrooms, teachers:

  • Recognize that transformation is often hidden in the traditional and is based upon how teachers adjust daily to the needs of their students;
  • Use research from the reputable sources to inform their practice on new and developing trends in learning;
  • Skype to places like Moose Jaw to develop number sense with classes far away;
  • Link outdoor adventure learning with cooperative work experience and English 11/12
  • Do readers theatre with classes from Iowa;
  • Take a picture of a bug and put it on Twitter for others to identify it for them;
  • Focus on formative assessment methods and new reporting options to create engaging and thoughtful lessons that include “on the spot” feedback to students;
  • Blog, videoconference, tweet, use Dropbox, AppleTV, Google docs;
  • Integrate Information and Communications Technologies into their practice daily and weave it into their own personal Master’s program;
  • Engage in collaborative inquiry with their colleagues on the effectiveness of their practice;
  • Use and review digital resources;
  • Use mobile technologies to share, consume, and create content;
  • Tackle tough inquiry questions such as “to what extent is the Canadian justice system effective and fair?” and create mind maps to represent their explorations;
  • Access grants and connect to networks of innovation;
  • Use weather stations and connect to post-secondary schools on how to access live feed of data to student smartphones and then into classroom experiences and lessons;Learning
  • Produce student broadcasts for the school television systems;
  • Plan to use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s)  for remote sensing and mapping;
  • Replace listen/receive strategies with engaged writing/practicing/demonstrating/discovery activities as means to get students actively involved;
  • Develop and engage peer tutoring networks to help students;
  • Run PE classes using a Sport Education Model and survey students about their learning preferences to inform instruction;
  • Incorporate “Genius Hour” to give students personal choice in their learning and to develop their own local expertise;
  • Move from “foods” classes based on theory/demonstration/labs of the ‘50’s to a contemplative/holistic model supporting everyday life and the whole child;
  • Use Tools of the Mind program promoting intentional learning and self-regulation;
  • Use visual arts to engage in collaborative projects crossing all grades and producing multimedia products;
  • Go paperless;
  • Teach students to code (program computers) as a creative endeavor;
  • Recognize that transformation isn’t a single lesson;
  • Develop critical and creative thinkers who create their own understanding of concepts;
  • Collaborate between senior and junior secondary students on projects based on inquiry;
  • Reach out to the community hosting events while celebrating cultural awareness;
  • Use visual arts to challenge students to “rethink dwelling” as a way to develop positive contributors to the future while approaching design without being defined by an end product;
  • Focus on learning rather than marks as a way to create safe places where failure is a learning journey;
  • Have ongoing relationships with schools in Mexico including travelling to visit and share via Skype, Edmodo and Facetime – “Although thousands of miles are between us, we actually have more similarities than differences”;
  • Have looked into open classrooms, flipped classrooms, and have used older peers tutors for large groups of students in junior grades;
  • Have developed “Maker Spaces” and sensory rooms for students;
  • Trained students in “tools of the mind” as a means to incorporate the concepts of self-regulation in day to day instruction;
  • Turn kids into “question monsters” while encouraging critical thinking in fiction and non-fiction in grade 3 including developing solutions and having votes on best solutions;
  • No longer just  “tick off” every PLO but I sure know I am educating, informing, and transforming;
  • Use digital writing techniques and internet tools like Google Drive in Physics 11/12 and look to use ways to integrate smartphones into practice;
  • Incorporate service learning into my math classroom by giving each student a budget to feed as many people as possible in downtown Vancouver’s east side including a culminating field trip to put theory into action by actually going to give food;
  • Develop experiential learning in our learning centres by linking with professionals in the community including Filmmaking, Media Studies , Communications and Fundraising Coordinator for Surrey Food Bank, professional in-house writers, poets etc. and create projects that interest and engage students;
  • See their role as transforming from an in-class teacher to a facilitator and coordinator who challenges students to ask questions, make decision and look at possible outcomes of those decisions;
  • Use tools like LXR test to upload information about past exams, provide students access, get advice on corrections and make this available to parents as well;
  • Access online labs through Explore Learning’s Gizmos as a way to augment the practical, hands on class lab experiments;
  • Recognize the importance of supporting our LGBTQ community and use novel studies in senior grades as a means to delve deeper into issues including bullying, human rights, homosexuality and policies surrounding the LGBTQ community;
  • Incorporate the theory of Imaginative Education into practice;
  • Promote student-directed mastery learning in secondary math;
  • Focus on peer and self-assessment as a means to have students take charge of their learning and include practices such as self-guided math;
  • Take inquiry based learning and let students drive the summative and formative assessment;We want transformation not augmentation
  • Use Freshgrade to transform my assessment practices by giving parents a window into their child’s day;
  • Create digital portfolios for students which allows me to track progress;
  • Use KIVA projects to promote collaborative inquiry into global topics of social equality, poverty, and micro-financing;
  • Use online learning systems which upload study guides, lessons, questions and instructional videos;
  • Use a “lifestyle of teaching” approach to design learning environments that students love and that provide them with the learning tools they need to proceed;
  • Participate in virtual field trips to the Amazon to explore how we can contribute to make the  world better;
  • Integrate Maker Space ideas into the classroom;
  • Blend traditional and digital integration of learning as a means to meet the differential needs of our clientele;
  • Build Roller Coasters in class to learn physics;
  • Use inquiry learning in senior glass and metal art;
  • Create e-portfolios, websites, and use Skype;
  • Incorporate the practice and philosophies of science fair into classes and use Simon Fraser University’s science labs as a way to bring the ideas of Smarter Science into our classrooms;
  • Use online simulations and labs to explore science concepts;
  • Turn simulation programs to turn classrooms into countries and students into citizens as way to “play” real world not just read about it;
  • Fuse game-based learning with constructivist learning all layered on a web-based platform;
  • Move from instructor to facilitator which has transformed practice;
  • Let kindergarten students be teachers of their peers;
  • Have full day inquiry activities culminating in end of day presentations;
  • Transform learning through big ideas founded on “Classroom Habitudes” and connect globally with social media;
  • Bring my experiences from international schools, understanding by design, Habits of the Mind and differentiation to my secondary classroom and collaborate with several peers as a means to design engaging learning environments;
  • Meld the two courses of senior biology and chemistry into an inquiry-based program; culminating in an capstone evening of presentations to parents, teachers and peers;
  • Incorporate theories of multiple intelligences into daily instruction while empowering students to take control of, and responsibility for, their learning;
  • Improve ELL instruction by aligning current methods with research and a significant departure from older legacy methods;
  • Teach modern languages through storytelling; and
  • Use in-class relaxation techniques to optimize engagement and to focus students on collaborative work.

Now if I stepped into a school 30 years ago, I don’t think the list would look like this. I now have the wonderful task of trying to determine which classes I can manage to visit between now and spring break and how I will select.

Group of Elementary Pupils In ClassroomHowever, the intent of this blog is to say that I feel teachers do exceptional work every single day. When we use terms like “transformation” and don’t put it into terms that are concrete for people, they grasp for understanding and we can end up distancing people from our journey by making them feel that their work is not worthy because it isn’t “transformational.”

When I watch classrooms and I see teachers at work, it is very clear (to me) that transformation is a relative term. The effectiveness of classroom instruction and student engagement is in the hands of the teacher. Beginning with relationships of care and developed through detailed content knowledge, teachers use their grasp of instructional and assessment strategies to design learning environments that engage their students. Teachers routinely engage in professional development activities to refine and adjust their practice and they constantly reflect on their practice. If anyone doubts that this is indeed true, then I think all you have to do is read the above list.

I am not saying we are perfect. We have a long way to go in many regards. But if we are to begin a journey that includes transformation and innovation, then a close look at what is already unfolding and finding a way to honour and reflect the current work in progress may be a great start. I look forward to my visits and learning more from all those who are doing this on a daily basis. I  am absolutely certain that in my journey I will learn a lot about what transformation means to teachers who do it every single day.