Friday, June 3, 2016

How Would You Rather Spend Your Time?

Over the last year in my job as District Principal of Innovation, I have been testing out a model to help schools in our district to solve complex educational issues utilizing the existing capacities and resources that they already have at their disposal in their buildings.  The premise behind the model is simple "We have no more time, and there is no more money coming, but we have tons of unused capacity, so let's get on with it!". It has been an interesting and iterative process, and through the help of critical friends, I have slowly been able to tweak the model so that it guides problem-solving in a repeatable and sustainable fashion. As a result, we are starting to see a higher frequency of unique solutions to problems that we have in schools, and perhaps more importantly, I am seeing a broader development of capacity at all levels of our organization to co-design solutions.

The LCD process is one that requires thoughtful planning on the front end, a commitment to truly understanding the needs of the learner and co-creating with them throughout, and a thirst for feedback and willingness to tinker on the back end, regardless of how we feel the solution was received. In other words, it takes effort, and it takes time. And in my experience, the moment that you tell someone that a process such as this is going to take effort and time, they often tend to lose interest.

As a school principal, there were so many parts of my job that I liked, such as working with students, parents and teachers, solving challenging problems, collaborating with colleagues, learning new things and trying different ideas.  (These were the 'brain candy' activities that I described in a previous post.).  There were also parts of being a principal that were less enjoyable: dealing with complaints from students, teachers and parents, disappointing people with decisions that I had made, and having to work through issues that happened in the school that I might not have directly triggered, but certainly became my responsibility as the principal of the school.  The activities that I enjoyed were mostly 'proactive', and the ones that I enjoyed less were often 'reactive'.

When I deconstruct the types of situations that led me to be reactive, there are some common pieces that tended to surface:

  1. There were often issues around communication.  Often there was little or no communication about the issue, or the communication came at a time when it was too late to be usable or make a difference.
  2. There was an assumption or series of assumptions that influenced the situation about why the situation occurred.
  3. A decision was made independently of those who the decision would impact, often at the organizational level.
  4. There was little or no follow-up or attempt to proactively collect feedback to determine whether the solution was satisfactory--the "no-news is good news" philosophy.
As a result of one or a combination of all of these factors, the time that I spent on the back end of these sorts of issues in 'reaction mode' was not only unpleasant, it often protracted over days, or even weeks or months!   

When we create assumption-based solutions independently of those who the solution will impact, and then fail to collect feedback on how the solution worked, we have become "organization-centered".   For example, if after a sparsely attended Parent-Teacher conference night, we spend some front-end time (FET) considering the issue, choose to change the times of the interviews from evenings to mornings because we assume that parents would rather come to meet with teachers before work, we have taken an organization-centered (OC) approach to this problem.  This might be represented like this, with each block representing the amount of time we spend

Organization-Centric Solution

This can often be called "solution-itis", the affliction that we as educators contract when we move rapidly from problem to solution without involving the people in our school community in the process.  And while this approach takes much less time, and we might get lucky and hit a home-run by taking this sort of tack, the odds of creating a positive experience for people who are never involved in the solution are low, and the odds that we have developed any capacity for our community to help us solve future problems is zero.  And in terms of that 'reactive' time on the back end...well, get ready.  This situation could be represented this way.

Organization-Centric Solution
Back-end (Reactive) Time

In 2013, the Alberta Teachers' Association and the Canadian Association of Principals conducted 40 focus groups with 500 principals from across Canada over the span of two years, and created a document called the "Future of the Principalship in Canada".  This document listed five 'ways forward' to overcome the challenges that take place in schools.  One of these 'ways forward' was "to collaborate and build professional capacities in school staff."  A second was to "build family and community relationships" through "finding new ways to connect with parents and communities".

So what if we took an LCD approach, where we truly appreciate where our learner (student, parent, educator) is at, co-create a vision of what it is that we want, ideate together to great possible solutions, iterate when we test these ideas with those who will live with the solution, and then proliferate the idea to other situations once we determine what makes the best experience for our learner?  "We would like to...but who has time?", we hear.  Well, if we represent the LCD process with blocks of time, it could be represented this way.


which truthfully is much more time and effort than the organization-centric method.

Organization-Centric Solution

until you factor in the reactive piece....

Organization-Centric Solution
Back-end (Reactive) Time

But let's say that even with the back end time factored in, the LCD approach took longer, and even had some reactive time associated with it...

Learner-Centered Design/Solution/Feedback
Back-end (Reactive) Time

the question is, where would you rather spend your time?  For me, as I said above, the parts of my job that I enjoyed less were dealing with complaints from students, teachers and parents, disappointing people with decisions that I had made, and having to work through issues that happened in the school that I might not have directly triggered, but certainly became my responsibility as the principal of the school. Having these types of experiences are more probable if I choose to solve a significant school issue solely from the perspective of the organization, or with the needs of the organization placed before the needs of the learner.  The parts most enjoyed as a Principal were working with students, parents and teachers, solving challenging problems, collaborating with colleagues, learning new things and trying different ideas. These sound a lot more like the pieces that would occur when we take an approach of appreciate, co-create, ideate, iterate, and proliferate like that in the Learner-Centered Design process.  Not only are the odds much higher that the collective school community will come up with a better solution, by involving our community in the co-design process, we will have developed our collective capacity in a way that connects all of us to our school.

I am pretty sure I know how I want to spend my time.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Human-Centered Leadership

Imagine you have just moved into a new area, and on that first night in town, you and your wife and children are hungry for a meal. What better way to get acquainted with the new neighbourhood than to take the family for a bite and a walk around?  You pop open your laptop and search for restaurants that are in the vicinity, and find that there is only one within walking distance.  You click on the link to the local restaurant and while the site isn’t particularly flashy or eye-catching, you notice is that there is a barbecue buffet special on Saturday!  However, your perceptive thirteen year old daughter notices that the date for that special ended two years ago, and that the site hasn’t been updated. You decide to click on the “Menu” button to see some other choices, but the dreaded ‘404 - File Not Found’ screen pops up.   A bit puzzled, you decide to give the restaurant a call, but after several rings, an automated message asks you to enter the local of the employee you would like to speak to, or to leave a message after the tone so someone can get right back to you about reservations.  You hang up.
“I’m hungry!” groans your eleven year old boy, and you make the executive decision to walk to the restaurant.  After a pleasant ten minute walk, you arrive out front.  The restaurant is in an older building, and you notice there are a few weeds poking out of the sidewalk, and the one of the letters on the restaurant sign has fallen off.  However, the family is getting hungry and restless--they need to eat!  You walk in, and a sign says ‘Please Wait To Be Seated’, but there is no one at the desk to greet you.  After a minute or two, you peek around the corner and gently call “Hello?”, to which a voice responds with “I’ll be with you as quickly as I can.”.  A few moments later, a host comes around the corner and says “Sorry, we are SO short staffed in this place.  Do you have a reservation?”.  You inform the host that you tried to call, but there was no answer.  The host says “We ask that people leave a message so that we can put a reservation in, but I guess you didn’t do that.”  He looks at a reservation book and shrugs. “Well, we don’t have anything available for at least another hour.”  You notice that there is a large set of tables that are empty, and ask if you could sit there--the family is starving!  The host looks at you and says “Those people made a reservation, sorry. When you make a reservation, it makes it a lot easier for us to get you in.”.  Frustrated and hungry, you and the family head home so you can drive somewhere else to get something to eat.  “I don’t want to live here!” moans your daughter.

Now take this situation, and replace ‘local restaurant’ with ‘local school’.  Substitute the idea of your children being hungry for something to eat with their being excited and nervous to start a new school year.  Think about the angst involved in moving to a new area, and how you and your children would feel if you went to the website of their new, neighbourhood school and the pages were out of date and filled with dead links.  Or when you tried to call to get any information, you couldn’t get a person to help you on the other end.  And then when you finally decided to just show up at the new school with your children to register because you couldn’t figure out a better way, you were made to feel that it was inconvenient for the people that worked there that you came when you did.  All you wanted was to register your children, and in the end, your user experience was poor at best.

In the business world, creating a rich and positive UX (user experience) for a customer or clients is essential for successful enterprises. Yet UX can often be a distant afterthought for us when it comes to considering the experiences that our students, parents, and even educators have in our schools each day.  What makes this lack of attention to UX even more perplexing is the fact that we have virtually unlimited and direct access to input and feedback from our clients every day--they are in front of us in our classrooms, in the staff room, and in the parking lot of our schools each day.  As a lead digital marketer of a large multi-national corporation said to me at a recent business conference “I could only wish to have the access to our customers that schools have to their customers.”.

With the hustle and bustle of the everyday lives of educators, solving problems as quickly as possible is often the order of the day.  When an issue comes to us in our classrooms, schools, or districts, we want to ensure we handle it professionally and carefully, but also in a timely manner because we know there will be another issue cropping up shortly after!  And by our very nature we are helpers in education; we want to give our learners and our school community the assistance they need when they come to us with a problem.  Yet often times in the spirit of efficiency, we implement solutions without involving those who are having the problem:  our students and parents, and even our teachers and principals when we are in district leadership positions.  And while we might feel as though we are being more efficient, we can be missing out on a tremendous opportunity to collaborate with and empower the members of our school community.

When it comes to different approaches to solving problems, I believe the field of education can learn a great deal from the design sector: leading design firms such as IDEO and the Stanford D-School use a human-centered approach to spark new and creative solutions.  In IDEO’s Design Thinking method, they “consider every product touch-point as an opportunity to surprise, delight and deliver benefits to users.” and actively collaborate with those who use that particular product or service. As working cooperatively with our partners in education is so vital to our success,  I believe adopting a collaborative, human-centered leadership style has enormous potential to help us ensure a more positive user experience for our partner groups and concurrently build their leadership capacity at every level.  I believe this can be done by following a few steps:

  1. Recruit a diverse, eclectic, problem-seeking team.  Considering the user-experience you are considering in your classroom, faculty meeting school or district, who are the people that you might assemble to ensure that you get a wide variety of ideas and perspectives?  For example, if you are considering communication from your classroom, collaborating with students and parents is key: they can provide you with authentic, personal experiences that they have had inside and outside of the class.  Not to mention, effective communication is important to any workplace, and parents may be able to bring new and fresh ideas from other sectors that are applicable to the school setting.

  1. Start with questions that promote divergent thinking. When approaching issues in our schools, we frequently begin by asking questions that can narrow our focus, such as “How can we make better parent-teacher conferences?”. By beginning with a vision of something that we have previously done, we can inadvertently limit conversation and constrain ourselves to making minor ‘tweaks’ to existing processes or structures.  When we have a think tank of problem-seekers with different experiences and skill sets, it is important to ask questions that elicit different reactions and spark new ideas:  the last thing we want to do is limit the creative capacity of the group!  A question that promotes divergent thinking such as “What is the experience that we want our parents to have when they are learning about their student’s progress?” starts a different conversation, and encourages the team to think about the end user before the end product.  It is vital at this stage to be an active listener and encourage each of our partners to speak--they are the true leaders in this process because they are the experts on describing their personal experiences.

  1. Co-create your MVP (minimally-viable product).   A common approach to teaching and learning can be “know then do”:  we often feel like we must preload learners with a requisite set of skills before they can be released to try them out in a more hands-on environment.  However, in doing this, we are attempting to anticipate each of the skills that a learner may need to solve a particular problem.  An alternative approach is to “do then know”.  If we co-create prototypes with our diverse group as early as possible in the design process and observe our end users trying these ‘minimally viable products’, we can better understand the strengths and flaws of our models.   As David Kelley, founder of IDEO said “If you want to improve a piece of software all you have to do is watch people using it and see when they grimace, and then you can fix that”.  With our parent conference example, if the group chose to try a model using fifteen-minute, student-led conferences featuring a presentation of learning, we would want to test this concept with a small number of students doing presentations to a few adults before we adopted the model.  By taking a “do then know” stance in co-creating and testing prototypes of our ideas, we can ‘walk a mile’ in the shoes of our students and parents, but we can cultivate a true sense of ownership over the iteration process.

  1. Be hungry for feedback.  When we encourage our end users try our prototypes, we create fertile ground for observation, and we need to harvest any feedback that we can get!  Sitting and watching a small group of our students and parents go through a process of fifteen minute, student-led conferences can tell us a multitude of things.  We can determine if the physical setting is right, whether the allotted time is sufficient, if the size of the audience is appropriate, and other observable salient details.  But we must also ensure that we take advantage of having our end users there in front of us: interviewing our kids and parents for warm feedback, cool feedback, and suggestions can provide us with rich insights that only they can provide.  We need to create an open and collaborative environment where they feel empowered to be specific and honest.  We also must demonstrate that we value their contributions by making the changes that result from their feedback. Try having one of them carry a video camera with them when they go through the process so you can see the experience through their eyes!

  1. Experience before product.  We can spend a great deal of time, effort and energy in creating multiple iterations of our minimally viable products.  We might tweak and test our student-led conferences six or seven times as a result of numerous observations, and think we have truly ‘nailed it’ on the final product. For example, perhaps we have created an amazing format for our student-led conferences that fits perfectly into our schedule for that particular day, but it only ‘works’ if we have a three minute transition between each conference.  However, the feedback from our test parents and students tells us that when they have tried the three minute transition, students are unable to do a proper breakdown and setup of their presentations.  Furthermore, parents with more than one child at the school would be late to their second presentation. While it can be very easy to “just go with it” and hope for the best, all of the positive work that we have done with our group to co-create the amazing student led-conferences can be quickly negated if clinging to a product (such as the time for transition) becomes more important than the experience of the user.  Iterations can occur at any time during the creative process, right up until the rollout when we think we have landed on that one ‘perfect’ solution.  And when these iterations do come up and make the product more user-friendly, it is vital to ensure that we are more committed to those who are using our product rather than the product itself.

  1. Make de-briefing a habit.  Once the experience for our users has occurred, it is not uncommon for us to simply move on to the next task:  schools are busy places, and as soon as we have crossed one item off of the ‘to do’ list, we know there will be two more to replace it.  But while the experience is fresh in people’s minds, get feedback, and lots of it!  Chat with people, use a brief survey, and bring a focus group in so that you and your team can get a true sense of what could be altered so that the experience is even better in the future.  Even if you feel the event has gone exceedingly well, there is still much to be learned from those who had the experience.  Make sure you re-visit the initial prototype: seeing the journey from the initial to the final product is a powerful reminder of the group's responsiveness to feedback.

Taking a human-centered, inquiry-based approach and involving end-users in co-creating positive user experiences in education has many benefits.  Not only will we come up with solutions that better suit the needs of our students, parents, and educators, we empower them to make a difference in the areas that truly matter--the experiences they have in our schools on a daily basis.  By having our partners work with us in diverse ‘think tank’-style groups, we develop their capacity as leaders in the design, feedback and iterative process. And perhaps most importantly, we build relationships with those that we serve by doing something meaningful that makes a difference. So whether it is parent-teacher conferences, elementary to high school transition for students, implementation of new grading software for teachers, or reviewing policy for administrators, when we adopt a more collaborative, human-centered leadership style, we can transform our classrooms, schools and districts to be truly responsive to the needs and experiences of our students, parents, and educators that learn in them.

*this article appeared in Education Canada Magazine, March 2016

Monday, March 7, 2016

Modeling 'Learning Beyond The Content'

For those that may have attended some of the workshops and presentations that I have done over the past few years, they would know that one of the ideas that I repeatedly stress is the idea of “learning beyond the content”. As I have maintained since I started my blog (and it has been on the mast head since day one), “There is no more money. There is no more time: there are 24 hours in the day.  It’s also the greatest job in the world, so let’s get on with it.”, and as a result, I feel that we have a responsibility to make the most of every moment of every learning opportunity that we provide to support our educators. As my good friends from Fort Worth said to me last year, “We don’t have time for “sit ‘n’ git”!”.  So whenever I attend a conference or professional development session as a participant, I like to try to find ways to take important messages and turn them into activities for faculty meetings or workshops that not only allow participants to ‘interact’ with these concepts, but to do so in a way that allows them to simultaneously learn other skills.  So if you are looking to dig deeper with your staff with some ‘learning beyond the content’ for an upcoming faculty meeting, administrator meeting, or workshop, the model used in this post might work well for you!

The 'Content':
In February, I had the opportunity to attend FISA 2016 in Vancouver, and was able to attend a session by Yong Zhao.  He underscored the importance of developing an entrepreneurial spirit in our students so they can begin to envision and take advantage of the emerging opportunities that arise out of innovations and technologies that are being prototyped, tested, and unveiled all around us on a daily basis.  The example Yong Zhao gave was around the driverless car, and he asked us to consider what driverless cars could mean to society from an entrepreneurial perspective:  what jobs will arise as a result of driverless cars?

On the drive home after the conference, I reflected that while I might have a functional knowledge of the schools and a few hypotheses about “the next curve” in education, my perspective beyond the K-12 system is actually quite limited.  I don’t usually spend a great deal of time thinking about things such as the future of biotechnology, working with ‘big data’, or becoming a ‘simulation developer’. Not to mention, I certainly haven’t drilled down to think of how I might prepare learners to find opportunities in new and emerging industry spaces.  And if I was feeling this way, I wondered if other educators would be able help learners to ‘spot the opportunities’ in emerging innovations.

The 'Activity':
As a result of what I heard from Yong Zhao at FISA, I have been testing an activity called “Spot the Opportunity”.  In this exercise, I have participants create and present a short, four-slide Google presentation using new or emerging technologies as the content (ie. driverless cars, drones, smart contact lenses). The Google slide deck (I provide blank templates to save time) needs to have four elements, each on a slide with a infographic, picture, or very short (30 second) video:
  1. a description of the new innovation/technology
  2. some ideas about what that new innovation/technology might replace in our current society
  3. some forward thinking and hypothesizing about potential entrepreneurial spin offs   
  4. the skills and training that students would require to leverage these entrepreneurial opportunities.

  1. I have the group divide into groups of two with one piece of technology (ie. chromebook or something similar)
  2. I send them the link to a ‘force-copy’ slide deck with four slides.
  3. I show the group the ‘Research Tool’, and how to drag an image into the slide deck.
  4. I start the timer.  The participants then have 10-12 minutes to develop this short, 1-2 minute presentation.  Having short timelines keeps the activity crisp.
    "Opportunity" slide on an innovation (drone technology)
  5. To model the iterative cycle, partners do an ‘iteration presentation’ to another set of partners. The other partners have two minutes to give warm feedback, cool feedback and suggestions for 2 minutes, and then the roles are reversed.  This takes 8 minutes (4 minutes per group)
  6. Groups have 3 minutes to make any changes, and clean-up.
  7. Groups do a final presentation to a different pair.  
  8. At the end, I ask one or two groups to present to everyone.  In total, the creation and presentation phase of this activity takes 30-35 minutes.

The "Learning Beyond The Content"
After the presentations, I have participants reflect for five minutes to analyze the task that they just completed.  I ask the participants to list and provide evidence of the skills that they had to demonstrate in creating this very brief slide deck through the lens of “What were you saying, doing, writing or producing that is evidence of you demonstrating this skill?” (In BC, I also have participants analyze the task through the lens of our re-designed curricular competencies so they become familiar with the process of task analysis, and being able to plan for what students would be saying, doing, writing, and/or producing as a result of activities such as these.)

In the true spirit of ‘learning beyond the content’, participants get to learn about an innovation such as the driverless car, and they begin to think critically about the entrepreneurial skills that students might need to leverage the new innovation, along with the other criteria for the slide deck.  But at the same time, they also
  • create content using Google slides
  • use the Google research tool
  • learn how to drag and drop pictures, video, and/or citations
  • practice giving and receiving feedback
  • iterate as a result of feedback
  • learn about effective slide design
  • present to their peers
  • analyze a task and reflect upon the skills they have learned
  • and….?

To this point, I have tested this activity with a couple of groups and had another group test it on their own. "Spot the Opportunity" has been well-received, so if this is an activity that might work for your faculty or district meeting, give it a shot! All I ask is that you share it back when you make it better. As well, if the idea of creating 'learning beyond the content'-style activities inspires you to create others, please share them as well!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Human-Centered School Improvement Plans

Six years ago, I wrote my fifth blog post ever:  it was called "School Improvement Plans Suck! (And why they don't have to).  And while I look back and shake my head at the lack of subtlety in title that I chose, upon reflection I realize that I was expressing my own frustration with the plans that I had created when I was a Principal.  Despite the hard work and absolute best of intentions by all parties involved, many of the plans that I submitted were created by myself and a small team of teachers, approved by a small group of parents, read by a small fraction of our school community and usually led to small, incremental gains in the improvement of student achievement.

Big effort.  Small gains.  Or, as my friends from Texas might say: “A lot of hat...not much cattle.”. So, in the spirit of design thinking, I tried to reframe the issue in a way that might promote different thought as a design challenge.  

“How can we create a plan for learning that delights our school community?”

To me, when someone is ‘delighted’, they are beyond ‘satisfied’ with the experience that they have just had: they are shaking their head in wonderment, with a smile on their face and a tear in their eye.  The experience has been so rich that they want to share the memories with others, both with friends and people that they might not know so well.  So rich that they hope to do it again but wonder if it could ever be replicated.  I like the word ‘delight’.  

I do not know many ‘delightful’ school plans, so I began to think of the experiences in education and schools that do actually delight people to see if I could find some common threads that could be pulled into the planning experience.  One experience came to mind for me:  it was when I was at a Parent Advisory Council meeting at my former school, and four of our students came to present to the parents about “Operation Guatemala”.  The PAC had helped to sponsor our students to go to Guatemala, and the students wanted to report back and to express their gratitude for being afforded such a unique opportunity.  Operation Guatemala was a two week trip to a small, mountainous community in Guatemala led by a group of 12 of our students and a sponsor teacher. The purpose of the trip was to build homes for families who were unable to build homes for themselves.  
The Sa-Hali Operation Guatemala Team
The students showed pictures of the area, the people they met, the children they played with, and the work that they did to build small, one-room, cinder-block homes for a number of families.  And then they began to talk about one family in particular who was so thankful for what they did.  The young father was not able to work because he had a severely broken leg and required surgery; an operation that they could not afford.  As a result, the mother and their young child were making braided jewelry to sell in the village to try to make ends meet, however, they were not making ends meet.  The family was so thankful for the work done by our students because the house that was built would give the family a tiny bit of a leg up in their very difficult life.  Our students could not believe the joy they brought to this family.  So touched were our students by this family that Operation Guatemala decided they would raise the money here at home for the father’s surgery and send it to the family.  

I looked around at the participants at the PAC meeting.  Everyone was crying. They could not believe the impact that this group of students had made.  The experience went so far beyond the expectations of the our students and the Parent Advisory Council that people spoke about it for weeks afterwards.  They shared their memories with others, both with friends and with those they didn’t know so well.  This was the type of experience that we want in schools:  one that delights the participants.

The main thread that I pulled from this experience?  The students of Operation Guatemala were solving a meaningful, real-life problem, and the learning that these students was far beyond any content that they could have covered in a classroom.  

Real-life, and learning beyond the content.

And then it hit me. A plan that uses parts of human-centered design. That solves a real-life problem. And that involves those who the solution will impact in the creation of the plan.

The Community Improvement Plan.

What if our school improvement plans were not just focused on improving student achievement? Instead, what if our plans were about improving student achievement through solving a real-life problem in the community? Through making our community a better place for everyone.

Here’s how it could look.

In the Spring of a school year, students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members come together to brainstorm around a question such as “How can we create a plan for learning that delights our school community?”.  People would brainstorm about issues in the community; issues that are lofty, that stretch us, but things that, were they to be solved, they would make a significant impact in the community.  Perhaps the group comes up with the following challenge:

“How can our school ensure the local food bank is full for the summer?”

Maybe they choose this issue because they felt that the food bank was full at Christmas, but was often near-empty during the summer months, even though the demand for food was still just as high. They would then start to come up with ideas and questions about how each student, each class, each teacher, and each administrator would be involved along with members of the community.  People would have to begin to think about things such as ‘What’s involved in making sure the food bank is full?’ , ‘Who could help us?’, ‘What is the capacity of the food bank?’, ‘How could we gather interest?’, ‘Where would we get food?’, and ‘How would it be transported?’, just to name a few things.  

These ideas would be taken back to the staff so that they could not only look at how best their classrooms would be involved, they could start to look at some of the teaching and learning that could be gleaned from filling the local food bank.  What is the math involved in filling a food bank? The science behind nutritious foods and foods that last a long time?  The language arts involved in effective methods of communication to seek help from volunteers and to promote the project? The media arts and technology involved to document the learning that would take place?  The possibilities would be endless, as would the opportunities to engage students, teachers and the community in something meaningful.

Once the framework of the plan was developed, the school would want to get some outside eyes on the plan.  Using something like the High Tech High Tuning Protocol, a small team could meet with another partner school (or in our District, their Family of Schools) to get warm feedback, cool feedback and suggestions about different aspects of the plan, including key knowledge that students and teachers would need, and how best it could be launched to capture the imagination of the larger school community.  Kids need to be a part of this--if we want them to get excited, we have to test out whether our ‘cool ideas’ are ‘sick’ (or whatever term our kids use today to say that something is awesome).

The Launch:
Once the school had iterated as a result of the feedback, the opening ‘kick-off assembly’ of the year would be totally geared to getting students and teachers excited about helping their community.  Presentations from the community, engaging and interactive videos showing the importance of every person in the community having food, statistics that highlight the issue--whatever our students and educators felt would start everyone off on the right foot to solve the issue.

Scaffolding and Sustained Inquiry:
Over the course of the year, classes would constantly re-visit the question through each of the content areas to work through the steps to solve their piece of issue.  Project-leaders and teams would be in each class to help teachers co-create the steps, supports, and products that would be the benchmarks for their part the project.  There would be critique of each of the pieces, and iteration as a result, while archivists were constantly taking pictures and videos to show the process and progress that each of the classes were making toward the overarching goal.

The Presentation of Learning to the Community/Celebration:
As the school came closer to finishing the project for the year, they would begin to work on how best to share their learning with the community.  Using the authentic products and artifacts collected by class archivists, the school would begin to coalesce the events over the course of the year into something that truly reflected the learning that had taken place and the progress that the school had made toward achieving their goal.  Perhaps the school would have their presentation of learning at the food bank and invite the community and local media to see presentations from each of the classes.  In those presentations, each class would talk about what they learned from doing this project, including the math, the science, the language arts, and the content areas. But they would also talk about the other competencies that they had developed (like the ones in the new and exciting BC Ed Plan curriculum).  There could be an unveiling of the shelves of the food bank, filled to the brim prior to the summer.  Or maybe they are not full, but partially filled, and the school talks about the challenges that they had, and things that they would do differently in the future.  

Now these are just ideas, and I know that others will have better ones about how they could create a Community Improvement Plan.  But I think of the positives as a result of a plan that works with the community to solve a community issue:

  • the students would feel like they have done something meaningful and that they have learned content areas in a real-life, hands-on context.
  • the staff would feels as though they have done something that has made a difference.  Even for people that think such a plan might be a crazy idea, no one can deny that helping the community is a good thing.  A really good thing.
  • the community would be ecstatic--a large group would have taken a real run at a community issue.  They also would have gotten a true window into the learning that has taken place in the school.

In our district, we have more than 40 schools.  Imagine if each of our 40 schools created a plan that was targeted to improve student learning through solving a community issue?  Imagine how the community would feel about school plans?  

And more importantly, imagine the difference that our schools would make to the community.

That is a community that I want to be a part of, and this idea is something that I am going to examine in our district.

If you have thoughts about this, please comment: I would love to hear about them.