Travel Knowingly: The journey towards discovering your organization’s Element

In November a group from the Ottawa Carleton District School Board attended the Creativity World Forum (#cwf2010) in Oklahoma.  The OCDSB’s “Lead the Way” initiative is concerned with rethinking notions leadership in order to recognize, celebrate and encourage creativity and leadership on a grass-roots level, thus creating the conditions for greater creativity and innovation across our District.  While in Oklahoma, we heard from Sir Ken Robinson (a livescribe recording of one session is here). I wanted to share a recent @sirkenrobinson response to a question posed using the hashtag #askSKR on twitter because it made me reflect on the “Lead the Way” project and the most enduring and sustaining connections made during our trip to Oklahoma — those made amongst the OCDSB group members as we got to know each other better during the forum.  Have a view (4 minutes well-spent):

In this short video, Sir Ken offers us plenty to ponder with respect to our own journey to finding our element, and I also found myself thinking about “Lead the Way” as a collective journey to finding our District’s element.

A District Wide Element – Some Navigational Tools

Its really a two-way journey, as I see it.  The first is, its an inward journey.  If you are interested in finding your element, you have to spend time with yourself.  You have to reflect, you have to look inward ….  You have to spend time with your own dreams ….  Whatever process aids your reflection, that’s a key part of this journey to your element — it is to look inward and to be with yourself and to find time to reflect on your own interests, your own passions… the times when perhaps you felt most centred…         – Sir Ken Robinson, askSKR#6

In some earlier posts, I reflected on my experiences at the Creativity World Forum — “the future is unwritten” , Creativity World Forum and Sitting on the edge of a paradigm shift.  All of these are examples of my own inward journey.  In many ways, the “Lead the Way” initiative at the OCDSB began as an inward journey, and continues to have that quality too.  Five years ago a survey was conducted to determine a new leadership narrative for the District.  The survey revealed that there were many employee groups within the District who felt that their experiences were not reflected in our old articulation of leadership.  Clearly it was time to “change the conversation” in order to uncover the conditions within which our District might find its element.  Our new leadership narrative followed the survey:
Leadership is exemplified by people who are able to impact those around them in a positive way.  Our leaders are energetic, empathetic, motivated, trustworthy, knowledgeable and good communicators.  Our leaders share a common vision in their commitment to all students.  Our leaders understand that their role is one of support.  They lead by example, they seek input, and they listen.  As an organization, we encourage and foster these qualities.  In challenging and prosperous times, we are defined by the relationships we build.

Last spring the OCDSB hosted an appreciative inquiry event — “Make a Positive Impact” — another part of our inward journey.  We sent individuals, including parents, community partners, and staff from a variety of employee groups from across the District out on buses to visit sites and schools looking for what it is that we are already doing really well to support learning.  I truly believe that adopting an appreciative inquiry lens enables us to get to know the best of what we are as a District, especially as it pertains to discovering our District’s element.
In his short video, Sir Ken also discusses the other side of the journey towards finding your element:

The second part of the journey is an outward journey.  I don’t mean this is sequential … but the second part of the journey is outward.  It is to try things that you didn’t try before.  If there are things you always wanted to do, then what are they and what would prevent you from doing that?  And its not just to try things at random, but to travel knowingly — to try new experiences, but to evaluate them and to reflect on them at the same time.     — Sir Ken Robinson, askSRK#6

I am really excited by some of the “outward journey” things happening within the OCDSB recently.  Each “Lead the Way” event evolves slightly so that we are constantly experimenting with format, space, content and participants.  The most recent event last night, designed to celebrate Administration and Support Staff (Office Administrators, Educational Assistants, Custodians, Library Technicians, etc…) was a huge success with over 200 participants coming together in a festive atmosphere to share stories, learn about creative initiatives from across the District, and to catch up with old friends.  Above all, the evening was about relationships — the foundational piece of our organization.

The “Lead the Way” events are also an integral part of our outward journey as an organization because the key components of the events are the displays and presentations highlighting creative and innovative practices from all across the District.  They reveal individuals and groups moving us forward by trying new things — new approaches to encourage learning at its very best.  As participants in the events hear about these practices, a field of possibilities is opened up and we are asked to consider, (to echo Sir Ken’s words) “what would prevent you from doing that?”

And that process of looking outward and looking inward, I believe, has the elements that are needed to discover your element.  — Sir Ken Robinson, askSKR#6

toward the ideal classroom – conversations

I’m going to start here by asking my poor, neglected blog to forgive my absenteeism of late.  Clearly I need to re-commit myself to sharing my thoughts here and participating in the ongoing conversations by commenting on the blogs of those in my mostly twitter-based Learning Network.  My lack of participation lately has not been due to a lack of interest. Finishing a project that sucked hours out of me every day (and I’m still working on convincing myself that it was time well spent – creating storyboards for learning objects for the Ontario Educator’s Resource Bank) and a laid-back March Break full of nothing but family time with the kids and my hubby, I feel like I’m back in the game, so to speak.  

Although my own thoughts on the ideal classroom and the purpose of school are ‘works in progress’, I thought I would share some ideas that have really got me thinking lately.  Perhaps others will add to the conversation by taking the time to post a comment including some of their ‘ideals’.

passion-based learning community

There has been a lot of talk about the purpose of school and what needs to change.  Last month I attended Expanding Our Boundaries in Toronto and spent two days learning with Will Richardson, as well as a sizable group of Ontario educators who are interested in how technology is working within education.  There were great conversations started and/or continued there – either in the room, face to face – or via the backchannels using the #expbound hashtag on twitter or the chatzy room dedicated to the event.  Attendees and PD podcasters extraordinaire Nathan Toft and Jane Smith included a conversation with Will in their PortablePD.ca Podcast #7.  Have a listen to the podcast – it is well worth the listen and asks the question: What does the ideal classroom look like?  Richardson offers some of his thoughts on what the elementary classroom of today should look like:

“I’m looking for places where (kids) can connect to their passions, really – where the teachers in the room are willing to give them a wide variety of experiences, connect them to teachers, other kids, resources from around the world and really in the attempt to help them find what it is that they want to really learn about.  I just really believe that in the context of that passion, if they find it, that we can teach a lot of the stuff that we teach, that we need to teach kids and that they will be more enthusiastic about it, more motivated to learn instead of just, basically, doing the worksheet thing everyday”

Richardson’s thoughts resonate strongly with Ken Robinson’s ideas articulated most recently in The Element.  As I mentioned in a previous post, this book has had a profound influence on my thoughts recently.  I am so excited to be moving into a Vice Principal role next year and to be taking on a greater leadership role.  I am deeply committed to sharing my own passion for learning with staff and students on a school-wide level.  I am excited by so many of the possibilities out there!  I think that the idea of finding and encouraging The Element within every student is a tremendous and inspiring goal for any educator.

classroom as studio

In a recent post called “Recanting…& Remodelling My Ideal Classroom“, Brad Ovenell-Carter, assistant head at Island Pacific School on Bowen Island, talks about how his vision of the ideal classroom changed after listening to an EdTechLive talk by John Seely Brown.  Ovenell-Carter talks about the classroom as studio looking something like this:

“So, if I could make my ideal classroom now, it’d look like this:

  • 1 laptop per student
  • 1 very large SMART board or better yet, a touch display of some kind
  • software displaying a window mirroring each student’s work, say 15 screens on display at once, like a TV wall at an electronics store; at a touch I can zoom in any one student’s work and display it full screen

I imagine a project where the students are working individually or in groups to create a comprehensive understanding of a piece of literature, a physics problem etc. They don’t need to be working on the same format: some could be editing video, others text and so on. As I move about the class coaching and critiquing each student, the rest of the class can see the material I am reviewing on the classroom display. If the discussion becomes especially important, we can stop other work and zoom in on one example.”

I really enjoy this vision of classroom as studio.  I’m excited to see what shows up on the horizon in terms of multi-touch technology and its’ uses in education.  Also, the studio setting puts the students into the role of designers, creators, developers.  It does seem to me that the very design Ovenell-Carter articulates would not only facilitate, but perhaps even necessitate the higher-order participatory, collaborative and inquiry-driven learning that we strive for in our classrooms.  Brad, when you build it, I want to come for a visit.

I also think that learning spaces need to be flexible.  I love watching colleagues grapple with the physical layout of their classrooms.  It is always exciting to see how we think and then re-think in order to make the design work to achieve our desired environment.  At my school, we are in the process of installing two flexible-space rooms in our school – each will have an interactive white board, a bank of 10 computers and an open flexible space where groups can meet, pairs can work together or where the teacher might lead a lesson.  It will be very interesting to watch how these spaces are used once they are ready.

what else?

So, what else do we need to add to the mix?  What are the key requirements for creating the ideal classroom?  Just thought I would get back into and extend the conversation 🙂

Expanding the boundaries #expbound

I’m sitting in the room at Expanding Our Boundaries (#expbound)  in Toronto.  The 2 day event, co-hosting by OTF and ECOO, is facilitated by Will Richardson.  Gearing up for the event, I connected with some of the other attendees through various blogs, the Expanding our Boundaries wiki and twitter.  Discovering our common interests, besides the conference, almost every attendee with whom I connected was reading Ken Robinson’s The Element.  Not a huge surprise, but a happy coincidence.  And, promising.

What is the element and where do I get one?

Ken Robinson explains his use of the term the Element: 

I use the term the Element to describe the place where the things we love to do and the things we are good at come together.  I believe it is essential that each of us find his or her Element, not simply because it will make us more fulfilled but because, as the world evolves, the very future of our communities and institutions will depend on it. (xiii)

Reflecting on this, I ask myself questions like, “In what ways am I in my Element?” and “Is my classroom a place where every single student in the room is able to be in his or her Element?” and “Are my colleagues in their Elements?”

Are you in your element?

This morning, Will Richardson blogged about Robinson’s book.  It is a great blog post that you can check out here.  Reading it got me thinking:  How many educators are reading Robinson’s The Element ?  I wonder about this because I think that Robinson’s text asks us to find that space within which both our talents and our passions connect – and get there. (You can check out WordPress blogs with the tag Ken Robinson to get a sense of the numbers of people out there who are reading and synthesizing the text)  If we are teachers and the element isn’t the learning environment within which we work with kids from day to day, then something is dreadfullly wrong.  In his post this morning, Richardson says, 

Teachers are learners. If they’re not, they shouldn’t be teachers. In a world where we can engage in our passions through the affordances of connective technologies online, we need to be thinking about how to personalize the learning of the adults in the room as well as the kids. This is not the easy route, by any stretch, but it’s the best route if we’re serious about moving the education of our kids to a different place.

Teachers need to be learners.  Absolutely.  And personalized learning is essential.  I agree on all of those points.  The question that I have is:  What are the roles in terms of ensuring that personalized professional development is available to us?  As an educator, I need to ensure that I am seeking out opportunities to extend my own learning and keep me in my Element.  These past 2 days at #expbound saw a room full of educators, all at different points along the web 2.0/social networking/collaborating continuum, come together to learn with Richardson.  Although I know that the sessions were overwhelming for many of the attendees, but I also witnessed 

Transformation in Education

I’m optimistic that change is happening.  But it feels slow and I am not sure that it is nearing the level of transformation – what Robinson advocates for in The Element.  I find myself wondering how I can go beyond my own learning to work towards that transformation within my district?  Big questions after these 2 days.  Thoughts in process, for sure.