Sunday, 13 November 2011

Kellie McRobert - eCompetencies

Every once in awhile you meet interesting people - Kellie McRobert is one of those people.
When I attended Kellie's session it was at 730am (and a Thursday with time zone changes) - and she started right on time with lots of enthusiasm - it's hard not to get excited when you see her present!

She did teach me lots of things in her session but I wanted to highlight her site:

Her and I agree that eCompentencies will only occur when we expect teachers to come into the classroom with an expectation that they are competent - not - 'nice to have skills'.

Our students have superior to skills to us adults so we have 2 choices as I see it -
1) Learn and keep learning - quickly
2) Get out of the way and let the kids lead with the technology.

I hope you will spend some time on Kellie's site - as she has a LOT of knowledge to bring to the table.
On a personal level - she's fun and a warm personality and I had a great time spending time with her.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Remembrance Day - Truly a time to reflect!

There are parts of my role as a Trustee that I dislike but then there are opportunities that reminds me how fortunate and privileged I am to have this role - Remembrance Day is one of those times!

I would like to thank Courcelette Public School for letting me attend their ceremonies and a special thank you to Principal Captsis for making me a special guest along with the veterans.

Mr. Alex Napier, who led the procession, is one of the most devoted volunteers as the school. I would wonder if anyone could actually calculate the hours he has spent at the school? He will be turning 97 this week and he contributes so much to the life of the school through his commitment to having students read to him every week.

Courcelette is celebrating their 100th anniversary this year so their school history is unique in that they actually have their front hallway dedicated to former students who lost their lives in World War I and II.

No one can bring history to life like someone who has lived through it!

Mr. Napier was interviewed for the program and it was extremely moving. The students are well served in having him as a living history book - the kids have the opportunity as we saw during the ceremony to ask simple questions from: "what did you eat? were you scared? what does it feel like to be so far away from home?" Somehow in this generation of multi-media - the in-person encounter is STILL more moving. I would like to thank the staff for documenting Mr. Napier's story as we don't know how long he will be with us but based on his attitude and service to students I hope we have him for many more years.

Of course it was sad to reflect that we lost one more veteran this year that attended the ceremonies in the past - as I reflected on their commitment it is hard to imagine what it was like all those years ago, but how amazing it is to have a day to truly reflect on their service.

As a final tribute there was the release of 21 doves to salute the veterans in attendance as well as those that are no longer with us. They made a great sacrifice for us to enjoy the freedoms we have in Canada.
Let us NOT forget the sacrifices that they made so that Canada remains the Peace Maker of the world.
Let us NOT lose sight of the things that are important - a land where people are free to be their best!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Driving a manual car in New Zealand

So had to add some fun stories of my experiences in New Zealand.

On my 1 day off I decided I was going to leave Rotorua - if you've ever been there - you would know that Rotorua smells like sulphur all the time. The Hot Springs are amazing and the views spectacular but the smell - awful!
I asked some of the locals if you ever get use to it and they said NO! So yes it's overwhelming.

I told my new friends I was going to drive to Hastings and Napier and received some raised eyebrows - I realized later it was because the locals use planes like we use busses. So I thought I would experience more of the country by driving and that I did!

I'm always up for a challenge and so when the local Budget Rental dealer asked me if I knew how to drive a stick I responded absolutely - my first car was a stick - don't ask my little sister or bff about how brutal it was to learn as they will tell you stories I would prefer to forget :-)

Anyway I've always enjoyed driving a stick so thought this would add to adventure - again forgot to check I would be travelling more than 700 km in a day in a strange country.

When she brought the car around I got a quick lesson about how to slide into reverse - to my horror I realized it was a left hand stick - never done that before. So the first few kilometres - it was remembering to stay on the right (or the wrong) side of the road! I must admit when I tried to signal I was turning on the wiper blades and when it started to rain - I signalled but eventually I got comfortable on the open stretch before I hit the mountains - good thing!

The traffic outside of Rotorua as of course it was the Labour Day weekend so it was busier than I was told!

Now driving through the mountains - I've travelled a lot so I appreciated the great shape that the roads were in but was surprised on the very tight S-curves - many were 15 degree angles so the warnings to take the turns slowly were an understatement!

On the way to the coast I must admit I thought I was crazy but a quick stop for a long flat (or as we would call it Americano) I was on my way again - not willing to take a chance of driving with a coffee.

The trip was worth it though - seeing Hawk's Bay in person.
 There were many interesting agricultural sites to see - although I will note I saw more cattle than sheep.

Teacher Evaluation - Is MORE better?

One of the advantages of visiting New Zealand was that we have very similar educational systems. There are always advantages of having a national strategy to education (topic for another day). There are huge savings, more consistency which hopefully leads to better educated students; but I digress.

I was very pleased to hear that teachers are evaluated two times per year in New Zealand instead of our current practice of every 3 to 5 years. My thinking was always that if we evaluated teachers more we would be able to identify teachers who needed support and of course be able to 'manage' those that shouldn't be in the classroom.

After speaking with some teachers in New Zealand though - this is not the end result. As here - it's more an administrative nightmare to manage than the real results that parents expect.

I do need to say that the percentage of bad teachers is the same as any profession and has the same challenges as other professions. We are cautious whenever a staff member is accused of any misconduct and step in quickly to have them suspended until a thorough (sometimes here too thorough but erring on caution is always best) investigation is completed. We do have supports in place to help those that need it.

So does more mean better? No, as the real challenge is how does any system manage out  bad fits? In the private sector it is easier in the sense that the labour laws allow an employer to sever the relationship as long as the laws are followed. In public education we have the challenge of union contracts and union representation. It's a difficult and onerous process.

In New Zealand, they have the same challenges as we do in dismissing staff - so more is not better; it seems to be more work for everyone. Good teachers don't need to be evaluated constantly as so little changes but the real challenge is those that should not be in the classroom.

So often as a Trustee I have heard "oh there is nothing in the file", "this is the first we have heard". The solution - we need to be more accountable to our public and to our children.

It's very disheartening to staff as well that put their heart and souls into doing the best for every student to see colleagues who are not meeting the bar. Again a few taint the whole.

We need to figure out a better way to 'manage out' those that are not a good fit as the damage that they can do can cost a lot of kids their future. Fortunately in most cases, we have an amazing teacher the next year who plays catch up and 'fixes' the missing links.

Remember its only a very small group that are not a good fit. So how do we do teacher evaluations to make good teachers great, help those that just need some support and finally manage out those that should be in a different profession? More evaluations is not the answer! More diligent evaluations is the answer with 'real teeth' to support and develop good staff and deal with those that should be in a different career sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

BYOD - Bring Your Own Device

I have always been a fan of technology! Technology like public education can be a great equalizer. Technology can open doors to students that may not have access at home or parents that can open their lives to new tech trends. And of course, how much easier is it to carry 1 device than 4 textbooks? The difference now about 1 kg versus 3 kgs - saves a lot of backs.

In New Zealand they are trying different models of BYOD. The 3 basic choices are:
1) bring any device
2) bring a specified device(s) - usually 2 choices
3) you are given a specific device and the purchase details are handled by the school or board.

What choice is best? Let's look at the pros and cons

1) Any Device -
The challenge of this choice is who manages all the devices? Who is responsible for breakage, loss or theft?  What happens when the device isn't working or isn't compatible with the technology being used in the class?
The challenge for the classroom teacher is do they know how to use the different devices and what if different devices do not display the classwork the same - as we often see using different browsers. As well since the teacher may not have access to the different devices (s)he won't be able to test lessons and assignments ahead of time.
The advantage is most kids today - especially from Intermediate (Grade 7/8) on have at least 1 device - a smart phone and possibly an iPod if not an iPad - and although Canada is still expensive for data plans - we have started to see data costs decrease so more and more students have unlimited data plans. As well tools such as an iPod give students the ability to access the wifi of the local school.
As a Trustee who supported the smart use of cell/smart phones, I am obviously biased for teaching students to use the tools they have at their disposal - responsibly.
Conclusion: This is the cheapest solution for a school board, and less capital expenditure but the headaches are potentially larger than the payback. On the positive side it does allow instant access for students and not a long range plan as you ask students to bring in what they have. This choice would only be recommended more on a class by class or school by school basis which have some tech resources (or a talented teacher) available to help with the daily problems that are sure to occur.

2) Device(s) chosen but not purchased by the school or board
The challenge - as we all know, technology changes quickly, so every year there seems to be new updates and software updates so there is the challenge of again having 1 or 2 device choices but endless possibilities as the different software choices adds complexity and a matrix headache of all the software with all the hardware choices.
The opportunity: The classroom teacher should be able to handle the 2 choices - usually it would be an Apple and a PC choice and in most cases would be a Netbook and an iPad.
The advantages are many. First the choices are low cost solutions so that most students can afford to purchase. It is unusual if we look at Canadian data for a household not to have access to a device and the internet at home. The choice of 2 devices allows families to decide which type of hardware they prefer. The student has piece of mind that others in their classroom have their machine.

3) Device required - easiest if bulk purchased so every student has the same.
This is currently being done in New Zealand as The Manaiakalani Project - for more details go to

What they did was purchase netbooks for all students - a big bang! This meant that all students had the same device as well as teachers.
There are so many advantages to this plan
1) its a low cost solution - would be about $10 per student per month - Canadian - it's very do-able for most families.
2) tech support is easier as everyone has the same device
3) refreshes are done at the same time - so everyone has the same hardware and software
4) there is less lost, stolen or broken as everyone has the same device - so there are no reasons to steal someone else's
5) students are very responsible and own the device so take good care of it!
6) technology becomes ubiquitous - as it should be - the device is picked up as a pen or paper.
The downside - cost - can parents afford it?
First many parents are paying for cell phones and other items that their children want - so it's about prioritizing where to spend.
Secondly, the Manaiakalani Project knew this would be a possible issue - so they set up a foundation to deal with the students that couldn't afford to make the payments - this would be an option to look for some benefactors.
For the TDSB, we could look at this as we do spend millions every year on hardware and software - so purchasing for the students that couldn't afford it would be cheaper than what we currently spend.

It's time to re-think what we do and how we do it.
Wouldn't it be better if every child had their own device? Think what we would be saving in paper - less photocopying! Better communication to home as parents would have a device that they could check homework and email a teacher. Every home with a student would now have technology - how can we measure how that opens doors?

I am going to be starting the conversation about moving toward BYOD - hopefully the final choice seems to be the best way to move forward.