Change Agents in a Culture of Inquiry

Rick Hansen Secondary School of Science and Business is now completing the second year of its redesign. Recognized by the Ministry of Education as a School of Innovation, the learning experience is underpinned by a philosophy of social innovation, character development and personalized learning through Project Based Learning: a recalibration to a new normal. Very recently, Vice Principal Jacqui Hall presented at the Learning Forward Conference in Vancouver. She has provided a voice over and in my opinion, this is five minutes of must see Pecha Kucha viewing!
Jacqui channels her inner Simon Sinek and starts with why: why are
we doing what we’re doing? Why should teachers teach in collaboration? Why should disciplines be taught in isolation? What is the purpose behind interdisciplinary studies with real world applications? Her point:

Every day, as adults we have to present ideas, negotiate, and compromise with everyone we come into contact with, all day!  That is what the work is… not only are our students developing academic breadth but also the soft skills embedded within collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity because these are things we as professionals use every day in our jobs. And those are the things they will use every day in their jobs regardless of the respective century. [I like the implicitness in this statement: good learning is not defined by a century!]

Over the past two years, students in grades 9 and 10 have been placed in interdisciplinary PBL pods that operate within a BYOD environment.  Teachers, on average, have developed 4 PBL projects they deliver per year (take a look at the staff “project cards” with driving questions and teacher reflections…outstanding!). The school is close to having almost all of their staff using Google Classroom and over 60% of the teachers have transformed at least one of their courses in outcome based assessment. They are now setting their sights on next year’s Senior Schools of Science and Business where courses taught in collaboration will also have, built in, global travel, work internships and dual credit courses at the University of the Fraser Valley.

Of course people will argue that Jacqui has to say all of this, that everything’s going well, because she’s delivering a presentation. But our own research shows that the change in delivery and focus is having a positive impact on the students. The University of the Fraser Valley conducted a yearlong study (part of longitudinal research project) of the grade 9 pods and these were the results:

  • Noted improvement in students’ self-regulation skills and confidence;
  • Noticeable increase in student independence and maturity;
  • Improvement in students’ collaboration and communication skills and even larger gains made in student presentation and research skills;
  • And perhaps most importantly, the work the teachers are doing at Rick Hansen Secondary School of Science and Business is changing the way students see themselves. The surveys indicated that students viewed themselves as “agents of change” who are aware of local and global problems.

In her Pecha Kucha, Jacqui puts voice to the elephant in the room: “that sounds like a lot of work, your teachers must be exhausted.  They are.  But they are also highly engaged.” That engagement is buffered with administrative support: school wide pro-d through the Buck Institute, built in collaboration time, coaching and mentorship and perhaps the biggest bonus, a safe environment where staff are encouraged to take risks. The Famous Failure Jar exemplifies this:
staff are encouraged to submit examples of failed attempts at innovation during the month and at every staff meeting a few are drawn from the jar, read out to the staff and celebrated as a community.

Recalibrating to a new normal – it’s more than a catch phrase, it’s a new way of doing. Here’s Jacqui’s take on it: