Where Do We Go From Here? A Decision at the Crossroads

Our website is up and running again! We were asked to leave the server because we were taking up too much “space”: a testament to all of you and the effective teacher blogs you have established and continue to maintain. Now that we have resolved the issue, a busy month in review:

• Stellar results at the National Wrestling Championships with Rowena Cacapit winning gold, Kyle Nguyen, Snjay Rekhi and Manpreet Virk earning silver, Brent Sebela finishing 5th and San Naing 6th’;
• Grade 11 student Raman Jhalli accepted to the Minerva Leadership Conference;
• Our 6th annual and hugely successful Multicultural Show packed the auditorium;
• The hosting of the District Elementary Choral Festival;
• MP Ujjal Dosnajh visited our school and spent some time with our student leaders;
• The “Lions in the House” provided great lunch time entertainment – boy are those football players strong;
• Fine Arts Week highlighted by a great Spring Concert and well attended production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”;
• Our annual Student Forum in which our School Plan was discussed;
• Superintendent Steve Cardwell paid a visit.

As a follow up to our Pro-D day last week, I’d like to thank the Pro-D committee and our Chair, Ryan, for working together in putting together what was a thought provoking morning and a re-energizing afternoon.

In listening and participating in the discussions, what was clear to me is that we share a collective accountability and responsibility for the success of our students. This assurance of success starts and ends in our classroom, as Williamson and Blackburn make clear in their article, “Dealing with Resistance to Change”:

“Ultimately, it all starts and ends with each individual’s personal vision for his or her classroom; commitment to making the changes to ensure greater rigor; and willingness to take risks, support one another, work collaboratively and abandon long-standing practices that are not successful.”

Our professional development day served as an opportunity for discussion and debate of our school plan; however, of greater importance was that in reviewing the data from our recent student forum we were encouraged to examine our own assumptions about teaching and learning in the light of our students’ ideas and thoughtful analyses. What we saw and what the students are presently telling us is that “something special” is happening here. As John Oliver staff members, you need to recognize that you have been playing a major role in making this good news story possible. This is a time to celebrate – to give some credit, take some credit – and then keep moving forward.

In moving ever forward, the question is now, “Where do we go from here?”

Schools are at a crossroads as we await the fallout from the most recent budget. Indeed, Moira Ekdahl, our District Teacher Librarian Consultant in her T/L blog recently captured the mood of uncertainty which has become somewhat pervasive: “We are getting good here at waiting, at being on edge at the edge of learning in the City on the Edge.”

We are at a crossroads but it has only a little to do with budget and a lot to do with the redefining of our roles and the role our schools play in involving students in rich, authentic, collaborative work that builds essential 21st century skills. In his recent article in Educational Leadership, “High Schools at Crossroads,” Ed Coughlin posits that “the traditional role of high schools as transmitters of content knowledge is already being overtaken by a process that [he calls] information emancipation—the ready availability of knowledge in open-source online environments.”

High Schools at a Crossroads – Ed Coughlin

He argues that “the schools that will be successful will be those that transform themselves from transmitters of knowledge and information to orchestrators of a complex program of learning facilitation and cognitive development.” Rather than ignore the rich knowledge-transmission technologies that are becoming increasingly available, these schools would embrace them, leveraging them both to help students learn content and to free up time for rich, authentic work during the school day.

As we look at the data from the BC Atlas of Child Development, we can appreciate Coughlin’s sentiments here at John Oliver. The data reveals that as a community our students are underperforming relative to their family’s economic status. We need to look at our current practices and measure their effectiveness. As we tackle issues of literacy and academic achievement, for example, we need to step away from our “no PDAs” policy and move towards teaching our students (who seem to have the newest and brightest of mobile devices) how to access them for educational purposes. We need to have every student connected via RSS feed to the daily bulletin. We need to podcast our classes so that they can access their lectures at their leisure and ensure that all students, regardless of “pace,” have enough ‘time’ to receive the same information. We need to believe Stephen Heppell when he tells us that “a turned off device is a turned off child.”

However, in the absence of some key learning characteristics – technological literacy, self-direction, and organizational skills – our students still need the traditional mediators of knowledge: teachers. They need you to help them to focus on the processes of learning, habits of mind, and life and workplace skills that they will need to be successful in the 21st century. They need you to help them chart a course for learning, but they also need to know that the journey, like the greatest of classroom lessons, will almost never go as planned.

Where do we go from here? We move forward, “transforming our delivery” but not our purpose: providing students with enriching experiences, positive reinforcement and enabling them to discover their own admirable purposes.

I look forward to seeing you all tomorrow.