Reflections on ATA Educational Leadership Academy

I had the pleasure of attending the Alberta Teachers’ Association Educational Leadership Academy this past summer. It was facilitated by Dr. Simon Breakspear, Executive Director of Learn Labs and founder of Agile Schools. He lead the participants through 2 of the Agile Schools programs, Agile Leadership and Learning Sprints. This academy has been run for many years in Alberta with different facilitators through the years. The continued success of this program speaks to the professionalism and dedication of educational leaders in Alberta.

My official journey with Agile Leadership and Learning Sprints started with the Academy, but the unofficial start was well before that. Over the past 4 years I have seen Dr. Simon Breakspear speak about Agile at the uLead conference in Banff, Alberta. His sessions piqued my interest as I felt it was both based in research and experience (The entire conference is amazing and I would highly recommend it). I also attended a short presentation by some colleagues who had done a workshop with Agile Schools. They came back energized and full of optimism about the impact the program could have, but I was not yet sold. I have seen multiple programs that come through and have learned to be a bit sceptical until I see real value in what the program offers. This brings me to the ATA Education Leadership Academy this past summer.

Four days to see if Agile Leadership and Sprints were going to speak to me, to convince me, and to invigorate me. I figured that 4 days was not a huge investment and that in the end if I came away not liking the program I would have at least made some professional connections with other school leaders around Alberta. My 4 days were not wasted and I am eager to use what Agile Schools and Dr. Breakspear proposes.

Photo credit: Jocelyn Lamothe @joshy1199

So what was the tipping point? What was it that makes me think that this is where I want to spend my time? Firstly, the fact that it is focused on being research informed. This is a term I have come to appreciate a great deal lately. My own interpretation of this term is the practice of linking research with practice. Researchers are great at research, but not many are still in schools. For many it has been decades since they were in the teaching profession, if they ever were. This does not reduce the value of the research they produce, but it does make changing practice in light of new information difficult at times. Agile states that research should inform the decisions that schools make and that the best decisions are made by the people who know the students best. The link between practice and research is based on the needs of students.

Another way of looking at this concept is through the very popular meta-analysis work by Dr. John Hattie in his book Visible Learning. It shows that there are many high efficacy strategies that can be put in place by teachers and leaders. No one strategy can claim that it has a monopoly on moving students forward in their learning. Teachers therefore have a selection to make based on their experience and professional evaluation of their students. They need to make a research-informed decision on which strategies they are going to try to improve learning. I enjoyed that the approach suggested gave professional the freedom to choose the strategies that they feel are best going to meet the needs of students.

Another reason that I am convinced that Agile Leadership will yield results for students is the focus on continual improvement and reaction to change. Their tag-line is “Better all the time”. I am convinced that humans rarely foresee the amount of change that is coming. We constantly believe that we will not change, which is not true. Agile builds in a mechanism where improvement is continually sought and by consequence participants are always being thoughtful about how we will change.

And so the journey begins. I have the information and the plan, now to the toughest part for most people (including myself)… Actually doing the work.

Innovate like the Olympics

Start_of_100_yards_swimming_during_1904_Summer_Olympics

Start of a swimming event at the 1904 Olympic Games.

Source: http://multimedia.olympic.org/pic/gal1904s_l_13.jpg

Michael+Phelps+Olympics+Day+1+Swimming+KIuJwYRuieCl

Start of a swimming event at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Source: http://www1.pictures.zimbio.com/gi/Michael+Phelps+Olympics+Day+1+Swimming+KIuJwYRuieCl.jpg

We are currently faced with a difficult task in education. This task is to maintain an education system that our society recognizes from their youth, while keeping up with the changes in our society. People in our society, through their experience as a student, have a conception of what school “should” look like. Pair this with the fast pace of change and innovation in society today and we are faced with a difficult situation. Society doesn’t look like it did 10, 20 or 30 years ago, yet the idea some have in their head of school is as it was then.

I believe that one of the solutions to this difficult situation is to find a balance between the traditional parts of school and the technological innovations that we have access to today. We need to change the recognizable parts of school to better integrate today’s reality. At the same time, we may need to let go of some aspects of traditional education that no longer fit with our goals and introduce new aspects that meet the needs of today’s learners. The difficult part of this is to do it in a way that maintains the image that our society holds of school and to reassure those who are skeptical that the changes are for the good.

I do not believe, as some others advocate for, that the correct course of action is to burn down every resemblance of our former education system. We need to keep many of the traditional activities we offer. Traditions give students a sense of pride in their schools and familiarity. Also, there are many aspects of our education system that work and that we should keep.  What I believe we need to do is push forward with our questioning of our educational practices and innovate them.

An organization that could be seen as an example of keeping traditional aspects of their organization, while innovating to reflect our changing society is the Olympic Games and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The modern Olympic games look little like their old-time editions. The equipment being worn, which Bloomberg did a great article about for the 2008 games in Beijing, is radically different. The business presence in the games is now huge. The use of technology is massive and includes one of the largest worldwide audiences of any event. Even the selection of where the games are held have been radically transformed from the past (can anyone imagine Garmisch-Partenkirchen hosting the games again as they did in 1936?). There have been new sports added and some taken out to reflect the interests of the sporting public.

This change has not been easy for the Olympics, there have been controversies and false-steps. Despite the difficult nature of change, the last Olympic Games in London were a resounding success. They were massively popular and are one of the few events that bring together the people of the world. It is an example of an organization finding the balance between innovation and tradition.

So now, let us try and find this equilibrium in our schools. Balance the traditional aspects of your school with the new innovative aspects of our times to find new success. I believe that this will lead to better student engagement and better learning.

Being a Part of the Change Process

meeting pic

Image courtesy of Ambro – http://www.freedigitalphotos.net”

Change is not easy. This fact has been hammered home in almost every industry and sector. For all the “hard” or “chaotic” parts of change, we often forget the incredible opportunity to influence outcomes. I had a recent experience that drove this point home.

While at a meeting of colleagues I was getting frustrated with my perceived lack of progress. We were all talking about different possibilities and ways to move forward with technology, but I didn’t think we were getting anywhere. At one point, in frustration, I thought to myself, “This is pointless, why am I even taking part in this process.”

I was able to answer my own question right away. These “messy” parts of change are incredible opportunities to influence decisions and also make sense of questions. What I failed to realize was that the conversation was a group of people making sense of unknown topics together. There is no “right” answer, we come to consensus through the discussion.

I saw this later in the week when I realized that as a result of being a part of the conversation I was better prepared to share my vision of how we should move forward. I also realized that my opinion was largely influenced by the conversation. I not only was able to put my thoughts forward, but accepted the opinions of the others.

The lesson I learned is to be continue to be a part of the change process. Get into the discussions and keep in mind that you are influencing the future.