Relationships, Engagement and Authenticity

21 Mar

CASS and Alberta Ed – Learning Symposium 2012: Engaging Partners

I attended this two-day symposium looking not only to connect the work that is already occurring in PSD70 but to seek out ways to continue the momentum and the journey in these areas. (Our divisional priorities: strategic system planning, citizenship and social responsibility, developmentally responsive curriculum and effective assessment. Our key strategic actions: system review, creating inclusive learning environments, collaborative partnerships, curriculum-based student progress report, instructional leadership, embedding learning in our core work via critical thinking and technology.)

Deputy Minister of Education, Keray Henke greeted our eager group of ~350 participants (my guess). His main purpose was to walk us through how Alberta is engaging stakeholders in transforming learning in our province.

  • Data should be used for clarity to progress to a solution. Use this data to change beliefs rather than support current ones.
  • Transformation is necessary for change to occur. Engagement is a precondition to digging in curriculum. The vision of engaged students, ethical citizens within an entrepreneurial spirit is the ultimate goal of transformation.
  • Regulations and procedures will need to be adjusted given the new Education Act.
  • Don’t get frustrated with the size of the transformation agenda! It only takes one individual at a time to move forward.
  • Curriculum Redesign: Redefinition of programs of study, curriculum and of what success looks like and means.
  • Inclusion – making sure each student belongs and is supported, renders new networks n opportunities for ALL partners not just in education. It also makes all students fell like they are included in the learning environment and not just simply accommodated.

Overall, Keray encouraged our group to continue to engage in discussions, in lifelong learning and in making changes locally and provincially. (For further newsworthy information, go to Alberta Education’s website.)

Our keynote speaker, Laura Lipton, shared with us the seven qualities of high performing groups. As we know, groups are not static, they develop, shaped by their continued shared experiences and the processing of these experiences.  It is important for groups to focus on collective action (from involved to engaged). Within an effective or high performing group, change is occurring, yet so is growth.

Collaboration vs Cooperation

Collaboration is very different from cooperation. Collaboration moves us from “Me” to “We”. I love the idea of collaboration being defined as co-creation. Collaboration brings together people with diverse thoughts via thoughtful conversation and constructive feedback. This will occur if all participants are following a framework. Through my past three years experiences of being a facilitator in our Learning Services department, I have duly noted that people don’t necessarily understand how to behave collaboratively – what does this truly feel like, look like in this setting? Using Laura Lipton’s “Groups at Work” and “Leading Groups” publications, I have seen our workshops, our learning sessions and our meetings take on a more engaged and collaborative foothold. (I highly recommend her workshops for administrators and teachers!) It’s mindful and purposeful. During this session, Laura goes on to say that collaboration intentionally brings us together through constructive exploration, skillful and graceful conflict towards developing the bigger vision. When we intentionally bring stakeholders together, authentically, we become stronger through shared ownership. Collaborative partnerships need to maintain a clear focus with clear, measureable goals, long term vision, and minimal distractions.

Spirit of inquiry.

As with Keray’s greeting, Laura noted that we need to use data to IMprove, not to prove. Instead of brainstorming answers, we should be brainstorming questions! Intellectual hangtime: How do we suspend the need to conclude in order to embrace inquiry? We need to converse about the data. Put it central on the table. (Should groups be looking at creating group agendas instead of individual agendas?)

Cultivate relational trust.

We need to presume positive intentions then effectively communicate them to clarify intentions. Seek to have equity and balanced participation. (Using Lipton’s “Groups at Work” resource has aided in the many group sessions we do in our own school division.) Relational trust is built on empathy, commitment, compassion, patience and transparency. Through this trust we can assume collective responsibility via collaborative partnerships throughout the school division, not just within the individual classroom. Patterns can then be discerned via the data where teams can identify success and areas for growth.


Framework for Student Learning: Competencies for the Educated Albertan

These competencies provide a powerful framework in preparing our students for their future. Engagement, redesigning of curriculum, digital-base, student-centered are all words associated with the competencies. Our own school division has aligned these competencies with our new K-9 report card.

Using Technology to Support Inclusive Learning

Technology is allowing us to provide more opportunities for learning and engaging students. Alberta Education, through a pilot program, has been gathering data and information and will soon be releasing a ‘personally-owned devices’ guide for Alberta schools. (I look forward to sharing these findings with our stakeholders. Hope to give us more direction as we wade through P.O.D’s in our school division. I don’t want to ‘manage’ these devices, but find ways that effectively incorporate them in the learning environment. I already am onboard with using mobile technologies in the classroom – check out my wiki and past presentations sharing the resources that are already being used!) Technology should support the learning.

If we teach children today as we did yesterday, we rob them of tomorrow. ~@bvarem

The next morning we were treated to a truly thoughtful, engaging and hopeful keynote by Chris Diachuk. He currently works with the Edmonton Police Service and is a former Alberta Superintendent. His topic of “Authentic Leadership: Building a Successful, Engaged Organization” is timely due to the amount of information, data collection, research, assessment, learning, collaborating, etc. that educators in Alberta are responsible for. I believe that all stakeholders in education should feel that they have a leadership role. This role is an opportunity and a responsibility to inspire and support each other as we look towards engaging our students purposefully, intentionally and effectively. Chris shared some specific strategies on how to become an authentic, self-aware leader and to increase engagement and self-reflection:

  • Four cornerstones – 1) Communicating – inspire and encourage each other, 2) Relationships – build trust, 3) Leadership – be positive, 4) Accountable – to each other.
  • Organizational alignment – work together, have a shared vision, clear values, trusting environment, producing results that matter.
  • Misaligned culture – fear, lack of engagement, burn out, silos, confusing priorities, lack of clarity, high resistance, unapproachable leadership
  • Recommended books – Developing the Leaders Around You by John C Maxwell, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First by Stephen R. Covey, Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Authentic Leadership by Bill George, On Becoming a Leader by Warren Dennis, The Game of School by Robert L Fried, The School for Everyone by J Lloyd Trump.
  • Recommended websites – 1) Great West Life Skills Assessment – see where your skills currently are situated in managing emotions and reactions in the workplace, free.  2) International Association for Public Participation, offer courses in learning how to engage people in your organization.

Important message to share with our students: Dr. Chris Diachuk – it’s not where you begin in life, it is where you end up in life. ~@acmcdonaldgp

  • Authentic Leadership – must have the ability to touch the lives of other people, strength of our presence not position, personal integrity, humility, keen sense of who we are, recognize our mistakes and limitations, know when to ask for help, refuse to fall into power struggles, understands emotional intelligence, is an active listener, can facilitate and point people in the right direction (acts as a compass), share feelings openly.
  • Engagement Building Strategies – meet with your team often, find out what is important, show appreciation, acknowledge efforts, be kind, connect life lessons to learning/direction, take the heat, stand tall, stick up for your team, build trust at every turn, act with integrity, be honest with self/others, show courage, walk the talk.

This keynote centered on nurturing your own leadership skills as well as connecting with colleagues. It takes a lot of effort, active listening, and constant engagement in workshops, discussions and learning opportunities……yet it is rewarding!


For the last two sessions that I attended, I had the opportunity to listen in and support one of our high schools who are part of the HS Flexibility Enhancement Project and then I attended the Assessment in a 1:1 Mobile Computing Environment.

Flexibility in High School

Some stats first: in Alberta, 72.6% of high school students complete in three years. If we follow them for one more year, it’s 76.9% and for five years it’s 79%. A student survey done this year, revealed that 48% of high school students feel that they are intellectually engaged and 27% are interested and motivated when in school. The HS Flex Project aims to change this by allowing high schools to change the learning format – not worrying about the 25 hours per credit (CUE) but attempting to change the scheduling of learning to build on strengths and growth through independence. Students at our own high school involved in this project have time built in to their schedule to ‘move about’ the school and check in with core teachers to complete work, to get assistance while others can enrich their learning. It’s something that our HS teachers are saying is working (with guidance from administrators, counselors and parents) by building in self-accountability/responsibility over the three years.

Assessment in a 1:1 Mobile Computing Environment

Three schools in different jurisdictions shared their examples of how they are using mobile technologies to assess student learning.

  • Msgr Fee Otterson in Edmonton is using iPads in the classroom to capture evidence of learning. Students are speaking about their learning and teachers are capturing this via an iPad.
  • J. E. Lapoint in Beaumont is using for student blogging, reflections and ePearl for building project-based learning and an e-portfolio feel to collect evidence of learning.
  • Calgary Catholic showcased a few different schools where students were taking pictures of their progress on a project and then making a video.

Various sessions included Early Child Development to Curriculum Redesign to Keeping Kids Engaged and in School, to Collaborative Assessment, Walking Together FNMI resource, Mentoring and Mental Health Building Capacity, Using Tech to support Inclusive Learning, High School Completion and Flexibility Projects, Prevention of Bullying Strategy, PUF, Instructional Leadership, Literacy, Dual Credit Strategy, Assessment in a Mobile Environment. Quite a smorgasbord of current offerings, initiatives and projects within Alberta schools, which involves our students, teachers, administrators and Alberta Education. I had the opportunity to attend with four other PSD70 personnel, two other Learning Services facilitators/director and our Learning Services Associate Superintendent and our Superintendent. Each of us focused on attending sessions that was of interest and would enhance the work that we are focusing on in our district.

Overall, the symposium reinforced that our work centers upon our ongoing relationships with our colleagues, students, parents and community. It centers upon us using and developing ways to engage ourselves and our learners. It centers upon connecting authentic learning opportunities for all of us.

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Posted by on March 21, 2012 in Uncategorized


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