Major Project Blog IV – The End

So, this is it.  Aside from a few tweaks here and there, mine and Adam’s major project has reached its conclusion.   The process was actually quite interesting. If I’m being totally honest, I really had no idea what shape our project was going to take back in January.  I knew that Adam and I were going to work together and that we were going to do something around ed tech training. Beyond that? No clue. In fact, it wasn’t really until the beginning of March that the format of our project really started to take shape and even then, we were in a constant state of flux pretty much until the end.  With that in mind, I’m going to use this final blog post to highlight two of the primary challenges that we encountered along the way and offer a few closing thoughts on the project as a whole.

Big Challenge #1 – The problem that we have attempted to solve is quite large in scale.

Teachers aren’t trained to use the tech that they’re expected to use (I believe I’ve mentioned this in roughly half of my blog posts this semester and spoiler alert, it’s coming one more time).  Adam and I decided to go with this issue early on in the semester as we both recognized that this is a problem. Diagnosing the problem? Easy! Coming up with a feasible solution? Not so much.  Even now, I have some doubts. Did we attempt to tackle too much? Did we perhaps stretch ourselves too thin? Would we have been better off attempting to solve a “smaller-scale” issue? Would this not have been much easier to accomplish if we both worked at the same school?

That said, I believe that we did a good job of, at the very least, establishing a quality base from which an ed tech training program can develop within the limitations of the current PD structure (lack of money/time combined with a litany of other priorities).  If we were to formally implement this plan next year, we would undoubtedly make plenty of changes along the way but that’s all part of the process. It’s tough to know how successful your idea will be until it’s in the process of being enacted.

Big Challenge #2 – Creating our tutorials

As part of our plan, we decided to create video tutorials that we would hypothetically show to staff (as well as parents/students) in order to attempt to train them in the use of various programs.  The programs that we focused on were:

  • PowerSchool/Parent Portal
  • Gradebook
  • myBlueprint
  • Google Suite (emphasis on Docs/Slides)
  • Google Classroom/Google ReadWrite

We also created a couple of examples for potential “community of practice” sessions (one of our targets is to expose teachers to potentially beneficial programs).

There were a few things that made the tutorials challenging.  For starters, we had to figure out how we were going to format the tutorials.  There were a few options here but we opted to go for a combination of slideshows and videos.  It was important for us to not just do all slideshows all the time because that would get tiring.  As a result, we opted to incorporate videos as well and overall, I think we did a pretty good job of creating accessible tutorials that any teacher/student/parent could benefit from (posting the tutorials to the school’s tech website is also part of our plan).

Creating the video tutorials proved to be a bit of a challenge.  We used Screencast-O-Matic to create our videos and it was actually super easy to use.  The problems that I encountered were:

  1. We used the free version of the program which was quite limited relative to the paid versions.  
  2. If we made a mistake during the recording we had to scrap it and start from scratch.  Fortunately, I only had a couple of pulling-out-hair moments with the loud bell at my school causing me issues on a couple of occasions.
  3. STUDENT PRIVACY! – For obvious reasons, I didn’t want the names of any of my students to be shown in our tutorials (something that would be less of an issue if these tutorials were only going to be seen by the staff at my school).  This made the creation of a couple of the tutorials quite difficult (mainly, the PowerSchool and Gradebook tutorials) because I was unable to show certain features without showing student names.  This actually brings me back to one of my pulling-out-hair moments.  I was almost at the end of one of my Gradebook tutorials and had exercised extreme caution in making sure that no student names could be seen.  Unfortunately, I left my cursor in one spot for a few seconds which caused a student’s name and their grade to pop-up on my screen. Rage!
That feeling when the bell, of all things, sabotages your tutorial. 

In spite of these, and other challenges, I believe that we produced a worthwhile product.  Technology isn’t coming, it’s already here and its potential within the field of education is limitless. I warned you earlier that I was going to say this one last time so here we go – The problem is that there are far too many teachers that don’t know how to properly use the technology that they’ve been given.

We can’t reach the end goal of using tech to transform education if we don’t start from scratch and work our way there.  

Starting in the deep end is not an option.  First, you must learn to swim.

This isn’t a change that can happen at the snap of a finger.  It will take time and the overall benefits might not be seen for a few years.  However, if engaging an increasingly disengaged student-body is a priority then our plan is absolutely something that is worth pursuing.

Major Project Blog III – Research Relief

This post is going to piggyback a bit off of my last post regarding my major project.  That post focused on engaging with the “non-believers” of our plan and this post is going to do that as well to a certain degree.

I found myself being quite relieved last weekend.  One of the requirements of our major project is to find relevant research that supports our proposal.  Admittedly, this is something that I probably should have done earlier because what if there wasn’t any? Even though we (myself and Adam) think that our plan has merit, what if nobody else does? What if our plan is too simple? Or even worse, what if our idea just isn’t necessary? It would be a tough sell to administrators/board office officials (and Kirsten and Stephen) if we came up with a plan that isn’t actually backed by research.  

Fortunately, it turns out that our proposal is in fact backed by research and there are other schools/districts that have attempted variations of our plan.

In an article for Education World, author Sally Bowman highlighted the Oswego School District (New York) and their extensive staff ed-tech development program for staff:

“Teachers who work in our district have to take certain prerequisite courses in order to get computers into their classrooms. To get a teacher station in their rooms, teachers have to take a basic computer course on working in a networked Windows environment. To get four student stations in their rooms, they have to complete another in-service course.”

“Elementary teachers must take a 15-hour course on the software program we use from Pearson Education Technologies. That course shows teachers how to integrate the software into their instruction,” Chamberlain said. “Secondary teachers must take an integration course on how to use various programs to enhance the classroom teaching and learning experience. Finally, all teachers must take a series of three courses — Basic Internet, Search Tools and Strategies, and Internet in the Classroom — in order to get Internet access.”

Of the programs that I was able to research, this one bears the greatest resemblance to ours.  While this one is done on a bigger scale, the key thing here is that they are also working from the ground up. We can’t use technology to transform education (see SAMR model) if we don’t actually know how to use that technology!

In addition to the article featuring the Oswego School District, I read an interesting research paper by Mable Williams (Jackson State University) that examines technology training experiences from teacher candidacy to in-service professional development.  One of the key findings from Williams’ research that supports our plan states:

“In a nationwide survey of K-12 teachers, answers revealed that technology infrastructure in schools has improved. Training support, however, must become a priority to ensure that teachers understand how to effectively integrate technology into their lesson plans. Sixty-percent of K-12 teachers believe adequate preparation has not occurred to support the level of implementation of technology to enhance student outcomes. Ninety-one percent of teachers believe that current training on using technology is necessary to model 21st Century learning. Furthermore, the responses of the survey reveal that teachers would like to receive an all-day professional development session on fundamental training, applying, and integrating technology” (p.5).

This once again highlights both the fact that teachers are not given the training needed to properly integrate technology into the classroom AND the desire for teachers to actually receive that training.

Something else that I found interesting while researching was looking at the challenges that schools/divisions/staff have faced when training teachers to properly use technology.  Without question, the most common challenge encountered was a lack of dedicated time.

In a dissertation for Fielding Graduate University in California, Nathanial Bankirer discussed this very issue.  

“One perceived training challenge of the IHTD (In-House Technology Development) program agreed to by 12 educator focus group participants is that of the limited dedicated time for the program. One participant noted, There is only one hour per week of dedicated time training with technology; I need more time to be successful” (p.40).

A second educator stated “just like our students, we need more than a single serving of technology for success. It would be much better with ongoing training” (p. 40).

One perceived training challenge of the IHTD program agreed to by 19 educator focus group participants is the limited follow-up training on a specific topic. One participant mentioned, “I would love to be able to explore one topic in multiple sessions. I do not quite get all of the details in a single sitting” (p.40).

This highlights one of the main concerns I have about our plan – is it extensive enough to make meaningful change or is our plan a classic example of making it look like we’re accomplishing something on the surface but failing to actually make accomplish anything of substance.  Unfortunately, without putting our plan in action, there is no way we can know for sure.

Overall, doing extensive research proved to be beneficial.  It provided us with data that we can use to sell our plan while also providing us with some food for thought regarding the challenges others have faced when attempting to enact similar plans.  Unfortunately, the one thing that I was unable to track down during my research were examples from closer to home with the bulk of the research coming from the United States. That said, I believe that there is enough material out there to prove that our plan is necessary.

Major Project Blog II – Buying-in

On Saturday, March 16th, Adam and I once again got together at the university in order to hammer out the fine details of our major project.  As we went through the various tasks associated with the final project there was one thing in particular that caught my attention and once again caused my brain to hurt – describe your intended engagement with change resistors.

The truth is, I don’t actually know how I would hypothetically engage with someone that believes that our idea is pointless (just to recap, the primary purpose of our project is to provide an adequate amount of ed tech training for the school so that everyone has an understanding of the programs that have become mainstream in our schools).  Obviously, I think our idea has value. Technology is going to continue to be an important part of a student’s 21st-century education and skillset. Tech is an important part of our student’s lives so it’s important for us to implement technology into our classes if we want to engage increasingly disengaged students. Furthermore, teachers should constantly be striving to improve their practice.  A teacher should not be teaching the same way today that they did 20, 10, or even 5 years ago. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

But what about those teachers that fail to see the value in incorporating technology into the classroom? Or those teachers that see the incorporation of tech into the class as just another change that’s being forced upon them? How do I sell them on our plan?

Well, I guess I’d start by pointing out that we’re not trying to drastically alter the practice of every teacher in the building.  It would be foolish for me to tell anyone else how to do their job. That’s the beauty of teaching – there are multiple ways to be good at it.  What we’re attempting to accomplish is to provide training in the programs that we’re either mandated to use (PowerSchool, Gradebook, My BluePrint) or are encouraged to use (Google Suite) while also exposing teachers (and by extension students) to additional tools that can be used to enhance the quality of education in their classroom.  We’re not really forcing anyone to do anything and that’s an important part of our plan because the second that teachers are told that they have to do something, immediately you’re going to hear groans because let’s face it – teachers are busy people that have dealt with a litany of changes and initiatives over the years. The dangers of repetitive change are real and I’m reminded of the following quote from the article “Avoiding Repetitive Change Syndrome”:

“Employees who have to live through continuous rounds of change suffer the most, and the effect on the organization as a whole is likely to be corrosive. To guard against this damaging outcome, executives should continually monitor their organizations for symptoms of repetitive change syndrome: initiative overload, change-related chaos, employee cynicism and burnout”

We had this in mind when we worked to ensure that our modules were going to be brief and that the demands placed on teachers were going to be fairly minimal.  Essentially, we want to work to disrupt their teaching practice in the least disruptive manner possible.

Aside from the teachers that don’t see the value in technology, what about the teachers and administrators that see the value but not at the expense of something else?  There is an element of opportunity cost with our project – the time spent learning about ed tech is time that could be spent in a variety of different ways. How am I going to convince that segment that improved ed tech training is an endeavour worth pursuing?

While the answer to the previous question seemed fairly straight forward, this one is a bit trickier.  For all the talk coming from teachers about the need for more PD, the reality of the situation is that the second that a PD day is used for something other than prep time, many teachers (myself included, from time to time) get frustrated and check out from whatever it is that we’re being taught thus rendering the PD meaningless.

School classroom interior

“Why am I doing this when I have countless assignments/exams to mark? That’s how I should be spending my time today”.

Honestly, that’s a valid question and one that deserves a quality response.  As class sizes increase and supports decrease, teachers are being tasked with more and more.  Would I like to use the time provided to us on our limited PD days to mark/plan so that I could spend more time with my family after school and on weekends? That’s an easy answer.

Getting people on board with change is tricky.  On one hand, we have identified something in our school system (ed tech training) that needs to be fixed.   On the other hand, there is a lot that needs to be fixed with little time to do so. It turns out that finding a balance between solving a problem in an efficient manner while also avoiding repetitive change syndrome is tough.


Unit 6: Virtual Reality – Great Promise or Great Gimmick?

This course actually came at an ideal time for me.  Last semester I took an EC&I class with the often alluded to Alec Couros.  Throughout that class, we learned a lot about the history of educational technology while also looking ahead to the future.  One of the areas of technology that I was fortunate to have spent quite a bit of time researching was Virtual Reality.

As noted in the Horizon Report, “Virtual reality (VR) refers to computer-generated environments that simulate the physical presence of people and/or objects and realistic sensory experiences”.  Most people, when they think of VR, picture a giant headset and while that is partly true, it is worth noting that there are 3 different types of VR – Non-immersive, semi-immersive, and fully immersive.  

Non-Immersive VR – As the name implies, this is the least immersive of the 3 simulations.  In these simulations, only a small number of the user’s senses are stimulated which still allows for them to be aware of the reality outside of the VR simulation.  Users experience 3d environments usually through an HD monitor on a standard desktop computer. Picture a golf-simulator here.

Semi-Immersive VR – As the name implies, the user is partly, but not totally immersed in the simulation. The best example of semi-immersed would be a standard flight simulator using large screen projector systems or multiple television projection systems to properly stimulate the user’s visuals.  Best thing to picture here is a flight simulator.

Fully Immersive – The most immersive type of VR.  Head-mounted displays, handwear, and motion detecting devices are used in order to stimulate ALL of the user’s senses.  This would be an example of your stereotypical VR setup.

Due to its high cost (the first example of fully immersive VR cost approximately $350,000 back in 1989), VR has historically been viewed as somewhat of an expensive gimmick.  That, however, has started to change recently as the cost of the technology has started to come down. Playstation VR, for example, can be purchased for approximately $400 (though you’ll also need a PS4 which will set you back an additional $300ish).  Meanwhile, the Oculus Rift can be purchased for somewhere around $500.

lanier vr
VR circa 1989.  Could have been yours for the low low cost of $350,000.

With VR becoming more mainstream, what has this meant for education? Well, there have been quite a few examples of VR being used for educational purposes.  The most common use of VR in the classroom at the moment would likely be virtual field trips, with Google Expeditions being the most accessible. That said, Google Expeditions is not the only example of the “field trip” potential of virtual reality.  The Frontier Driving Academy in Winnipeg has used VR to train drivers while some colleges have used VR as a recruiting tool to simulate campus life. The use of VR has extended to the medical field with many universities (UCLA’s surgical theatre, for example) using VR to train surgeons.

Training drivers and surgeons? Simulating life on a college campus? These are all great uses of VR but what, if any potential does VR have in your standard classroom in Regina, Saskatchewan.  Let’s face it, the likelihood of grade schools in Saskatchewan being equipped with VR capable of simulating the above is zero which brings us back to this:


Google Cardboard – currently the most accessible educational VR product on the market.

The above is an image of Google Cardboard – the low-cost alternative on the VR market.  With each headset costing around $15-20 (can be cheaper if you go for a non-Google model), this represents the most accessible option for your average school.  So, what can Google Cardboard do? As mentioned earlier, the most popular use has been Google Expeditions which allows teachers and students to take immersive virtual journeys to Europe, coral reefs, the surface of Mars, and beyond. 

Other educational apps include, but are not limited to, Titans of Space (allows students to tour the solar system), InMind VR (journey into a patient’s brain in search of neurons that cause mental disorders), and Discovery VR (allows users to learn about topics such as ecology and conservation).

In a time when many students have become disengaged by “traditional” schooling practices, Google Cardboard represents a relatively cheap and accessible alternative.  That said, it’s not perfect. Compared to driving simulators and surgical theatres, Google Cardboard is obviously quite limited. In addition, it’ll still cost over $400 for a class set and requires students to have access to both a smartphone and reliable internet access.  This is not a gamechanger by any stretch. What it is, however, is a tool that can be used to engage students using non-traditional methods.

VR has tremendous potential within the field of education.  Whether it’s training drivers in a safe environment or simulating brain surgery, VR has already started to leave its mark on education.  What does that mean for K-12 though? That remains to be seen. Google Cardboard is a neat option but let’s be realistic, it’s still fairly limited and in the current time of limited budgets, you’re not likely going to see school officials rushing to Best Buy to pick up a class set.  Remember though, this is just the beginning. Not too long ago, your only option for fully-immersive VR cost over $350,000! It’ll be interesting to see whether VR can establish itself as an accessible force in the K-12 system rather than being limited to well-funded universities.

Unit 5 – Talking the Talk

After reading through this unit’s documents, it was clear that there is a disconnect between the Ministry’s pronouncements and the current realities within our schools (something that isn’t particularly surprising).  The ministry has targets that it wants schools to achieve. However, as is often the case, they have failed to provide the necessary supports in order to achieve those targets. I’m reminded of a previous Master’s class where we spent a great deal of time analyzing the targets outlined in the ESSP.  By 2020, the province wishes to improve reading levels, increase graduation rates, shrink the achievement gap between FNMI/non-FNMI students along with a variety of other goals. Admittedly, these goals largely make sense. The problem? These goals have not been taken into account in recent budgetary decisions.  It’s hard to shrink the achievement gap between FNMI/non-FNMI students for example if supports for FNMI students are going to be reduced. A classic example of talking the talk but failing to walk the walk.

But I digress.  

Focusing now on ed tech. It would appear as the same issue outlined above (talking the talk, not walking the walk) is present here, albeit on a smaller scale.  Looking at the government’s “technology in education framework”, the ministry expects:

“Saskatchewan’s educational system will foster the comprehensive and systematic development of knowledge, skills, dispositions, and judgments essential for digital fluency in educators and students. The ministry and school divisions will work together to improve the digital fluency of all educators and students” and that “educators will develop the expertise required to effectively use appropriate technologies to assist students in achieving curricular outcomes”.  

One of the strategies used to develop digital fluency includes “Influencing new and revising existing K-12 curricular outcomes and indicators to require the development of digitally fluent learners”

The two curriculums that I’m most familiar with – English Language Arts and Social Studies have yet to be updated to include the development of digitally fluent learners.  The high school ELA curriculums were last updated in 2012 and while that’s relatively recent, a lot has happened from a technological standpoint throughout the last 7 years.  Social Studies, on the other hand, is a completely different beast. The bulk of the secondary social sciences have not been updated since 1994. How are we supposed to develop digitally fluent learners if curriculums haven’t been renewed since before the internet became mainstream? This is especially troubling when you consider the lack of choice students tend to have regarding course selection.  The space for electives is limited due to the value placed on ‘readin, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmitic meaning that those subjects (the humanities in particular) are going to be relied upon to develop “digital fluency”. Yet, as I mentioned, those curriculums haven’t been updated in years (or in some cases, decades). It is worth noting however that the Social Studies curriculums are in the process of being renewed and it will be interesting to see where the ministry’s apparent desire for digital fluency fits in.

Another strategy that the ministry apparently has in place in order to achieve digital fluency is to “support the growth of educators’ digital fluency through professional learning”.  Something I’ve discussed multiple times throughout this semester (and will continue to do so since it is the basis of my major project) is the lack of ed-tech training that many teachers have.  The ministry expects teachers to be digitally fluent. That’s great and I would agree! Unfortunately, they haven’t really done much to back that up. As I mentioned in a previous post, what limited PD time teachers have is shoved together at the start of the school year.  From there, only a handful of PD days exist. Given the lack of PD days combined with funding cuts, when is the “professional learning” going to take place? Now, this isn’t to say the responsibility for developing these skills falls entirely on the government – teachers and schools share this responsibility as well.  However, the ministry mentioned in its own framework that they have the role/responsibility to:

  • Support delivery of professional learning opportunities related to provincial infrastructure initiatives  
  • Facilitate and supports professional learning opportunities delivered using the provincial infrastructure  
  • Facilitate the coordination of professional learning options into a provincial strategy.

That hasn’t happened on a wide scale so it’s safe to say that they’re not living up to their end of the bargain.

Like they did with the ESSP, the government has set some lofty expectations in their “Technology in Education Framework”.  Unfortunately, just like the ESSP, the funding no longer matches those targets. It will be interesting to see whether digital fluency is infused in the upcoming Social Studies curriculums (plus any other curriculums) and how much if any, further dollars will be restored to education so that some can be allocated to PD. For now, however, this framework looks like a classic example of talking the talk and failing to walk the walk.

Major Project Blog – Assessment Struggles

Last Sunday, Adam and I met at the university to finalize our plans for the upcoming major project and to complete the second part of the major project.  Overall, completing part II was a smooth process but there was one area where we struggled – assessment.

  • Discussing our plans for the project? Easy
  • Coming up with the steps? No worries!
  • Detailing the approximate time budgeted? It’s all good.
  • Figuring out how our steps were going to be assessed? Both by ourselves and externally? Now my brain is starting to hurt.

Adam and I both agree that our school division (Regina Public) needs to do more to properly train staff to use the technology/programs that they’re expected to use on a regular basis.  Neither of us, in our combined 20 years of teaching experience have actually been trained to use Gradebook/PowerTeacher/My BluePrint. The same thing goes with the various Google products.  Exposure to new, potentially beneficial programs? Also lacking. As we both discussed in our unit 3 blogs, this is a problem.

What Adam and I actually know is that funding and time are two things that the board and its schools do not have in abundance.  It’s easy for us to say “more tech PD is needed” but the reality is that there are limited days to accomplish this and a variety of other items that need to be dealt with on our limited PD days.  With that in mind, our solution is to create a series of modules that can be completed by staff on a handful of the PD days. The great part? These modules will only take a couple of hours. Tops. By the end of the school year, staff will have learned how to effectively use the aforementioned programs and be exposed to new programs.  Great (in theory, at least)!

This is where my first true “learning moment” of this project comes in.  Diagnosing the problem and figuring out a solution isn’t particularly difficult.  Figuring out how to measure the success of the proposed plan is. I need to be able to justify the need for this plan to my principal and the only way I’ll be able to do that is if she is able to see tangible results.  I’m not talking about something vague like “increased student engagement”, they need to see concrete data. Otherwise, the chances of them actually signing off on it are slim to none.

As an example, the first of our six targets is fairly straight forward – staff will become comfortable with the mandatory programs used on a regular basis (PowerSchool, Gradebook, and My BluePrint).  

The steps to meeting this particular target are quite simple:

  1. Slideshows that will serve as tutorials on each of the above programs will be created by the tech-team.
  2. The members of the tech-team will go through each of the tutorials during a PD at the start of the year.  These tutorials will be done in grade groups in order to keep the size small and allow for additional one-on-one support if required (similar to the benefits of small class sizes).  

Assessment is where we faced our first real challenge:

Personal assessment –

    1. Reduction in the amount of questions asked to the tech team by staff regarding the above programs.
    2. Increase in the amount of additional staff that are able to answer questions regarding those programs.
    3. More focused usage of My BluePrint because teachers actually know what they are doing and why they are doing it.

External assessment –

    1. Each staff member’s Gradebook looks similar (outcomes and assignments are attached, missing and late assignments are properly indicated).
    2. Increase from previous year in the number of students that have fully completed My BluePrint (will be assessed at the end of the school year).

Personal assessment is tricky because it’s harder to collect concrete data on since we’re essentially relying on informal observations.  External assessment is where we would be able to hypothetically sell this plan to an administrator. Administrators have access to each teacher’s gradebook and are able to see whether they look similar which, in turn, will please parents because consistency and transparency throughout the school in terms of grading is important.  In addition, principals will also be able to see how many students have completed My BluePrint (a program that is designed to help students plan their future both in and out of school). There is concrete data here. Like I said earlier, without concrete data, our plan is thrown out immediately.

  • Principals need data because senior administrators need data.  
  • Senior administrators need to see the data because the ministry needs the data.
  • The ministry needs the data because outcomes have been established that they expect schools to reach (ESSP).

We can spend an entire course discussing data and its limitations but the fact of the matter is that change (in schools) is driven by data.  Turns out, that’s not something that you truly notice until you go through the process of attempting to implement it.

Division Level+Ed Tech = A mixed-bag.

Greetings, part 1 of this week’s blog asked us to look at the leadership principles present within Sun West’s and Regina Catholic’s approach to ed-tech.

If we’re basing these off of the leadership principles covered in unit 2 of the course, then there are a few present in both approaches.  For starters, both divisions developed a “sense of responsibility in their workers” and had their employees “set the example”.  The fact that the “Connected Educators” in Regina Catholic were willing to take summer PD shows that they were passionate about the project.  In addition, these teachers were also willing to be mentors to future members. They took responsibility for the success, both present, and future of the project.  

Teachers in both divisions also spent a lot of time seeking self-improvement and training as a team.  This was accomplished in Regina Catholic partly through summertime PD. Teachers often talk the talk when it comes to self-improvement but these teachers actually went out and did it.  Not only that but they did it during a teacher’s most precious time of the year!

The thought of giving up a single day of summer break is enough to make most teachers cringe.

Teachers in Sun West meanwhile spent ample time training as a team.  It was mentioned by Guy Tetrault around the 14-minute mark of his podcast interview that “there are pockets of innovation everywhere and that “every school system has teachers that are doing extraordinary things but the problem is that they’re only in pockets”.  He went on to say that what Sun West wanted to do was to bring those pockets together by scaling out (getting pockets of excellence working collaboratively together so that it goes around to all of the schools in the division) and by scaling up (taking it through the entire division and ensuring that everyone is on board and going forward).  It was obvious through his interview that he understood the importance of teacher collaboration – something that I wish we had more time for. The best PD sessions that I’ve attended have been the ones where the focus is on the exchanging of resources and ideas. Unfortunately, the time allotted for these types of sessions has been fairly limited.

In addition, all of this was accomplished through a “creative leadership style”.  Bart Cote mentioned that they (Regina Catholic) needed to find opportunities within the existing system to make change.  It’s all well and good to hide behind the excuse of “we don’t have the necessary $$$ or time to accomplish this” but these people actually went out and made change happen within the parameters of the existing system. This just goes to show that, even though a lack of resources can make change difficult, it’s not impossible.


Part II:

For part 2 of this week’s blog, I wanted to look at the following image and explain why it shows what is wrong with ed tech at the division level.

True story:  This image once made me feel bad about myself.

The first time I saw this picture was actually a few years in poster form in our computer lab at Martin.  I actually recall being a bit disheartened when I first glanced at it because I felt like I was largely giving the  “wrong answers”. Sure, I was integrating tech but it seemed like a lot of what I was doing was integrating tech just for the sake of integrating tech.  Now, I don’t think that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Part of developing a “21st-century skillset” is being able to create many of things listed underneath “wrong answers” and, as was mentioned via the swimming pool metaphor (see below) in the Bart Cote interview, we can’t spend ALL of our time in the deep-end (redefinition) because we’ll drown in technology.


Where I see my school division (Regina Public) having success is in the Substitution and Augmentation stages of the SAMR model.  We have access to a wide variety of technology that, depending on the situation can potentially act as a “direct substitute with functional improvement”.  What the division isn’t doing as well is actually taking the tech that we have and helping teachers take it to that modification/redefinition stage that would allow us to provide the “right answers” that are listed in the poster above.  

The situation in Regina Public seems quite similar to the one that existed in Sun West prior to their technology shift – there are teachers that are doing extraordinary things but the problem is that they’re only in pockets.  At the moment, there doesn’t appear to be a concerted effort to get the most out of the tech that we have access to nor have there been many meaningful conversations surrounding the fundamental purpose of ed tech. Like Krista said in her blog, “focus on Edtech (at the school division level) has fallen to the bottom of the list (of division priorities)”.  As a result, it has been left to the teachers to figure out and maybe, if they’re lucky, they’ll stumble across something truly innovative.  Once again, all one has to do is visit the “technology in teaching and learning” section on the Regina Public website to see what the lack of a coordinated strategy looks like. 

What does all of this even mean? Well, clicking on each of these boxes takes you to the same link – a brief discussion surrounding Regina Public’s shared vision in technology.

Until more time is spent having discussions surrounding ed tech, most teachers are going to have the “wrong answers” with a few pockets of teachers having the “right answers”.


All aboard the ed-tech “train”

Technology and education.  Where to even begin?

The teaching profession, like education, has continued to evolve but how much should their futures be intertwined?

  • Should technology be further incorporated into the classroom?
  • Is it doing more harm than good?
  • Are staff well equipped to handle current technological innovations?
  • When will the current generation of ed tech be obsolete?
  • Is it obsolete already?
  • What should we do about cell phones?
  • How do we make sure that schools are on a level playing field when it comes to technology?
  • How is it going to be funded?
  • What policies need to be developed to ensure responsible usage?
  • What about the dangers of screen time?

Even with a large number of questions surrounding tech in the classroom, it’s safe to assume that ed tech is here to stay.  Teachers are going to be expected to incorporate technology into their lessons in order to provide students with the apparent “21st-century skills” that they will need in the future.  This, however, will be difficult to achieve if teachers aren’t properly trained with the very technology that they’re expected to use in class – and that right there represents one of the greatest (and often overlooked) challenges of incorporating tech in the classroom.  Teachers aren’t properly trained or even consulted when it comes to ed-tech and it turns out, this is not a recent phenomenon. The 1986 article “Teachers and Machines” laments that

School boards and superintendents initiated efforts for using the new technology; only later were teachers involved in discussions of how to install it into the classroom.  Reformers had an itch and they got teachers to scratch it for them. This pattern of bringing teachers in at the tail end of the hoopla surrounding an innovation targeted upon altering classroom practice was common in school organizations” (p. 36).

Sounds familiar.

Presently, dwindling PD days (which are often clumped together right at the start of the school year when most teachers would rather spend their time prepping their classes for the year) and budget cuts mean that there has not been the time or resources dedicated to effectively train teachers with the tech that they’re expected to use.

“Using tech to enhance student learning is a great idea.  You should train yourself and do it!”

The “dramatis personae” in this situation are teachers, administrators (at both the school and board office level), students, parents.

The props? Devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers.  Programs used almost daily such as PowerSchool/Parent Portal, Gradebook, Google Suite, and My BluePrint.  There is also an assortment of assistive technologies such as Google Read/Write and assessment technologies (Kahoot, Socrative) that many teachers don’t even know exist.

The scenes? The classroom, the homes of both teachers and students, and division offices.

The conflict? Finding the time to properly train teachers (and parents/students) with the technology that they’re expected to use on a regular basis while also exposing teachers to new, potentially beneficial technologies.  This, of course, has to be accomplished in a climate of dwindling PD time and teacher prep time that is constantly under threat (used for meetings, data entry, and other tasks as opposed to PREP and marking). Furthermore, teachers have already spent ample time dealing with various initiatives over the years and might be suffering from increased cynicism as a result of “repetitive change syndrome”.  In addition, many parents aren’t familiar with the tech that is being used in the classroom.

What Adam Williams and I are suggesting is a module based program that encourages teachers to take ownership of the technology situation in the school (note: we will be working on our final project together but at the moment, our roadmaps are slightly different).  For now, my preliminary plan is outlined below:

The first module must occur at the start of the school year during one of the five professional development days prior to the arrival of students and will be led by an “expert” on the technology (either from the board office or, more likely by an internal “tech team”).  The focus here needs to be solely on the mandatory programs such as Parent Portal/Power Teacher, Gradebook, and My BluePrint. Time then needs to be alotted either at the school’s open house, or the first parent-teacher conference for staff to go through these essential programs with parents/students in order to ensure that they’re able to access them and provide them with a brief tutorial regarding their use.

Parent Portal is an integral part of the school system.  Unfortunately, many parents are either unaware of its existence or are unable to log-on.

From there, the modules can focus on Google Suite, Read/Write, and other potentially valuable programs/technologies.  Each of these modules would once again be led by an expert or the internal “tech-team” that trains the staff during a PD session (ideally during a PD day in October/November).  The expectation will then be that the amount of staff comfortable with that technology has increased to the point where certain staff members can be relied upon to go into other classrooms and run a student-centred module.

Read&Write is a program that helps students with, you guessed it, reading and writing.  The program has several helpful features, many of which are untapped by teachers (and by extension, students).

The final module (for the school year) would take place in the form of a “community of practice”.  During one of the professional development days in the spring, staff members that are comfortable with a particular technology or program will lead a session for others that are interested in learning more about that particular program.  This module is particularly appealing because it will provide staff members with the opportunity to learn about programs that could be of specific value to the classes they teach (for example if there is a program that caters specifically to math teachers or English Language arts, etc.).

I learned about this language app from a community of practice and have recently incorporated it into my teaching.

Finally, all of this must be done in conjunction with tech workshops.  The expectation here would be that the school provides a tech workshop for parents following each of the modules.  These workshops would take place outside of regular school hours with additional workshops being added if the demand is there (this will likely prove to be a hard sell to teachers whose lives are already extremely busy).  The school’s website also needs to be regularly updated with helpful links to tutorials and videos regarding the various technologies that are used in the school.

Screenshot 2019-02-02 at 12.03.52 PM
Updating the school’s website to include links and tutorials to the technology that is being used in the school seems like a no-brainer.

This plan is by no means perfect and there are countless other technology related issues (see: introductory paragraph).  That said, with limited resources (both financial and in terms of time) this plan at least provides teachers AND parents with the opportunity to learn about the essential day-to-day programs (Parent Portal, Gradebook, My BluePrint) while also being exposed to other potentially beneficial programs.

Tech is here to say.  As a result, it is paramount that the affected parties be well-versed in its use.

Leadership Disruption?

This week’s second blog post is going to look at different quotes from 5 different readings regarding disruptive leadership.  For the first reading, I’ve cheated and have chosen three quotes that work together to disrupt my view of consensus.

Reading #1 – Leadership, more or less.

“For example, ingratiating behaviour by followers, in which they exaggerate how much they agree with the opinions of leaders, contributes to exaggerated self-belief, narcissism and the adoption of ultimately destructive forms of leader action” (p.13).

“this casts leaders as the subjects of influence attempts by others, as well as agents who make things happen to other people” (p.13).

“Overt consensus is likely to mark covert dissent, since it is unlikely that followers will ever feel completely free to express the full range of their disagreements with leaders. The illusion of such consensus can therefore be held to denote leadership practices that are insufficiently sensitive to follower feedback, rather than a rational endpoint of healthy information exchange processes (p. 20).”

I alluded to the benefits of consensus in my previous blog post.  While I still believe that democratic and consensus leadership can work depending on the situation, I didn’t spend much time thinking about the consequences.  I mean, come on! A leader that takes everyone’s opinion into consideration and wants everyone to be happy? What’s not to like?!

A lot, actually.  What consensus can do is breed a series of “yes-men/women” that are too afraid to truly speak their minds because they have leadership aspirations of their own and don’t want to upset the proverbial apple cart.  In turn, the leader, seeing that he/she has the unrelenting love and respect of his/her followers continues to operate unchecked. Yeah, it’s easy to see why that’s a problem.

Armies of yes-men can be an unintended consequence of consensus.

Reading #2 – Critical and alternative approaches to leadership learning and development

“Jackie Ford and colleagues highlight the performative nature of leadership literature and indeed the leadership learning and development discourse. The dominant writing on leadership and the hype around leadership development in contemporary organisations has an influence on how leadership identities are constructed, this being largely masculine, aggressive and controlling self-reliant ‘perfect beings’. Managers are therefore encouraged to ‘become’ leaders and adopt an identity prescribed by the literature and by leadership development programmes. This emerging critical strand of the leadership literature therefore suggests that leadership development and learning should avoid presenting leadership as a fixed identity or role, instead encouraging an awareness of multiple roles (leader, follower and both)” (p.6).

I chose the above quote for a couple of reasons.  The first because the dominant view of leadership has historically been that leaders are “masculine, aggressive/controlling self-reliant perfect beings”.  This is interesting to me because, like Stephen, one of my guilty pleasures is watching sports (note: you can probably take the “guilty” out of it, I spend an inordinate amount of time consuming sports media).  The position of quarterback in football matches this description to a tee. In order to be a successful quarterback, the belief is that, in addition to talent, you need to have the necessary leadership skills required to not only command the respect of a huddle but also the entire locker room.  Without those leadership skills, you’re doomed to fail. Look up any successful quarterback. In addition to their talent, it’s almost guaranteed that their skills as “leaders of men” will be touted.


The second part of the quote is also interesting because it points out that we should avoid presenting leadership as a fixed identity.   As we discovered in the review of leadership theories, there are many different leadership styles which can all be effective depending on the situation.  Leaders shouldn’t be married to one specific style because doing so neglects the benefits of the others and potentially indicates a lack of situational awareness.  Also, encouraging awareness of multiple roles (leader, follower, and both) is hugely important and is often forgotten by many school administrators. A pet-peeve of mine has always been school administrators that taught for a couple of years, got their required Master’s degree and then almost immediately became a principal (or vice-principal).  How much awareness of the role of “follower” do these people possibly have?

Reading #3 – Avoiding Repetitive Change Syndrome  

“Repetitive change syndrome harms a company’s capacity to make further changes. That is, for every change initiative added, another one slows down or disappears. In extreme cases, older initiatives aren’t completed and are eventually forgotten. Moreover, people begin faking it, acting as if they are cooperating with a new initiative while secretly carrying on business as usual, a subtle form of sabotage” (p.3).

I believe that education, more than any profession, suffers from “repetitive change syndrome”.  I can’t even come close to remembering the various initiatives and buzzwords that have come and gone in my 12 years as a teacher.  Professional learning communities, CELS, differentiated instruction, adaptive dimension, integration of technology, team-teaching, schools without walls, scaffolding, SMART goals, etc. I’m not saying that these things are bad, they’re not.  It just seems like every year there is a new fad for teachers to adopt.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, however.  Change is THE constant in education.

  • When the government changes? Change in priorities and funding.  
  • Cabinet shuffle leading to a different education minister? Again, change in priorities as the new minister seeks to put his/her stamp on the new gig.
  • New director of education? More change.
  • New superintendent? Change.
  • New principal (which seems to happen every 2 years)? Change.

It’s no wonder why education is inundated with constant change and it’s no wonder why new initiatives (regardless of how good their intentions may be) are often greeted with cynicism.

Reading #4: The stupidity paradox: The power and pitfalls of functional stupidity at work

“Today, many schools have fallen victim to image obsession. In the past, teachers had relatively high levels of autonomy. They concentrated their energies on educating students. But as a result of constant educational reforms, schools are now more and more focused on various auditing exercises” (p. 11).

“What the school looks like seems to count for more than the actual education. The people who run schools end up allotting less time and resources to teaching and learning, and more to image-polishing exercises. Schools become machines for persuading others that children are getting a good education, rather than institutions for educating children” (p. 11).

Both of these quotes pair quite nicely with the pitfalls of repetitive change that were discussed in the previous reading.  As a result of constant educational reforms, the responsibilities of the teacher have expanded over the years as we attempt to justify our worth to the public (education, after all, is a public expense).  In addition, an administrator’s responsibilities have also changed. I’m reminded of an article I read for a previous class entitled “The Future of the Principalship”. In this article, several changes to a principals job throughout the years were highlighted:

  1. Increased workload
  2. Increased complexity of the job
  3. Increased focus on instructional leadership
  4. Increased focus on transformational leadership
  5. Development of new skills
  6. Increased focus on external relationships
  7. Changes in leadership approach
  8. Changes in autonomy
  9. Increased levels of stress
  10. Decreased family/personal time

Natrually, all of these changes have had an impact on the quality of meaningful work that principals are able to do within a school.

Reading #5 – Cross-Cultural Understandings of Leadership.

Leaders are responsible for others.  Western leadership accepts this as one of its chargers – to be responsible for followers or fellow workers or subordinates.”

“Trust is one of the factors that has concerned leaders in western leadership.”

“Perhaps one of the precursors to trust is a willingness not to interfere in how others construct their understandings.  Interference implies lack of trust. Non-interference may suggest trust (p.14/15)”.

Now, to quote myself from my previous blog post:

“I also dislike micromanaging and being micromanaged.  If I feel like I’m being micromanaged that gives me the impression that I’m not trusted to do the job.  As long as I’ve been provided with the necessary training and resources to accomplish the job, I’d like to be allowed to do it without having someone constantly looking over my shoulder.  Trust is key.”

Frequent micromanaging = lack of trust

There is a difference between micromanaging and providing support.  It’s important for leaders to know the difference if they hope to foster a healthy work environment.

Time and Place


The first of this week’s blog prompts asked us to look at our personality and discuss the impact it has had on our leadership style.  

For starters, if you were to ask someone to describe my personality in one word, chances are they would respond with “sarcastic”.  It is true, I am unabashedly sarcastic. There have been times in my life where I’ve flirted with the idea of attempting to be less sarcastic but those moments have been fleeting.  I am sarcastic with my wife, my friends, and at work.  In addition to this, I also self-deprecating and attempt to see the humour in most situations.

Side note: the concept of time & place is something that I’ve learned throughout the years, I am fully capable of being serious and turning off the sarcasm when the situation warrants it.  Or so I’d like to think.

This poster can be found on my desk at work.

That said, I’d like to think that there is more to my personality than sarcasm. Respecting the opinions of others is something I’ve always valued both at home (something as “simple” as choosing a movie/restaurant) and at work (developing a plan for success for at-risk students, planning events, etc.).  I also dislike micromanaging and being micromanaged. If I feel like I’m being micromanaged that gives me the impression that I’m not trusted to do the job. As long as I’ve been provided with the necessary training and resources to accomplish the job, I’d like to be allowed to do it without having someone constantly looking over my shoulder.  Trust is key.

Micromanaging.  Not a fan.

I’ve had a few experiences throughout my life that have shaped these traits.  Growing up, I was big into music and this is where my disdain for being micromanaged can be traced to.  While I appreciated the one-on-one nature of private lessons with an instructor, I always preferred to practice at home, in the basement, preferably with no one around.  If I wasn’t sure how to attack a certain passage or what technique I was supposed to use, that’s where the private lessons were beneficial. Otherwise, I preferred to attempt to perfect whatever song on my own.  That same sort of situation often plays out today if I’m thrust into a leadership role. Help provide people with the skills needed to accomplish the task and then trust in their ability to complete said task.

Travelling has also helped shape my leadership philosophy.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled fairly extensively over the years and this is where I learned to value both consensus and the opinions of others.  When travelling with a group (both big/small, often with people whom I’ve never met that come from different countries) it’s important to attempt to take everyone’s opinion into consideration when deciding on things such as meals, transportation, potential activities, etc.  Doing so helps to make for a much more harmonious trip for all involved.  In addition, Forbes identified 10-ways in which travel can benefit leaders.

After reading the first section of this week’s readings, there were a couple of leadership approaches that stood out –  the laissez-faire leadership style and the democratic/participatory style. Based on what I’ve written about thus far, this should not come as a surprise.  Given my disdain for micromanaging, the laissez-faire style stood out. While laissez-faire sort of implies a bit of laziness on the part of the leader, it doesn’t have to be that way.

“They (laissez-faire leaders) provide teams with resources and advice if needed, but otherwise do not get involved. This leadership style can be effective if the leader monitors performance and gives feedback to team members regularly.  Team members tend to have high job satisfaction and are productive because they are more involved”.

That last sentence is key.  This leadership style can work (depending on the situation, of course) if the leader actually pays attention to the performance of others AND provides the necessary assistance when required.  This style will not work if the leader simply washes his/her hands of the situation.

Meanwhile, the democratic/participatory style speaks to the value I place in other’s opinions.  

“Democratic leaders make the final decisions, but include team members in the decision-making process. They encourage creativity, and team members are often highly engaged in projects and decisions.  Team members tend to have high job satisfaction and are productive because they are more involved.”

Once again, that last sentence is key.  By involving others in the decision-making process, quality team building is taking place which in turn will benefit both the project and the long-term relationships of the people involved.


Every leadership style outlined in this week’s readings has strengths and weaknesses.  Sometimes a democratic approach isn’t going to work because time is of the essence. Meanwhile, the “laissez-faire’ approach might not work if the skills of the group members aren’t quite up to par. An effective leader makes use of an array of leadership styles and uses them based on the situation.  

Time and place.