Cross Post: Alberta Initiatives for School Improvement (AISI) Conference 2013 Takeaways

ArrowsThis post was originally posted on the blog: Trustee Tracks and shared here with permission.

On February 11th and 12th I was privileged to attend and help with one of the presentations at Research in Action: Transforming the Learning, the 2013 AISI Conference. Deputy Minister of Education, Mr. Tim Wiles opened the conference with a challenge to think hard about how we can make system-wide change. He encouraged attendees to “get engaged and help make this a better education system.”

Dr. Andy Hargreaves was the opening keynote speaker. He spoke to us about the 5 “I’s” of Education: Inspiration, Improvement, Innovation, Inquiry, and Inclusion. He challenged us with this question: “If you knew you had one more year’s money for AISI and only one more year’s money for AISI, what changes would you make to make things sustainable?
Suggested Resources:

You can view the whole keynote address on the AISI website.
Westglen School (K-6) – Universal Design for Learning
Dr. Hargreaves told us that if we want to make schools better for special needs students, we need to improve schools for all kids. This school’s journey started in one classroom. Soon other teachers were noticing a difference in students – more collaboration, less fighting, and more engaged learners. Their “aha” moment was learning that barriers often exist in the environment, not necessarily in the student. They also stressed that emotional regulation is a foundation for Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
Suggested Resources:
Livingstone Range School Division: Project-Based, Cross-Curricular, Cross-Graded Learning
JT Foster School is in the third year of their project which takes all grades 7-12 students and splits them into groups. Each group is challenged to pick a research question, do research, and then do a final presentation. Service learning is also involved. Each project is completed over one school year and is worth 10% of the LA and Social marks for junior high students, 15% in grades 10 and 11, and 20% in grade 12. Kids take the project seriously because community employers and board members come to listen to the final presentations.
Challenges in the project:
  • Timetable (currently every Wednesday after lunch)
  • Individual accountability
  • Ensuring curricular fit
  • Variance in teacher/student buy-in, understanding, commitment, and work output
  • Building teacher and stakeholder capacity
Lessons Learned:
  • Flexible teaching and evolving structure are required to provide opportunities for students to interact and teach each other in meaningful cross-grade groups
  • The program does not meet all needs and would not suit a class or school to be an “all the time” activity
Speak Out: The Student Perspective
The Alberta government’s commitment to listen to student perspectives was first voiced in the 2008 Alberta  Speech from the Throne. Speak Out was initiated shortly afterwards, and encourages student voice through the website, forums, an annual conference, and the Minister’s Student Advisory Council. Students are encouraged to bring many positives to the table. When students are given a voice and people listen, students want to be engaged. Here are four questions to ask students:
  1. What does it look like when I’m learning my best?
  2. What’s holding me back from learning at my best?
  3. What can adults do to help me learn at my best?
  4. What can I do to help myself learn at my best?
Wild Rose School Division – 50 Ways to Leave Your Lecture
Shelly Cloke and Kim Wedman presented a fun, interactive workshop on ways to get students engaged in learning. I highly recommend their resource, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lecture…or Your Worksheet… or Your Textbook, which is available on Google docs. Shelly and Kim modeled several of the ideas for us and the hour flew by!
Northern Gateway Regional Division – If You Want to Engage Me, Involve Me
Northern Gateway set out to engage students and community members in an effort to improve learning. They did this by hosting a student conference where students were given opportunities to provide feedback. This laid the foundation for the community round table discussions which took place three days later. Instead of asking what education could do for them, participants were asked to consider, “What can you (all members in all capacities) do for education (students in schools)? More information is available on Northern Gateway’s Website.
Dr. Nat Kendall-Taylor gave the closing keynote, challenging us to “Know the Swamp, Use frames to get your messages through it, and Explain common concepts to unite sectors.”
Why we should care about framing:
  • Policy making is Not a magic trick…Policies are made in contexts of public opinion
  • Yelling louder with more data is NOT strategic communication
  • Frames have BIG effects on policy support
  • Framing research maximizes other investments
  • “Sticky” frames build coalitions and amplify impact (a common story brings people together)
How do we get through this swamp?
  • Values (Provide an orientation)
  • The Explanatory Metaphor (e.g. education is like an orchestra with multiple sections that must be tuned and coordinated to work for the common good.)
  • Narratives (A core story of education)
Watch Dr. Kendall-Taylor’s closing keynote and access other information from the conference on the AISI Website.
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