Unit 4: Leadership in EdTech

This week we have been asked to discuss some of the leadership principles that are illustrated effectively in Sun West’s and Regina Catholic’s approaches to Edtech innovation. There has always been some wavering among the different staff members that I have encountered throughout my career with innovative technology practices within the realm of education. Either technology has intimidated them so much that they are too hesitant to let students have some control over their learning experience or they become too frustrated with connectivity issues.

Sun West School Division and Regina Catholic have both taken technology and implemented them successfully within their divisions. In the interview with Bart Cote it was quite apparent that Regina Catholic wants teachers to utilize technology in the classroom, but doing so in a way that benefits student engagement and learning, “Technology enhancing pedagogy”. They have four points when implementing technology within the classroom that they want to see with their educating staff:

  1. Focus on good teaching
  2. Technology needs to be efficient – Management of the classroom.
  3. Having technology in teachers hands 24/7 makes them more apt to have that technology ready and available.
  4. Real life problems – authentic ways of using technology.

These are all good things that happen when utilizing new and different technologies within the classroom. I think that the most important aspect of these four guidelines is the first: focus on good teaching. It is imperative that this is the main focus when implementing technology within the classroom. Students need to know what they are doing, why they are doing it, and most importantly need to know how to properly use the technology. Without a purpose, there is going to be confusion and disengagement and that is where student development starts to plateau.

Bart also talked about the seven C’s they have with the implementation of technology:

  1. Critical thinking
  2. Communication
  3. Curation
  4. Citizenship
  5. Collaboration
  6. Connection creation
  7. Creation

I found these to be a great baseline for teachers and students for what the division wants to achieve through the use of technology in the classroom. If we are using these tools with our students it is important that they are expanding their horizons as learners through the technology. These technological implementations with help them learn and connect with others from a resource that helps them go beyond their school classroom and building.

How do teachers implement proper use of these new technologies in their classroom? The answer is to follow the SAMR Model. There are four different categories for technology integration into learning environments. Below is an image the illustrates the SAMR model in a very easy to understand way.

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This model might help those teachers hesitant to use technology in the classroom. It ranges from substitution through redefinition, and the key aspect is that you can go back and forth, not always needing to be in the redefinition stage. The key to all of this, however, is the fact that there needs to be a reason you are utilizing the technology. There needs to be a purpose and once teachers begin feeling comfortable with the technology tools they are using the greater impact they will have on their class.

In Sun West School Division they are being even more progressive with technology within education. Guy Tetrault, the Director of Sun West, has successfully implemented technology within the school system. They have implemented the PeBL Model which seems to have worked well for staff and students. Students are utilizing technology successfully within their division and student engagement has risen from 60% to 80% which is a huge leap. They are finding that with the blended style of education (face to face & online) that the students are thriving. There were three things that Mr. Tetrault outlined that made this a success:  

  1. A culture of leadership for students managing their own learning
  2. Sufficient supports for teachers to be able to learn how to significantly change their teaching pedagogy from the way it used to be to this new focus
  3. Must have support for the teachers and students.   

The biggest piece that helps with the success of this program is the third point, in my opinion. There needs to be greater tech support for teachers and students when implementing technologies. With this program, they have a trained professional that is not necessarily a teacher supervising online instruction. This type of support is crucial to the success of technology within the classroom. It is also a major hurdle for Saskatchewan school divisions because we simply do not have the funding available for such crutches within our systems. Until there is a change it’s going to be difficult to properly implement technology within education.

For the second part of our blog post, we were asked to choose an image, from George Couros book, The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. (2015) to help us discuss Ed Tech leadership issues within our school division. I have chosen image #2.

I have found of the last couple of years that when students are not in control of aspects of their learning they become disengaged. A lot of educators that I have talked to throughout my career struggle with this aspect of education. Now that we have some technologies at our disposal and student engagement has the possibility to skyrocket educators are hesitant to let go of control and let their students take control of their leaning.  The number one problem is the student’s voice, they do not get the opportunity to explore and learn from others and different resources often simply because there is a lack of computers in the building and there are a number of connectivity issues when they do have the opportunity to work with them. With a lack of funding in education, this type f educational practice suffers and teachers feel forced to resort back to their older practices…the talking head in front of the class.

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Although I do find this valuable at times it’s important to have a healthy balance and let some exploratory learning take place in the classroom.

Although there are a number of different opportunities for our classrooms to take advantage of technology within their walls, there are a few roadblocks in the way of successful integration of efficient and competent technology practices. The two interviews from this unit have given me hope for the youth of tomorrow within the realm of education. The ways in which Regina Catholic School Division and Sun West School Division have successfully integrated tech practices within their schools makes me realize that education is on the right path. The major issues that stand in our way are the lack of funding and proper training, a result of insufficient funding from the government. These school divisions are paving the road for the future of other divisions within Canada and it’s an important step in investing in the future generations.  

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Unit 2: My Leadership Style…The Sequel

As a second blog posting for this week we were asked to look at five different articles, choose a quote from each that resonated with us with a brief explanation of its impact on our leadership philosophy. Below are my quotes!

  1. Leadership, more or less? A processual, communication perspective on the role of agency in leadership theory.

“followership is viewed as being what assists in the ‘improvement’ and ‘attainment’ of such objectives, rather than what might fundamentally interrogate them.” (pg. 9)

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This quote was interesting to me, as a “follower”, because it’s one of the most important tools a leader needs in order to be successful. Without the contributions of the follower the whole team and organization suffer. As an educator, I would consider myself a leader within the school that is working towards a common goal with other leaders. We are collaborating and leading our student body towards a greater knowledge within the curriculum we are working. We, collectively, lead by example and work with each other to ensure safe learning environments for our student body. Without the dedication from “followers” under a leader, there is going to be a failed system in which there is no growth. So much is put on the leader that often the “followers” are forgotten, which is unfair as they are the contributors to the successful outcome of the whole.   

  1. Critical and alternative approaches to leadership, learning and development.

“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).” (pg. 6)

This was a quote that really jumped out at me. Too often, in education, is the leader looked at as in their office and dealing with “bad” students. It’s important to be seen throughout the building, creating relationships with students and staff. These types of interactions will help strengthen a leaders role within a school and build stronger relationships for the future. Everyone within the structure of the business should have an opportunity to be flexible and try different things within the parameters of their jobs. These practices will harbour growth within their occupation.

  1. Avoiding Repetitive Change Syndrome

“Repetitive change syndrome also starts taking time away from routine operations. There is only so much effective working time in a day, and time spent on change takes away from time spent on routine operations.” (pg.3 )

Change is one of the hardest things for staff within an organization as well as the leaders implementing said change. Every 3-4 years elementary schools within RPSD move their principals. In my career, 7 years, I have had a leadership change 3 times. This can be problematic and does not give staff members the opportunity to become great at what they do. With these continual changes, it usually takes around a year to a year and a half to really get a whole staff adjusted and bought into the new leadership style, it’s different for each teacher in the building. This brings about stress and hesitancy to staff as well as the leader. My big question would be: Isn’t there a better way to bring stability to a leadership position without having to switch them every 3-4 years?

  1. The stupidity paradox: The power and pitfalls of functional stupidity at work.

“Self-stupidifying starts to happen when we censor our own internal conversation. As we go through our working day, we constantly try to give some sense to our often chaotic experiences.” (pg. 14)

Although I know I am a good educator I struggle, at times, with trying to give some sense to how I am doing, self-assessing. I often think too much and therefore start to ask myself things like; “are you doing a good enough job?” Or  “Would you want your own kids to be given the education you are supplying for your students?” Questions I know the answers to, but continually roll through my head every once and a while. Now I know this really doesn’t relate that well to the quote I have chosen, but that’s what kept coming to my mind when I initially read it. In a way, I’m responding to this quote I chose with a bit of “chaos”.

  1. Cross-Cultural Understandings of Leadership

“Others told us that the leader was a student. It was the wisdom of the leader, accumulated through some period of learning, others learned. That learning was voluntary. It was a neverending process.” (pg. 16)

The last quote I chose was one that might have resonated the most in all of the previous readings. In society, the leader is looked upon as the one with all of the answers, they know how EVERYTHING works! But that is not the case and any leader who thinks otherwise has stunted their growth. I like this idea for leaders and everyone that is working with them. There is never going to be a time where one knows everything about their role, whether that be a leader or follower, and that’s the genius behind this mind frame. We are all working towards something and it’s imperative that we work together to achieve that goal.

Each of these quotes resonated with me and challenged me to look at my leadership philosophy under a more critical eye. One of the approaches that it really challenged for me was the  Laissez-Faire leadership approach within my philosophy. Not only do leaders need to be present within their building, but collaborating on units and lessons with other teachers might actually help create a stronger community and help build greater relationships throughout the school. This, of course, is way easier to say than to have implemented, but wouldn’t that be a different and interesting change.

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Unit 2: My Leadership Style

My leadership style is a reflection of my personality! My personality is very extroverted, I am an outgoing fun loving person who is very supportive and helpful. I generally like to “go with the flow” and love to socialize with others. I am a very involved parent who loves to watch his kids grow and learn. I also believe in failure as a source of growth. I would also consider myself a person with grit, I have had to work hard to get to where I am, coming from a lower middle-class family. I am very flexible when it comes to most things which I think helps when planning with colleagues and working with students. Another trait, that I think might be one of my strengths, is I am a team player. I have grown up playing competitive sports and have had many different roles on those teams that had to help benefit the team. I also have an introverted side that likes quiet, reading, budgeting, and thinking…sometimes too much. I am a good listener and I find that really lends itself nicely to my leadership style.

The first major life experience that has helped to shape my approach to leadership has been becoming a father. In this journey, each of my children has a different personality with unique perspectives, so it has been a lot of fun and sometimes quite the learning curve helping them grow and pushing them to be the best person that they can be. They ask a LOT of questions and I often respond with “well, what do you think?” It is important to foster confidence and growing curiosity in kids and its really fun to watch them think and process information, especially when they are working through problems that entail trial and error.

The second would be watching some of the past leaders that I have had in my life such as bosses, coaches, principals and teachers. I have had a variety of leaders from the time I was 15 and able to get a job. They have been different in many aspects of their leadership styles from good, to bad, to incredible. All of them had different management styles, some just plain awful, which leads me to ask, how do they end up in those positions? I have had mostly positive experiences, but there have been a couple of “leaders” that I have learned from because I would never want to handle situations or staff members the way that they had.

The three leadership approaches that are of interest to me are:  

Democrative/Participative – I think it is important that voices on staff are heard and valued. This could be the difference between staff buy-in and complete disengagement. When members of staff feel like their opinions matter, they are getting job fulfillment and a sense of pride within their school community.   

Laissez-Faire – Educators need room and freedom to grow with their classes. Having the freedom to create assignments and projects without their leader breathing down their neck is key and reduces stress, in an already highly stressful environment. A leader should be a resource and should be available when needed, but trust among staff is even more important for productivity.

Creative – It’s important for staff to have and work towards goals throughout the school year, that’s why we have outcomes that create a basis for what is important for students to know and learn each year. It is also why we work to achieve, seemingly at times, unattainable goals for the Ministry. As long as staff have a goal in mind good and meaningful work will be done.

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Unit 1: A Shift in the Hidden Curriculum

Unjust power structures still exist within our societies, they come in many different forms such as classism, hidden curriculum’s, conformity, genderism, etc.. It’s important for us to be aware of these issues and do our best to change the thinking and actions of the next generation to squeeze out the existence of these infections within our societies. I am currently a middle years educator and have seen schools used as agents for some of the existing power structures in our workplaces and societies.

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The hidden social curriculum, as well as the hidden cognitive curriculum, are two in which I see on a daily basis within education. Now, I am by no means demeaning the capabilities of my colleagues who are all trying new approaches, lessons and technologies within their classrooms. They all have their different styles and educational philosophies, but the hidden curriculum pops its ugly head in our building often and finding different ways in which to counter these instances is key and will benefit educators and students in the future.

One of the major aspects that we see on a daily basis is school desks. Students have to sit in them and keep their belongings neatly organized within their small cubby for the duration of the school year. They are learning the skills needed to work in an office job for long days and how to keep their things organized at their desks. The issue with this set-up that I see happening is complete disengagement from about 80% of the students walking through the school’s doors. These numbers are strictly from what I have seen in my classroom when we are doing “desk work” or when an educator is at the front of the class “teaching”. With the lack of movement and hands-on learning, students start to become disengaged and therefore start to struggle to maintain “good” grades.

Ever so slowly, I have begun to see the disappearance of desks from classrooms within elementary schools. My class still has a fair number fo them but They are being replaced by alternate places for students to work. Across the hall from my classroom, my colleague has a total of 12 desks, 4 tables, 2 rocking chairs, a stool with a stand-up desk, a large bean bag chair as well as a number of small carpet squares that students can take and sit anywhere with, in addition to all of the alternate seating within her class there is ample room for students to stand and move around if need be. Classroom furniture has been slowly moving into learning spaces while desks are starting to fade out. The catch? Students are asking for desks back, so it is apparent that some of the hidden curricula had been ingrained in them and trying to break that mould is a challenge as you want them to be comfortable within their learning environment. A good example of these environments can be found in this article by Tom Vander Ark.

One of the other ways in which I have noticed the hidden agenda shining through is through the use of textbooks and teachers lecturing. When this happens students engagement begins to decline and they start to lose their ability to pay attention. Our latest math textbook was copywritten in 2007….12 years ago, pair this with the science text 2010, not too bad but almost a decade old. Some teachers still have their students read them and answer the questions at the end of the chapter, the same paperwork that they have been performing throughout their education. Alice Scott outlines the interest level in different types of learning in her article, showing results between VR learning, textbook learning and 2D video. Over the last five years, there seems to have been an adjustment within a number of classrooms within the school that have been doing more inquiry-based learning and more hands-on projects. This strikes hope in me as an educator with children of my own that are in the early stages of their educational journey’s.

Technology within education is another tool that has been utilized to enhance students skills in technological literacy. Students ability to type reports and essays utilizing tools in the working world such are Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. Teaching these programs is yet another way in which we are educating students skills for office jobs. It’s all starting to add up, the desk and computer as well as the documents used to instill knowledge within the workplace. I have seen technology used in more positive ways within education though. We have a 3D printer in the grade 4/5 classroom where they are working on creating simple designs. Coding is becoming more prevalent within education which could be making its way into the curriculum down the road. Students are getting opportunities that most did not have in the past. Working with simple microchips and computer programs that give students the basic skills for coding is important in an ever-growing climate of technology.  In an article by CBC, it was stated by another educator that “…he’s found that the easiest thing to do is just hand the tech over to the kids.” Students love technology and the more that it can be incorporated into our lessons we will see more engagement and greater projects as opposed to the same reports and essays. 

The last, of many issues within the hidden curriculum of education, is the knowledge of the suffering the First Nation Peoples have been through and the reconciliation attempts that the school board and classrooms have taken to start the healing process. Reconciliation within the realm of education, that I have seen in place, have been activities such as the blanket exercise, orange shirt day, utilizing the circle of courage in the classroom and throughout the school, having Elders and Advocates present in some schools, smudging ceremonies, etc.  When we facilitate education for students that include the massive “blemishes” of Canadian history and find avenues in which we can help healing and knowledge within the communities we work in, education becomes a tool that helps with understanding, acknowledgement and personal growth.

Although there are some old school ideas about what is expected from education that are still in place today, they seem to be trending in more creative outlets. It is important that we instill the value into students that they can achieve something greater than an unjust power structure in the world that they live in. As well as driving home the point that it is important that educators facilitate their learning through different teaching techniques, utilizing an array of tools in spaces that are comfortable to learn in. When students get the opportunity to work with their hands, move freely, and have some ownership over what they are learning then we might see a shift within the power structures and maybe we see a shift in that hidden curriculum.

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Information Has Processed, My Summary of Learning!

Alas, we have come to the end of our journey in EC&I 833! We have learnt so much this year and to summarize our learning for this semester Scott and I have come together to create our summary of learning in the form of a podcast! Have a listen and we hope you enjoy!

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For Every Goal There is an Assistive Technology!

In the What Works? article there were a number of different ways to implement assistive technology in a learning environment, one option that stood out to me was, “Use assistive technology as part of the regular rhythm of the class. When assistive technology becomes part of the classroom’s “DNA,” students and teachers will use it naturally and organically.” This really struck a chord with me, as a grade seven and eight teacher. I have had a number of students that have been in my class that have had “board-certified” computers as assistive technology. While most of the students who have had these devices embraced them, there have been some that have viewed it in a different light, they see themselves as different and using them makes them seem less “cool” to the rest of the student population. To counter this negative connotation to a positive tool I found it really helped those students when everyone was on a device. I started to incorporate more lessons that were tech-based and giving students the opportunity to utilize technology, as an assistive tool, for most assignments. It was through a couple of these assignments where the student who needed to use the assistive technology became comfortable using it and realized how lucky they were to have this tool at their disposal all of the time, this really helped to break the stigma that they had about using their board-certified computers.

Once a comfort level was reached they began to utilize the programs that were available to them more efficiently. Google Read and Write was one such tool that has had an impact in my classroom. There are students who do not need to use this program, but still do because it is such a great tool and lets them try to do tasks a bit differently than they would normally approach it. It’s in these moments you kind of wish that every student had a board-certified device because it is such a valuable tool that will assist any student gain greater technological literacy.  The great thing about Google Read and Write is the fact that it is free for teachers

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In an article by Keetam D. F. Alkahtani on assistive technology they state, “The effective use of assistive technologies is the difference between experiencing success or failure in the educational setting for students with disabilities.” This is the most important part of utilizing these technologies in education. If assistive programs and technologies are not taught and used properly you are failing the student and their educational needs. It’s in these circumstances that educators are given the proper PD in order to meet the needs of these students and students utilizing these great technologies need to be taught how to properly utilize them otherwise we are failing them in their educational potential.

It was quite clear in the presentation when we were able to see a number of different tools that were used by Brittany Thies in her developmental classroom. It was neat to see the different tools that she uses with her students. The assistive tech that I liked, and forgive me because the name escapes me, had a large yellow ball that students could nudge to perform a function, her example was when they hooked it up to a blender. In another article about assistive technology in the classroom the author echo’s the sentiment the group had stating, “These devices promote independence for people with disabilities as they adapt and interact in their environment.” Reflecting back on the presentation I was quite amazed at the different technological advancements that have been made and are utilized within our classrooms for students of all ages and needs.

The last point I want to cover is the fact that, as Michael states in his blog “…and the students spent time showing me how they used Dragon Dictate and Kurzweil.” students are a valuable tool in learning about assistive technology as well. There have been many times throughout my career where I have had student help to solve issues with assistive technology in the class and its in these moments that they get to be the expert and it’s a great feeling watching them get the satisfaction of problem-solving, and being a big help.

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Kahoot Scoot Boogy!

Throughout my short seven-year career in education, admittedly, I have not used many different assessment technologies. The one that I was introduced to a couple years ago was Kahoot. I had the opportunity to use my smartphone in a staff meeting and participate in a quiz. At this point, I was kind of hesitant, I found the website, and a screen popped up where I had to punch in my game code.  After entering the game code and coming up with a name I was in!

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This experience for me was eyeopening in two different ways initially. The first thing I really felt was a need to get the question that was presented right. I looked over the answers and chose the correct one… but not as fast as a couple of other teachers that were actively partaking in the activity as well. I kept answering the questions correctly but someone would always remain ahead of me in the accumulation of the total points, this is where my competitive side really started kicking in. I really wanted to get the next question right, but fast, so I could stack up the points a bit faster than the others because I was slowly falling behind. The question came and I had my fingers ready to move the cursor and click. the four possible answers were up and I quickly misread them all and picked the wrong one. This happened a couple more times throughout the game and my frustration grew. The assessment failed me and I failed the assessment…all because I wanted to win so I shortchanged my intelligence for the need for speed.

https://giphy.com/embed/ktcUyw6mBlMVavia GIPHY

I think this is the detriment that comes with the Kahoot as an assessment tool. I do see value in it, which I will get to, but if it had a negative effect on my ability to think and process efficiently it was not effective in reaching the outcome I think that our assessor wanted. It left me feeling defeated in an area in which I should only be competing with myself.

As an assessment tool, I thought that this might not be the greatest one to use when it impacts a students mark. As a formative assessment, I think it works better and agree with Scott when he states, “So, why do a Kahoot? Well, it’s an easy way to check for understanding (hello, formative assessment!). ” Sonja echo’s this sentiment about Flipgrid as a formative assessment and I think it’s important that educators do not put much stock in these as major summative assessment tools.

There are many ways in which Kahoot can have a great impact on students and learning, however. Having students create their own Kahoot to reflect their comprehension in a subject area is a great use, and it gives them ownership over something they have created that they are able to test out in small groups. Another way I have witnessed Kahoot used effectively was last year. Our school along with four others had a couple of math Kahoot games with just over 200 students in grades 7 and 8. It was just for fun and it was exactly that! The students started to bond within the classrooms they were playing in, cheering for anyone from our school that was in the top five. It was an experience that I think had a profound impact on all of the students that played as well as all of the educators that were collaborating to make it possible.

As educators we need to make sure we are using these assessment tools correctly and that they are benefitting the students within our classrooms. In Section 4: Measuring for Learning it states, “Continued advances in technology will expand the use of ongoing, formative, and embedded assessments that are less disruptive and more useful for improving learning.” This is an important point and the tools that keep surfacing on the Web continually have been improving. In an article by Audrey Watters she makes the point, “We also have, thanks to new technologies, a renewed faith in “data” as holding all the answers: the answers to how people learn, the answers to how students succeed, the answers to why students fail, the answers to which teachers improve test scores…” We need to keep this data in mind because we have such a vast array of learners that walk through our doors each day, we ultimately need to do what is best for all of them and utilizing different assessment tools is important, both summative and formative.

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