What technology best supports the learning?

Way back in October 2010,  I began talking with my team about finding a way to track how we support the learning in HWDSB from a system, school, classroom and individual staff member standpoint.  How do we do this effectively so that we can begin to analyse patterns and trends from a pedagogical and technological standpoint.  Never losing sight that the priority areas in HWDSB are: critical literacy, higher order thinking skills, 21st Century fluencies, the TLCP Process, comprehensive literacy / literacy intervention strategies, differentiated instruction / tiered intervention / universal design and problem solving in math.  Keeping these priority areas in mind, the requests for support vary immensely, especially when it comes to leveraging technology to serve the learning of today.  Hence, the importance of keeping track of how we support the system and schools.  We need to do this  in a way that allows us to build data for understanding how best to build our services to support HWDSB in a sustainable way.

We wrestled with many initial ways.  We tried first class using the calendar function to aggregate data and exporting it to excel.  Yikes!  We discussed using a collaborative document and thought about it being not as accessible for others who are not on our team.  What about our team wiki?  Truth be told, we tried a few of these but none of them seemed to really allow us to be transparent, authentic and truly collaborative as we hope to eventually go public with our stories and data.

It is with great enthusiasm and pride that I share members of our 21st Century Fluencies Team launched our team blog entitled:  Supporting.theclassroo.ms.  Here is a screenshot of the header:

As you can see, we are each able to post our experiences with schools, classrooms, system and more! Even better, we can categorize by panel, cluster, school and tag our supports and this allows us to understand the data of who, when, where, why and how we are building capacity in HWDSB.

Here is a screenshot of our tag cloud.  Take a look at it before you read further.
Now, you tell me what this tells us?

The tag cloud allows us to see where we are spending most of our time and how we are building capacity with staff. Amazing!  Not only that but our blogposts facilitate authentic sharing within our team.  We can review each others posts, comment and learn from each other in a very ongoing and sustainable way. Even better, we have added an anthologize plugin that will allow us to build specific content into a book or report.  How powerful will it be to organize and collate specific posts for specific reasons.

So here’s the good news, it’s working and we are very excited.  The bad news is that it isn’t public yet.  It will be very soon.  We are working on polishing our voice and wanted to ensure that all our team members have had time to create posts and feel comfortable with the wordpress platform.  This is learning and coaching in action!

My learnings:

  • the tool / technology does really serve the learning and the pedagogy
  • you must really think about what it is you are trying to accomplish and/or learn before you determine how you are going to do it when it comes to technology and web 2.0
  • always think about how you can leverage the technology to improve efficiency and efficacy
  • spend time exploring the options with your team and be open to changing course when a better idea comes along

I thank my team!  They are creative, innovative, persistent and always thinking.  It really makes our working and learning environment fun, stimulating and models how it should be for our students!

Stances: Do you have them?


As leaders, research tells us and we know that teachers play an integral role in how our students learn.  Teachers are key participants in the act of learning and it isn’t about how much they know but how well they can be both a learner and a catalyst for inspiring students in understanding how they learn.  As a leader, I suggest that we make connections and draw similar parallels to how our staff learn and how we must be catalysts in their learning.

Currently, I am participating in a leadership workshop series sponsored by HWDSB entitled Cognitive Coaching. The mission of Cognitive Coaching is “to produce self-directed persons with the cognitive capacity for high performance both independently and as members of a community. ” This eight day training positions four “stances” when working with staff / adults:

  • Cognitive Coaching
  • Collaborating
  • Consulting
  • Evaluating

It is most effective when we remain in the coaching and collaborating stance as these stances encourage self-directed and interdependent learners.  Learners who take charge of their learning.  At times,  consulting is needed to offer suggestions and recommendations  based on student needs, pedagogy, policies and procedures.    Lastly, leaders do evaluate and rate performance according to standards.  As leaders, we will adjust our stance depending upon how the interaction evolves with our staff.   In order to be an effective cognitive coach, one must first build rapport and trust with people.  To date,  I have participated in two full days of training and look forward more days.  My intent is to share further learning and reflections with you.

Upon reflecting after the first two days of training about how as adults, we will  and do alter our stance when we interact with others,  I began to draw parallels with how teachers must do this with our students even more in today’s web-based learning ecology.  Students learn anywhere, anytime and in many places and it is essential that learning conditions and adults (all staff) are flexible and responsive.

Last month, I had the privilege of  collaborating with a superintendent in our jurisdiction, Sharon Stephanian, reworking a component of  a  document being launched this week entitled “Education in HWDSB.”  We were asked to rework a chart in the document in order to position it to be more inclusive of instructional strategies and responsiveness to students needs.  In addition, the rework would illustrate how learning involves a blend and balance of instructional strategies.

Here is an image of the chart:

Sharon and I met and began collaborating together.   As it turns out, we are both participants in Cognitive Coaching and our discussion brought in the stances and how they are responsive and relevant for not only how we as adults interact with each other but how these stances with modification could create a model that responds to today’s teacher – student learning relationship.

We began to whiteboard our thoughts and take the elements of the chart and connect them to the cognitive coaching stances.
Our work:

Our thinking:
Our diagram began with putting the students in the centre in a tier format.  We then included the words personalized, customized and choice around the tier to underline the importance of students having choice in how they learn, when they learn and where they learn.  They must be able to chose from a variety of approaches that best suit their needs, learning style and pathway.

This then led us to include the “stances” that the teacher will chose based on knowing their students and how best they learn.  The teacher must be in tune and shift their stance based on responding to the needs of students.

The Teacher Stances:
Instructing – This is where explicit teaching is required. The teacher is focusing on curriculum content, knowledge and skills. (in Cognitive Coaching Model it is consulting)
Collaborating – Facilitating students working together, face to face or over distances, recognizing the norms of collaboration among various cultures, engaging in collaborative inquiry, on projects that have meaning for the learner.
Coaching – The teacher is supporting the student as the driver of his or her learning. This includes goal setting, problem-solving, practice and self-directed learning.
Monitoring – This is the ongoing formative assessment that the teacher engages in in  order to determine what the student needs and thus whether there is a need to the stance. Based upon established success criteria, students engage in peer assessment and frequent feedback from the teacher. Teachers ensure high expectations for all and create conditions that ensure time on task. (in the Cognitive Coaching model, it is evaluating)

A learning environment, with students at the centre, where teachers vary their “stance” given student needs creates a balanced environment focused on learning for life with attention to content, product and process in the learning.

All stances are circled by trust and rapport.  Learning is about building relationships with people and knowing the needs of our students as well as ourselves.  Teachers and all staff are just as much a learner in the process of learning as the students. We must see ourselves as learners too!  Learning is social and most reliant on how we connect in the moment as we learn together.

Here is the diagram that is included in “Education in HWDSB”:

For me, this model illustrates that learning involves action, participation and responsiveness.  We must shift our stance and  are learners alongside students.

A few questions:
Do you have “stances”?  Are you mindful of them when you work and learn with others?

Your comments and questions are welcome and please let’s  continue the discussion.

Next Steps: Lifelong Everyday Learning

On Friday April 30th in Toronto, I was honoured to spend time sharing with my continuing education colleagues from all over Ontario re:  how building a PLN can empower you to grow as a professional each and every day.  The goal was to demonstrate how it is possible and essential to go beyond F2F networking and learning and move to everyday learning with each other through the use of web 2.0 tools such as wikis, twitter and video conferencing.

For two hours, we navigated our  Networking 2 Learn wiki  discussing these questions:

  • What are 21st century skills, and why do they matter?
  • What does it mean to be literate in the 21st Century?
  • What is a personal learning network (PLN)?
  • How can growing a PLN make me a better educator?
  • How do I use web 2.0 tools to build and maintain a PLN?

In terms of context, it must be stated that our group creates programs in adult, alternative and continuing education in Ontario and most of us have staff who are in many locations and it is very challenging to bring them together onground and often impossible due to the geographics, etc…  Also, another reality is that we as professionals have very unique roles in our own school boards and do find that we are different.   Our staff is different, our schools are different and hence, we often don’t fit  in with the K-12 learning community.  We did conclude on Friday April 30th, 2010 that creating a PLN and starting out slowly and using web 2.0 tools would not only allow us to collaborate and network but it would also keep us in tune with the many students we serve.  In fact, my colleague, Becky Howse from TVDSB debriefed at the plenary on our behalf and in her own unique and candid way stated that “it was time to tweet!”

As I reflect this weekend, I am jazzed and optimistic as my provincial colleagues did agree that it was time to be on board as a collective in using web 2.0 tools and building PLNs. YEAH!  My next steps will be to encourage, model, position and invite  my “con eddies” in Ontario to be online with me.  I promise to keep it going with our small group.  I will be there when  they tweet me for the first time or share in  #conted.  I promise to celebrate with them when they begin to contribute in our wiki.   My promise is to be open, to support, to share, to encourage, to celebrate and most of all to collaborate and to learn with them.   This is my promise to them and all others who join us!  Lifelong everyday learning in continuing education – makes sense to me.