Just getting back from a weekend at the Calgary Science School for the 2nd edition of ConnectEd Canada. While I have participated in a few EdCamps and organized some local ones as well, my head is swimming as this was one of the top conference style learning experiences I’ve ever participated in. Educator collaboration has always impressed me, but this weekend it was unconditional collegiality that blew me away as educators from across the country shared, debated and collaborated on how to move education in Canada forward. This weekend was the Stanley Cup of EdCamps.
My challenge now that I’m home and excited to bring a lot of what I learned back to my district, is to filter where and what to embrace first. Change doesn’t often happen overnight and it’s difficult to know where to start; how to bridge the gap between all that was discussed and debated, get buy-in from my colleagues locally and then to actually implement and move forward with some of those ideas. For today, I want to focus on the host location and the amazing learning environment that has been created at the CSS.
To host this event, the Calgary Science School graciously opened their doors to 300 educators from across the country. There are several things that make this gesture so impressive. The first is that Friday was not a Professional Day. On this regular school day, student leaders toured us around, teachers opened their doors to us, and students remained focused on their learning – all conducting business as if we weren’t even there.
CSS is built on an inquiry based premise. Learners develop big questions with their classmates and teachers, and then explore the answers. One example of this exploration is shown here:
This question was used as part of a Science unit and the students explored the nearby Weaselhead park to find the answers to their Big Question. The school does not just focus on Sciences despite the name. A similar approach is taken in Humanities and Math as well. Teachers promote a collaborative approach to problem solving – a simple yet effective way to have everyone engaged in the activity.
The second piece that stood out for me was the open concept of the school. The times I have seen something different happening have always involved a physical structure that was designed for that type of learning. In this case the CSS is housed in a Traditional public school. Nothing fancy or high tech about the actual physical structure. What is open…are the doors. Every teacher had the door to the room open and I was told that this is always the case. Teachers view themselves as Learners and they share their stories with one another. There is an open invitation to see what is happening in other rooms. The Administration supports this model – even the Superintendent and the Principal share an office!
What I also found impressive was that the CSS has worked toward cultivating a culture of risk taking. Whether it is teachers trying something new, students working their way towards an answer or the parents registering their children in a very different environment than the school they went to, this school community embraces risk taking. One teacher shared his story explaining that he was told by his Principal – ‘the more mistakes you make, the more we will be there to support you’. This supportive environment thrives because the cornerstone of the building is relationships.
I have only glanced over some of the major tenets that make this school the huge success that drew 300 educators from across the country to see it. When I came home tonight there was a Twitter Chat and the topic was Inquiry in BC schools. Reforming our schools to this style of learning is gaining momentum.
What I learned from my visit is that we don’t need to wait for others to allow us to make these changes. I’d encourage any teacher to begin experimenting because this change lies within the people in our communities. Sharing both our successes and challenges with others helps reflection and learning. If we want to learn and get better, we need to try new things, take risks and trust that those around will support the efforts to make the learning in our schools more effective.
I was so inspired by what I saw that I am still processing everything – this post can’t do it justice. But I am also hopeful that sharing these stories will help move our thinking forward.