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Oct 26

Chris Smeaton

Innovate West

This past weekend, I attended the Innovate West Conference hosted by Connect Charter School in Calgary. It is a conference I’ve wanted to attend in the past because of the positive reviews it has received from previous participants from our division and elsewhere. Attending with me was my Deputy Superintendent, Brian Macauley (@macauleyb) and Director of Student Services, Ken Sampson (@KenSampson1), so we had excellent representation from our senior team. Part of the conference involved tours while students (on Friday) were in class. Connect Charter School (former known as Calgary Science School) is well-known throughout western Canada as a leading example of innovation in education. With over 1000+ visitors every year, students don’t view these visits as distractions but rather part of their own learning process. They share what they are learning openly and their level of understanding of the learning process is simply amazing. When was the last time you engaged in a conversation with a 10-year-old student about Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset?

While visiting the school itself is a great professional learning experience, the conference, with a facilitated discussion format is powerful. Learning is framed not around experts presenting material but rather leaders (formal and informal) facilitating a conversation around a particular topic of mutual interest. Through self-selection, similar to an edcamp or open spaces model, participant’s autonomy is honoured. I was able to fully attend three sessions, lead one and “pop in” to a couple where I knew the presenters and just wanted to touch base.

Stakeholder Mapping for Design Thinking– Stephanie Nemcsok and Donna Kipta from TELUS Spark provided an opportunity to learn more about the “define” phase of design thinking. Last year, I had the good fortune of some introductory learning about design thinking at EF Tours Science and Innovation Summit in Berlin. But through this session and further connecting with fellow participant Jessie McLean, I learned more about how this approach can be well used in our schools. Check out his school’s work here.

The Essence of Innovation– This session was led by Phil Butterfield, a Sessional Instructor at University of Calgary and also the former vice principal of Connect Charter School. High level conversations on the differences between educational reform and innovation characterized this session. The visual provided by Phil assisted in a better understanding of the concept and path of innovation in school organizations.

Innovation

How do we make assessment meaningful for all the stakeholders involved?– Two teachers from Connect Charter School, Jody Pereverzoff and Margaret Leland led an important conversation on assessment. The importance of parents and the community at large gaining a better understanding of current assessment practices along with frequency and types of assessments dominated this discussion. A Google Doc was generated to continue the learning for participants and others.

The practice of professional development has greatly changed over the last number of years. Today, there is a premium on the belief that we all have expertise, able to contribute and ready to learn. Conferences organized in this format, like Twitter, have no hierarchy- everybody is a learner. Being around these learners this weekend reinforced my belief that we are on the cusp of something very special in education. There is tremendous momentum growing that will not reform education but rather revolutionize it. While nothing is ever perfect, it is an exciting time to be in education.

I was humbled to be surrounded by such committed learners, who constantly stretched my own thinking and caused me to reflect on my own practice! Well done organizers of Innovate West!

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