This past week I had the pleasure of traveling with ten staff members from Thomas Haney Secondary to attend the Canadian Coalition of Self Directed Learning (CCSDL) Conference.
This year, the conference was held in Edmonton, Alberta and hosted by St. Joseph’s High School. Over four hundred educators across Canada gathered together to share best practices in self-directed learning and flex schooling (Alberta). It was one of the best education conferences I have attended as it offered a rich line up of presentations, a school tour showcasing self directed learning in action and a well thought out agenda that balanced professional development with time to socialize and network with others. The staff at St. Joseph’s did a phenomenal job organizing a first class conference with great attention to detail.
Thomas Haney has been a part of the Canadian Coalition of Self Directed Learning since the coalition’s inception in 1996. The CCSDL was built with the idea that we are stronger when we work together and share ideas. Thomas Haney School is now in it’s 22nd year of self-directed learning. Attending the CCSDL conference each year allows our teachers to network with like-minded educators who are continually finding progressive ways to teach in a self directed system. This forward thinking model allows for personalization, creativity, and innovation.
The three keynote speakers left us with ideas and inspired us to ask great questions. Lee Crocket, author of the 21st Century Fluency Project, introduced his Fluency 21 Unit Planner cloud-app where educators can collaborate and share unit plans. He spoke to the importance of a gradual responsibility shift so that graduates can finish high school well able to manage their lifelong learning. Garfield Gini-Newman, senior Lecturer at the University of Toronto and a senior national consultant with The Critical Thinking Consortium shared ideas on how to nurture self regulated critical thinkers. One idea that stuck for me was the notion of starting each unit with a question of inquiry instead of teaching and then asking questions. When students begin with a sense of wonder, their learning becomes more relevant. This helps our students develop a lifelong inquiry mindset. He also suggested students keep a thought book where they right down their initial thoughts and change their thoughts as they learn about a topic. This book then allows the teacher to offer ongoing feedback and to recognize the learning journey for each student. He suggested that teachers should move away from the stand and deliver instruction model, and even move away from the ‘guide on the side’ approach. To fully engage students, teachers should see themselves as choreographers helping all of their students in their own learning journeys. Maureen Suhendra, from the Khan Academy, spoke to how teachers can use the Khan Academy’s free educational resources in the classroom. The Khan Academy now offers over 4300 videos in their free online education platform. The Khan Academy is a great example of how education is changing, and how schools will need to meet the needs of a digital generation.
While the keynotes were all wonderful, perhaps the richest experience occurred naturally over the four days as the nine teachers and two administrators from our school strengthened our connections with one another. With 11 of us travelling together, we represented ten teaching areas within our school and had a range of experience in self directed learning – some with over 20 years at Thomas Haney and others in their first year. A natural synergy occurred, where conversation flowed easily and we were constantly able to ask ‘what if? questions. We left the conference energized, inspired, and proud of where we are at as a school, but even more excited about where we are headed. With enthusiasm, we accepted the invitation to be the host school for the 2014 CCSDL Conference.
Although we are in the initial planning stages, we know that we want to build on momentum and share educational practices that are engaging, creative and powerful. We want to hear from both students and teachers, whose names you may not know, but whose stories you will not forget. At next year’s conference we will showcase self directed learning but we will also extend our reach beyond the CCSDL, opening the invitation to any educator who is searching for ways to rejuvenate their teaching practice. We will showcase educators who dare to be different: the thinkers, the creators and the innovators who find ways for students to follow their passion while engaging in relevant learning experiences.
We have decided to align the conference with the BC Provincial Pro-D Day. On October 23, 24, and 25th, 2014, we will welcome educators from across the country to come together to ask questions, and celebrate innovative practices that are re-shaping education. We are committed to our vision of hosting an amazing conference where educators can learn and grow together to help transform our schools to meet the needs of Canadian students.
We hope to see you there! More information will follow as we unfold our plans for the Vancouver CCSDL Conference – 2014!