Creating the Essential Conditions for a 21st C Organization

Building a Vision for 21st C Learning in RVS


On April 2, 2007, a comprehensive and collaborative planning process to develop a “made-in-Rocky View” 2008-11 Three-Year Plan was approved by the Board of Trustees. The process saw 200 stakeholders meet for four full days over a 13 month period. In response to the research questions “What would a quality education for every student look like by the year 2011?” and “Based on RVS’ current results, what would we need to do to ensure we arrived there?”, students, parents, teachers, administrators, politicians, and business leaders replied: 1. Schools need to engage students by making what and how they learn relevant to their world. 2. Students need to be taught how to think critically and become self-directed learners. 3. Students need to learn how to understand, connect, and contribute to a global community.

The collaborative process concluded in May of 2008, with a 2008-2011 Three-Year Plan that featured a new mission, vision, and motto, six goals, 21 outcomes, and 79 strategies. Its theme, “Engaging 21st Century Learners”, solidified a shared vision, whereby all members of RVS’ school communities were considered “learners”. The six goals were: 1. Learners have their basic and diverse needs met. 2. Learners are competent, qualified, and dedicated. 3. Learners are civic, social, and environmental stewards. 4. Learning opportunities are distinct, continuous, and systematic. 5. Instruction challenges and engages the learner. 6. Learners work in 21st century learning environments.

Communicating a commitment to maintaining the plan for a full three-year window, the jurisdiction pictorialized its vision by publishing its “Portrait of a 21st Century Learner”. The Portrait illustrated portraitlearnerthe jurisdiction’s belief that to succeed in a global community, students needed to possess the following competencies: critical thinking, problem-solving, innovation, communication, collaboration, global awareness, civic engagement, self-directed learning, information and media literacy and financial and economic literacy.

Mounted on the walls of every administration suite and front foyer in schools across the jurisdiction, the Portrait served as a daily reminder of students’ needs and RVS’ vision for the future. To further promote its new direction, the jurisdiction began releasing white papers around each competency, and used the theme “21st C learning” as the foundation of RVS’ rebrand, resulting in a new logo, division colors, a mascot and new jurisdictional and school webportals to stimulate collaboration across the system.

Creating a Culture of System Thinking Accountability

To champion a mental model of “system thinking”, School Education Plans (SEP) and School Annual Results Reports (SARR) were aligned to RVS’ goals, outcomes, and performance measures. In the spirit of continued collaboration, school administrators met bi-annually with the Superintendent of Schools, Associate Superintendent of Schools, and other district administrators to review these documents and to discuss their school’s transformation, the challenges encountered, the mitigating strategies undertaken, and the Divisional assistance required. A local Accountability Framework too was developed, outlining a series of Board reports and consultative activities that helped to demonstrate the jurisdiction’s progress towards achieving its progressive outcomes. To measure its success quantitatively, RVS launched an annual satisfaction survey for students in Grades 4 – 12, all staff, and parents. Efforts in this area led to the development of RVS’ own Accountability Pillar- one that supplemented Alberta Education’s APORI pillar.

At the Board level, Trustees amended several policies to reflect RVS’ 21st C pursuit. Most notably was its revision of Policy HK: Assessment and Communication of Student Learning. Following a year-long process of school-based consultation, the Board approved the revised policy, which outlined an assessment shift away from standardized testing to a more holistic approach of assessment that is ongoing, meaningful, consistent, and employs assessments for learning, as learning and of learning. Assessment for Learning and as Learning, known more commonly as ‘formative assessment’, aims to provide students with an ongoing exchange of information about their progress, while Assessment of Learning collects information about learning to make judgements about students progress and achievement within a specific time frame.

Recognizing transformation comes at a cost fiscally, the Board further adopted a set of budget principles to guide Trustees in their budget deliberations. In order of priority, the first principle outlined that consideration be given to the learning needs of all students. The second principle, which ultimately propelled RVS’ 21st C agenda forward, outlined that RVS’ Three Year Plan was to drive resource allocation, given those available. This decision allowed the jurisdiction to immediately equip all teachers with a Macbook and to move all sites to wireless environments over a two year period. It also advanced RVS' vision to have projectors, smartboards, mimeos, or promithians mounted in every classroom and to increase bandwidth to support the average daily usage, which at peak times reached 280 Mbits. Beginning 2010, revenues also were set aside to fund research-based innovative technology and excellence in learning projects that focused on improving student learning in the classroom. The grants covered the cost of capital and instructional resources, while schools provided the funds for professional learning required to support the research. A maximum of three proposals were allowed from each school. A team of school administrators reviewed the proposals and recommended the projects for the year, outlining that formal research findings were to be submitted at the end of each research term.

To accelerate the implementation of RVS’ Three Year Plan, eight Superintendent Working Committees (SWC) were charged with the responsibility of fulfilling specific strategies in the plan. Made up of principals, assistant principals, 21st C learning facilitators and Education Centre leads, these committees met formally and informally to address strategies related to 21st C learning, leadership, professional learning, human resources, and budget and allocation. In 2011, two new SWC were established to address community engagement and 21st C competencies. Each committee was responsible for reporting progress to the Superintendent of Schools, verbally at Leadership Team Meetings and in writing at the end of the year.

Ensuring Educator Proficiency

To ensure staff gained the necessary skills to support 21st C learning, the Board adjusted the RVS School Calendar to move from five to 10 professional learning days. Seven of the 10 days were designated school-based professional learning days and allowed for school communities to respond to the unique needs of their staffs, as guided by their School Education Plans. The three jurisdictional days were centrally coordinated and organized around a Community of Practice (CofP) model. By 2011, approximately 130 Communities of Practice have been created by certificated and support staff to support self-determined areas of growth and learning. Based on the belief that CofPs serve to provide professionals and paraprofessionals with the ability to learn, co-learn, and create new knowledge together, a CofP Ad-hoc Working group is currently working on an electronic space for the jurisdiction that will act as a community registry, workspace in real time, and a repository for researched-based projects and best practices.

The movement towards a coherent, responsive and fluid model of professional learning has been strengthened further by the development of a professional learning vision and model that supports generative learning among all staff. Guided by these foundational statements, several professional learning initiatives are currently being offered including a beginning teachers mentorship program, a Teachers Plus series, and an Administrative Leadership Program, which has been broken out into 5 streams, targeted at aspiring leaders, candidates in RVS’ administrative pool, newly appointed assistant principals and principals, school-based administrators, and veteran administrators. Through an e-professional web portal all staff is kept abreast of the current offerings provided by regional and provincial partners, such as the Calgary Regional Consortium. A partnership with Bow Valley College also has afforded support staff access a plethora of online courses covering topics including child development, working with exceptionalities and editing in the workplace.

In addition to these formal professional learning structures, all certificated and support staff continue to develop annual growth plans or annual individual learning plans, which are to align with RVS’ Three Year Plan or School Education Plans. As well, senior executive, principals and assistant principals are engaged annually in the creation of evidence-based portfolios for their annual performance evaluations. To respect the contribution of all members of its learning community, RVS also has built the structures necessary for all school councils to access jurisdictional professional learning opportunities, built around effective operations and RVS’ 21st C Culture. Adult learning, too, has been brought into the fold with the launch of RVS’ Community Learning Branch in 2010.

Forging 21st Century Learning Environments

To guide new forms of pedagogy and move teachers away from being RVS Learning Modelknowledge disseminators to facilitators of knowledge construction, the jurisdiction’s Learning Department embedded “RVS’ Learning Model” as a key driver of teaching and learning in schools. Outlining an instructional approach to building an understanding of who 21st Century Learners are, how they learn, and how 21st Century classrooms should look, the learner is at the centre of the model. Surrounding the learner, the blue ring identifies three main educational approaches that interact with one another: Understanding by Design (UBD) guides teachers in the instructional planning process; Universal Design for Learning (UDL) helps teacher ensure learning is accessible for all; and Balanced Assessment (BA) allows teachers to check that understanding is in place and that learning is enhanced through continuous feedback. The green ring is an ‘informing ring’ for the three key approaches of the blue inner ring. Mindtools, for example, helps engage pupils in critical, creative and complex thinking while using technology, rather than technology being an activity on the side.

Over the last three years, the Learning Department has continuously reorganized itself to build teachers’ competencies around the Learning Model and 21st C learning. In 2008 the Learning Department established 21st C Learning Facilitators and Embedded Coaching teams. These teams, comprised of a technology specialist, a curriculum specialist, and a student services specialist, spent 12 to 18 weeks in schools, working with groups of teachers to build their understanding of UBD, UDL and BA and to develop units that pulled learning outcomes from multiple subject areas and strongly emphasized inquiry and project-based learning. This delivery model has been restructured and now sees a system Principal of Learning, along with seven 21st C coaches, work alongside 21st C school leads to explore, build, track, and promote 21st C instructional practices.

Engineering Access and Infrastructure to Build 21st C Skills

Through these learning teams, several new technology-based platforms have been introduced and implemented to assist teachers fully engage students in authentic learning, facilitated by the thoughtful uses of technology. Reflecting RVS’ “any time, any place, any path, any pace” mantra, Google Apps, which provides for student email and collaboration, have been launched along with Desire to Learn, Moodle, Apple Wiki, Bridgit, ePEARL, Podcast Producer, Mahara, RVS Tube, Student Blogs and Video Conferencing. Two resource collections also have been developed: RVS’ Resource Collection is a starting point for teachers to find inter-disciplinary/cross-curricular collections of resources. Offering teachers a searchable database accessible from RVS’ home page, the collection can be searched by various fields, including subject area, level, type of activity, etc.; and, RVS’ Resource Server, which houses various forms of content (support material, software training, templates, IMS packages from Learn Alberta, teacher-created lessons and units), that if stored elsewhere, would impede accessibility.

These technologies, along with the use of interactive white boards, ipads, ipods, digital cameras and laptops, continue to engage students and teachers in collaborative, project-based learning, where self and peer assessment are becoming the norm rather than the exception. With the full implementation of RVS’ content management system, Plone 3, for all school websites, and RVS’ learning management system, Moodle, it is estimated that over 90 percent of teachers are now publishing learning content online and that 10 to 15 percent of this group is ready to create Universal Learning Environments for their learners. These new competencies, along the alignment of high school timetables, have further enabled distributed learning to take off, with middle schools being brought into the fold in 2011/12.
With a critical mass of teachers having moved away from knowledge disseminator to facilitator of knowledge construction, using technology as an accelerator, RVS anticipates it will have the ability to move its schools to a one-to-one environment over the next few years, with the first introduced at Springbank High Community High in 2010.

Advancing the Vision

Two and a half years into the plan, in November 2010, Rocky View Schools' leadership team, comprised of the Board of Trustees, Senior Executive, Directors, Principals and Assistant Principals, gathered for one day to review RVS' current Three Year Plan with the eye to revise, delete or add to the number of goals and outcomes. Administrators reported the day as transformational. Not only was the framework refined from six goals, 23 outcomes, to four goals, 16 outcomes, participants left the meeting with more conviction that RVS' 21st Century transformation was improving student success. In December, 2010, RVS' Directors rolled up their sleeves to develop performance measures for the new framework, as well as to align the province's accountability pillar measures to the new goal and outcome structure.

With a new goal structure in place, from February 14 - April 12, 2011, Rocky View Schools launched an extensive, multi-faceted, community engagement process for the purpose of flushing out its second "Made in Rocky View" Three Year Plan. In addition to hosting two large community engagement meetings, attended by parents, business and community representatives, elected officials and staff, RVS held 17 focus groups, involving over 200 staff, service providers, parents and students to help develop strategies for one of RVS’ four goal statements. Students' voices too were amplified throughout the two month process, with nine high schools and a middle school holding speakout forums to explore what it looks like when learning is at its best. To ensure its intent was well articulated, RVS turned to social media, launching a corporate Twitter account, Facebook account and a 21st C blogging site accessible at http://blogs.rockyview.ab.ca.

RVS’ second “Made in Rocky View” 2011-2013 Three Year Plan was approved on June 2, 2011. It promises to take RVS’ transformation to the next level by moving the system from a level of readiness to a point of action. The plan aims to “build the power to enrich” by focusing on four main drivers: ensuring universal accessibility, focusing on personalized, authentic-based learning, building 21st Century competencies, and accelerating research and innovation. Looking back, RVS’ Leadership Team believes the jurisdiction is truly working as a learning community, rather than as a community of schools. The team also is certain that it has taken the necessary steps to ensure the ‘essential conditions’ exist to move the jurisdiction forward. In a little over three years, marked improvement has been witnessed in satisfaction levels, high school completion and drop-out rates, and in PAT and Diploma results. With the release of Alberta Education’s Inspiring Action in 2010 and its alignment to the culture in Rocky View Schools, RVS Trustees, Leadership Team and staff feel that together we have forged the path for other boards to successfully transform their jurisdictions to cultures of 21st C learning.

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