Innovative Change: FETC Executive Leadership Summit 2016

Last week I had the privilege of attending an Executive Leadership Summit organized by Jennifer Womble and hosted by Tom Murray and Eric Sheninger, along with George Couros who played an integral role in the learning over the two days.   The summit itself is an invitation-only event which occurs prior to the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando, Florida.  It is designed to bring thought leaders from across the US and other countries together to talk Education: this year’s theme: Innovating Education for the Future.  Because I was accepted to the summit and subsequently to the conference, I chose to take a personal leave to attend;  I’m certainly glad I did.

As is the case with connected learning today, many people from my District and province (Ontario) followed the #fetcexe hashtag to learn virtually which I highly recommend you do even now!  My reflection here represents a consolidation of the big ideas and my own learning from this incredible event.

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Building a Culture of Innovation–George Couros

Big idea: Everything you need to innovate and transform learning can be found in your own District, you just need to tap into it.

To me, an effective keynote is one that inspires, entertains, but ultimately is thought-provoking and challenges thinking.  Despite having seen Couros speak several times (he spent time at our District last Spring), he never fails to make me laugh, cry,  and push my thinking. He expertly weaves his own experiences while sharing examples of innovation and transformation which he sees in his work with schools.  The first day, George set up the “why” with his keynote on Building a Culture of Innovation and then on the second day, he set up the “how” very effectively by having us engage in guided conversation based on some his prompts & examples. His keynote served as the foundation for many of the conversations and subsequent presentations throughout the summit.

He also had us engage in an activity around competitive collaboration which I am totally stealing and using in my next Professional learning session!

Couros had me thinking about:

  • a few of the ways we can make the good work happening in pockets in our District go viral
  • the dramatic impact on actions and decisions at every level that would happen if everything we did began with student learning at the centre
  • how technology can be tranformational in the hands of a good teacher
  • ways to build collaboration and connections within our organization
  • how the 8 things to look for in today’s classroom can provide a user-friendly framework for innovative change

Here is a copy of the guiding questions  with accompanying resources he provided which will serve useful for our own conversations back home in the coming weeks and months.

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Reimagining Learning Spaces–Pam Moran and Ira Socol

Big Idea: Do you change the learning experience or the learning space first?  Like the chicken & the egg:  Does it matter if you end up with a chicken?  

Pam Moran, Superintendent and Ira Socal, Director for Innovation & Ed Technology, Albemarle County PS spoke about Creating an Innovative School Culture by focusing on these elements: Invention (curiosities questions ideas that fuel creative rapid prototyping),  Innovation (scaling creativity as prototypes across the system), Strategic (moving creativity into systems-thinking), and Operational (embedding creative solutions into expected practice).

They used a YELP framework:

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Get to YES

Engage Team  

Leverage Resources  

Prototype 

From transforming distinctive offices for Central Staff, to reimagining libraries and hallways, Albermarle believe that different spaces for learners can be transformative for learning.  They even built a Treehouse in the Cafeteria!  Most of us agreed that having a Superintendent as open to the diverse ideas posed by students is remarkable and goes a long way towards making change.  Their presentation can be found here.

Leading Change with Less–Dwight Carter

Big Idea: Instead of doing something brand new, do something better.–Rastor Joel Kovacs

Carter focused a great deal on the ways in which relationships impact his role as principal, a nice complement to the ideas posed by Couros earlier in the day.  He says, “You can’t grow them until you know them.”  His talk focused primarily on How to Lead Change with Less:

  • Be Compassionate-Relationships Matter
  • Communicate Concretely/Succinctly
  • Reexamine Your Vision
  • Think Different (Innovate/Reinvent)
  • Collaborate at all levels

Carter shared  a few of the innovative ideas being implemented at his school including the fact that every senior at his school asks someone to give them their diploma, as well as the fact that the student body is organized into houses (yes, like in Harry Potter) for building community.   His idea that, “the teaching cycle is not complete until students learn,” also really resonated.

IT Panel Discussion

Big Idea:  IT works in the service of student learning

It was awesome to hear IT Directors speak about the fact that they serve learners first! Some of the choices often made by IT Departments don’t necessarily subscribe to that!  Equity of access for students once they go home has always been a concern for me and so I was really interested in hearing about the many partnerships school Districts are making with business and community partners to increase opportunities for access to wifi outside of school.  Here are  some examples.

Future Ready Schools–Tom Murray

Big Idea: Is your school or District Future Ready?

Murray, a champion for the Future Ready movement in the U.S. showcased many examples of how schools are embracing innovative ideas and changing learning environments for kids.  He spoke of the cemetary effect by projecting an image of a cemetery, juxtaposed with a classroom: it was quite eerie.  His presentation showcased some of the innovative ways schools are transforming learning environments for students, including this example from Elizabeth Forward High School.

In particular, I really appreciated learning about the Future Ready Schools initiative and the links to the resources and Framework; an incredible resource for any District in any country.  Check it out here.

Here is a link to all of the resources from the summit.

If you are a leader in your school or District, I urge you to apply to next year’s Executive Leadership Summit @FETC.  If it’s anything like this year’s experience, it will be a great investment of your time.

As for the rest of the FETC conference, I learned lots, but most importantly connected with so many amazing educators; many of whom I’ve known only virtually.  That’s what it’s all about though, isn’t it?

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