The Realities of Deep Change with Lawrence DeMaeyer

In this episode, Will Richardson talks with Lawrence DeMaeyer about the realities of deep change at Peel School Board outside of Toronto, Ontario.

Lawrence received his Masters in Education from the University of Toronto, and in recent times has lead much of the development of many of the elements of the Peel School Board’s  Empowering Modern Learners initiative.

As such he is now Peel Board’s coordinating Principal of Modern Learning and guiding the implementation of the new vision for modern learning. His responsibilities include:

  • implementing the new vision: Empowering Modern Learners
  • coordinating professional learning and training that aligns with Ministry of Education and district priorities
  • championing e-learning
  • supporting principals and vice-principals with technology and data-related matters
  • supporting protocols and practices to ensure that all data is clean, accurate, accessible, secure and available for integration
  • advising Learning Technology Support Services regarding the appropriateness of software and hardware solutions

Highlights from their conversation include:

  • What are the learning outcomes that you’re aiming for and how can technology play a role in helping that to really happen
  • How did you go about getting to that point where you could put a consistent definition to some of those bigger terms?
  • How is this new vision vision different from what the traditional experience of classrooms has been in Peel?
  • Why are we dividing our school day into 75 minute blocks or 40 minute blocks in some places and forcing kids to switch from a Science hat to a Social Science hat to a Math hat in 40 minute intervals?
  • Given we work really hard as educators to try and control the learning outcomes for students.  We’ve predetermined what it is that they need to learn, and how they go about learning it.  That’s a very teacher focused, or teacher centered point of view or perspective on a learning process. What can we do about that?
  • How do you unleash students’ ability to determine for themselves what some of their learning outcomes need to be, and how they’re going to go about building their capacity and competency to reach some of those outcomes?
  • What is the role of instructional coaches? How can they best help teachers make pedagogy and their teaching and learning, the focus of how they use technology?
  • Why it is important to provide teachers with some time to sit and talk about and work out for themselves, what a vision actually means in their school, with their community, in their classroom, and how they can leverage their own prior learning to make this happen, and where some of the gaps are.
  • The importance of having top-down predetermined professional learning, whether it’s for administrators, or for teachers.
  • Why you should be trying to get away the role, where we’ve taken away all the power and all of the voice and agency, away from the learner.

Transcript for the show

So, what’s it like to lead change at what may be the most progressive school district in one of the most educationally progressive places in the World?

Hey, everyone, I’m Will Richardson, and that’s the question we’ll be discussing in this episode from season one of the 2017 Modern Learners Podcast, where we’re spanning the globe to find leaders who are setting a higher bar for relevant, sustainable change in their schools and classrooms.

Lawrence DeMaeyer is the principal of Modern Learning for the Peel School board outside of Toronto, Ontario.  A board that serves about a hundred and forty thousand students.  Lawrence and his team at Peel made a huge splash last fall with the release of their long in the making new vision document titled, Empowering Modern Learners, Inspire, Innovate, and Ignite.  For my money, it’s one of the best articulations of modern learning that I’ve seen.  In our talk, we spent a lot of time on process, culture, building capacity to change, and doing the hard work of making real change happen.  I know you’re going to enjoy it.

Remember, if you want to learn more about this podcast series, or our white papers, master classes, and our brand new eight week course for modern leadership that we’re launching in March, don’t forget to check out our private Modern Learner’s Facebook Group, or head on over to modernlearners.com, where you can sign up for our awesome weekly newsletter, that tracks all the opportunities and challenges of learning today.  But for now, I hope you enjoy my conversation with Lawrence DeMaeyer.  Thanks for listening.

I’m going to start with the same question that I’ve asked everyone in the series, and that is, what’s the driving question in your work right now.  What is it that is motivating you and inspiring you to keep digging in this quest for change that you’re on?

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  I think I have a couple of different perspectives on my questions.  One, for, you know, a number of reasons, one, I just took on a new role within my district, so I now have a district level role called the Coordinating Principal of Modern Learning, which sounds pretty fancy.

Will Richardson:  Which I love by the way.  I love that title.  I want to see more of those types of people.  But anyway, go ahead.

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  Well, you know, and I’ll talk a little bit more about that later about why I think that’s important.  But for me that kind of changes some of the questions, at least some of the questions that are pertinent to my every day work.  Because as a school level principal, your question are focused a lot on how to, they’re mainly focused on your school, and the students within your school.  Your scope is pretty narrow in that regard.

But now that I’ve taken on this new role, I think the questions get bigger, and the complexity of trying to get at the answers also grows with that new scope.  But for me right now, then the big question has to be, what does learner centered education really look like at scale?  I think there are lots of lessons that we have learned and can learn, from looking at your own projects or innovation type projects, or even individual schools.  I know that in the United States, it’s a little bit different because you can start charter schools with a particular mandate and so on.

In Ontario where I work, the structure is pretty much set by the province that you work in.  There’s not a lot of flexibility in terms of setting a real, individual, sort of mandate for a school based on a completely new structure or set of values.  You’re pretty much boxed in by what the province gives to you in that regard.

The question now for me is about what does it actually look like at scale, so not just within an individual school or a project within a school, or a classroom, or a program within a school, but what does it look like across an entire district.  Or maybe, even across my entire province.  Where are the examples?  Where are we looking to, or how are we building a collective understanding, so that we can start to understand what needs to happen to make this happen across an entire system, like a school board or a district.

Will Richardson:  You guys at Peel have been engaged in this work for a while now, and I was thinking, maybe we’d get to this a little bit later, but I’m just going to pull it up to the front here and comment on the vision document that you released last fall, which I thought was brilliant by the way.

I immediately sent it to everybody in my networks, and said, see, this is what we’re talking about here.  Because I thought it just articulated exactly what Peel believes in terms of learning, and it did a great job of coming up with a vision of what that might look like in classrooms as well.  I’m wondering if you could just talk, give us a little bit, kind of a brief history of how that whole initiative kind of started and just kind of highlights of the last few years as you’ve kind of gone through that process to get to that document.

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  Yeah, you’re right.  The conversation which I think is a really critical element of all of this change is that you have lots of conversation about what the change actually means.  You’re right, we’ve been engaged in the conversation for, I would say, at least four or five years in a real deep way.  This document was a long time coming, and it really does, I think, represent a lot of the learning that we’ve done over that four or five year period.  I know that kind of the earlier versions of our work were like many districts, or individuals.  We’re pretty focused on providing some of the technical aspects and was focused a lot.  Our conversation was focused a lot on technology and providing technology, and providing infrastructure so that students and teachers can be connected and so on.  Those are all really important ingredients.

But our conversations and a lot of the conversations that we’ve had within Peel, are that, you now, that shouldn’t be the focus of the work.  They’re absolutely important, but really the conversation has to broaden, to really focus more on what are the key, what are your ideals, what is it you’re trying to achieve, what are the learning outcomes that you’re aiming for and how can technology play a role in helping that to really happen.  Deeply, over the last three years, we have been trying to amass our own work within the board, what we’ve learned from our own innovations, our own attempts or iterations within our schools here in Peel.  We’ve done a lot of looking outside as well to find examples of models that are working in other jurisdictions and trying to synthesize all of that and put it together in some kind of way that would provide a touchstone, or an artifact, if you like, that folks within our district could point to and say, oh, that’s what we mean when we’re talking about that.  Because I think some of the terminology that we use, everybody has a unique perspective on what some of those were.

I mean, like we’ve used that 21st century learning was the title that we use for quite some time.  There are some, I guess, common meanings that people put to that word or that term.  But, you know, there’s also a lot of individual meaning that we bring to it.  For everybody, it had a bit of a different meaning.  I think we really came to a point where we needed to say we need something to point to it and say, this is what it’s about for us.

Will Richardson:  I think that common language piece is always an imperative.  There’s not going to be any meaningful, long lasting change if, when you talk about learning, or you talk about achievement, or you talk about success, if everyone has a different definition around that.  How did you go about getting to that point where you could put a consistent definition to some of those bigger terms?  Was that, it wasn’t by FIAT, I’m sure, right?  It wasn’t a couple of people sitting down and going, well let’s define it this way.  What did that look like?

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  We really did reach out quite broadly to try and gather people’s thoughts on what this 21st century transformation look like, or should look like in education.

We held surveys, survey groups with parents, with teachers, with administrators, every employee group within our board was invited to participate in some focus groups and some online survey questions, and we collected a huge amount of data internally.  Like I said, we did a lot of research externally, and tried to point us to what some of the, I guess, some of the models that were out there, being talked about the most.  Like ISTE standard, and those kinds of things, and the writings of some of the leading voices in this area.

We try to synthesize it all together.  We did consult broadly, but in the end you need to have a working team that kind of synthesizes some of that.

We did have a group of about 20 people.  Really, if could offer people who are trying to engaged in the work or are engaged in this work, if I could video tape the sessions that we had, because we really, some of the days that we were working on as we started early in the day, and we were still there late at night, because we were really agonizing on over every word that we used or included were long, healthy debates, robust, conversations about what kind of language to use, and what it would mean to different people.  Is it broad enough, and fully recognizing that once you commit something to writing, and to some degree, you’re losing some of what is gained by having an iterative or a live document, or a live conversation, trying to capture something in a written form, really starts to limit it right away.  Those are agonizing moment when you’re committing to a particular word, or if you’re talking about — we ended with this set of six elements that we thought were really essential for powerful learning.  Even to agree or land on what those six elements should be, was difficult.

But the process itself though was so rich with conversations.  That’s where a lot of the great, great learning was.  If everybody, if it were kind of logistically feasible to have our whole district, which is about 15,000 employees engaged in that conversation, it would be great, but not really that easy to do and come out with a product at the end.

Will Richardson:  Right.  I want to read one chunk, one paragraph from that vision document that I think is pretty interesting.  It’s this one.

You say, “modern digital tools offer unprecedented opportunities to empower all learners by providing accessed information and learning networks.  This access generates new opportunities for learners to explore their passions, share their voices and consider diverse perspectives that lead to an equitable and compassionate world.”

I have two questions about that, number one, we’ll start with the first one, and that is, how is that vision different from what the traditional experience of classrooms has been in Peel?

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  Yeah, the document is visionary.  I think we’ll probably talk later about how we’re trying to actually get to that.  But this is a visionary document for us for sure.  I wouldn’t say that we’ve landed that yet.  There’s a lot of work that’s going to have to go to do that.

But I think, traditionally, we worked really hard as educators to try and control the learning outcomes for students.  We’ve predetermined what it is that they need to learn, and how they go about learning it.  That’s a very teacher focused, or teacher centered point of view or perspective on a learning process, and I think what we are trying to say here is, that we need to move towards a process of learning where it’s determined or organized by the learner, and access to being connected to other learners is a really powerful part of that process.  It no longer has to be limited to the students or your colleagues in your class, or even your one teacher that’s in your classroom, or the set of teachers that you have throughout a school day, but really can be any other learner who’s connected around the world.

That’s a real democratizing, or a real mechanism to kind of flatten the hierarchy that has traditionally been in our classrooms.  Where the teachers, the all knowing, all powerful being who dispenses knowledge to students.  This creates a circumstance for students.  Now we’re going to release the hounds, type of thing.  We’re going to unleash their ability to determine for themselves what some of their learning outcomes need to be, and how they’re going to go about building their capacity and competency to reach some of those outcomes.

Will Richardson:  How big of a shift is that?

 

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  I think it’s huge.  It’s simple, or at least it sounds simple.  But it’s a really, because it’s based on values, it’s based on what people believe.  I think shifting beliefs is always much more difficult and complex than shifting people, you know, how they do things.  When you’re asking people to shift what they believe about the learning process itself, that takes time for people to believe, I guess, in the why that’s important.  Then it takes some time to grieve over a forgone, or some of the power structures that we’re letting go when we turn over the control of the learning to the learner.  That’s scary for some people.  I think it’s really big.

Will Richardson:  I’m curious as you say that, because we’ve talked before in workshops and things, when I’ve seen you and talk to some of the people on your team.  I mean, I see it as people believe the right thing about learning, but in many cases, it’s just tough for them to do that in the classroom.  It’s just tough for them to leave their beliefs, because of the tradition, because of the systems, because of the narratives that we’ve been telling around schools forever.

Do you think that it’s more, that people have to change their beliefs?  Do you think it’s just, they have to get comfortable with being allowed to do what they believe in classrooms?

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  I think it’s probably a combination.  I think you’re right.  I think there’s plenty of teachers to understand that this is the better things for the learner.  But they too, like you said, are products of system where, you know, kind of compliance and following the traditional, sort of hierarchy and processes that exist on our school learning environments.

Let’s face it, as educators, we were the ones that were good at this system.  We were the ones that benefited the most because we were good at the system.  So it’s not a crazy notion to think that we would want to perpetuate that.  It worked really well for most of us.  It makes sense that we would want or perpetuate this.

There’s some fear, I think.  Maybe it’s in letting go of the control, because a lot of the rewards that we receive as teachers are about controlling the classroom, classroom management, those kinds of things.  I can certainly remember my own time in teacher’s college, although that was a while ago, a couple of years, you actually got evaluated on your classroom management skills.  Mostly that meant, you know, are kids sitting quietly and compliantly in their chairs, all doing the same task at the same time.  Yeah, I think you’re right, there’s some fear there of letting go because a lot of the traditional evaluative mechanisms didn’t really reward doing that, letting go of the control.

Will Richardson:  Back to my second question about that, the paragraph that I read, how difficult was it for you to kind of come to some consensus on those six things as being the exemplars for places where kids can explore their passion, share their voices, consider diverse perspectives, all those types of things.  What was that work like to finally say, yeah, these are the six things, the learning culture, the informative assessment, access to technology, models of learning, learning environments in 21st century competencies?

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  I think the content of what’s in there wasn’t really that difficult.  It was more about synthesizing that into the domains.  What are the broad strokes, kind of thing and are we making sure that we have identified the key pieces that we think are most powerful.  Because there’s lots of other things that we include in there as well.  There’s more, I guess, an exercise in categorizing, or grouping those thoughts together into domains that was kind of where a lot of the conversation was.  But I don’t think there was a lot of, I don’t think there was a lot of disagreement, or descention about what should be included, like the actual values and the real goals that we were trying to accomplish. I don’t think there was a lot of debate about, that they should be included.

It was more about how to kind of organize.  It makes sense for a broad audience.  We’re using this document, not just for teachers.  We had to keep in mind that we want to use this with our parent groups, and with other employee groups who aren’t necessarily academics, to just understand what it is we’re trying to accomplish here, and how we’re going to go about it.

Will Richardson:  It took you four, five years to do the easy part, right?  Because now comes the hard part, and that is, how do you make those six things happen in classrooms across your board.  You serve, I think, about 110,000 students, is that right?

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  Yeah, I think it’s, maybe even upwards of a 150,000.

Will Richardson:  Wow, okay.

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  It’s a big district.

Will Richardson:  I’m only off by a little.  How do you do that now?  You’ve done the work, you’ve created this really great vision.  I think you’ve grounded it in beliefs and what you understand about how the world is changing.  Aside from creating a position for a principle of modern learning, how do you do that?  Where does the work start?

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  Yeah, and that’s exactly where we are right now.  Part of it is about capturing the work that’s already happening.  But I think it’s about providing a structure.  We need to go at this sort of attacking on many fronts.  Having the document in itself, obviously is not the work.  But I do think that symbols and artifacts are important.  Having captured this vision in a document that now can easily be shared, at least, demonstrates, is a concrete manifestation of our commitment to do those things. 

Will Richardson:  That’s really important too.  I mean I just want to say, I mean, I think that people have to be able to say or to find it somewhere to say, to point to it and say yeah, this is it.  I think that that was another thing that really impressed me with this.  Go ahead.

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  Yeah.  I don’t think that’s separate from the work itself.  I think that’s actually like Stage One.  It does a couple of things.  It demonstrates commitment from the organization, which is not where the real work happens.  It’s individuals doing their work in their classrooms of students.  That’s where the real work happens.  But this in a sense, I guess, gives permission.  It sets a bit of a pathway towards what we really value and what should be, or what we hope is going to be happening in the classrooms with students.  That’s kind of step one.  You need these symbols and artifacts.  That’s one aspect of the word.

You mentioned creating my new position, which again is not the work itself.  But I think again, is a demonstration about how the organization values the work and the importance that they place on it.  In addition to creating my position, our work on, again I would use that, 21st century teaching and learning, or modern learning as we’re calling it now, that, four or five years ago was a bit of a fringe element within our board.

It was a small group of people who really, it started kind of organically, who started to meet, to talk about some of these issues and to start to think about how we might influence some change within our district and beyond.  Our work now has been brought into the mainstream, the creation of this position, which is really unique, not just in title, but I actually have kind of a dual report.

I report to our superintendent of curriculum and instruction.  I also report to our CIO, our Chief Information Officer.  I think that’s really a key element here, because what it’s going to do, we hope, is to bridge the gap that sometimes exist between our curriculum or our instruction, or programing priorities, and what we’re doing with IT.  This position is meant to help bridge that gap and bring the learning focus even to our IT decisions at the district level.  I think that’s also really exciting.

This document that we’ve created now is at the forefront, in every one of our curriculum conversation.  This document now comes up when we’re training, you know, we have a group of employees called instructional coaches, and resources teachers.  These are people that are centrally assigned, or field office assigned, and they go into schools, and help teachers move their instructional practice forward and so on, and make improvements, and so on.

This document now lives in every one of those meetings where our instructional coaches, and we have a group of people called instructional technology resource teachers, who again, are really working on helping teachers make pedagogy, and their teaching and learning, the focus of how they use technology and so on.  The document itself then lives now in all those area.  Those are really important, but again, this is really now about how do you get from there to this happening in every single classroom across the board.

That’s still a big open question for me.  I have some ideas, but I suspect that a lot of this is going to be also about modelling the same philosophy with our teacher professional learning.  We have to provide some teachers, you know, teachers with some time to sit and kind of talk about and work out for themselves, what the document, that vision actually means in their school, with their community, in their classroom, and how they can leverage their own prior learning to make this happen, and where some of the gaps are.  Identify some more individualized next steps in terms of what kind of learning they would have to do to move, or become as effective as they can at kind of implementing that kind of visions in their classroom.

Will Richardson:  It’s interesting to me, because you’re not the first person in this kind of small little series that I’m doing, that has talked about the autonomy given to different buildings, in terms of how they interpret and live the broader vision of the district.

I would assume that that means that building principals, building leadership is going to and somehow, kind of facilitate that work.  How do you build their capacity then, to take this vision, and take it into their buildings and into their districts and engage in those conversations in meaningful ways?

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  Again, it sounds trite to some degree, but I think again, you have to live the philosophy at every level of the organization.  Having top-down predetermined professional learning, whether it’s for administrators, or for teachers, is akin to what we’re trying to get away from with our students, where we’ve taken all the power and all of the voice and agency, away from the learner.  Principals are learners too, just like teachers, just like students.  We need to build in.  Now that we have the vision, we have to trust that principals can interpret that vision, and set a pathway for their own learning to identify where some of the gaps are, and what kind of resources or support they need to move their own learning forward.  Part of that is letting go of, I think, that older notion of what professional learning, where I go to a workshop, quote unquote, and I sit and I let someone deliver to me what I need to know.

It’s taken a more active role in my own professional learning, and it’s getting connected through social media with other administrators who are learning the same things, and going through the same struggles, and trying to create the same kinds of change in their own school.  I think we need to, again, release some of the control around how we, I hate to use the word train, because that really does sound predetermined.  But we need to create space for principals to identify what some of these needs are for themselves.

Will Richardson:  How do you, how do you help them become more of those modern learners themselves, in terms of technology?  I would assume, again, in a board the size of yours, that you probably have a whole range of technological use and expertise among your leadership groups, how do you build that capacity as well?

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  I think you need to have multiple opportunities or entry points for people.  Yeah, you’re still going to provide, we have a Principal’s Conference every year that we host, and we, our group centrally provides training, we do sort of sunrise seminars where we do workshops for administrators, for a couple of hours first thing every morning, or once a month on different topics and so on.  Those kind of formalized ways of doing things is one entry point.

But it’s also about creating networks now, and modelling for administrators how we can be connected as a group.  That might be internal to the board, and how we’re not limited by that anymore.  We can also be connected to other administrators in other jurisdictions, whether that be in Ontario or beyond, and we need to model some of that.  We do use our mechanisms internally for sharing effective practice in that regard.  We have Principals sharing their own learning at our Principal’s meetings and so on.  We’re just continually inviting and modelling and trying to engage people in getting connected beyond just this kind of traditional workshop where you’re going to deliver to me what I need to know, type of thing.

Will Richardson:  Now I know that in Ontario, I’ve heard this from a couple of school board superintendents, that the ministry really seems to have an open mind about innovation and change when it comes to trying to figure out what this all looks like.  From what I heard, the ministry basically said, we know things are changing, we’re not sure what that change is going to end up looking like, but don’t wait for us to figure it out.  Go out and try things and innovate.

Is your sense that in Ontario, at least, across the province, that that type of innovation or that type of permission to innovate is taking root?  Just in a Peel sense from your school board sense, how much has that license really helped you guys think even more out of the box, than it maybe normally would?

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  Yeah I think that was, I think we kind of picked up that comment maybe early last year where our deputy Minister of Education basically said, we recognize that our institution is kind of slow to change or to move especially with kind of formalized structures.  Let’s say putting out a new provincial vision or that kind of thing.

However, we don’t want, we recognize that we’ve now moved into an era where innovation and iteration is the way to go about these things.  It’s not about us presenting you with a model.  Yeah, she just basically said, it’s time for you to go out there and to try some things to innovate, to try and push the boundaries.  We will learn from your experiments.

That’s a great feeling to have, license and permission to go out there and push the boundaries a bit.  Yeah, that definitely has influenced our decision making in our district.  This creation, this vision, the new position and what’s going to come next, I think, is really going to be the try and move some of the boundaries outward.  We’re not the only district doing that.

I know through my own online network that there are other districts that are really trying some innovative things.  I was just reading about, I think it was in a school board.  I can’t remember the name of the district, but they created this new this program for students that was focused on leadership development. They were creating sort of a package, instead of the traditional subject courses during the day, they were creating a packaged set of “courses”.  The students were going to design some leadership projects and they were going to tease out the learning expectations from the curriculum, to assign to the “courses” that the ministry says we need to assess on.

Instead of saying we’re now an English class, we’re now in science class, we’re now in business class, really you’re going to do some projects and we’re going to tease out some of those expectations and assign them to those courses for your grades, or your marks.  But really, it’s going to be a more integrated approach to learning that’s going to focus on projects, which I think is really exciting.

Will Richardson:  Do you think that that’s the majority of districts and boards in Ontario right now that are doing innovative work?  Or is it still a little bit of a ripple that maybe is growing?

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  Yeah, I think it’s still in its early stages.  But I see more and more of those kinds of posts all the time.  I see little pockets of innovation.  That program that I was talking about wasn’t across their whole district or even a whole school.  It was a program contained within a school that students could apply to be part of.  I think where we need to get to is that, that’s really great for that limited number of students when I was talking earlier about, you know, scaling this up.  It’s really about, if we think this is really good for a small group of students, we really believe that this is good for all students and how are we going to make that kind of change happen.

These experiments I think are really important, because there’s big lessons that we can learn, and maybe some pitfalls that we can avoid when we are trying to scale it up.  I don’t even like this word, scaling it up, because it makes it sound like it’s kind of standardized.  It’s not a standard approach.  It really is this innovation model where we’re trying pockets of things in different places that are going to work for different groups of students.  I think that’s as it should be.

Yeah, I think there are growing numbers of these little experiments and projects happening across our province.  I know the ministry is really good at collecting the evidence or the outcomes of how these projects are working and sharing it.  I’m looking forward to some of that coming out from the ministry, about what some of the most powerful examples are out there.

Will Richardson:  I’ve been so impressed with, at least the rhetoric around education and change, and education that’s come out of many places in Canada in BC, in Alberta, in Ontario, certainly, is there something special about Canada that’s different, in terms of just thinking more progressively and maybe reacting more quickly to what’s perceived, at least by a thing?  Most people now, the changes that are happening in the world are pretty big, and we need to do something about that.  Is there something different about being north of the border from the United States?

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  Well we sure like to think so.  We like to think there’s something special going on here, for sure.  I think, collectively, these are generalizations, but I think, generally speaking, Canadians are really progressive liberals, that kind of thing.  I wouldn’t say that we’re not the kind of out of the box innovators, big risk takers.

But I think we’re kind of the thoughtful, mindful kind of progressives, where we like to think about things, lots before we do them. But when we believe they’re the right thing to do, I think, yeah, you find a lot of Canadians are really interested and committed to kind of doing the right thing in a mindful, thoughtful, logical kind of way.  Some of that’s frustrating for me.  I’m a little bit more of an out of the box thinker who would like things to move a little bit faster.  I know in general, education institutions are ones that are traditionally fast moving with regards to change.

But yeah, I think there’s some really great thinkers in Canada now.  Jordan Tinie of BC, and George Couros and Alec Couros and the like, are really pushing some of those boundaries as well.  Chris Kennedy also in BC.  There’s something about out the West that way too, where there are a lot of kind of lead thinkers in this area.  I think they represent what Canadian believe, is that if, if we really do believe that this is going to set students up for greater success, in the long term, then absolutely, we’re going to move down that road.

Will Richardson:  Where is Peel in ten years?  What’s happening in classrooms ten years from now, do you think?

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  Well, if I have anything to do with it …

Will Richardson:  Which you will.

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  I will, a little bit anyway, and you know, not that it’s about me, but certainly, I can feel the momentum building.  Have we reached the tipping point yet, no I don’t think so.  But I think the kinds of conversations that we’re having more broadly now, and the kinds of conversations that people are no longer looking out with one eyebrow raised, is that, you know, we are going to start questioning some of the big structural components of the education system that we have up to this point considered to be untouchable.

That might include grades.  Do we need to be giving marks and grades?  Is that the best way to assess students and is that the best way to give them feedback?  Is that getting at the outcome that we actually thought that grades were going to give us?  If their main or sole purpose, or most important purpose is really just about sorting kids, is that what we want to do?  That’s just one example.  But I think we’re going to start to question some of those big, structural elements.

I know that you’ve written a lot about the curriculum.  I ask you this question and no, it’s still an open question for me is about, can we start to think about how to organize the curriculum differently?

I’m reading a good book by Marc Prensky right now, about, I think it’s called Education to Better their World.  He’s really starting to push our ideas about how curriculum could be organized for students.  He’s suggesting getting rid of what we consider to be our core subjects like Math, English, Science and Social Science.  His idea would be to organize them into effective thinking, effective action, effective relationships, and effective accomplishment in the real world.  I think there’s something really interesting about that way of, not just tinkering around the edges, but really asking some hard questions about the big, core structural elements.

Why are we dividing our school day into 75 minute blocks or 40 minute blocks in some places and forcing kids to switch from Science hat to Social Science hat to Math hat in 40 minute intervals.  To me, it just doesn’t intuitively make sense for the learning process.  I know we’ve had these conversations, you and I before.

Will Richardson:  Yeah.

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  I think in Peel, we really are going to start to look at some of those things again.  There are some learning that we have to do about, you can’t just get rid of that model without having another model to move to that you think is actually going to produce the outcomes you want.  We have lots more conversation to have, to get, where are we going to start?

What’s the model we’re going to start with to, as our first iteration.  That may be an experiment.  Maybe we’re going to take one school in the next two to five years, and try a new model, like really, get some real big changes in there, get rid of some courses or classes, and try some project based learning.

Will Richardson:  Attention for what could be possible in classrooms and like I said before, that’s pretty much the easy part.  I just want to send you all sorts of good luck with the hard part now, which is making that happen.  But Lawrence, sincere best wishes on your work.  I really want to thank you for taking the time today to tell us a little bit about life up in Peel.  I’m sure that we’re going to be following along as you change the world up there.

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  Well thank you.  I really appreciate the conversation.  I’m always happy to engage with likeminded people to help crystalize my own thinking and help move the cause forward.  Thank you.

Will Richardson:  All right.  All the best Lawrence.  Take care.

Lawrence DeMaeyer:  Thanks.  Take care.

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Bruce Dixon

Bruce Dixon

EML co-founder Bruce Dixon has spent the bulk of his career developing programs that assist governments to make effective use of technology across their education sector. His strategic work has enabled governments to better manage large scale personal technology deployments, and ensure outcomes that drive both school improvement and ultimately transformation.
Bruce Dixon

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Bruce Dixon

EML co-founder Bruce Dixon has spent the bulk of his career developing programs that assist governments to make effective use of technology across their education sector. His strategic work has enabled governments to better manage large scale personal technology deployments, and ensure outcomes that drive both school improvement and ultimately transformation.

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