Posted by: darcymullin | December 7, 2012

BC Education – Onward and Upward? I kinda think so…

Recently I had the opportunity to hear Rod Allen and Maureen Dockendorf talk about the future of education in BC.  They came to our district to share some of the amazing work that is going on around the province, and to share the Ministry’s vision of education. I took copious notes during their presentation…here is what I came away with. British_Columbia_Flag-contourRod started the presentation and highlighted the fact that there is great work going on in our province.  We are a high performing jurisdiction – among the best in the world.  Countries like Finland…yes Finland, are looking to us for answers.  They are astounded by the success we are having with such a diverse and multicultural population.  We have some of the best teachers who are doing some of the most innovative things in the world.  He suggested instead of visiting High Tech High in San Diego, we should make the trip to the Gulf Islands or Rossland. Rod was very up front with his opinion.  He said that right now the Ministry and School Districts are filled with policies that are one size fits all and restrict what districts, schools and teachers are able to do.  We are doing great work, but there is still much to do. He asked the question:

 When will what we know change what we do?  Further, what will it take for what we know to change what we do?

His answer: Personalized Learning and handing control over to the people in the field. In the eyes of the Ministry Personalized learning means:

  • Fewer high level outcomes
  • Student, parents and teachers co-construct learning
  • Richer more relevant personalized experiences
  • Multi-dimensional documentation of learning.

Again and again, both Rod and Maureen kept delivering the message that Personalized Learning is a journey we are on.  There is no timeline, the more we learn the more evolve, the more we evolve the more we innovate.  Personalized learning is not something we check off and then move on to something else.

There are big questions to answer:

When are kids ready to make the step to individualization?

How much base knowledge is required?

Who decides when a student is ready?

Answering these questions will take time and every answer will likely lead to new questions. Again, it’s a journey.

One step toward personalization is curricular change.  New curriculum will create “white space” allowing us to change the mindsets in classrooms from “covering” to “uncovering” the learning outcomes.  A huge shift to be sure.  Even though we are a high performing jurisdiction we are not focusing on Core Competencies or Big Ideas.  New curriculum will change that.

An entire curriculum on a page?

Who would have thought?

Curricular change is not enough. The message from the Ministry is clear.  Stop asking for permission to be innovative.  Do innovative things and ask for forgiveness.  They want to create a system that enables innovation and allows schools and districts to create programs that fits their local context.

We know that flipping a classroom is more than Khan Academy or just watching videos at home and doing worksheets in school.  Flipping involves questioning everything – each and every aspect of what we do.  The province is piloting and supporting innovative practices in reporting, assessment, special education, graduation.  Quite simply, everything is open for discussion.  Like those that are truly flipping their classrooms (Carolyn Durley for example), the Ministry is questioning all of their (and our) long standing assumptions on how we do things.

The second part of the conversation was led by irrepressible Maureen Dockendorf.  Her passion for learning is unmatched. It is hard not get excited listening to her speak.  She described herself as being the most optimistic she has ever been and feels that we are on the cusp of something great.  Coming from someone with such a broad base of knowledge and experience that means something.

Her message was clear.  We NEED teachers.  Without teachers, we will not see change.  We need to build trust and support great teaching.  What does that mean?  She said stop blaming the Ministry for lack of innovation.  Maureen explained that we have huge parameters and freedom.  We need to stop looking to the Ministry for the guiding light.  Put kids in the centre of the learning…there is no one way do to business.  We have the freedom to do what is best for kids in our context.

Maureen (and Rod’s) goal is to de-politicize Personalized Learning.  If this movement is tied to a political office, we know that it is doomed to fail – especially in BC.  They want to continue to tie our journey to great research and high performing jurisdictions around the world.

Follow the US or UK models? Not on your life.  This is not our reality.

I came out of the meeting excited, inspired and more than anything…HOPEFUL!  I too feel we are on the cusp of something great.

I would love to hear your thoughts – positive or negative.  It could be great conversation.

Interested in reading more on some of the initiatives check out the links below:



  1. I really like what I am hearing in your post. Unfortunately, the government’s timing for innovation couldn’t be worse given the recent labour difficulties with BC teachers. I feel that teachers are skeptical of the motivation behind any of the ministry’s words and considerable efforts will need to be made to gain the trust of teachers. I might add that no one from the Ministry has presented to teachers in my area that I am aware of and I have been watching for these events. In order for true change to occur, all stakeholders have to feel as welcome, trusting partners.

    • I agree the political aspect is somewhat troubling. The lack of trust will be a large obstacle to overcome. In the presentation to our group both Maureen and Rod indicated they would love the opportunity to come back and talk to our teachers. I’m not saying that the shift will be easy and building trust will be hard.

  2. That sounds like a really interesting presentation to hear, I wish I could have been there.

    I like how they framed personal learning as a journey as opposed to an event or protocol to be checked off. I’ve heard lots of stories about the fad of day. I think it is incredibly important that this message gets out to the schools, because I would wager that there is a huge proportion of teachers that see this as a storm in the night that will soon pass.

    I also embrace the idea that teachers are given huge creative license to make a shift. Perhaps I’ve done some wacky things, and I’ve always felt supported, even by other teachers that don’t necessarily think what I do is a good idea.

    However, I will say this. Huge cultural changes are needed, and this requires significant, if not amazing, leadership from the MoE, school districts, school administrators, teachers, and families. Push back from students and parents can be difficult, and working as lone wolves in schools will probably not be sufficient. When talking about applying formative assessment in schools, Dylan Willam says that a minimum of 75 minutes of collaborative time per month is needed – I bet the same could be said for personalized learning. Schools need a framework so that teachers can not only have their own individual successes in change, but that the success spreads.

  3. Creating significant change is not easy and as Doug Smith notes, collaboration is key. The teachers at RSS dedicated their own time to work together to create a blended learning model that allows for personalization, flexibility and choice for all students. To learn more about blended learning at Rossland Secondary School:

    • I think that you and Doug are both right. The key issue is trust. I am hopeful that we are moving forward. When Rod and Maureen were out talking to us, they indicated that they would LOVE to come back and talk to teachers in the spring. There will be lots of work that is going on now they are hoping to report out on. I am very excited and optimistic about where education in our province is going. I love what you guys are doing in Rossland. In a small town with a small high school, innovation is going to be essential to the students in your community. Keep it up!

  4. As a non-teaching professional, I see this journey as an incredible opportunity for all of us. I am excited to see what these students will accomplish as they come up through this system. Educators who will to go outside the box, drop the blame and focus on the students – the most important aspect in all of this – need to be applauded. You and your staff need to be applauded as I know this is not a one person show. Darcy thank for sharing these insights and this information with all of us. The students in your school are so fortunate to have such innovative educators. Keep shooting for the stars as the rewards are unlimited. I am very proud of you.

  5. Darcy, this has probably been on your radar already, but they’ve done a great job of articulating and presenting these ideas…much better interactivity and clarity than we’re used to from government docs:

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