That’s what more than one teacher said today as I did a walk through at Caulfeild Elementary School in West Vancouver. Caulfeild is a wonderful school where principal Brad Lund and team have been working to transform this school into an inquiry focused environment built around strong digital access. What’s interesting is that this was already a traditional high performing school where they could have continued with “high student achievement” by changing nothing. But they knew “student achievement” as measured by test scores is not the end game.
The reason the teachers said “sorry” I think was because their students were busy, active, all over the space and at times totally engrossed in their work to even acknowledge the visitors in the room. I’m guessing for many of these teachers, this type of classroom was not the one they created when they began teaching. It’s likely messier and noisier than many classrooms and at times that might be hard to understand from an outsiders perspective. Yet when you really look, you saw kids learning. I was the one that should have said sorry for possibly interrupting. What many of these teachers probably don’t quite grasp is exactly how wonderful a learning environment they have created. In that short time I was there I witnessed:
- Kids with dirty hands full of paint
- A student telling me about how they were creating a website to explore women who had made a significant impact on the world
- A student researching how twitter has changed the English language. This student was 10 years old.
- Two boys working together on an iPad to solve a puzzle.
- A teacher working with 6 students discussing how they can tell their story in a better way.
- Three girls creating a stop motion animation.
- A classroom sitting still listening to a story.
- A boy explaining how he includes “Easter Eggs” in his video.
- Bonus: A boy telling me how “Discovery Education has changed the way I learn” (Had I captured that on film it could have gone straight to the marketing team)
In a phrase I saw empowered learners. More so than engaged since they were actively making and creating knowledge. While I have visited and worked with many teacher whose classrooms look like this, I haven’t seen many schools where so many of the teachers were doing this. But this culture of learning didn’t just happen.
Beginning with the Superintendent and a host of other strong leaders West Vancouver does things differently. Many of you will know Chris Kennedy who keynoted our virtcon this spring, has worked hard to foster this cultural shift. You might be surprised to know his district has no technology plan and has no intention of building one. Teachers choose the devices they want and are asked to focus learning around 3 pillars: Inquiry, Digital Access and their S.U.C.C.E.E.D. model (Self-Regulation, Understanding, Collaboration, Co-operation, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Empathy, Enthusiasm and Determination). The notion of empowerment begins with teachers. At Caulfeild, they developed their own inquiry model which admittedly is a derivative of many other models but is one that makes sense for them and their students. It’s not highly prescribed and allows students and teachers to enter at various points. This common language and approach is valued and spoken by all learners. This was obvious in listening to the students, who were not prepped in any way but were willing to share their thoughts to interested strangers.
This school and these teachers have nothing to be sorry about but need to know that they work they have done in transforming their classrooms is nothing short of impressive.