An Alligator in the Swamp…

Next year I am taking on a new role at a new school, and I couldn’t be more excited. I am the inaugural Vice Principal of Student Engagement and Experiential Development at Havergal College – an all girls Independent School in Toronto. Their mascot is “The Havagator” – a green and gold alligator, so I’m going to adopt a metaphor for this post: that the future of education is a bit of a swamp, but some people and creatures are just meant to live and thrive in it.

The Havagator!

This was a metaphor adopted in 2013 by Fullan and Donnelly in their paper entitled “Alive in the Swamp“. In it they explain how the swamp is a place where there are many different variations of life, and from which new life could potential spring: “Two powerful forces are combining to procreate the swamp. One is a relentless ‘push’ factor; the other is a prodigious and exponential ‘pull’ phenomenon. The push factor is how incredibly boring school has become…The counterforce is the ‘pull’ of rapidly expanding digital innovations that are the result of lean and not so lean start–ups, as small–scale entrepreneurs and behemoth businesses and financiers populate the digital swamp. The result is an exciting but undisciplined explosion of innovations and opportunities.” These push and pull factors need to be examines, analyzed and tailored for our schools.

In this paper, Fullan and Donnelly provide examples of schools that are making new life in the swamp and bring that life and energy to their schools. I would put forth that there are examples of this in CIS Ontario and CAIS schools too. I have just returned from the CAIS Leadership Institute where, with @jmedved, I was facilitating a module entitled “Design Thinking for School Innovation“. Through this module, I was able to learn about the many varied ways that schools are meeting the challenge presented by the swamp, and it was incredibly exciting!

I strongly recommend this article for the following because:

  1. It provides an excellent context for the role of technology alongside pedagogy and systems/structures of schools. The big insight here is that the key factor to successful EdTech integration across a system is the pedagogy associated with it.
  2. It provides an innovation index – a framwork to bring discipline and understanding to the swamp! (See screen cap below)
  3. It provides examples of schools already moving in this direction.

Not only that, but it places the emphasis of effective change on what is happening on the ground in schools. For example, it refers to the power of shifting the role of teacher from facilitator (guide on the side) to activator. In this way, teachers are now in the position to inspire students by setting ambitious, yet achievable goals for students, and ultimately enabling students to set them themselves. In this role, teachers have an impact scale three times that as a facilitator (Fullan & Donnelly, 2013)

Teacher as activator (effect size .60) Included: reciprocal teaching – where student and teachers are both ‘teachers’ learning from each other; regular, tailored feedback; teacher–student verbal interaction; meta cognition – making explicit the thinking process; challenging goals – setting ambitious and achievable learning goals. (Fullan & Donnelly, 2013)

It also provides practical and concrete ways for a school system to improve student learning through technology. This paper cites strategies for administration and teachers alike. Fullan and Donnelly place great emphasis on pedagogy, and in particular the structure of the learning process through learning goals.

To achieve a green rating, generally each activity, overall lesson and broad course of study should have clear, quantified outcome(s). These learning outcomes and goals should be communicated and shared effectively within the school and, of course, with students, teachers, parents and the broader system. The innovation should be able to demonstrate strong benefits for customers and/or students. (Fullan & Donnelly, 2013)

Alive in the Swamp also provides the reader with provocative questions about the implementation of technology. These are questions that we, as educators need to be asking not just once, but several times through the course of the year. They act as excellent check-ins for effectiveness and setting/assessing targets.

To evaluate value for money we asked the following questions: Are there overall school cost savings realised by the innovation? Is the product of sufficient value, demonstrated by learning outcomes, to justify change? How expensive is the product or design change itself? Are there hidden costs such as infrastructure upgrades? Does the product accelerate quality learning? (Fullan and Donnelly, 2013)

In fact, these questions reminded me of the work I did in 2015 with CAIS Project 2051. It is papers like these, and books like Grant Lichtman’s #EdJourney, that inspire questions – challlenging questions – that will push education forward through effective pedagogy married with thoughtful and deliberate use of technology. For more on this see my previous post.

It is my hope that through Havergal’s strategic plan, and the mandate presented to me, that we can bring some new life to education through exciting and thoughtful innovations. Through the already exciting work being done by colleagues throughout Canada, the great work of CIS Ontario schools and Cohort 21 participants and alumni, and through the work being done with CAIS in Project 2051, I know that Independent school education in Canada’s swamp is thriving!


3 thoughts on “An Alligator in the Swamp…

  1. Warmest congratulations, Garth, on this professional opportunity at Havergal College to inspire young women to pursue innovative modern learning!

  2. Garth- a big, heartfelt congratulations to you on this next chapter. You have been an inspirational leader to follow and learn from and I look forward to hearing about this next endeavour when our paths cross next! Kudos!!

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