Sunday, January 27, 2013

Bill Ferriter - Engaging the Digital Learner: Going Deeper

Photo Credit: ushtey via Compfight cc 
On Wednesday Jan 16th, I had the opportunity to attend the third Digital Dinner Series put on by my School District for the 2012-2013 school year. The keynote speaker for this session was Bill Ferriter. But even before Bill got up to speak, the room was a buzz.

I have been fortunate enough to have attended all the previous sessions and with that experience I can say that last Wednesday's session was different than the others.  Now please, don't get me wrong, they have all been equally engaging and inspiring but this one was just a little different.  You see something IS happening in my school district. Change IS happening. People ARE getting excited.  Conversations ARE happening.  This was clearly visible on Wednesday night.

We started the evening off with a presentation by Brette Galy.  She shared some of the ways she is using technology as an early literacy teacher.  Both before and after her presentation the room was given questions to discuss, and discuss people did.  I wish I had written down the questions because they really got people talking. 

After Brette's presentation we listened to Michel Gagnon.  He spoke about how technology is transforming his high school teaching.  Again after his presentation more questions were given to the audience, and more buzz followed.

Both presentation were really good and  I think they opened the eyes of many educators wondering what they could do with access to technology.   What was great was that these two teachers are new to using technology as a tool in their teaching practice.  Good teachers, doing good things, but now utilizing technology to get there.  I don't know if it was because of what they were doing is doable by others, or the questions that we were asked to discuss before or after their presentations, but people in the room were motivated and engaged. And this was all before the keynote speaker spoke.

Fast forward through dinner and it's time for Bill Ferriter to take the stage. Our School District twitter feed #sd36learn was projected onto a big screen for everyone to see.  It was flying with tweets, apparently trending globally.  

Bill started with encouraging us to change from being a "yah but" teacher, to becoming a "what if" teacher. To see the possible when others around us are making excuses.  He  inspired us all with what he is doing with his classes.  He, like Shelley Wright, encouraged us to make sure that our students are doing meaningful work. He shared the Kiva organization with us, and I'm sure inspired many (including me) to lend money to those in third world countries trying to do something to better themselves.  What he did was totally doable for many of us in our school district. He made it look easy and even offered to have his students Skype into our classrooms, talk about the project, and  give us a $25 gift card to help get us started.  I hope some have taken him up on that offer.

Another thing that was cool about the evening is that some of the upper leaders of my School District were in the room. Both Jordan Tinney and Mike McKay were there to witness the excitement and transformations that are happening in our school district. I can only imagine that  leading the largest district in the province is a time demanding job, but as one of the little people in the district it meant a lot to me to  see these important leaders at this function.  There were close to 300 educators in the room, and there would have been even more if there was space for them.  I also know that a lot of money has been put into supporting innovative grant proposals, and so it was good for them to see the good things are happening because of these investments. It was good for all of us to see this.  Surrey is making incredible changes.  That was very clear in the twitter feed and the conversations and sharing happening throughout the room. I'm glad the upper management was there to see this excitement.

There were also other guests in the room from other local school districts.  I love that about Surrey. While we are the largest district in British Columbia, and our Director of Instruction Elisa Carlson has a mission to transform education, we know that we can not do it alone.  I love that my district believes just as strongly in being connected as I do.

I don't know exactly what it was but Wednesday night was an awe inspiring evening.  Change is often slow to start, but I really think Surrey is heading in the right direction and it's super exciting to be a part of it. Watch out, you just never know where we are headed.


  1. This year I am hearing and connecting with phrases that stick with me and won't let me go. I think "what if" is joining "how might we" and "insanely great learning".

    1. I love the words you're connecting to Sandi. Since hearing Bill "What if" is being used mindfully. Thanks for taking the time to leave me a comment.

  2. Karen wrote:

    You see something IS happening in my school district. Change IS happening. People ARE getting excited. Conversations ARE happening.

    - - - - - - - - -

    This is my favorite line from your whole post, Karen -- and you're right: Even in my very short visit to SD 36, I could see and feel that exact same energy.

    The question, then, becomes how do you sustain the change? How do you ensure that this isn't a one-off experience that disappears once Mike and Elisa and Jordan are gone?

    Does the community need to be involved in the conversation? Should there be dinner series -- whether they are organized by the district or by individual schools -- that are designed to engage parents? What about policymakers? Students?

    One of the hard lessons that I've learned is that the vision of the school system isn't enough to drive change. It's the vision of the community that matters -- and often disaster strikes and change comes to a screeching halt when schools skip the community vision-building process.

    Any of that make sense?

    PS: Thanks for sharing the post with me! I'm always glad when presentations resonate but I'm never quite sure when that happens!

    1. Bill, I truly believe this movement is now moving too quickly to be stopped. Elisa has done an incredible job at providing opportunities to educate and empower teachers, and administrators. Our job now is to keep the ball rolling through the sharing of what we are doing in our classrooms and in our schools. This increased sharing goes way beyond sharing between teachers , and right out into the community and the world through blogs, and websites. I agree that the community needs to be involved, and I can only hope that is happening. I can only speak for my own classroom, and our class blog, and I am trying as many ways as possible to have them engaged and involved.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave me a comment. It's exciting times in my school district and I'm glad you were invited in to be a part of it.

  3. Awesome recount of the night Karen! It is so exciting to be a part to the change that IS happening in our district. I also love the "What if.." and strive to set aside the "ya but". Lets keep the excitement going!

    1. It is pretty awesome now isn't it Lora, and I'm so glad you're along for the ride with me. Can't wait to get our students connected again.

  4. Thanks, Karen, for sharing your reflections. This night brought out great reflections around technology and learning.
    In Bill's response to your post he asked the ever important question, how do we keep it going? It has been hard for me not to be a part of this dinner series due to finding out about it too late. This makes me think of all the other Surrey educators who would love to be a part if these conversations but can't. How can we take this conversation out of the dinner series? How do we keep the discussions moving so that others move from "but" to "what if"? The conversations need to keep moving, flowing and expanding - that may be our next hurdle in education.
    Thanks again as you always have me wondering after I read your posts.

  5. Anne Marie I agree that there is an issue that not all of those who want to can attend the digital dinner series, but I love that so many want to attend. I really think we need more networks throughout our district to keep us all better connected. I know some of us are working on sites for the new HUB as a way to help with this connecting. Personally I will continue to share what I'm doing with my students on my class blog, my professional blog and via twitter. I will continue to present and share my journey and help those in any way I can. I do believe the more of us that do this, the better able we will be to keep the fires burning. Looking forward to seeing you soon. It has been far too long.