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Educators have an obligation to lead using feedback from students, says principal

Roderick Benns recently interviewed Kevin DeForge, the principal of St. Dominic Fine Arts School with the Calgary Catholic School District. DeForge is a recipient of Alberta’s Distinguished Leadership Award.

Benns: How can we ensure quality teaching continues in the face of powerful digital trends? What might it look like?

DeForge: It is important for educators to see that quality teaching , if rooted in authentic learning practices like Project Based and Inquiry Learning, can be enhanced by technology. With businesses looking more towards the soft skills as an area of need, educators can use technology to provide new opportunities for innovation and communication.

I believe it is most critical that we centre our focus on a shift to allowing students to make meaning of their own learning, as they create with technology, rather than just curate with it.

We need not feel threatened by powerful digital trends, as technology is merely a tool, much like a pencil or any other tool. Technology is here to stay, so it is our challenge to infuse its use into good pedagogy, so that we can better prepare our children for a future that does not yet exist.

We are leading and learning in an age of ‘squirrel.’ Distraction exists all around us, especially with the ever increasing influence of technology and new devices. It is our challenge, as educators, to turn distraction into advantage. We should strive to integrate technology seamlessly into our instruction and leadership so that it becomes something that engages the learner, rather than diverts their attention from the learning. Remember, technology is simply a tool; we have the influence over how we yield that tool.

There are so many innovative ways to leverage technology so that it works to our advantage by enhancing our ability to celebrate, communicate and collaborate within a world of distraction. We just have to be willing to approach it with an entrepreneurial spirit and an open mind, and the doors will begin to open.

Benns: What is another school-level trend happening in Alberta that you believe is good for educators and good for students?

In Alberta, I have seen a shift towards students driving their own learning and a focus on the 3 E’s: Entrepreneurial Spirit, Ethical Citizen, and Engaged Thinker. This has lead to policies around Learning Commons development, Maker Spaces and a Learning and Technology and Policy Framework, which all serve to put learning into the hands of the students.

Educators benefit because they can become engaged in the process, much like the students. It’s inspiring to see the energy and enthusiasm emanating from both staff and students as opportunities for passion-based learning is fostered.

Benns: We hear a lot about student voice and its capacity to change school leadership looks. How do you see this?

DeForge: I am a big advocate of student voice and choice in their learning. As adults we all too often make decisions about students without students. We claim to know what is best for children and then move forward to make decisions about their learning without consulting them.

As educational leaders, I believe it is imperative to truly look at data collected from student surveys and verbal feedback and act on it. According to Donald H. McGannon, “Leadership is action, not position,” so we have an obligation to do something with the feedback from our students. Information collected from them can help us develop School Plans and make some simple adjustments to suit the learning needs of the children in our schools.

If we are open to it, student voice can help school leaders self-reflect and provide a more engaging and authentic learning experience within the walls of their school. Students have the right to be a part of a culture of collaboration so that they can explore creative new ways to express themselves and meet their diverse learning needs.

It is exhilarating to see the excitement and engagement of students as they craft their own learning when we allow for student voice and choice in the educational process.


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