The Innovation that Sticks Case Study Research Program

2015-2016 ‘Innovation that Sticks’ School District Case Study Program

Innovation that sticks



Ottawa Catholic School Board Chosen for National Case Study on Education Innovation
The Canadian Education Association will research and share how the Ottawa Catholic School Board is transforming its classrooms by making the cultural shift from control and caution to curiosity and inquiry.

CEA is pleased to announce that the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) has been selected out of 35 school districts from across Canada to participate in the ‘Innovation that Sticks’ Case Study Program. CEA will research how the OCSB has transformed its classrooms to meet the needs of all 21st century learners.

All six school districts that were shortlisted for this case-study program are in the process of scaling innovative practice throughout their schools. The information contained within their applications shed light on the structures, policies, practices and procedures that enable deep and engaging ‘21st Century’ classroom learning environments in schools and classrooms across Canada. CEA feels that many school boards across the country could benefit from the common elements of these projects and we encourage district leaders to contact the Ottawa Catholic School Board and the five honourable mentions to learn more about their ongoing transformative initiatives.

All of these ongoing initiatives share the following characteristics:

  • a focus on the learner whether it be the student, teacher or administrator
  • collaborative job-embedded professional learning supported by a coaching model to help teachers shift to a more effective learner-centred practice
  • the use of research to form a solid evidence-based foundation
  • embedding technology as part of the fabric of blended learning

Selected Case Study School District

Ottawa Catholic School Board

Leading and learning for innovation

With the conversion of libraries to learning commons, increasing broadband, universal WiFi availability and equitable Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) policies, the OCSB has created a ‘digital ecosystem’ focusing on collaboration, creativity and critical thinking among all of its 83 schools.

The OCSB’s comprehensive BluePrint for Change – Towards 2020 provides a laptop to every teacher and principal. This 1:1 technology investment is complemented by a major professional learning focus that represents an important cultural shift across the board to enable teachers to shift their practice to differentiated instruction, which has resulted in increased student achievement. Restrictive policies were removed to allow teachers to model digital citizenship by actively participating in social media. Every student in the Board receives yearly instruction on digital citizenship, integrated into the curriculum. They are encouraged to take the lead in supporting adults use the technology and their voice, along with that of their parents, continues to inform ongoing changes.

This initiative began with a simple premise: Changes in teacher practice will lead to increased student engagement, and this will result in increased student achievement. Departmental silos were dismantled to signal a focus on learning – the Information Technology department became Learning Technologies and was linked to the Student Success department. Technology is now a driver leveraged through interdepartmental collaboration.

Online communities have been formed where teachers share practices, where principals and superintendents co-learn with teachers. There are literacy, numeracy, and French networks, principal learning networks, or many other global networks, all leveraging technology to focus on communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. Learning walks and instructional rounds are regularly organized for administrators to tour schools and classrooms as a means of support to teachers and formative assessment opportunities for principals and peers.

Honourable Mentions

Edmonton Catholic Schools (Edmonton, AB)

Student-centred learning through teacher-driven professional inquiry

Transform is the name of Edmonton Catholic Schools’ (ECS) professional development (PD) program that provides over 2,000 teachers with high quality ongoing professional learning. This program has resulted in a flourishing of teacher leadership, networking and innovation within and beyond this school district.

District-wide PD occurs four times per year on “Transform Thursday” afternoons. District consultants work with teacher leaders to create “teacher facilitator sessions” that shift pedagogy through practical activities. Schools receive funds to release teachers so they can take part in these sessions, who then prepare how to take sessions back to their own schools on Transform Thursdays. Teacher leaders blog and share videos about these co-learning sessions to build a better understanding throughout the ESB about how to leverage teacher leaders within the district.

More ECS videos here:

ECS is interested in scaling up the best of what is happening to enrich individual coaches’ development through online courses to provide differentiated learning options that appeal to them. The coaches’ collective capacity is strengthened through ECS’s multi-level cohort networking system where lead coaches work with new and less experienced coaches in teams. By responding to research results from surveys and case studies to redesign certain facets of this PD, ECS has created trust between school and district staff involved in the Transform initiative.

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board

Transforming Learning Everywhere (TLE) creates a culture of engaged learners

In 2014, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) began implementing Transforming Learning Everywhere (TLE), an innovative vision centered on the use of evidence-based pedagogy accelerated by digital tools. This vision aims to enhance instruction, engage students in rich learning tasks and use student voice to improve the learning environment in classrooms and will be supported by providing one-to-one tablet technology to every student and educator at HWDSB in Grades 4-12 by 2019.

This board-wide change began in three Phase 1 pilot sites so that staff and Trustees could monitor and evaluate the implementation of the TLE vision. Across all three sites, educators have been engaging in face-to-face and online PD to learn how best to integrate technology into classroom practice. Staff and students were provided with 1:1 tablet technology in these smaller school settings. HWDSB’s research department has developed an evaluation of each of the three sites using a mixed-methods approach, relying on both qualitative and quantitative sources. Examples of data sources include interviews, focus groups, achievement data and surveys.

THE HWDSB has enhanced infrastructure to support this innovative delivery model, including a standard platform to support blended learning, PD on inquiry-based learning and on how to foster 21st Century Learning Skills in students (e.g., global awareness, problem solving, creativity, etc.), and assistive technology to enable instruction based on Universal Design (i.e., good for all, essential for some). With the advancement of tablet technology, new and engaging apps are available that assist students with learning difficulties.

The South Slave Divisional Education Council

Leadership for Literacy (L4L)

The South Slave Divisional Education Council (SSDEC) is a small school division with 1,400 K-12 students located in Canada’s Northwest Territories. More than 75% of the students are of Aboriginal descent including Métis, Cree and Dene cultures. As in many small Indigenous schools, academic achievement has lagged behind Canadian averages. In 2006, standardized testing revealed that fewer than 50% of students were meeting neighbouring Alberta’s standards. Not content with this reality, the SSDEC Board issued a challenge to the Superintendent and teachers – improve results and exceed the Canadian average in literacy. Thus began a rewarding initiative called Leadership for Literacy (L4L).

In less than five years, student achievement rates have soared to 79% reading at or above the Canadian average. Most schools, including some of our smallest and most isolated with full Aboriginal enrolment, are approaching and even exceeding the Canadian norms in literacy and numeracy. Based on these stellar results, the same drive and commitment was transferred to Indigenous languages and cultural programming. Linguistic fluency has risen by 18% and there is now hope that these endangered Indigenous languages can survive and thrive.

A parent survey of the L4L initiative revealed a 92% satisfaction rate with their children’s learning in SSDEC schools. Teachers are now engaged in rich academic conversations that inquire deeply into pedagogy and content. Communities are seeing education as more important, schools are adapting to unique student needs more readily with new initiatives, former high school drop-outs are returning to alternative programs, staff and student relationships are more positive and productive, students are taking more pride and ownership for their success, and more students are graduating.

This transformative change came about through a focused and sustained commitment to results. The SSDEC Council and Superintendent narrowed their focus to a few key priorities, with measurable targets, and made a multi-year commitment to change. The superintendent and assistant superintendent visit every classroom twice a year to observe and discuss classroom learning targets with teachers. Principals have establishing school achievement targets and setting high expectations for success. Strategies were carefully chosen that evidence suggested would be effective regardless of socio-economic factors. Discussions are always focused on improving instruction, eliminating gaps and meeting achievement targets.

Sun West School Division

A district-wide blended learning system

In order to infuse 21st Century skill development in all aspects of learning within the division, the SWSD Board established a $1,000,000 innovation fund for a 3-year period as a lever to encourage schools to develop innovative projects focused on improving student learning and teaching. This focus on 21st Century Competencies (21CC) coupled with the Distance Learning Centre digitized supports and added financial incentives have created a real appetite for enhanced PD opportunities.

A 21st Century Educator position has been created within each school to focus on providing support to teachers. A number of Division Learning and Technology Coaches provide 21st CC sessions (2 days/teacher) and infuse the workshops with strong curriculum, instruction and assessment pedagogy.

The SWSD is building a Distance Learning Centre (DLC) housing 100 online teachers for asynchronous program development and delivery embedded within the division’s collaborative model. The DLC has 35 online teachers housed 12-to-a-room so that their program development and delivery is conducted within a cooperative physical space. This structure is very conducive to supporting and mentoring teachers new to online instruction. The DLC has developed more than 100 online courses. Core programming in Grades K-12 and numerous electives at the middle and high school levels are complete. Many dual credit course options are available to high school students.

Sun West DLC from Sun West DLC on Vimeo.

Specially trained Education Assistants (EA’s) (teacher aides) have been placed in every Sun West school to supervise students who are learning independently via online DLC courses. This practice has increased student completion rates of online courses from the previous 30% average to presently between 80-95%. Every teacher in the SWSD has access to the DLC programming and is encouraged to use any aspects of the online courses for their own instruction within their face-to-face classrooms. This support has encouraged many more teachers to explore blended learning environments.

Delta School District

Creating a culture where everyone is a learner

Four years ago, the Delta School District completed a visioning process that involved all of school community stakeholders called Vision 2020 – for innovative teaching and learner success. In order to realize this vision, the district established a framework to help establish an inquiry mindset among educators, which included Coordinators of Inquiry (COIs) positions in every school. These coordinators come together every six weeks for professional learning, which they then share in their schools. Each school in the district developed an inquiry question related to the district vision and received teacher collaboration time to allow teachers to work together to answer it. The COI model has had a very positive effect on the culture of schools and of the district.

Delta Visioning Process January – April 2011 from Doug Sheppard on Vimeo.

To expand this framework, Teacher Learning Teams were created in each school to extend their learning around curriculum, instruction and assessment. They are released from their classrooms four times per year to build their understanding of the new B.C. Ministry curriculum, innovative instructional strategies, and assessment strategies that promote self-regulated learners. Both the COI and TLTs have helped to create a culture where teachers take ownership of their professional learning and engage in inquiries that positively impact student learning.

The Delta School District set funding aside to support the Vision 2020 process, to provide the staffing to allow for the COIs and for teacher release time to enable the TLTs to meet, and to fund the grants that are provided to schools. Also, funding is provided to allow for extensive professional learning opportunities that support the district’s educators. When making district budget decisions, all considerations are viewed through the lens of Vision 2020. This framework is both replicable and sustainable and has served the district well in creating a culture where “everyone is a learner”.

OCSB ‘Innovation that Sticks’ Case Study Research

The OCSB will receive a $10,000 contribution to grow their innovative programs and practice, and will share “lessons learned” with CEA researchers about the conditions and processes that led to the beginning of scalable innovation in classrooms and schools throughout their district. A case study report will be produced to provide concrete guidance and support to other school district leaders faced with the challenge of determining how they can get their own ‘innovations to stick’ and achieve their goals.

This report will include:

  • Policies, procedures, processes and practices that served as barriers, and those that helped to enable education leaders in scaling an innovation district-wide.
  • Nuanced and subtle contexts that helped to support district-wide change, for example: relationships/personalities; trust; courage; socio-cultural factors.
  • Conceptual frameworks and tools used by the school district that document processes used and outcomes achieved, and co-design strategies that enabled innovation throughout their district.
  • Strategies employed to ensure buy-in and support of the changes by stakeholder groups like students, parents, teachers’ associations, and community leaders.

CEA will capture, document and share these ‘lessons learned’ from the chosen case study school district with other change leaders across Canada through CEA’s website Education Canada Magazine; and future CEA events.

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