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Breaking down barriers
When Chris Kennedy received his interview question for West Vancouver School District’s superintendent position, he posted it to Twitter.
A dozen people from around the world committed on the query. Armed with that information, the 37-year-old created his reply for the meeting the next day.
“It is not what you know, it’s can you get the best information and present it,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy has been incorporating that fundamental idea into the school district since he became superintendent earlier this year. The Internet and multitude of social media outlets have shifted learning, he said. Students no longer come to school simply to receive information. It’s a huge change. It’s also an exciting and challenging time, Kennedy said.
“As a teacher, now you get [to teach] the good stuff,” he said, noting the educational system must focus on skills like innovation and collaboration.
One initiative to help develop these talents is inquiry-based learning. Students may be given fewer assignments but asked to investigate their project more deeply, Kennedy said.
A recent example is a Grade 5 class in Gleneagles elementary school. Students had to assess their work and pass it through a peer review.
“It is risky for teacher because you do have less control,” Kennedy noted.
As for technology, Kennedy has embraced its power. He not only tweets regularly but leads an education blog that is followed by parents, staff and scholars, all of whom take part in the online conversations. The social medium breaks barriers and lets good ideas shine through, he said.
“Part of what I want to do with the blog is share and spread ideas,” Kennedy said.
Computers and technology should be integrated into learning rather than introduced to students, Kennedy said. In the coming months, the district is going to implement a program that pairs kindergarten and Grade 7 students to create projects on iPads.
But Kennedy cautioned just handing out gadgets isn’t going to instantly improve all students’ marks.
“Laptop initiatives seem to have a stronger with boys,” he noted.
The Ministry of Education has given school districts permission to pursue such personalized learning. In the end, Kennedy hopes the ministry will get its direction from school districts, rather than the other way around.
“Let’s do this and find these really powerful practices and [the ministry] will adapt,” he said.
Kennedy has four young children. Being a parent and having taught gives him many perspectives in his role as superintendent, Kennedy said. During his stint in the top seat, Kennedy said he wants to continue exploring ideas.
Kennedy hopes to listen to others and adopt new ways to keep the West Van school district as one of the province’s highest achievers.
“I think there are lots of ways to be superintendent,” Kennedy said. “I am going to be the learning superintendent.”