Innovation That Sticks Case Study Report: Ottawa Catholic School Board
Leading and Learning for Innovation, A Framework for District-Wide Change
What were the conditions that enabled and encouraged innovation
to take place within a system as large and complex as the Ottawa Catholic School Board?
This case study report provides concrete guidance and information resources to support other School District leaders faced with the challenge of determining how they can get their own innovations to ‘stick’ and achieve their goals.
The CEA Selection Jury of Canadian innovation leaders was most impressed with how the OCSB leads with a focus on learning and teacher support first, followed by the technology. This School Board has been implementing their innovative strategy over a number of years, incorporated all partners – including teacher unions and support staff – and built a budget in support of this collective vision, with ongoing parent and student voice that continue to inform these changes.
Keep reading for the electronic version of the Executive Summary, which includes several video interviews.
Many factors converged to make this Board-wide transformation possible. Firstly, there was a change in leadership within departments – a new team was coming into place and discussions were held about the Board’s future direction. Secondly, many new technological devices were emerging in the marketplace, which raised several questions: Where and how does all this new technology fit in with learning? What are the tools to be privileged and can these tools help us give students 21st century skills?
In 2010, the new Director of Education was reflecting with his senior team on the role of technology in student achievement. They were considering an interdepartmental approach to break the silos in the Board and have the whole OCSB family work towards student success and achievement. These discussions resulted in the development of a plan they called Blueprint for Change — Towards 2020, Connecting with our Students.
Establishing Buy-in and Financial Commitment for Change
The OCSB adopted a multi-tiered approach and gave people opportunities to decide where they fit in. They created collaborative spaces, professional development (PD) opportunities and support communities for every employee. They saved $2 million dollars by moving funds – discontinuing certain projects like their robotics program and closing the central lending library, to name but a few. Resistance from the community to these changes was softened by the understanding that the funds were being prioritized and aligned to a more coherent vision of learning and teaching in a digital age. Open communication of their vision was instrumental in mitigating resistance from stakeholders.
Funds were pooled. They encouraged early adopters to become leaders in their schools and at the Board level to generate passion and lead their colleagues on the road to the future. They also realized very early on that one PD model does not fit everyone and the traditional lecture format PD model was ineffective – they needed to get teachers actively involved in their own learning. To keep stakeholders abreast of their progress, they brought students to Board meetings for demonstrations and to reward the innovators. The trustees saw the excitement in the students’ eyes and asked how they could support and accelerate this process. The same can be said of parents who supported these initiatives whole-heartedly. The OCSB was on their way to creating a digital learning ecosystem. They felt they needed to improve communications to the community. Therefore, after a year, and training to principals, they hired a social media expert to get the message out even more effectively into the community.
Of course, it wasn’t smooth sailing all the way. Not all 4,000 staff members were on board; there were resistors and the union was receiving phone calls about the changes taking place. Whenever there were obstacles, however, the OCSB would address the challenge head-on by differentiating their approach, providing additional time and support, and developing a Q&A documents, etc. Their stance was: “how can we help one another?” Adamant in their profound respect for all individuals learning at a different pace, they differentiated their PD offerings to accommodate all adult learners.
Encouraging Students to Lead the Change
Students were encouraged to do their part and prepare tutorials on how to use various technological devices. Those that had the expertise were put into leadership roles. No one was forced or pushed into these changes, but gently pulled forward. They created a culture where leaders with innovative ideas were told, “yes and how can we help you to make it happen?” They created new working spaces called the Learning Commons, previously known as libraries, which became dynamic learning areas for users to gather and access many resources and devices to work on their projects.
Leveraging Evidence and Partnerships
The OCSB culture of change was inspired by two publications from Michael Fullan about educational change (Change Theory and The Six Secrets of Change). IBM also worked with the School Board in focus groups to look at the barriers to the use of technology and how to get out of a state of apathy towards generating enthusiasm.
There was strong and passionate leadership and a clear and shared vision. This School Board already had strong relationships and a strong sense of family. They also prided themselves in a continuous goal of improvement and innovation. They were all linked by their faith and took time to celebrate their successes together. All staff is invited to celebrate during Christian Community Day, a PD day where directional vision is shared with the entire staff.
Cultivating a Collaborative District-Wide Learning Culture
The OCSB had always been welcoming and had an open door policy. But above all, there is a strong sense of respect for the individual learning style and rhythm.
The OCSB was becoming “flatter” in its hierarchy, allowing people from all levels and departments to learn from one another. Their strong feeling of community and their quick response to addressing issues on-site were an asset. Staff was offered differentiated professional learning opportunities. Leaders modeled desired behaviours as lifelong learners, particularly with respect to mastering technology and social media.
They took the time to ensure every initiative was aligned with the Board vision and made sure everything was in place to actualize the vision. The staff was encouraged to embrace change, and was supported in their own learning and risk-taking. All key players wanted to be in a learning stance, highly encouraged networking and co-learning, and recommended enthusiastic staff members to share what they learned with their professional learning communities. They invested time, energy and money on the leaders, both formally and informally. It was clear that the OCSB had achieved “pragmatic buy-in” rather than the typical “philosophical buy-in” present in many School Districts across Canada.
Communicating Change Clearly and Consistently With the School Community
A massive communication strategy was undertaken using traditional methods and social media, phone messages, get-togethers etc. to get the message out. The leaders rarely said no and were all very supportive asking: “how can we help to make this happen?”
At first there was some level of apprehension and anxiety, but because trust had been established, the message was clear: risk-taking was exciting and it was okay to fail, learn from mistakes, and then move forward.
Doing what was best to meet the students’ needs was the guiding principle of this change process, which resulted in parents feeling good about putting their kids in the OCSB. This paradigm shift got students excited about learning again.