Creating innovative learning spaces

Innovation is highly esteemed in our school division and many others.  In fact, innovation is highly valued in most all educational institutions.  The notion of creating new solution to as yet undiscovered problems has been around for along time.  Creating these spaces is really the important piece of innovation.  How do you that? create spaces where new ideas can emerge.  Steven Johnson’s Ted Talk provides some great ideas on how to make this so.

Innovation, collaboration, engagement – these are words that are loaded with meaning. If innovative solutions take time and are built on experience and knowledge, then starting with things worth knowing and springboarding off into genuine problem solving is perhaps what we should aiming for. I suppose its why less learning outcomes can lead to more depth and breadth of learning. When we get to a portage on a canoe trip, there are some things worth knowing – how to carry the boat on your shoulders. This experience leads to inquiry – how do I make my shoulders hurt less, what modifications in design to the boat could I make to make the experience less unpleasant. Does innovation only have to be about things like how to clean up space debris left by satellite launches? no innovation can also be about solving problems that have been solved many times by many other people before you. Learning any physical skill is like that – learning can be about taking some abstract concept and making experimenting with your own body to perform the skill efficiently in a way that works for your body geometry, which is truly unique to you as an individual.

How do we create innovative learning spaces – through enthusiasm, through relationship building, through guidance and feedback, through offering the right questions at the right time, through inspiring some creativity. Kevin Bauer, Principal at Valley View School in Calgary says it well in his blogpost –

Next school year, I hope to be working in a school environment again. Continuing the engaging and meaningful work of capacity building with Teachers and students. I hope to contribute my energy to something special.

Roy Strum


Achievement…Reflections on Risk Taking


I’ll admit, balancing career and family and community is a juggling act.  My goal has been to keep all three aloft, however, Which ball I’ve chosen to keep highest in the air has fluctuated over time.  Finding the courage to advance your experience and ambition in one area of life has effects on the others. 

I stand at an exciting time in my life.  I realize my whole life has been a grand adventure of choice and passion and actualization. My choices today are the same as they’ve always been and are centered on answering the question ‘what next?’ 

Mid life has an interesting way of encouraging you to look backwards and forwards at the same time helping you to recognize how passion has directed your choices along the way – every step for me has been full of big choices – most often choices that have been very easy to make.  Learning, Love, Family, Friends, Success, Ambition all have provided guideposts for my pathway.  And so as I reflect on how I have gotten to where I am I know clearly what those guideposts have been.

Finding a woman I love and having children has been the singlemost important piece of work in my life.  Like most parents, I want the very best for my kids, to give them the very best start in life, to provide with as many diverse opportunities to grow as confident, intelligent, athletic, creative, caring, empathetic people who strive to be their best in their ambition and relationships.  My children have been my biggest passion.  Being a father has been and is my most important life work.  I place it above all else.  It is not the only important thing in my life, but it is the most important – without a doubt.  I have been a very fortunate person to have had career choices that have let me fulfill my ambition to be a great dad.  I’ll be honest, climbing the corporate ladder has not been my biggest priority.  Finding fulfilling work that is creative and enjoyable has been important to me and continues to be. 

My passion has directed my life and will continue to in the future.  My next step is to become an instructional leader at a school.  I am ready for a new challenge.  Ready to put on a new hat but for sure not because my present reality is in any way unfulfilling.  I am ready to be an Assistant Principal because when I look at my toolkit, its shouts out to me, this is where you need to be.  Supporting achievement has been my lifework.  Mentoring and leading learning communities has been a deep interest.  Whether as a teacher, a consultant, a coach, a camp director, my life work has been about improving the state of being for those I work with.  It is why as I enter mid-life I reflect confidently on my choices – I have with no doubt in my mind made a huge difference in the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands of children – supporting their path towards personal growth and excellence.  It is why I have no regrets.  Like so many other teachers, principals, camp directors, coaches, I look back and say wow I have done some great work – work that is humble and yet glorious.  A servant of others.

As I move ahead, I embrace the challenges that I know will come from putting myself in a play of vulnerability, risk, and leadership.  I know that my passion for doing the work of helping others be their best gives me much more than I offer.  It is through giving that I have found the most satisification in my life. 

Giving to my children – my love, my passion for physical activity, my time.

Giving to young people in schools, at camp, in sport – my guidance, my love of learning, my passion for excellence; my joy of life; my desire for positive, engaging experience. 

Giving to my peers, those I am tasked to mentor, lead, and help grow – my incredible need for creating positive space; my willingness to support, to help, to recognize strengths in others, to build, to learn, to share. 

Giving to my friends and loved ones – my unconditional positive regard; my yearning to build meaningful, substantial, and intimate relationships build on respect, compassion, and good humour.

So am i ready for the next steps in my journey – I sure am.  I’ve always been ready. 

Roy Strum, Canmore/Calgary



Pulling it all together – a synthesis of Hattie, Schimmer, and Friesen about formative assessment and feedback


This school, along with lots of other work, I have been immersing myself in professional reading. I do this work with my consultant hat on – thinking, I need to be up to speed with current literature on teaching and learning if I am going to be relevant in the conversations I have with teachers and principals about supporting professional growth in their schools. Its begun to feel alot like the years I was busy doing a masters degree – lots of reading late at night and on weekends, but without the timeline pressure that came with assignments and due dates. I’ve taken my time with this reading and tried to synthesise the important ideas into my practice. I realize from having been a classroom teacher for a number of years that having time to read is a luxury. Its why I offer a synthesis of my understandings because maybe there are some teachers out there who have some books on their shelves they’d really like to get to, but just don’t have time to get to them.

So here are some of the big ideas that have been rolling around in my head for the past few months about the interconnections between several of the big names in recent education literature. I’m not going to kid myself thinking i could provide a synthesis of the connections between these authors/researchers/educators in one blogpost. What I will try to do is focus a few blogposts on various themes that emerge from these author’s writing.

If there is one thing we can be doing alot of as teachers, its checking in with students about what they know and how they can use that knowledge to solve problems now and in the future. John Hattie’s research ranks this #3 of all teaching and learning influences and their effect on achievement Hattie treats formative assessment and feedback as separate influences in his research. One of the major benefits of formative assessment is to inform teachers about the effects of their teaching on student achievement so teachers can alter their focus to better meet the learning needs of students. Feedback, he states is most powerful when it is from the student to the teacher about what they know, what they understand, and where they make errors. Feedback is typically focused on four things – about the task/product of work; about the process used to create the product; on self regulation, or more personal feedback. Feedback needs to reference clear and specific learning goals to be effective and provide little threat to the student on the self level. To be effective, feedback needs to attract attention to the discrepency between where a student is at and where they need to go.

Sharon Friesen, of the Galileo Project at the University of Calgary, states that assessment needs to be a continuous and comprehensive part of the learning day Formative assessment can take the form of observations, conversations, artifacts, written assignments, student reflections, portfolios, digital images, or audio/video recordings. Assessment should be co-created by student and teacher. This allows students to see where they have come from and where they are going with their learning. Friesen identifies seven characteristics for assessment that promotes learning – embedded in the design of learning experiences; students have a clear picture of the intended learning goals; students can recognize the standards they are aiming for; students are involved in self assessment; feedback from teachers provide students with the next step; teachers believe everyone can learn; and that teachers review and reflect on assessment data.

Tom Schimmer, a Principal from Penticton, BC, echos these ideas in his book, Ten Things That Matter From Assessment to Grading – Descriptive Feedback, he writes, allows students to know what they do well, and what their next steps are. The power of formative assessment is that it provides the next steps for students and a way for teachers to adjust their instruction to ensure optimal learning potential. Rubrics are an effective tool to use in assessment as they identify the learning outcome; identify criteria about specific aspects of quality; and that rubrics identify a path to improvement.

These represent best practice around formative assessment and feedback. For practicing teachers, these are not new ideas. The big ideas that come to me as I process and reflect on my learning is that formative assessment is part of a feedback loop that informs instructional design (for teachers) and adjusts learning targets for students. Formative assessment can take the shape of many different tools and strategies and teachers should use as many different tools/strategies as relevant to the context. Feedback is a crucial part of optimal learning. It needs to identify what students know, what their learning target is, and the steps needed to get them there. As I reflect on my own practice, I recognize that as a physical education teacher, I do many these things with my students – formative assessment is provided through game play; feedback is provided through the technical and tactical instruction provided. The new learning for me is conceptualizing how this would look as a humanities teacher or math teacher. Formative assessment is about helping to close the gap between a present and a future state of understanding. It is pretty easy to conceptulize this as a phys ed teacher. It is also easy to see that no matter what discipline we teach, having learning goals that are clear to students provides an easy jump off place to help students map out the pathway between current and desired levels of understanding.

What is evident to me as I reflect on current best practice literature is that there are consistencies that present. One of these is the importance of having clearly defined learning goals. Another is the importance of using a variety of formative assessment strategies to guage the success of my teachering intervention. Another is the importance of feedback to students. Feedback helps students see what they know in relation to the intended learning. Feedback helps students see the next steps in their learning to get them closer to the clearly articulated learning goal.

So what would I talk about if I came to your school and shared my insight about formative assessment and feedback? I would tell you in terms of bang for your buck, they are a couple of teaching interventions that are highly effective in advancing student learning.

How does this all relate to outdoor and environmental education? Pretty simple connection there – good learning includes formative assessment and feedback as high priorities in all learning experiences. It is relevant to every subject area and discipline. One of the challenges I think, particularly when working with external service providers or visiting outdoor education centres is that formative assessment and feedback can sometimes be completely forgotten by the staff at these centres who focus on the experiential learning piece without also considering the important role of formative assessment and feedback. This is some work we at the Calgary Board of Education have done some support work with our outdoor education centre partners – answering the question – how does assessment fit into your instructional design.

We are at an exciting time in Education in Alberta. Curriculum redesign in underway. Capturing best practice to shape the future of learning is critical. I’d like to have some conversations with teachers and community about these things – fire me off an email – I’d like to chat –

Roy Strum
Calgary AB

Curriculum Redesign Prototyping – what every teacher needs to know

Hey folks,

You may have heard about the work of Curriculum Redesign in Alberta and might be interested in being involved. Anyone, anywhere can contribute their ideas to what the new curriculum will look like.  The prototyping phase of the curriculum redesign is underway right now.  You can attend or host a prototyping session.  Guidebooks for hosting a session are available on insite at  A description of the work is found there as well. The big idea is to contribute your wisdom, insight, and expertise to the process.  Who knows better about how curriculum should be rewritten than teachers.  You live the work everyday.  You know what a good learning outcome looks like.  You have ideas about what how scope and sequence should be framed.  You have ideas about what is worth knowing.

I invite you to share your expertise.  From now until the end of May 2014, our school division is leading the work of engaging teachers, parents, community about what is important in education. 

One of the big changes in curriculum will be the reduction of the number of learning outcomes in each of the six core subjects for every grade.  This will have huge effect on how teaching and learning is designed and delivered.  It will increase opportunities for deeper learning and provide for more opportunities for relevancy and meaning. 

As the CBE consultant for environmental/outdoor learning, I’d love to have these conversations with you.  Here are some links to relevant sites

CBE Insite page for Curriculum Redesign –   Here you will find links to AB Education’s Curriculum Redesign page, a Convening Conversations guide, Ministerial Order, Inspiring Education, and a timeline for the work.

So you want to contribute… 

Here are some ideas of how:

1. call me up – lets organize a conversation around curriculum redesign – we’ll create a forum to share ideas that will create the prototype of important pieces of the new curriculum

2. host your own conversation – download the convening conversations guide from insite and do the work yourself, maybe as part of your plc.

3. share your own ideas on the google form link found in the conversation guide.

4. attend a CBE system conversation – look for these to be posted on link on line or through ATA


So what is the process involved with Prototyping?

1. conversations about curriculum design – these happen first – they are happening now – attend one, organize one, as me to help you run one – these conversations are important – they are an engagement opportunity to share you insight and wisdom.  This is a unique time as a teacher to really shape what teaching and learning will look like.  These conversations will create the prototype that will be created of what teaching and learning should look like in AB.

2. as the lead school division for grades 4-6, 7-9, and 10-12, the CBE is responsible for numerous deliverables.  These deliverables will be the responsibility of a Curriculum Synthesis Team currently being formed by the CBE and partner school divisions.  Its the synthesis teams  that will pull together the drafts that will be sent to AB Education for that govt dept to write the new curriculum.

So there you have it – my interpretation of the process and the important work currently underway.  The best place to go for accurate information continues to be

AB Ed Curriculum Redesign –

Inspiring Education –

Ministerial Order –

Timeline –

Curriculum Redesign at a Glance –

CBE Curriculum Redesign  –

Convening Conversation Guide –

Or contact me directly – I am in outlook

Roy Strum

Env/Outdoor Ed Consultant


Open to Learning Conversations – skills for instructional leaders

Vivian Robinson is an author, educator, professor from New Zealand. She is the author of Student-Centred Leadership Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2011. Robinson, speaks here of Open to Learning Conversations and the key pieces of building trust and relationships as instructional leaders.

Some of her big ideas around this topic relate to Determinants of Relational Trust which include the following skills/attributes: that leaders are – interpersonally respectful; that they have personal regard for others; that they are competent in their role; and that instructional leaders operate with personal integrity.

Robinson believes that there is no step by step process involved with building trust and relationships as each issue is context specific. She does share a process in Open to Learning Conversations that:
– the leaders concerns are disclosed
– the grounds for concern are disclosed
– the leader indicates that his/her concern needs to be checked rather than assumed to be valid.