The Ottawa Think Tank on Transforming the Learning Experience

This week I had the pleasure of travelling to Ottawa to participate in a Think Tank organized by one of Ontario’s French boards: CECCE.

It was a wonderful experience – and a humbling one.  As I sat at my table I realized, to my horror,  how little I actually know about Franco-Ontario.  Also discomfiting was  that to engage with me, my French colleagues had to speak English as I was not comfortable enough with my French to use it other than for listening and reading.  We were provided with headsets and real-time translation.  I can’t say that same level of accommodation would be made were they to  arrive at an English board.  My French colleagues would be expected to adapt to the English context and that would be seen as perfectly normal.  I realize that my professional practice in a bilingual province has been, up to this point, decidedly anglo-centric.  Which is a loss because my French colleagues are doing remarkable work and we have much to learn from them.

On to the Think Tank …

CECCE has been on an interesting journey and it is my hope that their story is captured in a larger way because you deserve to hear it in their own words.  You are reading the story as I understand it.  Please CECCE, let me know if I have misconceptions or there are inaccuracies.

A few years ago Eugénie Congi and her team began a process of transformation.  They started with a simple idea: Who and what do we want our students to be when they graduate from our system? Let’s design for that.  They set out to create a student exit profile. The team dug deeply into pedagogy, explored global ideas and co-constructed a vision with their educators, students and administrators.

An iteration of CECCE student exit profile.


Their work has been iterative.  Teachers and students have been testing ideas and over time a coherent vision has emerged: The Transforming the Learning Experience document, which I hope at some point people outside the board have a chance to see, because it is wonderful.

What struck me were the questions they asked themselves as they worked their way through the design process.  Questions like:

If this is the kind of student we wish to produce, who do our teachers have to become?


If this is what teachers need to do to facilitate the emergence of this kind of student, what should our leadership be doing?

It has been grassroots,  pedagogy first and designing with the end in mind.  Technology is embedded where it fits with the larger transformative purpose.  It is not the driver.

The Transforming the Learning Experience document has now reached a coherent form and the Think Tank was designed to celebrate and get feedback.  Eugénie asked her team, “If you could invite anyone in the world to give us feedback, who would you want to be here?”   A list was generated, invitations sent and to their surprise 15 people, on short notice,  accepted.  When I first saw how many people were on the panel, I thought it couldn’t possibly work. But it did.  Each person made a thoughtful contribution and what the organizers gained was idea diversity.  Many significant ideas were presented for further exploration and thought.



Ones that stuck with me included:

“decisional capital”. How do build capacity for our communities to make good decisions?  Michael Fullan

“Do we have the courage and conviction to give agency to kids for their own learning?” – Will Richardson

“Whatever level you are working at you want the level above to like what you are doing but not run what you are doing.” – M. Fullan quoting someone else – I forget who.

“When we talk of engagement, we’re not talking about enjoyment.  It’s about intellectual engagement.”   That work is hard. (attribution needed)

A reference was made to Vivian Robinson’s research: school leaders as learners for the biggest impact.

Lateral leadership – the research is showing that lateral connections – boards learning from boards, teachers learning from teachers, systems learning from systems … that co-construction of knowledge about learning … is powerful.

I had the pleasure of sitting beside Lucy West and look forward to longer conversations as we have much in common.  Lucy challenged all of us to use our imaginations and imagine wildly.  Think beyond tweaks to our schools and systems.

After the panel, we moved to tables for deeper conversations.  Each table had one idea harvester who asked questions and recorded discussions and feedback.  The CECCE team will take this information and re-examine their document.

The morning ended with a lunch and the opportunity for less formal conversations.  I took time at that point to briefly explore the facility.  The Think Tank was held in The Canadian Museum of Nature, a well-crafted blend of historic and modern architecture.  Let’s hear it for investment in public goods! I look forward to spending more time in it the next time I am in Ottawa.

Thank you, my wonderful French colleagues, for inviting me to the Think Tank.  It was an enriching experience.  I am thrilled that a silo has been broken and look forward to building deeper connections. See you on twitter!


Jelly Fish Image Source



  1. Pingback: Think Tank: Transforming the learning experience | Learning Zone

  2. Lisa Noble

    Thanks so much for giving a glimpse. I know about that discomfiture. All FSL PD in our board is done exclusively in French. It’s incredibly hard work for those of us who are French second language speakers, and I sometimes worry that we’re missing out on some really good ideas in both directions, because we don’t allow people to work in the language most comfortable for them. Work in progress for me.
    This is very exciting learning, and really ties in to many of the ideas that the Innovators’ Mindset book study has been wrestling with.

  3. Heidi Siwak

    I always appreciate that you take time to comment and provide thoughtful feedback. Capturing all ideas – so good ones don’t get lost is important. I agree, this is exciting learning and I’m looking forward to learning more about CECCE’s next steps. I feel privileged that my new role allows me to view the largeness of Ontario edu.

  4. Pingback: Transformation: Maybe We are at the Tipping Point | The Construction Zone

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