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Parents-on-sideline-at-a-youth-soccer-game

We had a theatre full of parents from our school district last week and my message to them was clear:  I need your help in line at Safeway and on the sidelines of the soccer fields.

The Safeway and soccer fields message is one I have delivered before.  Parents in our community have been outstanding advocates for our local public education system. We can create shiny brochures or interactive websites, but parents want the straight goods from other parents, whether they run into them at the grocery store or at their kids’ practice.  I credit positive word-of-mouth for being a key reason for our increase in enrollment over the last decade.  The conversations I was asking parents to assist with this time are different.  I need their help with revised curriculum that is being rolled out across British Columbia – first in K-9 and then grades 10-12.  As I wrote in my last post,  there is tremendous positive energy among educators as they work together embracing the new curriculum, and often new approaches, to meet the needs of students.

Positive momentum among educators is great, but I was reminded by Ron Canuel, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Education Association that this is not enough.  In a presentation he gave recently, he spoke about changes that were made in Quebec with curriculum a number of years ago.  In many ways the shifts resembled those we are making in B.C.  He said that the community was never properly brought along on the journey, and the changes were temporary, not permanent, and a more traditional curriculum returned.

So far British Columbia seems to be making the right moves.  The curriculum has been co-constructed by educators from across the province, and I have sat in many sessions with post-secondary institutions, the business community and others as the shifts in B.C. curriculum were dissected and where those in the room helped inform the discussion and the changes.

But back to Safeway and the soccer fields.  The task I gave our parents is to share some key messages around the curriculum and be myth busters in the community.

Some the messages include:

  • we are working from a position of strength – we have one of the highest performing systems in the world
  • foundation skills in literacy and numeracy are still vital and they are not going away with the changes
  • incorporating Aboriginal perspectives, applying real-life situations to learning, focusing on big ideas and developing core competencies are not new ideas but they are better reflected now in our curriculum
  • as curriculum shifts, so will assessment and reporting and the K-12 system is working with the post-secondary system and others to ensure there is alignment

The session we held last week with parents was inspiring.  Our Director of Instruction Lynne Tomlinson spoke about “B.C.’s Curriculum from 30,000 feet” and then 4 teams of school administrators shared different aspects of the work.  While the rich discussion was an obvious highlight, I have included the presentations below – please feel free to use them and share them (if you receive this post via email  you may need to open the website to see the presentations).

Curriculum Refresh from 30,000 Feet – Lynne Tomlinson, Director of Instruction

Foundation Skills – What are we Still Doing? – Chantal Trudeau and Kim Grimwood

Big Ideas / Central Ideas – Jeannette Laursoo and Tara Zielinski

Core Competencies – Scott Slater and Cathie Ratz

Aboriginal Learning – Steve Rauh and Scott Wallace

Coming off of a couple of days of planning with our teachers, and our session with parents, my belief has been reaffirmed that this is a very exciting time for learning in our province.

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Photo Credit – Keith Rispin

As computers were finding their way into every teacher’s hands, and more classes were moving to some sort of Bring-Your-Own-Device model, I was arguing the biggest shift had nothing to do with the computers.  And as I look back over the shifts that computers brought, I am seeing it happen again as we embrace refreshed curriculum in British Columbia – and the biggest shifts are not about the curriculum.

When I was Principal at Riverside Secondary in Port Coquitlam just over a decade ago, our school like many others, was working to put laptops in the hands of all the teachers in the school.  This shift had an amazingly powerful influence on teaching and learning.  As each year more teachers took advantage of the laptops available to them, they began to thoughtfully examine their practice, carefully considering the opportunities now available that were not available without the technology.  Talking about how we teach is not easy, it is very personal and our profession is often quite isolating.  Talking about technology is much easier.  There is no harm in admitting you don’t know how your gizmo works.  And what we saw at Riverside was that as we had conversations about our gizmos we quickly moved to conversations about our practice.  The technology opened the door for conversations that we often avoid.

I shared my bias in a post last fall, that when faced with six education system transformation drivers, Shifting Curriculum, Shifting Pedagogies, Shifting Learning Environments, Shifting Assessment, Shifting Governance, Shifting Citizen and Stakeholder Engagement, my bias is that the primary focus should be on pedagogies.

I saw a decade ago, that shifting technologies were opening up the driving conversation of shifting pedagogies.  Fast forward a decade and now a very similar phenomena is happening with refreshed curriculum in British Columbia.  The Ministry of Education in British Columbia describes the shift, “British Columbia’s curriculum is being redesigned to respond to the demanding world our students are entering.  Transformation in curriculum will help teachers create learning environments that are both engaging and personalized for students. At the heart of British Columbia’s redesigned curriculum are core competencies, essential learning and literacy and numeracy foundations.”

Teachers, administrators and school districts have been allocated dedicated time to work with the new curriculum that is in draft this year for K-9 and will be fully implemented next year.  The 10-12 curriculum follows one year later.  And it has been so interesting to listen to feedback as teachers work together on the curriculum.  As I visited those working on the curriculum and debriefed with others afterwards, nobody was talking about the content.  People made comments like, “I didn’t realize how much similarity there is between our elective areas”, “We made plans to do some joint units next year” and “It is great we all now have the same understanding of core competencies.”  The curriculum has given people a reason, an opportunity and a purpose for looking at their practice.  Again like with the computer, the power is not in the curriculum, but in the conversations and shifts in what we do in the classroom.

There are some amazing new  connections being built through the curriculum implementation process.  I talked to people who have worked in the same school with colleagues for years, but now feel they have a reason to work together.  The power of the curriculum is not in what is written and posted on the website.  The power is in how it comes to life in classrooms.

So far, so good.

Modern Loyalty

Buzzword Cubes: Loyalty

Most principals or vice-principals who want to meet with me, simply send me a text or an email to set up a time.  There are the rare occasions that they set up an appointment through my Executive Assistant in the office.  Really there are three topics that they usually go through her for a meeting:  1)  they want to let me know they are pregnant 2)  they want to let me know they are retiring and 3)  they want to let me know they are applying for a job outside the district.  I appreciate how difficult all three of these can be to discuss with your boss.  Of course pregnancies are wonderful events to celebrate and so are retirements.  And then there are the third group.  I appreciate how nervous people are to discuss applying for a job somewhere else.

I know there was a mindset held in school districts, like in many other professions, that loyalty to a school district was a paramount value.  I have always had a different view of loyalty in education.  It is for that reason, that to the surprise of almost everyone who comes to my office to talk about an opportunity elsewhere I treat it like a celebration.  While I am very competitive, and want to have the best possible staff, I also want to work in and model an organization that is encouraging of risk-taking and pursuing new challenges.

When someone is applying out and is successful in another district, the message to me is that we are doing something right.    When looking out, school districts want to attract candidates from good schools and good school districts.  It is a badge of honour for our district when our teachers and administrators are being recruited from other districts.

I also think in education, that while we divide up into public and independent schools, and organize our schools into districts, when it comes to the kids who attend, they truly all belong to all of us.  We want all kids to have great teachers, principals and schools.

And of course, movement is healthy, and new people bring new energy.  Those leaving bring new energy to their new location, and that leaves opportunities for new people to take their positions, also bringing new excitement and new ideas.

I was reviewing the appointments we have made over my last nine years in West Vancouver into leadership positions.  About 80% of the time we have hired from within our system, and about 20% have been candidates from outside the system.

I think a generation ago educational leaders were far more loyal to where they worked.

Modern loyalty in education is about being loyal to people, and being loyal to the work but it recognizes that sometimes you have to leave to grow.

Afternoon Passion

Follow-your-Passion
It is hard to believe that one of the key tasks of January is to begin promoting our program offerings in our schools next September. This past month, our Board approved a series of new secondary school courses and programs. It is exciting to see a culture of innovation come to life in the program offerings that teachers, principals and schools are bringing forward – I absolutely love the passion-based offerings for students.

We have been offering academy programs for just over a decade.  It started with hockey and soccer.  For many years, students interested in a particular academy program would have to transfer to one of our high schools to participate.  We have changed this over time.

About four years ago, we began to talk about the idea of “one district, three campuses”.  This is based on the principle that students should be able to attend their local secondary school with their friends, but have access to programs for part of their schedule at another site.  It has not been a simple move.  There have been logistics to overcome – calendars had to be aligned so high schools all had the same professional development days.  Timetables also had to be coordinated.  In our case, we now have timetables at each of our high schools where the blocks in the morning rotate and the afternoon blocks are fixed.  So students have the same last period class each day.  This allows us to bring together students from multiple sites each day in the afternoon.

Our school schedules are built so students can complete core areas in the morning, and if interested, pursue specialty programming in the afternoon.

This coming year we now have 10 different academy-style programs open to students from all schools.  We continue to be strong with sports – offering academy programming in soccer, hockey, basketball, baseball, rugby, field hockey, and tennis.  We have also now added mechatronics robotics and dance for next year.  The majority of these programs occur in the afternoon, with some classes before school and on weekends.  In addition to these programs we have several courses that are open to students from all schools – YELL (an entrepreneurship program that runs after school and partners students with business leaders in the community, FAST (First Aid Swim Training, where students earn credentialing towards becoming a lifeguard) and a District Honour Choir (that practices in the evening and performs locally and beyond).  In Art West 45 students can attend their own high school one day and every other day participate in a program that allows those passionate about arts to get extended time in this area.  It is the same principle for ACE-IT Carpentry where students attend the program every other day working towards their Level 1 carpentry credential.

In all we are now at about 15 and growing in the number of options we have available that allow students to pursue their passions as part of their school program – coming together with students from across the district who share these interests.

There is wonderful value in students attending their local school but we also need to find creative ways for students to pursue their passions.  Five years ago none of the programs existed that would allow students from a variety of schools to attend.  Now they are part of our culture.  A culture where talented teachers share their passions with students who are thirsty to pursue these areas.

I am not sure that what we are doing is transforming our system.  I can hear my friend Yong Zhao in my ear that we are maximizing the current system and not changing the system.    We are continuing to find ways for students to pursue their passions which is all part of building a system that is relevent, connected and engaging for our learners.

My One Word

one-word_feature

My education colleagues understand that in our business Labour Day is New Year’s Eve.  With the school year starting the Tuesday after Labour Day (New Year’s Day in our world), it is at this point in the year that we do most of our goal setting and resolution making.

That said, I am getting into the spirit of the season for this post.

For my first post of 2016 I am taking on a New Year’s theme and embracing the one word challenge.  What is that one word that best defines your hopes and goals for the coming year?  What word links your professional pursuits to your personal ones?  What one word sums up your focus and direction for the year ahead?

My one word is hungry!

I was searching for a word that was at the intersection of competing and curiosity and landed on hungry.  I also owe my colleague Diane Nelson some credit for the word choice.  One of the books I have enjoyed over the holidays is one she recently gave me – Hungry – Fuelling Your Best  Game by Ryan Walter.

Walter, a former NHLer and Stanley Cup Champion makes the case for being hungry, and staying hungry.  He writes:

Throughout my lifetime I have asked myself to help me stay hungry:  Why not?  Why not play on a winning team?  Why not develop an amazing culture?  Why not create an incredible family?  Why not push to play your Best Game?  Why not live hungry?

I landed on hungry having first considered competing and curiosity.

A recent influence for me is a TEDx Video I highlighted in my last post – Allison McNeil’s Collaboration . . . It Start’s With Competition.  I think we mistakenly believe that in education, with a decreased emphasis on ranking and sorting, somehow we want to compete less.  I want to compete more.  I am teased for my sometimes overly competitive nature, but if anything I want to compete harder this coming year.  I also don’t want us to shy away from building a sense of compete  with the young people we work alongside.

When I think about curiosity I am reminded of my conversations with my friend Dr. Stuart Shanker.  I have written about Stuart’s work and his influence on our schools numerous times including this one recently on the shifts he has influenced in our system.   But it is the conversations we have that I always find so striking.  He lives a life constantly curious.  He is always asking questions when we talk.  Whether it is about video games, sleep patterns or junior hockey – he is relentless in asking me what I think, linking it to what he has heard before and asking even more questions.  I know he does not just do it with me, but with everyone he speaks with.  I often think, how come someone so smart is asking me all this stuff?  Stuart lives a curious life, an ongoing curiosity I want to live more in my life.

So from Allison and competing and Stuart and curiosity I land on hungry.

Walter describes those who are hungry with words like fun, excited, focused, proactive, energized, on top, communicative, challenger of the status quo, listener, informed, open, synergistic, courageous, tribal,winner and motivated. That is a pretty impressive list.

Here is to a year of being hungry.

Top 3Welcome to my final blog post of 2015 and my annual tradition of my Top 3 Lists for the year.

Previous Top 3 lists for  2014 (here) 2013 (here) 2012 (here), 2011 (here) and 2010 (here).

Hopefully there is a link or a video that connects with you and starts a discussion.  I am finding I am having fewer interesting discussion online – hopefully something here might help.

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts which have generated the most traffic this year:

1. The Learning Commons Mindset

2. How Was School Today?

3. Will School Sports Disappear?

Top 3 Learning opportunities  I went to:

  1. CONNECT 2015 – I am usually not a fan of large conference events, but this one has a good mix of sessions are great opportunities to network across the country.  I see they have Chris Hatfield as a keynote for 2016.
  2. IGNITE West Vancouver – Sean Nosek hosted our first Ignite session in West Vancouver.  It was a great way to learn with colleagues in a relaxed environment.  Who knew pro-d at the bar could have so much value.
  3. C21 Superintendent’s Academy – A group of about 25 superintendents from across the country have monthly conference calls meet in-person a couple of times a year.  We helped put together the Shifting Minds (pdf) paper earlier in the year.

Top 3 Education Books I Read That Influenced My Thinking:

  1.  Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros
  2. Beyond Measure by Vicki Abeles (and the movie is also excellent!)
  3. Creative Schools by Ken Robinson

Top 3 Speakers I Saw And Remembered Their Messages Days or Weeks Later:

  1. Yong Zhao – I saw him speak several times in 2015, and even if I heard some of the same jokes a few times – he said something that stuck with me each time.
  2. Wab  Kinew – I got to see Wab in the spring, and I am really looking forward to having him as our opening day speaker in West Vancouver this coming August.
  3. Will Richardson – Will’s TEDx Video (see my next list below) proved again that he is one of the best out there at making the urgent case for change in our education system.

Top 3 TEDx WestVancouverED 2015 Videos:

  1.  Collaboration . . . It’s Starts with Competition by Allison McNeil

 

2.  The Future of Education is Ready by Lane Merrifield

 

3.   The Surprising Truth About Learning in School by Will Richardson

 

Top 3 Technology Influences I Saw in Schools This Year:

  1.  FreshGrade – It is a monster in British Columbia and likely it will be across Canada soon.
  2. Google Classroom – If you don’t think people in your district use it – you are wrong.  They are just not telling you.
  3. Coding – Each year it gains momentum and Hour of Code is part of most schools now.

Top 3 Signs That Have Nothing To Do With Technology (mostly) That Show Schools are REALLY Changing:

  1. new curriculum in British Columbia with a focus on big ideas
  2. all the value being placed on core competencies for students
  3. the changes in student reporting

Top 3 Pop Culture Phrases That Get Used Too Much in Education:

  1.  This ain’t my first rodeo
  2.  Go down the rabbit hole
  3. Anything 2.0 or 3.0 or 4.0 or . . . .

Thanks everyone for continuing to read and engage with me through my blog.  It continues to be a great place to work through ideas and connect to some of the most passionate people I know.  I have struggled to get a tweet from Dean Shareski out of my mind – he said something like, blogging is like jazz – it is not for everyone but will have a loyal following.  I did think that blogging was going to be for everyone but I was wrong.  There seem to be fewer people in education writing today than even a year ago.  I am not sure why.  That is probably a good blog post for the new year :)

Happy New Year – I look forward to learning together in 2016!

Sentinel

It is always nice to connect in with the many other bloggers in West Vancouver Schools. Over the last five years I have continually found the themes that emerge from what others are writing to be very instructive about where we are going as a school district.

Here is a collection of some of what my colleagues have been writing about recently.

Like many in our district, our Bowen Island Community School Vice-Principal Laura Magrath has been thinking and writing about the changes in curriculum.  A recent post of hers focused on the increased emphasis on competencies:

The Core Competencies in the new BC curriculum provide a framework to use – adults and children alike – to build our confidence in key areas that apply to each and every task we face in life: Communication Skills, Thinking Skills, and Personal and Social Skills. If we use this framework, we can make any opportunity – and the choices within this opportunity – more meaningful and relevant. We can focus on “what are the best skills for this task?” rather than an unknown and ever elusive “being our best selves.”

A focus on competencies can ground us and help us determine the importance of and value in our decisions. But we can’t focus on all aspects of the competencies all of the time. Choosing a competency and clearly articulating the area we are focusing on ahead of the task can provide a sense of confidence prior to beginning, and a specific area to reflect upon and to document our progress.

Cypress Park’s Vice-Principal Kim Grimwood recently wrote about the subject area that gets discussed and debated more than any other – math.  Of course it is not a black and white issue as she pointed out in her Balancing Act post:

A recent blog about math educator Dan Meyer states that “so much of teaching math through a computational lens asks students to find the right equation and plug-in numbers. It doesn’t ask them to be big thinkers; but it’s precisely the experience of grappling with a problem that sparks curiosity, motivates students and develops the patient problem-solving that is so lacking in much of the population.”

Along with our students’ ability to think big, we also need to make sure that we are providing them with strong procedural skills. In education, we often see large pendulum swings between what seem like opposing ideas and theories.  However, in the case of mathematics what research is telling us is that we need a balanced approach between conceptual big ideas and procedural knowledge. Students are most successful when procedural and conceptual approaches are combined.

We want our students to be creative, big thinkers, and this means giving them the foundational skills to approach these problems.

All teachers and administrators have growth plans in our school district.  Craig Cantlie, principal at Caulfeild recently shared his question and thinking on his blog:

How can we redesign schools to better meet students where they are as learners across all disciplines? 

I don’t have the answer; but I’m curious to find out. I know that some schools around the world report out curricular outcomes on a formalized K-12 continuum. That’s interesting to me. At our school we have a host of clubs that are driven by student interest – what if these were during class time? We are investigating how to connect literacy and numeracy more with the maker movement. We possess the digital experience to now leverage the use of technology in student learning to a greater degree and our teachers have begun moving away from textbooks and more to Khan Academy and Discovery Education in math and inquiry to allow greater personalization. We are connecting our HOPE (Me to We) Committee members with the local high school students and outside agencies such as Startup Skool and Women Leading Change to provide relevant and meaningful learning opportunities. We are exploring opportunities to change our learning environments to be less designated classrooms, and more flexible and purposeful learning spaces. In this space the teacher role could change from “sage on the stage” or “guide on the side” to be more an “activator” of learning. A role of asking more questions that provoke debate, exploration and further drive curiosity and learning. This is interesting to me.

Ridgeview Principal Valerie Brady recently wrote about the importance of preparing students for all parts of life and giving students more than just academic tools:

Our job as educators is to prepare students for success in school and in the real world beyond school.  Teaching students to read and write is only the beginning.  A focus on success in life means that,  beyond teaching the three Rs we must also teach character, emotional intelligence, responsibility and an appreciation of the complexity of human diversity.  We must also teach the virtues of grit – tenacity, perseverance, and the ability to never give up.

While grit is a hot topic in education as of late, Ridgeview staff look to the research to expand our understanding of how grit is defined in the research and how to nurture grittiness in our young students.

While it is very important that students enjoy learning and want to come to school, the teaching of grit means that students will experience, and perhaps embrace some frustration and discomfort.  To prepare students for the real world, we must teach them how to respond to frustration and failure.  This is often a sticking point in education…while it is necessary for students to experience frustration and even failure as they move through their schooling years…. finding a balance between allowing children to experience frustration and rescuing them from this experience is necessary to developing grit.

Westcot Principal Cathie Ratz shared her thinking on kids playing with Pokemon cards . . . and it probably surprises some that a Principal would encourage and embrace these kind of passions:

Our students don’t just getting excited about anything.   Tapping the interest and passion of our students,   creative teachers leverage the interests.  Over the years I have seen Egyptian God trading cards, Flat Stanley travel around the world and the creation of new worlds to ‘teach’ mapping and government studies. I recently read about a teacher Joel Levin on twitter @MinecraftTeachr  who has embarked on a Minecraft journey  that is truly inspiring.

So, unless Minecraft, Transformers, Battle Bots, Littlest Pet Shop and whatever else begins to trend among our students seriously begins to interfere with  their healthy functioning  I want to take a little time to obsess along with them, just a little, and share in the interest and maybe leverage it all a little.

Happy playing!

West Bay Elementary School has been a leader in our district’s self-regulation work.  A recent post from Principal Judy Duncan reflected on her current thinking in comparison to her own school experience:

Three words come to mind when I think of my own experiences in school — conformity, uniformity and rules.  We sat in rows, were quiet for the most part, worked independently at our desks, memorized material, and weren’t allowed to wear jeans or hats. We were all treated much the same, all followed a long list of well-intentioned rules, and were given little choice as to how to demonstrate our understanding.
Today at West Bay and all the schools in our district, individuality, self-expression and different learning styles are embraced and celebrated. Educators are viewing student behaviour through a self-regulation lens and students are the beneficiaries. They feel empowered to make decisions for themselves as to what tools and strategies they need to ensure they experience success in school and in life. Students have greater choice, feel their needs are understood and respected, and are confident to be themselves — and they are appreciative. We are not finding gum stuck under desks and there is no argument from students when asked to remove hats on certain occasions. As my colleague Kim Grimwood, Vice-Principal of Cypress Park notes, “Students are learning how to be responsible with the choices they are afforded.”
 It is also the secondary school Principals blogging, including Rockridge Principal Jeannette Laursoo who recently used her blog to pass along the advice from a recent PAC Meeting speaker – Brett Stroh – who spoke on gaming:
One of the things that Brett said was just because one’s child is spending a lot of time playing games, doesn’t necessarily mean that one needs to be overly concerned.  “Just because they are playing a game on a Saturday for 5-6 hours doesn’t mean that there is necessarily an issue, and it’s time to hit the panic button.  One needs to also consider how the child is doing with school, family, friends and sports.  In other words, how is the rest of the world going for them (apart from the regular ‘drama’)?  Is gaming having a negative impact on or causing conflict in these areas of the child’s life?  Is the child spending a significant amount of time obtaining or thinking about the game, or recovering from its effects?
There are many ways we are trying to tell our stories in West Vancouver.  One of the ways our school principals and vice-principals often use is through their blogs.  It is an incredibly exciting time in education, and many of the ideas and practices are quite different from even a generation ago in our classrooms.  Whether it is face-to-face or digitally, we will continue to reach out and connect – starting conversations in our schools and communities.
It is great to be a member of the West Vancouver Schools digital community – our collective thinking and sharing makes all of us better.
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