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Archive for April, 2012

My most widely read post ever has been Dr. Stuart Shanker and Self-Regulation, which is a summary of Dr. Stuart Shanker’s presentation at the November 2010, BCSSA Fall Conference.  It was around this time Shanker started to become known in the BC educational community, because of his work in Ontario and from a few presentations he had made on self-regulation in British Columbia.  Since then, he has become an extremely influential figure in early learning, as well as on how we look at students with unique needs, and at student support service models throughout our province. And, last month, he shared centre stage with the Honourable George Abbott, Minister of Education, as they discussed ‘the way forward’ in education to board chairs, superintendents, secretary-treasurers and principals.

So, what is the message he is sharing?

Shanker has presented the marshmallow test video on several occasions to provoke a room.  And, just as the Did You Know videos became synonymous with the changing world of education and Sir Ken Robinson’s RSA Animate video, so directly linked to educational change, it is rare for someone to present now on self-regulation without showing or at least referencing this video:

Shanker argues that approximately 70 per cent of kids cannot wait to eat the marshmallow, and that longitudinal studies done on the kids who do wait show they do perform better in life, have better entrance scores to university, better relationship success, and higher standings on a number of other factors (Shanker does acknowledge there has been some debate about this test and what it represents — but maintains that recent data has supported the original findings).

Using the marshmallow test as a backdrop, Shanker argues there is research to show that we can actually improve a child’s ability to self-regulate — that is, to manage stress (environmental, physiological, emotional, cognitive, and social) and this ability is particularly important for students with special needs, because these students have too many stresses to control themselves and not enough energy to self-regulate.

In the classroom, Shanker says we need to support children so they are not overstimulated or overstressed.  This involves giving students the ability to learn self-regulatory skills so that they can self-regulate when stressed, and this can also include adapting to their learning environment with more opportunities for physical activity (see Spark for more information on this).

Shanker is not afraid to be bold. Here is a collection of other semi-related ideas he has shared at the recent event with the Minister:

  • Diagnoses get in the way of student progress.  It is better to identify a child’s strengths and work to mitigate the child’s deficits by focussing on strengths
  • Parent education does not work — we need models where parents actually engage (StrongStart was shared as a positive example)
  • Since interventions for FASD, ADHS, ASD etc. are similar; don’t focus on the diagnosis; rather, focus on the menu of interventions appropriate to the child

He ended with something I have heard him say many times before . . . . there is “no such thing as a bad, stupid or lazy kid.” These are powerful words with a powerful message.

Over the last 18 months, Shanker’s work has become hugely influential in West Vancouver and around British Columbia. There are three key areas of energy  that I often speak on currently happening in West Vancouver:  digital literacy, inquiry and self-regulation, although, I did not know what self-regulation was just two years ago.

Shanker’s work is exciting, and it offers a new lens on the struggle children have growing up.  We are looking forward at thoughtful research on the success of self-regulation initiatives to better meet the needs of  our most needy learners, as well as the needs of all learners.

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I often speak about the need for face-to-face interactions in our changing education system and  increasingly digital world.  I have also cautioned about the proliferation of fully online courses, (in this district or elsewhere) as being an important move forward. There is great power in digital learning to support, supplement, and sometimes even replace face-to-face learning, but K-12 should remain, primarily, a face-to-face enterprise as we prepare our future generations.

Two weeks ago, I had a great reminder of the power of face-to-face.  For more than 20 years the West Vancouver School District has had a relationship with Mejiro Kenshin Junior and Senior High School in Tokyo, Japan.  This has been a very enriching relationship for all involved.  Each summer, Mejiro sends a large group of students to West Vancouver to study English and engage in cultural experiences, and we have teacher and student exchanges on a regular basis. Also, over time, those most closely involved with the relationship have retired. Each year, there have been fewer people to explain the history and importance of the relationship.  I have heard the stories about the relationship, read briefs and have spoken to a number of teachers and students who have travelled to Mejiro, but I did not truly appreciate this relationship and all of its importance until I had spent some face-to-face time with our friends in Japan.

Along with our Board Chair, Cindy Dekker, we were kindly invited to Mejiro, as their guests, to discuss our relationship, renew our bonds of friendship, and build new partnerships. Being the start of the Japanese school year, I had the opportunity to speak at the school’s Opening Day, and to all the new parents at Mejiro. I spoke of how technology will connect our world all the more.  I also spoke about the power of relationships –- the one true strength as a social tool in reinforcing and deepening the relationships we make in the face-to-face world.

After a whirlwind, three-day trip, I left committed to the continuity and strength of our relationship — and, I wonder if I would have felt the same way if we hadn’t connected in person.  We also made some commitments for the future that will see Mejiro assisting with Japanese instruction in our community, and will have our teachers assisting with English instruction at their institution. I also left with relationships that, when I connect with future emails, will mean something more than just an electronic connection.

So for us, as well as for our kids, it is one thing to explore and learn in the digital space, or understand things in theory, but real world learning and real world relationships will still require face-to-face interactions.

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I am trying to become a better storyteller.  While some may still believe our way to a new educational model will come through government policies and proclamations, the more likely successful route is through the development and sharing of educational models for a possible future. The models we develop and share can, and will, serve as guides as we move away from the current educational reality.  And, there is an appetite for evolution and transformation — almost everyone I speak with, be it student, parent, teacher or administrator, is excited about what is possible — call it 21st century learning, personalized learning, or just “learning”.

The power, then,  is in the thousands of edu-bloggers sharing their stories; the stories that lay the ground work for others to seek their paths to the future. There isn’t just ‘one way’ to the possible future with education and schooling, and it is also the reason why we need so many voices, (at times, seemingly at odds with one another) to offer a range of paths toward what is possible. The next education system will not come in a binder, it will come from teachers, schools and districts embracing new opportunities to grow and create more ‘new’ stories in our schools than there are ‘old’ stories.  As mentioned in my previous post, the system will become increasingly flexible at every level, and the role of education leaders will be to knit these stories and network together.

I have previously cited Dean Shareski (here) and what he describes as narrative champions.  In finding ways to become a narrative champion, Dean writes about subscribing. In West Vancouver, I see this happening as more people subscribe to the Principals’ Blogs (receiving alerts as new posts are published). He describes the retelling of stories, and something I try to do on a semi-regular basis through blogging, and as we also do through the district website and other venues.  Finally, he lists the recording of stories – and this is something we need to become better at — finding ways for those who do not have a public voice to share their learning, teaching and their messages more widely. I have also found Steven Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation to be very influential reading with the notion that radical innovation is very accessible for those who are able to cultivate it by stitching together the ideas of many.

Here is a short animated summary of the book:

In my bid to become a better storyteller, I will be adding three more stories that will continue to weave the West Vancouver story and build paths to the future. The three different, but equally strong, presentations at the April 10th West Vancouver Board of Education meeting included Zoltan Virag sharing what he is doing with iPads in Music (click on the link to find some fabulous iPad music resources) at Irwin Park Elementary School. Then, Jody Billingsley shared (his blog post here) his presentation on the ripples of influence of Lions Bay Community School, in the school, community, and in the world, with the final story of the evening from Liz Hill, Ryan Loewen and Amelia Poitras who shared some exciting findings from their first year of using Fast ForWord at Westcot Elementary.

Some of the most important skills of the digital age, are time-tested, but the power in telling stories has not only stood the test of time, it is more important in this age than ever.

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If asked, most people would agree they could do well with more flexibility in their life — this is also true in the education field, and almost all education reform movements include a call for greater flexibility.  Of course, this can mean something very different from one person to the next.  For me, flexibility is about giving more choice and ownership. I shared this slide (below) in a recent presentation giving an overview of what I think flexibility means in the education context.

Just as we talk about students owning their own learning as an optimal goal, the same is true for adults;  the more we own our learning (and teaching), the more optimal and powerful a system we will have.  As a leader in a school district, I want all levels of government to grant us the flexibility to allow districts to have their own flavour, or character within a larger framework.  In turn, as district leaders, we can do the same for schools in allowing schools their own signature. It is a given, tensions may continue around central or local control, but flexibility and balance should be a consideration here as well.

The process repeats itself in schools with principals giving teachers the ability to be flexible, and teachers doing the same for students in giving students choice in the what and the how of their learning.  I do often hear, “we just need permission”, and I am not always sure what that means, but it does point to a culture of thoughtful experimentation where those at each level in the system recognize it as part of their role to increase the flexibility, choice and ownership for others in the system.

Granted, flexibility is only part of the equation.  The commitment of everyone in the system (as it becomes less standardized) is to network — pulling people together to pull together key ideas.  Teachers need to network students with similar passions, principals need to assist in networking teachers, district leaders to network schools, and governments to districts. Ideally, governments around the world would network together, because just as it is important that two students network and work together to solve a problem in a Grade 5 social studies class, the same holds true for everyone in the system. We want BC to learn from and with Alberta, Ontario, Australia, Finland and all others who are on this journey to move education forward.

Part of my role as district leader is to encourage flexibility, to be a cheerleader for innovation and then to tell the story, weaving together the different journeys  in the district as part of a shared narrative.

Creating a more flexible system is all the rage right now — who doesn’t favour it? It does need to be more than just letting people do whatever they want to do. It needs to be systemic, across all roles, giving increased choice for others to work within a larger framework, and pulling the different approaches in a network of learning — together.

I find it easier to write and talk about a system with less standardization and control than what we currently have, but it will be part of our challenge going forward to allow passions to be pursued, and permission to be given. Hopefully, we are now at the front end of the era of educational flexibility.

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Announcing my Flog

It is with great excitement and anticipation I announce the birth of the Culture of Yes Flog.

We see the statistics and hear about how quickly the digital world is changing –standing still is not an option.  So, over the last few months my team at the Culture of Yes (I understand most people in our district affectionately refer to them as “Kennedy’s Yes Men”), have been hard at work designing our next project.  The project idea was put to seed just a few short months ago, when my colleague, mentor and friend, the Superintendent of Schools for the Vancouver School Board, Steve Cardwell, proffered a challenge in his interview with the Vancouver Courier, “I used to have a blog, probably ahead of most metro superintendents. I discontinued it. I find blogs to be not as useful, but I’m moving ahead of blogs. I’ll probably be the first superintendent to launch a vlog, a video blog.”  Wow! Now that sounds like a challenge. And, this is the why and how we are here today.  Mr. Cardwell, colleague, mentor and friend, I see your VLOG and raise you with the launch of my FLOG.

And, just what is a FLOG?

A FLOG is a fax-blog and combines the innovation of the blog with the safety and security of the facsimile machine.  While some see fax machines as the near-dead technology of the early 1990s, like many things that have enjoyed a renaissance revival, I think the technology is about to make a comeback, and I want to be on the front-end of  that edge with my flog. Once a week, I will be putting pen to paper, editing my work, reprinting it and then sharing it with the world through the power of faxing an exact copy.  If you are willing to share your fax number with me, once a week, I will fax you my latest thinking directly into your fax machine, letter tray.  And if you like my flog, please feel free to share it with others.  As an added value to this innovative service, I will also be encouraging re-flogging.  I hope you will consider sending my flog to others with employing the new old technology —  it IS all very exciting.

Further, in the spirit of Twitter, I will also send a Big Fax of the Day.  I will handwrite the most interesting thing I hear each day, and again fax it directly to you.  Again, please feel free to re-fax to your fax network.

We have lonely fax machines in all of our schools just waiting for this revival, and the hoarding mentality in all of us as educators will ensure we need never (or dare) discard our fax machines, so we ARE ready for this day.  As this movement grows, I can also see engaging others and hosting public flogging sessions. I think there would be real power in seeing all our educators engaged in flogging in all our schools and in the community – how thrilling it would be to be part of a flogathon.

Storing your favourite faxes would be simple — no longer would you need to struggle with saving files on a computer, simply take the printouts from the fax machine and store them in a binder for easy reference.  What better way to display your engagement in the digital era than with more binders sitting on your office shelf.

Now, I know some of you have not used your fax machine in quite a while, so let’s review some fax etiquette.  Always include a cover sheet when you send a fax.  If you would like to subscribe to the Culture of Yes Flog, indicate this on one sheet, and then add a cover sheet with the message “Page 1 of 2 – See other Page”.  If you hear a busy signal,  don’t leave — just wait a couple of minutes and then try your fax again.  Once you hear the dial-up modem tone – you know your fax has been sent  — but just to be certain, be sure to print a confirmation sheet for further reference.  And yes, long-distance charges will apply.

It has been a pleasure engaging with you on my blog over the last few years, hopefully, my flog will take our relationship to a new level and will save the fax machine.  Finally, I hope your first day of April is as good as mine.

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