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Archive for November, 2012

In reading the Programme for International Students (PISA) results, Canada is broken up by province, while all other nations report as countries.  Of course, this speaks to the responsibility of education in Canada as a provincial matter while in most countries, it has some Federal coordination.  While it is a provincial matter in Canada, there are times where some national engagement is important.

We often look to Finland (guilty as charged with these posts 1 and 2) as a possible model for the way forward, and look to the United States as a model we dare not, or want to, emulate (Many in Canada worry that Texas curriculum or online learning from Florida will make its way north). Yet, we spend very little time learning from other provinces.  We know far more about reform in New York than we do in Winnipeg, and about improvements in Helsinki rather than Ottawa. It is quite interesting how we look outside of BC (and I think across Canada) for learning partners, examples to follow or avoid, without fully engaging in conversations across this country.

There are some efforts and organizations trying to bridge this gap.  The Canadian Education Association (CEA) has been in existence since 1891, bringing together educators from a variety of roles across the country and advancing ideas for greater student and teacher engagement. This past week CEA’s Chief Executive Officer, Ron Canuel, launched a challenge around Why Do We Need Innovation in Education?  The CEA has a series of projects to link jurisdictions across the country including several awards programs and a series of national research reports.

Other nationals include C21 Canada, shaped somewhat after the P21 Organization in the United States, is a not-for-profit organization advocating for the 21st Century models of learning in education, and has recently released Shifting Minds:  A Vision and Framework for 21st Century Learning in Canada.  Another organization, is  The Learning Partnership, a national charitable organization dedicated to championing a strong public education system in Canada through innovative programs, credible research, policy initiatives, executive leadership and public engagement. Two of their more recognizable programs include Take Your Kid to Work Day in November and Welcome to Kindergarten.

There are also a number of other national organizations including the Canadian School Board Association (who will host their national conference this coming July in Vancouver),  Canadian Association of Principals,  the Canadian Teachers Federation, the Canadian Home and School Federation and the Canadian Association of School Administrators.  Clearly, there are no shortage of education organizations working at a national level.

So, returning to my original question, and my interest in writing this — somehow, we need to have more conversations linking education work across the country. There are huge learning opportunities from other jurisdictions and while there is value in learning from Finland, Singapore, or New Zealand, there are also great possibilities in learning from our fellow provinces, many of which join BC at the top of the PISA scales.  Whether it is the Inspiring Education efforts in Alberta, the work in assessment and evaluation coming out of Manitoba or the early learning lessons from Ontario, among many others, there is a lot to share.

I have also noticed another shift in the BC Education mindset in recent years –our schools are becoming less competitive with one another, and I also think the same holds true for our districts. There is no pride taken when one community in BC struggles, while others flourish; we do need to move this to a national conversation and a real sense of national ownership.  This is more challenging, but is a laudable goal.

We should/will keep learning and networking with countries around the world, because that is what one needs to do as part of a global conversation, but this should be alongside rich, national conversations on the same topics.

I am part of a free event this coming Friday morning (November 30), that will try to view education through a national lens.  The Action Canada Public Dialogue:  Challenges and Change in Canada’s Education Systems is at the Work Centre for Dialogue in Vancouver.  The event, moderated by Tom Clark, Chief Political Correspondent, and Host of the West Block on Global TV, hosts three panels:  Standardized Testing in Canada:  Real Accountability or an Illusion of Success?, Teaching Questions Not Answers:  Adapting Canada’s Education System for the 21st Century, and Who Cares About Young Caregivers:  Children’s Rights and Education.  I will be part of a five-member panel on the 21st century system question.  Full details are available here including registration information.

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Blogging continues to evolve in West Vancouver.  At some schools, principal blogs have become school blogs (you can check them out here). The modelling from principals and vice-principals has led to other staff starting their own digital writing space, and they offer a great sample of the conversations currently taking place throughout the West Vancouver School District.  Here is just a sample of what people are talking about:

Lynne Tomlinson, Director of Instruction, recently wrote about moving Conversations to Clarity in her work:

We have seen so many variations of teaching and learning over the past year, some patterns were beginning to emerge.  We came up with a framework that incorporates the core phases of learning that we have seen in our classrooms within an evolution towards “making it real”.  Learning has to be important if we are to engage our students.

Self regulation underlies all learning, as does social emotional learning.  Indigenous principles of learning must always be embedded in our practice.  These are the foundations of learning that have been of much greater focus in our classrooms.  From there, inquiry and access will encourage student engagement.  Tuning protocols for formative assessment and instructional strategies insure rigor.  Finally, student presentations of their work and real world tasks provide the relevance in learning.

Darren Elves, teacher and PYP IB Coordinator at Cypress Park Primary School, investigated The Student Perspective on Questioning, which is also a link to his own current studies:

In attempting to find a viable and relevant topic to look at as a focus for my Master’s work (M.Ed in Educational Leadership at Vancouver Island University), it didn’t take long for me to pinpoint the notion of student questioning.  Having the good fortune of working in a school environment that embraces a very clear stance on inquiry as best practice, we are always looking, as a staff, for ways to improve upon our learning and teaching here at Cypress Park Primary.

Cathie Ratz, Principal at Irwin Park Elementary, profiled their school’s work with MindUP — a program that continues to gain momentum throughout the district as part of the larger self-regulation strategy.  She describes it as:

. . . . a family of social, emotional, and attentional self-regulatory strategies and skills developed to cultivate well-being and emotional balance. Based on the notion that intellect does not exist in isolation from emotions,  connections to others or the rest of their bodies, the MindUP™  program is designed to address these components of learning for all students.

Lions Bay Vice-Principal, Jody Billingsley, also picked up on the social-emotional theme in his most recent post – Social Emotional Learning – Why Do It?:

It seems perfectly clear that we need to emphasize pro-social behaviours, character education and social emotional learning to help create caring successful citizens that will have educated minds and hearts.   This cannot be a sole school issue alone; we need the support of the community and families to help mold our future minds.

. . . If we work as a collaborative team to help foster this at home, in schools, online and in public, perhaps we can avoid people being bullied to the point of no longer having the ability to cope with their situation.  We need to ensure that we are not creating brilliant scientists who are evil, but brilliant citizens who think of others and how their actions impact the world.

Janet Hicks, teacher and PYP IB Coordinator at West Bay, linked the international-mindedness that is part of the IB Profile to the work that comes out of “Me to We”. Janet writes of how the energy from that day will transform into action at the school:

So, now as I go back to my Internationally Minded team I feel proud of what they CAN do for our world.  I know that they are filled with so much passion and will take these messages they have learned from We Day and apply it to their lives.  It is going to be exciting to watch these future world leaders go from “me to we”.

Michelle Labounty, Principal at Ridgeview Elementary, also picked up on the words of Marc and Craig Kielburger (Founders of Me to We) sharing their “Toast to First World Problems“:

None of us can help the situation we’re born into. We shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed because we have spacious homes, microwave dinners and GPS boxes that talk to us and help us get where we need to go. The guilt kicks in when we lose perspective on the little problems that arise amidst the privileges.
That’s the point of memes like the First World Problems Anthem — perspective. They’re not your mom shaking a reproachful finger and scolding, “Eat your broccoli! There are starving children in Africa, you know!” But rather gentle nudges to say, “Your computer blue-screened again? So what. Take a deep breath, it’s no biggie.”
Ridgeview Elementary Vice-Principal, Craig Cantlie, blogged to update us all on his experience of a lifetime –  Connecting with my Climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, a journey that has inspired many across the district:

I am very fortunate to work in a school district that is open to allowing its educators to pursue life experiences and has the foresight to recognize the positive effect it would have on students.

As for my school, overwhelmingly, the Ridgeview family was the greatest supporter of my climb. Staff, students and families enthusiastically contributed to all of the fundraising initiatives from the Flags of Hope to our coin drive. For a Vice-Principal who has only been at the school for one year, I was greatly touched by the generosity of our school community.

It has been a wonderful five months raising donations for BC Children’s Hospital, sharing my story and preparing for the climb of a lifetime. I will never forget the experience or the people who helped me to make it happen.

West Vancouver Secondary Teacher, Keith Rispin, also recently had a  wonderful experience attending the iPad Summit in Boston, and then sharing his learning with the rest of us.  His observations included:

One little but significant piece of the puzzle, without which all is for not. There was surprisingly little if any discussion on the role of student in this little learning revolution. We talked about how teachers have to change, education systems have to change, teaching practice has to change, the physical aspects of school have to change but NOTHING about how the student will have to change. Sure we talked about what kids should be able to do when they walk out the door but we did not discuss how the learner has to change their practice but there is no need to worry…

I think I stumbled upon a little hint as to how learners will have to change as we move ahead. It lies in the single most important thing I took away from this conference. People need to become “free agent learners” It does not matter if you are student or teacher. Those who will excel in the Twenty-First Century Learning environment, will take on the responsibility for their own learning. The days of being a passive recipient of the information that comes your way is over. Those who don’t, will be left in the dust.

Finally, West Vancouver Secondary Principal, Steve Rauh, was one of several to reflect on the power of Remembrance Day:

West Vancouver Secondary School has a tradition of honour and respect. Each year, we attach a poppy on the Graduation Composites that line our hallways to the photos of our young graduates who died in conflict. This is a very solemn visual.

It is incredible to realize that in some years nearly 10 per cent of the graduating class passed away in this manner. By today’s standard that equates to approximately 38-40 students from each and any of the classes from 2002 to 2012.

It is a pretty amazing and diverse collection of ideas being shared across the district, many stories that would not see such wide audiences without the power of the technology; all stories rooted in the power of face-to-face connections.  I am working in a community of storytellers, and it is wonderful to be part of such a thoughtful community.

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High school students sampling different sports each season, appears to be a diminishing reality.  Many may know the stories of athletes like Steve Nash and Wayne Gretzky, who played a number of sports as a youth, and specialized in a sport later in life. But, when we look to our high school athletes today, it seems more are focusing on specific sports at a younger age, and this trend is one that is dramatically changing our high school sports. Recently, Cam Cole wrote an excellent piece around this in the Vancouver Sun about physical literacy and the decline in kids sports.

Of course, at its core, this is not really a school issue; it is far broader than that. There is an intersection of school and community in almost every sport today. While less than a decade ago there were often lines between ‘school sports’ (e.g. volleyball, basketball, rugby) and ‘community sports’ (soccer, hockey, baseball) the lines have blurred.  Today, almost every sport is a 12-month sport. For some sports like hockey, this is almost 100 per cent in community; for others like basketball, it is more evenly split between school and the community.  Many sports have complete organizations in schools and the community.

Personally, I think something is being lost in early sports specialization.   A recent report from Matthew Bridge and Martin Toms out of the United Kingdom: “The specializing or sampling debate:  a retrospective analysis of adolescent sports participation in the UK” tends to agree. The report indicates  “individuals who competed in three sports aged 11, 13, and 15 were significantly more likely to compete at a national compared with club standard between the ages of 16 and 18 than those who practised only one sport.”   This runs counter to what many athletes, coaches and parents seem to believe, and who go all-in on a sport from a very young age.

Another phenomena influencing multi-sport, high school athletics is the increased emergence of paid coaches in community programs.  While still largely supported by volunteer staff, parents and community members, most major community sporting clubs have some paid staff, who are obviously invested in retaining athletes for their livelihood.  When it was solely a system of volunteers, the parent who coached soccer in the fall often helped coach the school basketball team in the winter, as well as the softball team in the spring.  Paid community coaches are often less likely to see their athletes sample school sports.

There is also a major overlap and growing competition between school and non-school sporting opportunities (in many ways, it follows the non-profit versus profit paradigm).  Club programs run all year and coaches will often discourage “their” athletes (the issue of  coaches and so-called “athlete ownership” is also very infuriating)  from participating on school teams outside of their sport. So, the community soccer coach doesn’t want a player to play volleyball for the school, because they want to promote sport specialization.

As a parent, along with my kids, I do want to have more say in this conversation. I want my kids to have the opportunity to play a range of sports if they want to.  I am less concerned with “development”, which is all the buzz in sports now, and more concerned with the “fun” which should be all the buzz.

I like the advice Stephanie Hauser, a high school athletic director from Wisconsin,  recently shared on the topic of multi-sport athletes at Proactive Coaching:

For Parents:

  • Be the final decision makers on behalf of your kids’ well-being.  This means having to put your foot down and be willing to make the difficult decision to say “no” on behalf of your multi-sport athletic child.  Injury, fatigue and burnout WILL happen if you are not willing to say “no” to some things.  Know when it is the right time to make the decision for your child – don’t automatically give the kids the choice; most will opt to attend everything, not wanting to let any of their coaches down.
  • Be willing to “shut them down” for a time period when you see fatigue or burnout happening.  Last summer, we were seeing the signs of some nagging fatigue injuries with our daughter, and we were struggling as parents with how to best handle the situation.  Then, the best thing for all of us happened – she twisted her ankle at Panther Fitness.  This was the excuse that we needed to shut down for the remaining three weeks of the summer…what a blessing in disguise!! The results were amazing.  Her shin splints went away, her knee and hip pain went away, she had time to hang out with friends, clean her room, read a book, and when volleyball season began three weeks later, she proceeded to have an all-conference season.  The trade-off for her was a refreshed body and mind, rather than a few more weeks of training, and she came back stronger than where she left off.

For Coaches:

  • Let your actions speak louder than your words.  Many coaches say that they support the multi-sport athlete, but it is evident that this is just “lip service” because in reality they are putting undue pressure on these multi-sport athletes to attend everything.  Have regular conversations with these kids, so you will be able to sense when it is time to give them a little more breathing room.  In reality, many of these multi-sport athletes are the most reliable, competitive and naturally athletic kids on your team.  They are the “studs” – let them thrive in their other sports, and then come your sport and thrive there.  I have witnessed this with our own daughter.  There is no doubt that she begins each season looking a bit rusty.  My husband and I call that the “three-sport athlete look.”  Yet, within the first few weeks of the season she not only meets, but exceeds the performance of others who have spent countless hours in the off-season in the gym refining their one-sport skills.  Coaches, spend the off-season time with the athletes that need you the most, those single-sport athletes who may have limited athletic ability.  They really need you to help them fine-tune their skills because they may not have the strong athletic ability to rely on.  This is the opportunity for you to really help them strive to be the best that they can be.
  • Work with other head coaches to coordinate your off-season schedules and regularly talk with them about shared athletes.  NEVER make an athlete feel like they have to choose between one coach and the other, and NEVER discuss or put down that athlete’s other coaches.

For Athletic Directors:

  • Schedule time for head coaches to sit down together to coordinate the summer calendars, open gyms, contact days, and camps in a sincere effort to minimize the number of conflicts and difficult choices that the multi-sport athlete is forced to make.  This will open the communication lines and minimize the frustration between coaches who feel that they are competing for the multi-sport athletes’ time.
  • Communicate the multi-sport athlete philosophy of the athletic department with parents and share with them the things that the athletic department and coaches are doing to support that multi-sport athletes.  Provide multi-sport athlete research, education and data for parents.
  • Manage the outside entities, such as legion baseball, AAU basketball and select soccer.  Work with your coaches to find ways to we get these outside entities to work with the school to help us maintain three-sport athletes.  To do this, you need buy-in from the coaches and the willingness to commit to this effort and be the liaison between school and outside entity.
  • Applaud and honor the multi-sport athlete.  Build recognition opportunities into your athletic award system.  Many of these kids are truly masters of time management, selflessness and self-discipline; and they have a passion for competition.  Additionally, there are those multi-sport athletes with marginal athletic ability that truly just want to participate so that they can be a part of something good.  Reward these kids for their dedication and contribution to your school.

There are a number of challenges currently happening in high school athletics, and I actually think we may have one or more new models developing (more on this in another post), but one value we should return to in school sports, and really — in all sports — is the value of the multi-sport, high school athlete.

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