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Archive for May, 2013

I write about the changing nature of learning and school quite often, but I would also like to credit district staff and the community, that when offered something different, they take the jump and sign-up.  In the West Vancouver School District, there is a lot of change occurring  within the traditional school day. To be sure, there is an emphasis on inquiry, social-emotional learning. digital access, but not as many examples challenging when learning takes place.  Generally, our schools operate from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m,  Monday to Friday, September to June. And, while some students take online (Distributive Learning) courses from other school districts, we don’t offer these in the district.

That said, there are three offerings for the upcoming school year I would like to highlight for their unique partnerships, flexible schedules, and for the amazing interest each have generated.  From Honours Choir, to Basketball and Entrepreneurship – the adage is “if you build it, they will come”, and it seems to apply nicely.  At the time of each offering, I wondered if anyone would sign-up; in the end, the happy problem was more sign-ups than supply.

Honours Choir

Music is a key component of each school’s program, and West Vancouver Schools proudly boast  music specialists in each of our elementary schools — a rarity in BC schools.  Until this year, we had not considered offering music beyond the school level because there are often opportunities for students within the community.  This year, the Board of Education approved an Honours Choir course offered on Wednesday evenings.  Many worried we wouldn’t have the 20-to-25 student enrollment required to run the course.  In the end, over 100 students signed up for auditions and the one choir opportunity became two. These students are required to be part of their own school choirs, and will now extend and challenge themselves every Wednesday night,  pursuing a passion and earning school credits while training with singers from all schools in the district.

Premier Basketball Academy

West Vancouver has been well invested in sports academy programs for a number of years, from soccer to hockey and tennis to baseball. However, basketball is unique in that it is predominantly a school sport.  So, the district has created a unique opportunity open to Grades 9 to 11 boys and girls from all three schools. This course allows students to earn credits while continuing to play for their “home” school, and to receive additional training in the mornings as well as other times outside of the school timetable. This will allow better access to the course for students from multiple schools.  Similar to the Honours Choir, students can pursue a passion in greater depth while not having to leave their school to attend the program.  One other key element of the program is we are  partnering with Basketball BC, who will be providing the curriculum and expertise to support the program.  Again, demand has exceeded capacity.

Entrepreneurship 12 / YELL

Entrepreneurship 12 is a Ministry of Education course offered in schools across the province.  A challenge we often face with these type of  specialty business courses (and other senior electives) is that about 10 to 15 students sign-up in each school,  but not enough to offer a course block in the timetable – leading to course cancellations.  Some creative thinking around format and scheduling has changed that.  The course has been rebranded YELL (Young Entrepreneurship and Leadership Launchpad) and partners business teachers with community resources which currently include Rattan Bagga, General Manager of Jiva Organics; Amit Sandhu, CEO of Ampri Group; and Punit Dhillon, co-founder, President and CEO of OncoSec Medical.  The course is offered after school, so students from all three schools can attend; students will connect with top entrepreneurial talent and participate in a business venture challenge — traditional business course meets Dragon’s Den.  Earlier this week, when I attended the information session in the West Vancouver Secondary Library, it was jam-packed with over 150 interested people.  Again, families are ready to embrace ‘different’.

So, what are some of my takeaways:

  • The idea of connecting with community resources is a partnership we are just beginning to figure out, and the community is willing and interested
  • There is a real interest  in depth and specialization to pursue passions
  • There are opportunities to go across-schools for collaboration outside of the timetable
  • We can find more options for students to stay at their home school for the majority of their program
  • Each of the three new offerings are guided by passionate teachers
  • The lines of school/non-school activities are becoming increasingly blurry

The creation of these courses has been an interesting journey, more so that my internal pessimist has been proven wrong with all three offerings. While I wondered if they would gain traction, all three are booming with interest, which makes me also wonder, “so, what is next?”

Finally, my thanks to the outstanding teacher leaders: Suzanne Fulton (choir), Greg Meldrum (basketball) ad Jo-Anne McKee and Shawn Anderson (Entrepreneurship) who are leading the way with these offerings. I am looking forward to seeing their progress and success in about 12 months from now as we slowly open up more opportunities outside the traditional school day.

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SoI.indd

Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser have been at the forefront of teaching and learning in British Columbia for decades.  I have written previously about their work with the Network of Performance Based Schools (now the Network of Inquiry and Innovation).  Their latest book Spirals of Inquiry For equity and quality is a welcoming book; it takes us from where we are and invites us on a team journey. Halbert and Kaser have a wonderful way of bringing us aboard and to become part of their team – “We have had the privilege of working together on system transformation for a number of years.  We have experienced the joy of teamwork and the support that comes from facing challenges with a trusted learning partner.  Inquiry is not a solitary pursuit.  Meeting the needs of all learners is simply too big a task for any one leader, teacher, school or district to attempt alone.”

I have taken a stab at defining inquiry in my post All About Inquiry; I referenced the work of the Galileo Educational Network and in reviewing previous posts realize that I have made reference to inquiry in one out of every five posts written.  Inquiry is THE buzz word in education, but while there is opportunity there are also drawbacks that can be attributed to one word used so often, by so many, in so many circumstances.  There is general agreement we want more inquiry (the anti-inquiry movement is quite quiet), but exactly what this is and means is not clear. Although the work  Halbert and Kaser describe is hard work, their approach is straight forward.  I find it far more accessible than other frameworks and they provide structure without recipe.

Halbert and Kaser encourage us to start our investigation into inquiry with four key questions that “help move our thinking from a preoccupation with content coverage, to a focus on what learners are actually experiencing with the learning we are designing for, or with, them”:

  • Can you name two people in this school / setting who believe that you can be a success in life?
  • Where are you going with your learning?
  • How are you doing with your learning?
  • Where are you going next with your learning?

They move into their spiral approach, quoting Madame Gertrude de Stael, “The human mind always makes progress – but it is a progress in spirals.”  Halbert and Kaser focus their spirals around several key questions continually coming back to the first:

  • What is going on for our learners?
  • What does our focus need to be?
  • What is leading to this situation?
  • How and where can we learn more about what to do?
  • What will we do differently?
  • Have we made enough of a difference?

While I researched the book to better understand the process of student inquiry, it reminded me that we, as teachers, need to be committed to the same efforts with our own learning.

Halbert and Kaser have created a book with useful approaches to both student and adult inquiry; more importantly, they validate the work in British Columbia, link the efforts they describe with existing practices in districts across the province, and do not  hit us with a stick if we are not all doing it yet.  I would argue this book should be a must read for all new teachers, and for educators with decades of experience, it is a reminder that we are all part of a big team, who need each other and that our students need us, for as Halbert and Kaser conclude, “Let’s stick together and stick with this work until every BC learner does indeed cross the stage with dignity, purpose and options.”

WANT TO LEARN MORE

Spirals of Inquiry is available through the BC Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association for $20 (all proceeds support innovative and inquiring schools).

Chris Wejr and I are hosting a Twitter conversation on Sunday, May 26th at 8 pm Pacific.  We will be joined by the authors, Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser, and hopefully many others who would like to explore Spirals of Inquiry.  If you are interested in following along the hashtag will be #inqbc.

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I have read some speculation about educational change regarding education’s future, that it will be less creative and the arts will be marginalized.  The speculative thought goes something like this – with increased personalization of education increased reliance on technology follows, which will lead to increased narrowing of curriculum and that will lead to students spending less time in areas like dance, drama, music and the visual arts.

I don’t see this happening. I see a future with fewer arts classes but much richer engagement in the arts.

While many point to examples like High Tech High, with its rich integration of subjects and different curriculum areas, in many ways we are challenging traditional classroom learning; an example is the work led by Katherine Tong and her team connected with the Vancouver Biennale – a powerful legacy to the exhibition in the Vancouver area.

The BIG IDEAS Program, which is the educational program that has accompanied the Vancouver Biennale Exhibition, has made its way into seven school districts and 63 schools (including West Vancouver) and reaching more than 4200 students.  UBC has now included the program as part of teacher practicums, and the program has been awarded the Arts Champion in Education Award.  The program allows students to engage with the art and local artists and share their interpretations to a broad audience.

Here is a recent presentation Katherine Tong shared with me about the program:

And, a recently posted video describing some of the links of the program to self-regulation:

There are a number of things I really like about this program, including:

  • Teachers have the opportunity to collaborate within and across schools
  • Students interact with practising artists
  • There is an emphasis on production and performance
  • Classes are not only in schools, but in the community where the art is as well
  • Curriculum is organized around ‘big ideas’ and educators have put together thoughtful work which is shared with others
  • There is natural integration of outcomes from a variety of disciplines
  • The school and the community are true partners in education
  • Goals like self-regulation are promoted and activity-based
  • Schools reap the benefit of community expertise

We may have fewer stand-alone art classes in five years time than we do today. Hopefully, we will also have fewer stand-alone English, Social Studies, Math and Science classes as well.  The move to creating meaningful linkages in curriculum fosters opportunities like those of the Vancouver Biennale Program.  While there is no crystal ball to see what the future of teaching and learning looks like, I would like to suggest it looks more like what this program offers, and we need stellar examples like these programs to show and move the way forward.

As the Vancouver Biennale rightfully claims – they are “redefining the experience of art” and in doing so they are contributing to the redefinition of the learning and schooling experience for many of our students.

 

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familydinner-1

This is an updated version of a previous post and is published in the May 2013 Issue of School Administrator.

The struggle to find balance between home life and the superintendency — the focus of School Administrator’s November 2012 issue — resonated with me and I am sure with many others who have very public positions in education. Just a few days earlier, I had come across on CNN’s website Michael Takiff’s column “Why Doesn’t Obama Like to Schmooze?” which addressed the challenges a U.S. president faces in balancing his highly public life with his more private family life.

Though on vastly different levels, the parallels are astounding.

In sharp contrast to former President Bill Clinton, who often spent evenings relentlessly connecting with financiers and lawmakers, Takiff points out that Obama works equally hard at being president but at the same time makes every effort to have a balanced family life. To quote from Takiff’s column: “[W]hile he is America’s only president, he is also his daughters’ only father; his duty to them demands that he take time out from his duty to his country. And so he makes sure that at 6:30 each evening he’s seated at the family dinner table. After the meal, he helps his daughters with their homework.”

Changing Rules

Takiff’s profile of Obama struck a chord because I am questioning if parenting is generation-oriented. Does parenthood differ today from that of previous generations? And how is technology affecting the paradigms of traditional work ethics?

Today, it is no longer a point of honour to be the first car in the office parking lot in the morning or the last one to leave at night. That was for many (and still is for some) an expression of hard work, but technology has made it possible to log work hours from a location of our choosing. Certainly, some aspects of my job require that I be present at my office and that I spend face time with others. But I can carry out other duties on my own, in the office, at home, in the evening or at first light of morning.

Since becoming a parent more than a decade ago (and now as the father of four), the first question I always ask when considering a job opportunity — before salary, before potential prospects, before anything else — is this: “What do the evening commitments look like?” Because, like President Obama, I am not interested in being an absentee parent. I am happy doing the work online late into the night and picking it up early the next day. But I want to reserve a window of time between 6 and 9 o’clock at night to engage with my kids on a regular basis.

Now in my third year as a superintendent, I do find the position is what one makes of it, and there are so many ways to do it right. Some superintendents are masters of the community, attending every community function. While this is important, one still needs to pick and choose how to spend one’s time. My focus tends to be about “getting the learning right” in the classrooms, and classrooms sometimes have been a priority over community. I realize what I attend speaks to what I say is important, so these decisions always are made carefully.

Family Friendly

If the president of the United States has figured out a way to be home most evenings by 6:30 to join his family, surely I (and those who work with me and have jobs like mine) can find new ways to be home for dinner a couple of nights a week. It is about choices and priorities.

To the credit of those I am working with in West Vancouver, British Columbia, from staff member to trustees, we are experimenting with more online meetings and looking at doing more of the face-to-face meetings during daytime hours. The six members of our district leadership team all have children in the K-12 system now, so this issue is relevant for all of us. We also have a governing board that is committed to modeling family-friendly values in the workplace.

So if the president can dine with his family most nights, that’s certainly good enough for me to aspire to.

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