Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Book Club’ Category

fish

I often speak and write about how the principalship and the superintendency need to look different in the era of social media. And, while it can be difficult to distill  ideas to a few key points, a recent post from Brian Verhoeven does a great job of summarizing what that leadership looks like, and while the post was not specific about schools or school systems, I think the messages are right on for our system.

Verhoeven’s post summarizes a discussion by authors Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant of Humanize:  How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World.  The messages and the five key points about what makes a good organizational leader are very straightforward (my own thoughts are added below each point):

1.  They provide clear direction.

This list rings true for our education system.  Districts should set direction for schools, schools set direction for classes, and then leaders should step back and not micro-manage.  This action allows staff autonomy to find their own solutions, with superintendents and principals providing clarity of direction, and not necessarily all the answers.

2.  They use positive language when things change. They embrace change.

Principals and superintendents are often regarded and turned to in times of change, whether the changes are from government, in demographics, or in our understanding of teaching and learning, we always need to be out front and curious, with change not for the sake of change, but for different and better.

3.  They are transparent and share information freely.

The era of control is over, or almost over.  In the era of the instant, spending time thinking about “managing the message” has passed.  There is an expectation of timeliness and that we remove the secretive nature of the work.  Information is just that; the job of leaders it to make sense and direction of that information.

4.  They reinforce the value of experimentation—even failure.

The quote I often use, borrowed from a former colleague in Coquitlam, is that “you don’t have to be sick to get better.”  For us, in the West Vancouver school district, it is the notion and practice of a ‘culture of yes’, of thoughtful experimentation, and risk-taking, knowing we do not move forward unless we leave our comfort zone.  The best school and district leaders are supportive of staff and students taking the risk, quick to give praise when it works out, but just as quick to shelter those taking risks from criticism when it doesn’t.

5.  They talk aloud sharing their rationale and understanding with the team. They leverage the expertise of others to help them solve the tough problems.

Although the final decision is often made by one, along the way there are huge opportunities to leverage the brainpower of the room (whether that be a physical or digital room) to help ensure the best decisions are made. And, with such powerful and accessible networks, we would be remiss not to take advantage of this opportunity to make the best possible decisions.

A very straightforward, five-point list. Yes, but a very effective way of showing what we need today in educational leadership.

Read Full Post »

wilson

One of the great treats at Christmas time is holiday reading.  Added to this, I am very fortunate so many of my friends and family know that books are the ideal gift for me,  and you can expect that over the next few months I will likely punctuate some of my more regular posts with perspectives from some of my most recent holiday readings.

The first of these is W. Brett Wilson’s Redefining Success – Still Making Mistakes. For someone who is usually immersed in books by and/or for educators, it is great to do some reading outside of my comfort zone. Prior to his book, my knowledge of Wilson was his three years as a panelist on Dragon’s Den — a show that I regularly PVR.  I have always appreciated his humanity and compassion (particularly in comparison to others on the show), but I knew very little about the complex process of philanthropy, and even less about investment banking — two areas that have dominated much of Wilson’s life (and  book).

Wilson’s story lines up with some told by prominent Americans,  including Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, who are all committed to giving away much of their money during their life rather than leaving it as a legacy.  Wilson writes, “If you think you’re going to do your children a favour by leaving them a big inheritance, think again. Inter-generational wealth transfer is one of the most serious issues of our time.”

Wilson also reveals that philanthropy in business is a very strategic exercise, from finding the right projects, the right partners and the right opportunities to benefit important causes, to engaging the community and highlighting/profiling the company.

Beyond all of this, is a very powerful, personal story of refocusing life around family and friends, as well as his view on what we need in education — which obviously stood out with me.

Wilson argues for the importance of “teaching marketing, entrepreneurship and philanthropy beginning in elementary schools and continuing into all higher learning, either academic or in the trades.”  Given the excitement and engagement with Me to We, and similar movements often done as an “add-on” to curriculum, he makes a persuasive argument that these areas should actually be part of  core schooling – a course, he suggests, in changing the world.  Wilson says that the ways in which anyone can make an impact on, or in, the world comes down to offering their time, money or leadership. He states:

We as a society need to think more clearly about what each student needs to have at the end of the journey.  Every student needs a bundle of knowledge, skills and experiences.  The first group  of students who graduate with my three subjects – marketing, entrepreneurship and philanthropy – as part of their core curriculum will be a dramatically different caliber of student.  But until everyone speaks the same vernacular we’re not going to change the quality of student we produce. Until it has become core curriculum, it’s just another elective, and the impact will be negligible.

These core subjects will develop students’ leadership skills. And if we’re going to drive innovation and productivity, it’s as important to fill the bus with leaders as it have leaders driving the bus.  As University of Calgary President Elizabeth Cannon eloquently stated during our discussion on the subject, “We need to develop our students as whole people, being able to work across disciplines and across sectors.  That’s how we are going to make great citizens.”

While the language may not be the same, Wilson’s list reminds me of a talk by UBC’s former President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Martha Piper, where she also highlighted global citizenship and community service learning, among other key areas (Dr. Martha Piper And the Way Forward blog post here).

My challenge to Wilson would be one I offer to others suggesting what we need to add to schooling, is to also make the argument about what needs to come out of schooling. One of our greater challenges in an era full of wonderful ideas about what additions to make to schooling, is in an era when many are suggesting creating more “white space” and flexibility in schooling, at a time we are also considering limiting the hours of schooling.

So, I read the book to find out about the ‘truth’ behind the Dragon’s Den deals, and although interesting, it was the human story of lifelong learning that stood out for me, as well as a wonderful book for those interested in leadership.

Thanks to Pieter Dorsman, a parent in our community committed to making education better for everyone, for the gift of the book —  a great way to grow ideas.

Read Full Post »

front-cover

Len Corben is very well-known on the North Shore for his writing and commitment to athletics; a commitment that includes 31 years as the coordinator for North Shore Secondary School athletics, and as an accomplished writer with his Instant Replay stories that regularly appear in the North Shore Outlook.  Having previously enjoyed his first book, an anthology of his newspaper features, it was great to catch up with Len and also read his latest book based on hours of research and interviews with Ernie Kershaw: The Pitching Professor:  The Life & Times of Ernie Kershaw.

The book was of particular interest to me as Ernie Kershaw began his teaching career at West Vancouver Secondary School at about the time my grandfather, Charles Kennedy, was teaching at the school in the late 1930s. And, personally, as a history teacher and huge baseball fan (Field of Dreams is in my all-time top three movies), it’s difficult to imagine anything more appealing than a slice of local history with a backdrop of education filled with baseball stories.

The story starts with Ernie Kershaw’s birth on October 6, 1909, and as he describes it in the book, “My birth was premature at seven months and I started my career at two-and-a-half to three pounds in a shoe box in the warming oven of our Gurney-Oxford kitchen range, being for some time fed partly with honey and water via an eye dropper.”   With Spanish influenza and typhoid fever also part of his childhood experiences, Kershaw went on to play semi-professional baseball for the Vancouver Capilanos from 1939-41 and again in 1946 after serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II.

Kershaw was playing baseball at the same time as many of history’s most storied individuals, and the book links to Babe Ruth and others, while also telling the stories of the grassroots stars in Vancouver, in the era before Larry Walker and Justin Morneau.  Of course, Kershaw’s “big curveball and humming fastball” are also highlighted from his 4-0 five-hitter in his pro debut against the Yakima Pippins at Athletic Park on Hemlock Street, to a post-war performance described by Province columnist, Ken McConnell: ” Kershaw came back from the war fat and sassy.  He has a sweeping curveball that even [umpire] Amby Moran seemed to have difficulty following and his fast one sings as it burst across the plate.”

It was not an era of “just” being a baseball player — Kershaw was also a teacher.

Kershaw says of his teaching experience “In September 1936, I found myself back in the classroom” where he taught until 1941 and then again after the war from 1945-1973.   The book overlays Kershaw’s stories of West Vancouver with stories of many other well-known figures in West Vancouver including Dick Wright, Bill Nicol and Brian Upson.  All well-known names who come to life in Kershaw’s stories and through Corben’s words.  The stories also tell of a teacher making sense out of algebra for more than three decades of West Vancouver students – so proud of their accomplishments – he shares a real pay-it-forward legacy.

Notable for his teaching and his baseball, Kershaw also acknowledges he is notable for his longevity (the story is subtitled - One of Professional Baseball’s Oldest Living Former Players):

My first 50 years were quite unusual and interesting because of the variety of my interests and activities in a period which included a major epidemic, two great wars, several booms and depressions and the rise and collapse of many regimes and nations.  By sheer chance, I found myself at some critical places at historically important times.  As a result, I met many famous and talented people in various fields and from many countries.

Almost a Forrest Gump style story.

Ernie Kershaw died on February 13, 2012 at the age of 102.  In a story in the book, relayed by his son Ian, “When it was close to Dad’s time,” Ian recounted, “I said to him ‘Dad, I guess this is the bottom of the ninth for you.’  He replied, ‘It’s more like the bottom of the 12th.'”

Corben’s book and Kershaw’s story are a wonderful window into our recent history — a story about baseball and a whole lot more for those interested in sport, history, education and community — a really wonderful read.

To order a copy of the book or for more information, contact Len Corben.

Read Full Post »

Will Richardson’s blog was one of the very first educational blogs I followed.  For close to a decade I have been reading, learning and engaging with Will.  As a school principal at Riverside Secondary, I would regularly send out links to staff from his previous blog (here), and I continue to follow his current blog here.  I have also referenced his book on Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms as a staff study group book.  Along with Alan November, Chris Lehman, Dean Shareski and a few others, he has profoundly influenced my thinking around the possibility of learning and schooling in the future. With this background, I was naturally interested in reading Will’s latest book, Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere.

Rather than as a collection of new ideas, I think most BC educators (and generally across Canada) would see this as a synthesis of many of the conversations educators are now having about the transformation of the education system.  Richardson pushes hard on assessment — a topic currently very much in vogue in BC — with many taking a critical look at class, school and provincial assessments, and more toward less “grading” at the elementary level, and less time and energy sorting and ranking students for post secondary at the high school level.   I would argue while there are elements which would pertain to the Canadian education system, whether it be on assessment, teaching, or a range of other areas he challenges, these concerns are not as profound as what he sees happening in the United States.

For me, I think his book helps to further emphasize that Canada and the United States are moving further apart, and not closer together, in education. While Canada has moved to a post-standardized world, and concepts around personalization, this does not seem so true south of the border.  Without a doubt,  they are some similarities, but these are far less similar now than a decade ago, and are on a path to becoming even less so in the future.  There are conversations, though, looking at transformation happening with educators (and largely through social media) that need to move to the mainstream.

In his section on “New School” Richardson lays out six key themes for educators and the system:

  • Share everything (or at least something)
  • Discover, don’t deliver, the curriculum
  • Talk to strangers
  • Be a master learner
  • Do real work for real audiences
  • Transfer the power

He builds the case around ‘urgency’.  It is one I have previously described as The Urgency of Our Own Kids.  We truly can’t wait 10 or 20 years to engage in the conversation of what learning and schooling can/should look like — this would be too late; too late for our own kids and the decisions they will have to make to set the education course in the next window of time.  Agree or disagree with the book’s premise, it is an important conversation to engage in as educators, parents, students and the community.  Richardson concludes, “Just imagine the learners they could become if we made these skills [using technology to solve real problems and think independently] the focus of our work; if, instead of passing the test, we made those ever-more important skills of networking, inquiry, creation, sharing, unlearning, and relearning the answer to the ‘why school’ question.  Imagine what our kids could become if we helped them take full advantage of all they have available to them for learning.”

For more of a backgrounder on Will (and his book), his recent TEDxMelbourne presentation nicely summarizes some of the key ideas of the book:


If you are interested in reading the book, please consider spending the $2.99 to buy it (here).  Also, a group of us will be discussing the ideas he has raised and are going to try a Twitter book club, this Tuesday, September 25th, 8:00 p.m. PST.  You can follow along using the hashtag #whyschool.

THANK YOU – to all who participated in the conversation.  Please continue to use #whyschool to keep the conversation going.  We will try this again next month with another book to push our thinking.  What a great turnout of people passionate about education.  Thanks to Chris Wejr – here is a link to more than 400 of the comments on the #whyschool chat.

Read Full Post »

I was listening to Canadian Education Association CEO, Ron Canuel, recently and he referenced John Kotter, a professor at the Harvard Business School. It was a name I knew, but I hadn’t previously been exposed to his work. Canuel shared Kotter’s list of the four strategies people use to help kill good ideas.

  • Fear mongering involves creating infectious anxiety, scaring others into believing a good idea is far too risky to pursue
  • Death by Delay entails stalling an idea with never-ending questions, straw polls, and meetings—until the idea eventually loses momentum and fizzles out
  • Confusion consists of peppering a conversation with a stream of irrelevant facts and convoluted questions, making it near impossible for the innovator to keep the discussion on track
  • Ridicule is a direct attack on the character of the person who proposed the idea, creating indirect doubts about the idea itself
I am sure this list can be applied to many professions, but for me, it definitely does apply in education — and I admit I am guilty of at least one of them, having suggested my share of committees to delay ideas in the past.  In looking at any of the major educational initiatives, both past and current, they all seem to suffer from those roadblocks on Kotter’s list.
Kotter’s suggestions on how to deal with these challenges:
  • Invite the opposition in — “bring in the lions” — which is often counter intuitive since it focusses attention on the idea, which creates attention and engagement and can help win over hearts and minds; critics can be helpful
  • Keep ideas clear, simple and full of common sense and don’t allow yourself to get lost in the details
  • Treat the audience with respect – don’t try to beat people into submission. This just makes you look bad. Let the crowd come to understand and sympathize with your view
  •  Pay attention to the masses, and don’t obsess over the very few.  In the end, it is about the majority, not the minority
  • Preparation is really what it is all about
Kotter’s ideas are part of a book he has co-written with UBC professor, Lorne Whitehead,  Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down.
Here is a short video interview that summarizes many of the key notions:
A good reminder that sometimes a good idea is not good enough.

Read Full Post »

In the spirit of Malcolm Gladwell’s popular books Blink and Outliers, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman have written a book about children that challenges many of society’s (and my own) assumptions.

Based on new research about the brain, they make a compelling case that what we think we know about topics — from praise, to teaching about race, to siblings and relationships — may not be correct.  Their book NurtureShock is a great read for parents/educators, and a challenge to reexamine what we think we already know.

I can highlight many ideas from the book, but here are a few of the “new” insights I gained:

  • We should be praising kids for their effort and not their intelligence — when we praise for intelligence, kids are far less likely to take risks out of a fear of being wrong.  We need to praise the process.
  • Kids are getting an hour less sleep than they did 30 years ago, and it is having a dramatic effect on academics and emotional stability.  There is a likely link between the lack of sleep and the obesity crisis among young people.
  • We should consider talking with children about race like we talk to children about gender. We can be more explicit at a younger age rather than just create environments where kids are exposed to many races and cultures.
  • We need to give kids some immunity for telling the truth and offer them a route back to good standing when they lie.  According to the research, lying is a sign of intelligence, and often those kids who lie do better on academic achievement tests.
  • We shouldn’t be testing students for being gifted until Grade 3, and those that do the tests for Kindergarten are wrong more than they are right (okay, this wasn’t really new but it confirms what is largely the norm in Canada).
  • Books and videos that end with a problem being resolved often have a negative effect on kids; if much of the book or show is spent on arguing, threatening, excluding or teasing, kids remember this and not the resolution.
  • Teenagers arguing with adults is a sign of respect, not disrespect, so much as the arguing is constructive to the relationship.
  • There are many programs that, on the surface, appear like they should be great, but have little effect on kids behaviour (DARE was cited as a primary example of this).  The thinking is, since human behaviour is incredibly stubborn, it is extremely difficult for interventions to be successful with kids.
  • When parents have a conflict, they are better to resolve it in front of their kids rather than continue it outside of their presence — this allows kids to see the resolution, and not only the conflict.
This is a cursory list of some of the key messages I was left with after reading the book, and there is a lot more material that could be highlighted — some of which a real challenge to my natural instincts as a parent and a teacher.
There are a number of ways to connect with the ideas of the book, including a Facebook site, Twitter account, and a website with a number of other articles along the same lines as the book (given Stuart Shanker’s recent visit, I was interested in this one, which questioned the validity of the marshmallow test).
I always love a book that challenges my assumptions, and is open for discussion or debate with other parents and teachers.
Here is an interview with author, Po Bronson and others, outlining the Myth of Praise (Chapter 1 from the book):
Have you read this book?

Read Full Post »

One of my new (school) year’s resolutions is to reallocate some of my time from television to books.  And, while there are many books about education, from time to time I will blog about the education/leadership books I have read and made connections to our work in West Vancouver, and the broader education community.

One such book is the well-researched Childhood Under Siege by Joel Bakan. Bakan is a professor of law at UBC, and the author of the widely cited book and film The Corporation.  His latest book examines how big business targets children.  And while its viewpoint is largely focussed on the United States, and interspersed with some Canadian examples, it is a cautionary tale beyond these borders.

Bakan focuses on five areas in which corporations are targeting and harming children: media, pharmaceuticals, toxic chemicals, child labour, and education. While all five have links to the school system, I found the section on media particularly compelling.

Addicting Games is one of the sites he mentions. The site is owned by Nickelodeon and is one of the largest sources of online games.

Says Bakan:

Many of the site’s games deliver emotional content interactively – players can act out and control virtual acts of brutality and murder rather than just passively watching actors or animated figures do so, as they would on TV.

Bakan also questions the spin-offs from the Grand Theft Auto, Halo and Call of Duty series.  Games I am more familiar with, like Neopets and Webkinz, also come under the microscope. Bakan says of these sites aimed at pre-schoolers and elementary students, “pet sites succeed by manipulating, using casino-style tactics, the intense feeling kids have for their virtual pets.”   What is common at the heart of all of these games — is addiction — it has “become the gold standard in gaming, the true mark of a game worth playing.”   This chapter is an interesting read in the wake of Stuart Shanker’s visit to our district at the beginning of this school year. When asked about the one piece of advice he would give parents, Shanker said he would “encourage them to get rid of their televisions.”

Bakan’s book does work into the subject of education more deeply, examining the string of US policies that have relied heavily on standardized tests.  I found this to be sad, but also reassuring, knowing how we are forging a different path in BC, and in Canada.

As parent groups look for study books for the fall, Bakan offers one with links to both parenting and schooling.

Here is a video of Bakan explaining some of the book’s key points:

Bakan’s book is a call for community and regulatory solutions to the areas he identifies.  I am interested in your thoughts, and the views of those who have had a chance to engage with the book and/or its themes.

For West Vancouver blog readers, the book is available through the West Vancouver Memorial Library.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,034 other followers