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We All Have a Story

story

I wrote about the PISA results last week, and they have been subject of commentary across Canada and around the world.  One of the many things I appreciate coming from these conversations is the universal value we have placed on education.  Our education systems are a sense of pride and we know, regardless of where a country places on the data tables, there is a need to improve and be better.

So, how much of a value do we put on education? This past week, I spent some time talking with our newer families to the West Vancouver District.  Across British Columbia and Canada — we know their stories. They have moved from around the world for new opportunities and a better life here — very often it is defined by educational opportunities for their kids. These stories will be familiar to you.  The story of the family where both parents were doctors in their home country and now they are working multiple low-paying jobs in Canada, and do so without resentment; they came here for their children; for better opportunities; for the access to our top-quality education. There is another story of the family where mother resides here with the kids so they can go to school, while the father continues to work overseas and support his family thousands of miles away.

Short snippets into the lives of new Canadians remind me of our good fortune with education, and how we easily take it for granted.  Yes, we have challenges. Yes, we can do more, but our system does not only offer high achievement results, it offers hope for so many families.

I have been fortunate to not have had to make the sacrifices like so many in our schools. I was further reminded of this by my uncle and author, David Waltner-Toews who published the story of his parents and my grandparents to the CBC website as part of a Canada Writes Promotion around Bloodlines.  David said:

Mother lived in a Mennonite village in the Ukraine with her mother, three sisters, a brother, and three older half-siblings. They had a small mixed farm, and a barn attached to the house with a few cows and chickens in it. My mother remembers churning butter and collecting eggs for the hospital next door. Her father died in 1914, and grandma ran the farm business.

During the Revolution, men and boys were requisitioned to transport soldiers, or to go through the village and collect bodies, and then bury them in mass graves. At night, they hid in the basement; there was often shooting in the streets, and in the morning, they would find bullet holes in the windows. After the Revolution and Civil War came famine. When there wasn’t shooting, the streets were quiet at night – all the dogs and cats had been eaten. My mother’s family was lucky as their few cows were still giving milk.

In 1926, when my mother was fifteen, she and her siblings decided to leave for Canada. They auctioned the house and farmland. That night, there were about twenty people in the house, and a guard outside, as protection against bandits who would commonly watch for such auctions and break in to steal the money. When the bandits arrived and shot their way into the house, someone screamed, “Everyone is on their own!”

In the pandemonium that followed, one of the kids got away with the money. My mother and two of her sisters ran into barn, where the cattle were stampeding. From there they crawled into the machine-shed, out into a garden and over to a neighbour’s. Over the next three days, the kids scattered to the homes of different relatives, and finally, in secret, took a speeding horse carriage to the train station.

As agreed, they met in Moscow, from where they took a train to Riga, Latvia. The guards at the border took many of their belongings, but they were relieved to be free. From Riga they crossed the North Sea to England, and took a train to Southampton, from where they boarded The Empress of Scotland. In Montreal, Mom said they were “herded into immigration cubicles and sorted out”. The kids were sent to Saskatchewan and Alberta, where they worked as farm helpers and house servants.

From that childhood, Mom learned priorities: music, food, and family. She once told Dad to sell the car so we could have a piano. We kids all needed to take lessons. After Dad died, we would gather around the piano and sing old Christmas carols. From Mom, I also learned how to make the best peppermint cookies ever. We weren’t poor, she said; we just didn’t have much money. And if I ever complained about stupid politicians, she would sigh and say, “Yes, well, they come and they go. Such is life.” When I feel like complaining, I remember Mom, bake cookies, call the kids, and play piano (badly). It works wonders.

My mother, my uncle David, and their other three siblings all became teachers.  Part of coming to Canada was the power of education.

We all have these kind of stories — for so many coming to Canada was about hope and about education.  What an honour to be part of this system.  Good people doing important work.

My thanks to all of you who continue to read and engage with the Culture of Yes.  I will write one more post prior to the end of 2013 — an annual (practically traditional) “Top 3″ post – but now I am sending you and your family best wishes for a safe and wonderful holiday season!

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Way-of-life-l

World Teachers’ Day is a great time to reflect on the power of teachers and how they influence our lives, the lives of our families and those in the community. My own reflections and thoughts have been expressed in several posts on the importance of this day:

In 2010, I shared some of our presentation from the school district’s Opening Day:

It is funny we often use different words for teacher.  We have teacher leaders, lead teachers, principal teachers, support teachers, helping teachers, mentor teachers, and then we sometimes take the “teacher” word out, and have instructional leaders, among a range of other terms.  I am good with teacher.  It is who I am, and it says it all.  The rest is about the different roles we have, but teacher describes who we are.  I don’t think we actually need anything more.  And while teachers sometimes get beaten up in the media, and our profession is asked to do more and more, it is still the greatest profession in the world – and there are few things better in life than being called a teacher.  What we do makes a dent in our world; it matters, and makes it a slightly better place in which to live.

In 2011, I described the powerful difference that teachers made in my schooling in the K-12 system, in particular Mrs. Caffrey:

Mostly, I remember Mrs. Caffrey made me feel safe, and I was excited to come to school every day.  To this day, 28 years later, I smile when I think about her . . .  someone who quietly changed my life and, I am sure, the lives of many others.

Last year, I highlighted just a few of the amazing teachers I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with early on in my career — in particular, Bill Lawrence, Doug Sheppard, Gail Sumanik and Fred Harwood:

It was a bit of great luck I had in my first year to have mentors who took time to help me become successful, to be surrounded by excellent teachers sharing their craft in a culture that was accepting and encouraging.

What is fact about all of these teachers – teaching is more than a job for them, it’s a way of life, and this is true for all of the very best in the profession.

Of my own personal experience growing up in a family of teachers, I didn’t always understand why my parents were up late planning and marking to be ready for the next day in the classroom, or why we were going to musicals and basketball games at their schools. I did come to understand that they didn’t sign up for a job, they signed up for a way of life.

True, the teacher way of life does mean sometimes missing out on your own children’s’ activities in support of other students, and taking the high road when a suggestion is made about teaching being a 9-to-3 job.  But then, the rewards realized from how we can make a difference in a kid’s life are pretty special.

As we celebrate World Teachers’ Day, I want to thank all of my friends and colleagues in this most amazing profession for taking on the teacher “way of life”.

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throw ball

There has been an important recognition in schools, particularly at the junior grades, that we need to be doing more to keep kids active.  In British Columbia Action Schools BC have been leaders in this effort.  They are, in part:

a best practices whole-school model designed to assist elementary and middle schools in creating and implementing individualized action plans to promote healthy living while achieving academic outcomes and supporting comprehensive school health.

Daily physical activity is a regular part of schools and “action breaks”, among other strategies, are regularly employed. All of these physical activity initiatives are popular with educators, and they are also supported by research in: Spark – The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey.  The good news is — it may be just working. Last week the Globe & Mail reported on a recent US study that teen obesity rates could be leveling off and young people may be doing more exercise. This is all excellent news.

But, back to my question — can they throw a ball?

With all of our efforts focussed toward increasing physical activity, some are lamenting the”sports” part of the physical activity is taking a backseat.  From baseball to soccer, basketball to tennis, schools are now seen less as places for young people to acquire sports-specific skills and that we are turning, instead, to the community for the development of sport-specific skills.  Of course, community sports are nothing new, but “school” sports like volleyball and basketball were, only a generation ago, exclusive to schools and are now taught at younger ages primarily in the community.  As well, groups like KidSport help bridge the financial barrier for some families when kids can’t participate in community sports.  Still, some will argue that sports aren’t a necessary part of our school system, but I think most would agree that the fundamental skills of running, jumping and throwing a ball are core skills we want for all young people. Canadian Sport for Life describes this in its Long Term Athlete Development Plan.

So, looking at our elementary schools, one key challenge is the lack of teacher training for sports skills. PE specialist teachers are exceptionally rare in the province and teachers either have to teach their own PE classes or swap with another staff member (e.g. Teacher A takes Teacher B’s art class while Teacher B takes Teacher A’s PE class).  Without the training, many elementary PE classes are high on activity but not so high on skills-acquisition.

Our district is part of a program trying to change this and is investing and partnering in programs that support physical literacy.  Diane Nelson, who is the Principal-lead on our Sports Academy Programs at secondary, is working with others in Metro Vancouver on a program partnering our Grades K-3 teachers with coaches who have strong skills in teaching sports-specific skills.  The three-lesson progression helps both teacher and students.   Chartwell Elementary Principal, Aron Campbell, recently blogged about the program, Physical Literacy:  The Other 3 R’s . . . Running, Jumping and Throwing.  And, over the course of the year, our K-3 teachers will have the opportunity to work side-by-side with Jesse Symons who is a head coach / teacher in the district’s Premier Soccer Academy. To quote from Aron’s blog:

Although some of the basic skills such as walking, running, jumping, hopping, throwing and catching may seem natural or innate in children, for many kids, this is not the case. Developing basic “Physical Literacy” ​is critical for kids to acquire in order to build an ongoing sense of athletic confidence, as they are exposed to more and more opportunities to be active and involved in sport throughout their years at school and beyond.  Whether it is organized soccer, t-ball, or games in a PE class or at recess, a firm grasp in ‘physical literacy provides the motivation that can be invaluable for kids in the future development of self-esteem and the pursuit of a physically active lifestyle.

And once students have these core skills at the primary level, it is a goal for our intermediate classrooms to continue the partnership with local sports organizations. It is not a new idea, but part of a systemic plan for elementary schools to partner with the local soccer clubs or tennis organizations in offering programs to students.  It is a win-win opportunity since most community sports organizations are struggling to attract young people and are facing declining numbers; by partnering with our schools, they can offer their expertise to all students and can ignite the passion of a student who will pick the sport up in the community. To me, it is an approach that has some real opportunities and we should try to tap into it.

It is absolutely important to recognize the great work being done to help our kids to become healthier, whether it is eating better or being more active. While some (albeit mostly south of the border) were recently bemoaning the narrowing of the curriculum that saw a reduction in physical activity, there is a realization young people being active is a key part of improving student success.

That said, the time is right to invest in sports skills for all young people in schools — not only because we are taking on the training of the next Olympians, but because these skills are also life skills and they are best learned at a young age as they expose students to sports and games they might not otherwise try. And, we can’t solely rely on the community for them.

Thanks to Diane Nelson, District Principal Sports Academies and the driving force in our district behind this work, and to viasport for their financial support.

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TEDx

Being a part of a TEDx event feels like being invited to an exclusive party, in a room full of smart people and the kind of place I look around and feel ridiculously inadequate.  I did have the opportunity in the fall of 2010 to be part of TEDxUBC and speak about my experiences working with students during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.   This past month I had a second opportunity to speak at a TEDx event, this time TEDxWestVancouverED,  an event organized by four of my colleagues from West Vancouver, Craig Cantlie, Cari Wilson, Brooke Moore and Garth Thomson.  It was a particularly great experience to hear from some of the interesting and passionate people I work with in a format that lends itself to telling a story — stories we don’t often get to tell in our busy day-to-day routines.  When  I first spoke at a TEDx event I highlighted some of what makes these events unique and special:

- the format forces presenters to be concise

- the discussions between presentations are valued

- there is a great mix of people attending from a variety of professions

- the presentations live on through the web

- it is all about ideas

My presentation was based on a blog post I wrote last fall, Some of My Parenting Wishes for My Kids where I shared some personal stories of my own hopes for my kids’ learning.  Here is the video of my TEDx Talk:

And you can also see all the slides I used here:

Thanks again to all of the organizers and volunteers (including our West Van students who helped edit and publish the videos) and, in particular, Craig Cantlie who took the lead.  In the coming weeks other videos will be posted, and I will blog more about this event – there are several must-see presentations.  I will also share the ideas from TEDxKids@Ambleside – another great TED event that will have its videos posted shortly.

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iwonI want to share a struggle.

I have written before about ‘candy for rewards’ in the classroom – A Candy for Your Thoughts?, and my challenge with this is on a couple of levels: first, unhealthy, sugar-filled treats are seen as a reward for doing things correctly, being good, or essentially is giving prizes for (good) behaviour.  I have also written a piece on my struggles with book clubs rewarding students based on the volume of books they read – I Blame You Twitter. I have seen students (and my own children)  intentionally select easy books to ‘win’ and perpetuate the notion that reading is something that needs to be incentivized.  I have been well  indoctrinated by Alfie Kohn, Daniel Pink and others who raise the concern flag over rewards, and passionate Canadian edu-bloggers like Joe Bower and Chris Wejr who have regularly challenged the use of rewards in school.

I can remember rewards working for me in school.  I struggled with reading, but I recall a reading-fundraiser to raise funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Society where family and friends sponsored me to read books and if I hit a certain number (I think it was 20 books) I got a certificate — I read for those months like I have never read before.  I also can remember engaging in social responsibility initiatives like raising money for prominent and worthy charities, knowing that if I reached a certain level I would get a free Frisbee or Yo-Yo.  But, shouldn’t I have read because of the pleasure of reading? Shouldn’t I have engaged in charity to support the community?  I’m not entirely sure I would have done either with such fervor if it were not for the incentives.  And, I’m also not sure if I would have studied so diligently every Thursday night for the Friday spelling test if I didn’t know a star on the board, at the front of the class, was on the line each week.

I am currently pulling together a presentation for the upcoming TEDxWestVancouverED around my parenting wishes for my own kids’ schooling.  I keep coming back to this idea that I want learning to be the prize for them.

I wish that I could say that I was more intrinsically motivated.  And, keeping the learning as the prize makes perfect sense in theory, and is a worthy goal, but for me it has always been an ongoing struggle.

Are others sharing this same challenge?

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penguin

In nearly all of the conversations around educational transformation, we all agree we need do a better job connecting to parents and involving them in the process.  And without a doubt, “we” probably are doing a much better job now than even a few years ago, partially because of the boom in digital sharing with teachers, administrators, parents and others, as well as becoming increasingly transparent with their experiences and learning.

While I like to think most posts I write have some interest for parents, I have focused several posts specifically toward parents.  One post I wrote in September 2010 covered Ten Things Every Parent Can Do, including:

Being a kid shouldn’t be about beating the competition. And being a parent shouldn’t be about producing a winner by enrolling them in a busy regiment of “enhancement” activities. Let your children play, stumble and find their own way, at least some of the time.

Another post, An Insider’s Guide to Parenting, focussed on advice from our then Board,Vice-Chair (and now Chair) Cindy Dekker, including her thoughts on school work:

- let your kids fail, and let them do it at a young age so they learn what they need to do to improve

- sometimes, when they forget their lunch, they need to solve the problem on their own

- help facilitate studying, but don’t do their homework for them

- don’t close any doors — encourage your kids to take a range of courses

- don’t be so worried about the “right” school, all schools are great

This past fall, I wrote a more personal post, Some of My Parenting Wishes for this Year, where I wrote about a number of topics, including what really matters when it comes to their teachers:

Just take good care of them, help them adjust socially. And, be memorable like all of my elementary teachers were. I can point to at least one way each of my elementary teachers made a difference in my life — from my love of Bruce Springsteen to my interest in storytelling.  All of our kids mention when their teachers ask about their lives outside of school, whether it is about family, sports or other interests. These little things are really the big things for our kids about school.

This summary is also a preface to a new resource I would like to highlight from Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon — Raising Modern Learners.   I have recently subscribed to this blog and newsletter, and I encourage parents to do same.   As a parent of four, the oldest three already in the public education system, I have often stressed my selfish interests to see schooling change.  This new effort from Richardson and Dixon moves the conversation forward with fellow parents.

What I particularly like about this blog is that it is not about cheerleading — it tackles real issues.  The first story I read was about parents deciding to opt out of standardized tests.  While state testing was described as part of the American model of teacher evaluation, something that is not seen in BC,  it was a good read about a challenging issue.  For a variety of reasons, some political, some for simplicity, we take on serious topics in education in a very black and white fashion; at least, from what I have seen so far, Richardson and Dixon are approaching issues with more questions than definitive answers.

There are wonderful resources available in support of parents as their children grow through a changing, learning landscape.  I know so many parent leaders I have connected with online who are passionate about learning and sharing their learning about education, hopefully resources like Richardson and Dixon will assist in that conversation and in doing a better job of connecting with parents, education transformation and sustained and ongoing engagement.

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selfreg

Two of my most popular posts have been about Dr. Stuart Shanker and his work; each post has received well over 10,000 views.  To recap, the first post in November 2010 is here and the second one here  was written in April 2012.

West Vancouver is part of the first wave of school districts in British Columbia, along with Bulkley Valley, Coquitlam, Greater Victoria, Nanaimo and Surrey, who are working together on a project to implement and monitor the impact of self-regulated instructional models.  One of the greatest contributions to date has been a one-stop shop for resources on Self-Regulation (here).

Dr. Shanker’s work is clearly providing inspiration around the province, and we are seeing that in each of our schools in West Vancouver.  While the work models may look slightly different in each school, the impetus of having students in their zone for learning is district-wide.  A number of recent blog posts by some of our district educational leaders support this influence:

Westcot Principal, Liz Hill describes her school’s work with The Zones of Regulation:

We often make the assumption that children know how to identify their emotions, but akin to teaching reading, writing and math, emotional  literacy is a skill that needs to be taught to our children.  The Zones of Regulation framework teaches the language of emotions.  This helps children understand how one’s state of regulation impacts one’s ability to be calm, alert and ready to learn.  Using this framework, students develop  their own personal toolkit of strategies and learn when, how and why to use  strategies to help them  be “good to go” or “ready to do their best learning.”  These self-regulation tools may include breathing techniques, stretching, exercising, reading or simply getting a drink of water.

West Bay Principal, Judy Duncan, describes her school’s efforts to look through a lens of self-regulation:

Self-regulation spans all five domains (biological, cognitive, emotional, social, pro-social) and is really about the burning and recovering of energy.  As Shanker states, “optimal self-regulation requires a child to match his or her energy levels to meet the demands of a situation in a maximally efficient manner.”  More and more research is linking how well students do in school to their ability to self-regulate.  We are seeing this firsthand at West Bay, thus the excitement to improve our practice.

Our school’s Self-Regulation Team meets regularly to discuss how teachers and students can be supported in the quest to maintain self-regulation in the classroom. The team shares its work at staff meetings and in informal conversations; our teachers are keen on deepening their understanding of self-regulation and are open to trying new strategies to support their students. If you were to wander into our Grade Two classroom, you might see some students wearing noiseless headphones, some using cardboard study carrels (they call these “force fields”), others sitting on wiggle cushions, while others may be perched on stools at the side of the classroom.  These seven-year olds are beginning to figure out what they need to help them learn.  This metacognition piece is key.  As one little girl blurted out the other day, “I need to self-regulate!” Being aware of your own emotions and what you need to achieve a state of calm is very powerful!

Lions Bay Vice-Principal, Jody Billingsley, describes a number of ways they are fostering self-regulation including a series of classroom management techniques:

Classroom management techniques that have the children thinking about their levels of arousal when in a lesson.  We have “check ins” where the student self-assesses as to whether she is calmly focused and alert.  We call this level 4 – directly stemming from Shanker’s stages of arousal.  If they are at the level 3 stage (hypoalert) of arousal, they may be daydreaming, whereas at level 5 students may be over-stimulated and not able to focus (hyperalert).  If we see a child that is not at level 4, we give a friendly reminder to “check in” with themselves, or “give themselves a hug” as a way to think about where they are with being calmly focused and alert.  The idea is to have them see when this is occurring, reinforce behaviour with a verbal or non-verbal cue, and eventually watch how the students do this independently.

Irwin Park Principal, Cathie Ratz, has her school focussed on MindUP™ to help students be calm, alert and ready to learn:

It is 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.

By teaching our students about the brain we make them more aware of their own thoughts and emotions. It can also help them to develop the ability to think about thinking, or metacognition. That awareness would then give them better control over their own mind—directing their attention more appropriate, or calming themselves down—in ways that could improve learning.

These are only four stories, but there are stories like these in every school in West Vancouver.  It is often a lament that schools and those who work in them, are slow to change.  Where, three years ago, there was hardly a person in our district who could describe the power and importance of self-regulation, this research now influences how we teach, organize our classes, and how we think about our buildings in every corner of the district.

Finally, I encourage you to spend some time with the wonderful resources being collected as part of the newly revamped website in support of the  Canadian Self-Regulation Initiative.

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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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Now how is that for a title?

As a political junkie, it was just a matter of time before I found a way to weave a blog post together linking US Presidential politics to our work (or more specifically, my work).  Recently, a particular column about President Obama spoke to me; it was Michael Takiff’s “Why Doesn’t Obama Like to Schmooze?

This piece, contrasts the current president’s nights at home with his family, and former President Clinton’s, which were often spent meeting with lawmakers and engaging in the “work” of being president, connecting continuously and relentlessly.  In fairness to Clinton, the article also points to his efforts in living a balanced life at home with his daughter.  But, Takiff says about Obama:

While 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.

So, why I am I writing about this?  It struck a chord, because I am questioning if parenting is generation-oriented; has parenthood become different from previous generations, and I am also wonder about the role technology is playing, well actually, more how it can play in changing the “rules” of our work.

Now, on becoming a parent, over a decade ago, when the opportunity of a new job came up, before salary, before potential prospects, before anything, in fact, the first question I asked (and still ask) is, “What do the evening commitments look like?”  For, like Obama, I am not interested in being an absentee parent. I’m not suggesting anyone does,or that previous generations did — I do think the game has changed. For me, I am happy doing “the work” online late into the night, and picking it up early the next day. BUT, I want to make a window of time, on a semi-regular basis — somewhere between six and nine at night, when I engage with my kids.

There is no longer a prize for being the first car in the parking lot in the morning, or the last car to leave at night.  For many, that was (for some, it still is) the sign of ‘hard’ work.  However, where work happens is changing.  No question, there are parts of my job that require being “present” and having face time.  There are other parts that simply need to get done, and they can be done in the office, at home, at 6:00 p.m. or the next morning.

On being superintendent – having been appointed to this position three years ago, and now just completing my second full year in the role, I do find the position is a bit what one makes of it, and there are so many ways to “do it right”. I have seen others in the role who are masters of the community, attending events at arts clubs, chambers of commerce, community centres and many other community events. And, this is important work, because it raises the profile and interests of a school district. One still needs to pick and choose how they will spend their time.

My focus is really getting the learning right in classrooms, so classrooms over community has sometimes been the priority. And, to be honest, I have had no problem with working hard, I do want to be sure that my own family sees me some evenings. Yes, I nod my head knowingly at  presentations to parents where we discuss the importance of family dinners and other similar connections, knowing full well, that at that moment, I’m doing the very opposite this.  I have had to make choices to forgo evening opportunities, and redefining the role of superintendent, aligned with those values.  I also do realize what I attend speaks to what I say is important – so these decisions are always taken carefully.

Now, if the President of the United States has figured out a way to be home most nights by 6:30 for dinner, 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 (I am reminded of a previous story blogged about in YOUR CHOICE).  That said, to the credit of those I am working with in West Vancouver, from staff to Trustees, we are experimenting with more online meetings, and looking at doing more of the face-to-face meetings during daytime hours. Our  District Leadership Team of six, all have children in the K-12 system right now, so this issue is very relevent for all of us.

So, if  the President of the United States can have dinner with his family “most nights”,  that’s certainly good enough for me to aspire to!

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I am not sure what it means to take off my ‘teaching hat’ and put on my ‘parenting hat’; it’s kind of all the same to me. I also think we bring all of our hats to help us in different situations. That said, this is a post with my ‘parent hat’ in mind.  As classes are settling in and school is in full swing, I have some hopes for my own kids’ experiences (and my engagement with these experiences) for the coming school year.

Communication

I am so pleased so many teachers have websites.  I love how the teachers display their kids’ work, giving weekly previews and sharing ideas on how we, as parents, can support their current learning at home.  My day job severely limits my ability to see school in action for my kids and the website is a wonderful way for me to stay connected.  I also appreciate the ability to subscribe to the websites and receive emails with new content.  While I know we should be checking back regularly, the updates are a great prod for me to take a look. I know it may seem like “one more thing to do” but the sites have been an amazing tool of engagement and connecting me with my kids’ learning.

Homework

I really would prefer you didn’t.  I won’t use this space to get into the big debate about the value of homework (that said here is an article from Alfie Kohn that will get you thinking), but I know our kids, like so many other kids, are very engaged in learning outside of school. So, particularly at their age (young elementary), homework is really unnecessary.  I do love home reading, particularly when it is focused on reading and sharing and not about simply reading a certain number of books.  My oldest son has the ability to turn reading into a contest, to find the easiest books to read as possible, so he can ‘win’.

Create Some Space

The most enjoyable times my older daughter has had in school have been when she has had some free space and choice of what she can learn, and how she can display that learning.  Please give them some work that pushes their boundaries, pushes their thinking, and that does not necessarily have an “answer”.  They love this type of work, it is what they talk about at the dinner table.

Be Careful with Busy Work

When there is a Hollywood movie being shown, one of my kids wants to stay home.  She also doesn’t understand why, when she understands a math concept, she should use the rest of the time to colour.  To be clear, these type of things have happened exceptionally rarely, but they discourage my kids from school.

Grading

Again, prefer you didn’t, even with our oldest child in Grade 5.  I have been in education my entire life, but if she comes home and tells me she got a “B” on something, I have no idea what that means and then the conversation ends there.  Please give feedback, and  feedback that my kids can use to improve their work next time, feedback that my wife and I can use to support what is going on in their learning and in the classroom.

What Really Matters

Just take good care of them, help them adjust socially. And, be memorable like all of my elementary teachers were. I can point to at least one way each of my elementary teachers made a difference in my life — from my love of Bruce Springsteen to my interest in storytelling.  All of our kids mention when their teachers ask about their lives outside of school, whether it is about family, sports or other interests. These little things are really the big things for our kids about school.

To be very clear, our kids go to an outstanding neighbourhood school and they have a great sense of place and belonging. And, to date, we have had 10 teacher experiences — all very positive. Here’s to counting on another great year ahead.

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