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outside

I am typically not a fan of organizations using the “Report Card” device as a way to draw attention to their reports. Usually, I see organizations produce a report lamenting the work in a specific areas, looking to generate headlines like, “Organization X Gives Y Failing Grade.”

The recent ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth  does do some of that, but is far more nuanced.  While yes, it does give a D- to overall physical activity, there are good grades for a number of areas including youth participation in sports, support of parents, government and non-government investment and the role of schools.  The report lauds the physical education curriculum in each province, with special mention of Manitoba.

The most powerful part of the report was the focus on getting kids outside and letting them play.  Quoting the report:

We may be so focused on trying to intervene in our children’s lifestyles to make sure they’re healthy, safe and happy, that we are having the opposite effect . . .  We overprotect kids to keep them safe, but keeping them close and keeping them indoors may set them up to be less resilient and more likely to develop chronic diseases in the long run.

The report relies on a variety of studies that have a number of conclusions that, while not surprising, run counter to many current practices including:

  • pre-schoolers spend twice as much time being active when play is outdoors
  • students take 35% more steps when physical education class is held outdoors
  • Canadian kids who play outside after school get 20 more minutes of heart-pumping activity per day than those who don’t

One conclusion that I found particularly striking is that children and youth are less likely to engage in higher levels of physical activity if a parent or supervising adult is present.

With my Superintendent view, some of the takeaways for me include:

  • We are on the right track in our district (and others in BC) with outdoor learning programs – and we need to continue to encourage their growth
  • The growth of urban agriculture courses and school gardens is an important trend – outdoor learning does not just have to be about physical activity
  • We need to be careful that safety and liability concerns don’t unnecessarily block wonderful outdoor learning opportunities
  • We need to be sure that recess and other outdoor learning opportunities are valued and we need to remind parents that kids should get outside even when it is cold or rainy
  • There is going to be increased emphasis on natural elements in playgrounds moving forward
  • The urgency around physical literacy is inclusive of doing a better job with structured opportunities and also ensuring kids have unstructured free play opportunities

The report takes the bold position, “Access to active play in nature and outdoors – with its risks – is essential for healthy child development.  We recommend increasing children’s opportunities for self-directed play outdoors in all settings – at home, at school, in child care, the community and nature.”

My hesitation in reading the report is that some will suggest that we just have to go back to the “way it used to be when we were young”.  I am always concerned with this view.  The world today is different for kids than the one their parents grew up in – it is not as simple as turning back the clock; we also often have a habit of romanticizing our youth.  The answer around getting kids active is not telling people we just need to go back to how things used to be it is about building something new rooted in our current reality.

The entire report is worth reading, and there are some great resources to share with teachers, parents and others in the community (e.g. this Infographic and this tip sheet) .  Reading the report, and reviewing the data there is a strong case for broadening our current thinking about how we encourage  young people to be active.

And as we embark on summer it is a good reminder that we need to model the way with our kids and get outside!

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How Was School Today?

2014-08-29-25ways-890x395_c

Fine.

What did you do at school today?

Nothing.

All parents have had these conversations.  Apparently students all over the world are doing nothing at school, but not to worry,  it is fine.  It is the challenge of asking questions that specific, but are still open-ended so to avoid one word answers.  We all easily fall into the trap, with our kids, our co-workers and our friends of asking “how are you doing?” and knowing the only really acceptable answer is “fine”.

In our home we are continually trying to make a conscious effort for some different conversation starters.

There are a couple of lists that I have found and used that I think are useful (I don’t love all the questions – but they get your mind working about different ways to have the after school, or dinner conversation). Maxabella Loves shared these 10 kid conversation starters on her blog:

1.  What was the funniest thing you heard all day?
2.  What was your favourite thing that happened today?
3.  Did your teacher get cross today? What happened?
4.  What subject was the most interesting today?
5.  Was anyone away today? Did that make the day different?
6.  What was something new you read today?
7.  What happened today that you wish hadn’t happened?
8.  What did you enjoy most for lunch today?
9.  What are you learning about in science?
10.  Did anyone do something nice for you today? Did you do something nice back?

Last fall I also saw this list that Liz Evans posted on Huffington Post:

  1.  What was the best thing that happened at school today? (What was the worst thing that happened at school today?)
  2.  Tell me something that made you laugh today.
  3.  If you could choose, who would you like to sit by in class? (Who would you NOT want to sit by in class? Why?)
  4. Where is the coolest place at the school?
  5. Tell me a weird word that you heard today. (Or something weird that someone said.)
  6. If I called your teacher tonight, what would she tell me about you?
  7. How did you help somebody today?
  8. How did somebody help you today?
  9. Tell me one thing that you learned today.
  10. When were you the happiest today?
  11. When were you bored today?
  12. If an alien spaceship came to your class and beamed someone up, who would you want them to take?
  13. Who would you like to play with at recess that you’ve never played with before?
  14. Tell me something good that happened today.
  15. What word did your teacher say most today?
  16. What do you think you should do/learn more of at school?
  17. What do you think you should do/learn less of at school?
  18. Who in your class do you think you could be nicer to?
  19. Where do you play the most at recess?
  20. Who is the funniest person in your class? Why is he/she so funny?
  21. What was your favorite part of lunch?
  22. If you got to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you do?
  23. Is there anyone in your class who needs a time-out?
  24. f you could switch seats with anyone in the class, who would you trade with? Why?
  25. Tell me about three different times you used your pencil today at school.

In our house right now there are two questions that we talk about most often around the dinner table, or the breakfast table, or the car driving to practice, or whenever we have those moments to get caught up with each others’ lives (we borrowed them from a radio talk show):

Tell me something I don’t know?

What have we learned today?

We like both of these questions as we all answer them – kids and adults – and they are great with extended family or friends over.

It is always a challenge to try to stay engaged with our kids.  As we often say about teaching, asking the right questions is so important, and actually very difficult.  It is an ongoing struggle to not live in a world of “fine”, “good” and “nothing.”

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birthday

In my conversations around education, I often hear “Teachers think X”, or “All parents want us to do X”, or “No student will be happy about X”.  I very often follow-up with a question to determine the sample size of this observation. More often than not it is a sample size of one. The individual teacher, parent, student (and other), are extrapolating their own views to be representative of their group and who MUST think like them.

I share this caveat as background, as I fully admit that my observations in this post are based on a sample size of one — me.

I am also asked for parenting advice. I get it. I have a job where we work with young people everyday and I have four kids of my own. So, if I could give parents or potential parents one piece of advice, it would be have your children early in the year, and the closer to January the better.

January birth dates are fresh in mind as two of our four children have just celebrated their January births — our younger son on January 11 and our older daughter on January 1. In particular, I often think of our older daughter and the good fortune of her birth. She was born in the early morning hours of January 1, 2001, following a long labour for my wife that began midday on December 31. I am convinced that had she been born just a few hours earlier, she would not have had quite the same range of opportunities she has and has had.

While we are trying to break it down, the last day of the calendar year is still largely defining in our school system. A few hours difference can mean being a grade apart. We have two children born in January and two children born in June and in July. I think all have had the advantage of being born in the first six-and-one-half months of the year. While I do believe it becomes increasingly less important as they become older, the extra time they have had in the younger grades is definitely an advantage and spurred on by confidence.

Our house is also a big sports home with all of our kids playing multiple sports in all seasons. And, again, in almost every sport January 1 is the date that separates some kids from other kids. I am convinced my January-born children would have had very different sports experiences if they were born in December. While over time it does even out, the advantage of the early birthdate can lead to a child being a little taller, a little more coordinated and mature, and can also lead to extra attention for sports opportunities than for a child born 10 months later.

This thinking around sports is nothing new. It is something Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in his 2008 book, Outliers — that there is a link in professional sports between those born early in the year and those who made it to the professional level in sports. It should be noted that there has been push back to his argument since its publication.

So, if you are reading this and have a child with a late birthday, what should you do? I know what my parents did for me (a late-October birth). They didn’t tolerate suggestions from early primary teachers that I was “just a bit slow” and by about Grade 5, the birthday effect had all but disappeared. Another piece of advice — as hard as it can be, move away from comparing your child to others because we all develop differently.

More importantly — and I think this is a topic that should be resident in our consciousness — we should actually think less about age be it school, or sports and more about the stages of development and how these can be supported.

As I have shared my “sample size of one” I am curious if others have had similar or contrary experiences?

 

And one final note – a special thanks to my colleague Deb Podurgiel who has read each of my posts for the last five years before I hit publish in an effort to help save me from myself.  She is leaving the school district to new adventures and the chances of me using their when I should use there are about to go up.

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smart

Earlier this fall I shared a post Does Smart Still Matter? That was the script I had built for a TEDx Talk answering the question “What is Smart?”  It was slightly different from the previous TEDx talks I had given as I was limited to five minutes and given the topic. There were four of us speaking at the TEDx WestVancouverED event who were given the same task.  Here is my final video:

 

 

And here are links to the others who each “smartly” took on the same challenge:

 Personal Development Consultant Erica Nasby

Librarian Shannon Ozirny

Actor Josh Blacker

But, I want to share the story of how my talk came to be.  My love of writing is something I always shared with my Dad. He was a high school English teacher for more than 30 years with almost all of those at Killarney Secondary in Vancouver.  I did share a little bit about my Dad in an earlier post this year – Teacher. For my entire life he had been my editor-in-chief. He would always work with me through my high school and university essays. When I took a part-time assignment at the Richmond News, as a weekly columnist, my editor-in-chief came with me. He would regularly challenge me to take a clear stance, to not be vague and encouraged rich, concrete language. He was a lover of language and we would often debate the use of individual words in an 800-word column.

It became clear this past spring that my Dad’s latest health challenge, a battle with cancer, was not going to be one he would win, and about the same time that Craig Cantlie asked if I would tackle the “What is Smart?” question at the September TEDx WestVancouverED event.

So, like I had done hundreds of times before, I took the question to my Dad.  I actually wasn’t sure if I should. He was having many ups and downs health wise and having more trouble concentrating. He didn’t seem to be that interested when I first prodded him with the question. So I left it.  When I returned the next day, my Mom said my Dad had been up much of the night working on my question. So, it was out off to the back porch to sit with my Dad. I had a piece of paper and a pencil to scribble notes. Everytime I saw him, I would have that paper and pencil, waiting for those moments when the conversation would turn to ‘smart’.

This time became one of our final great conversations. My Dad was becoming weaker. But, whenever he had the energy, we would come back to talking about ‘smart’.  Pretty much every good line in my presentation was my Dad’s.  He said, “Smart is a deceptive idea if you are trying to advance a conversation” and “It gets in the way of advancing conversations.”

He was struggling with his voice and had trouble concentrating for long periods of time, but ‘smart’ was an ongoing dialogue. “It is greasy” he said, “it is a really slippery word.” At the kitchen table I remember he said, “It is a swear word – like McDonald’s.”  Growing up in our house we had a series of less conventional words that were off-limits including many of the large corporate, fast-food restaurant chains.

Our final discussion of the word focussed on how we often just throw around words because we like how they sound, without any common idea what they mean — like love, patriotism and smart.

It was quite a final project for us. I have never had to deal with someone so close to me dying. When I started talking to my Dad in June about ‘smart’ I liked the idea it was for an event in September, it gave us something to look forward to together — not too far in advance that it didn’t seem real, but something we could plan for.

My Dad died on August 3rd, but it was pretty special that we did have this final project. My September 27th ‘smart’ talk was not one of my best. I was upset that I didn’t do a better job of delivering the words my Dad had so carefully helped to sculpt with me. It was, however, very special to have that moment speaking and to be able to go back and watch the talk — the final essay of all the hundreds we had worked on together.

Thanks, Dad.

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They Will Grow Up

Grow_Up

I share this as a reminder that all kids grow-up, even those who have driven us a little crazy in their teenage years.

We don’t often receive a lot of feedback from students, particularly those who were not overly successful in school.  So, that makes notes like this one (received last week) all the better.  This is from a former student at a school at which I was the principal about 10 years ago.  I share this with his permission:

Mr Kennedy,

I want to start off by thanking you for never putting up with my garbage in high school, and putting me in my place when I needed it. In spring of 2003, I came back to Vancouver for a visit and to re-enrol at Riverside in anticipation my family would be moving back to BC from Alberta. I was being a loud mouth as usual, and you came by and said “if it was up to me I wouldn’t have you back at my school.” Those words caught me off guard, until that point in my life I never thought the things I did affected anyone, and that was when a change began in my life. I was still a pain in the ass throughout high school, and I am positive that no one thought I would make much out of my life.

After graduation, I had a daughter at the age of 20, I was following the plan people assumed I would. In 2007, those words you spoke, along with a few from [another teacher], motivated me to prove everyone wrong. Although my idea of success was extremely skewed, I attained my goal that year of making $100,000, and was driven to exceed that goal the next year. By mid 2008, I had a talk with a mom who questioned my motives, and after a deep conversation, she helped focus my goals, and told me the best way to prove to someone was to change the world, and leave a legacy.

In 2009 I changed my focus, I switched industries and got into finance, quickly becoming one of the youngest Managers at TD Canada Trust. I began travelling the world every year for 2 months organizing charity events, and building orphanages and even starting a volunteer agency in Kenya. Kenya was my first trip, and before I left I received news confirming that my daughter was not biologically mine. Not of our anger, but out of determination to prove that I was not affected by the genes of my daughter, I built Madison House orphanage in Kenya. Since then I have travelled to over 40 countries, and helped raise nearly $200,000 for orphans in over 20 of those countries.

I am writing you because I want to thank you. Those words still ring in my head when I feel like I need to accomplish a task and have little or no motivation. Last June I made the decision to attend post-secondary school to get a degree, and eventually into law school. I was granted acceptance into BCIT’s full-time program and currently sit in the top 3% of the business department. I have a 90% average across all 7 full-time classes, and on Friday i was contacted by the University of Geneva in Switzerland in regards to my application.

I want you to know none of this would have been possible without you. I was a young punk, who cared about no one else but himself, but as time went on, I learned that I was never actually an extrovert as people assumed. I have always been an introvert with tendency of an extrovert to deal with my self-consciousness.

Regardless of our past disagreements, I want you to know, that you helped shape my future, my decision-making process, my outlook, and my ability to step back and make choices in my life. So one more time thank you Mr. Kennedy, and I can only pray you continue to move, shape, and teach kids like you have done with me.

Warmest Regards,

There is a lot in there and good reminders for me as a parent and educator.  Sometimes, even in a ‘culture of yes’, a strong “No” is an important message.

And, as Stuart Shanker regularly reminds us — there is no such thing as bad kids.

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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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