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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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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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