Archive for the ‘SD45’ Category


I studied a mix of History, Geography and English during my undergraduate studies at the University of British Columbia. I did a practicum teaching junior and senior English and Social Studies. After a brief stop teaching math and science, my teaching load largely consisted of Socials 9, Socials 10, English 11, Law 12 and History 12 during my time at McRoberts Secondary in Richmond.

And what is something I never learned about going to school in BC, or taking social geography and history at UBC?  Or never learned about through my teacher training or ever really covered in any of my classes?  Our history of residential schools.

I thought I was doing a good job of exposing students to some of the real sore spots in our recent history from the Komagata Maru to the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II.  If I had the chance to go back now into my classroom of twenty years ago probably the biggest change would be the increased influence of Aboriginal learning and I would correct my omission and include age appropriate materials to help students understand the ongoing legacy of residential schools in our province.

Of course, I know I was not alone.  One of the many reasons I think the changes to the BC Curriculum are so important, is the purposeful embedding of Aboriginal learning throughout the curriculum.  The First Peoples Principles of Learning (from the First Nations Education Steering Committee) is a document that is discussed in almost all conversations around the curriculum.  No longer is learning about First Nations limited to Social Studies in grades 4 and 10 – it is truly across subjects and across grades.

First Peoples Principles of Learning

Specifically to the topic of residential schools, there are a number of new and excellent resources that have been produced.  In response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Report for age-appropriate education materials about Indian Residential Schools teacher resources have been developed for grades 5, 10, and 11/12.   These resources have received some excellent media attention recently, helping to spread the word.  Other new and thoughtful resources include the BC Teachers’ Federation produced, Project of Heart: Illuminating the Hidden History of Residential Schools in BC and  the Ministry discussion paper Aboriginal Worldviews and Perspectives in the Classroom.  There are even examples of students learning about residential schools in daycare (the link also provides some great books for very young learners on the topic).

There is a lot I like about the changes to the curriculum.  One of the most powerful differences I see in classrooms in our district, is the care and attention given to learning about our Aboriginal history.  There is no doubt, if I was transported back to my classroom of the mid 1990’s I would take what I have and continue to learn about our local history and the history of residential schools and bring it in the classroom.  I am so pleased that the teachers I work with today are making sure this generation of learners engages in this important part of our history.

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I was recently reminded about the type of real world competition that we should be preparing our students for.

I was listening to Dr. Jeff Goldstein, Institute Director, Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education, discuss a project that will see a grade 5-7 student experiment selected from West Vancouver and be carried out in microgravity by astronauts at the International Space Station.  Our students, working in teams, will each create an experiment – the number of entries will be short-listed to eventually three that will be sent to the Smithsonian where a team of experts will select the experiment that will be carried out in space.  Dr. Goldstein was making the case that the process of being selected (or not) was an important part of the learning.  Students need to understand that part of being a scientist is competing for research dollars.  One does not just show up and announce she is a scientist and start doing experiments.  This is the competition of the real world -working in teams on a project and competing for selection.

This project reminds me of a similar type of experience we are offering students – YELL(Young Entrepreneurship Leadership Launchpad).  Through this program, students connect to accomplished entrepreneurs in both profit and non-profit sectors, learning about communication, presentation skills, branding, marketing and other core skills.  They then turn their attention to solving a real world problem and work with a mentor in the community that leads to a venture challenge and participation in a Provincial Business Plan Competition.  Again, the process reflects the real world of business.

Of course, these types of opportunities are not new.  Particularly in elective areas, we have a rich history  of real world competition.  For example, our visual arts students have long been competing for placement in art shows and galleries.

We do still romanticize the “Jeopardy” like competitions of schools of the past.  The Scripps National Spelling Bee, for example, is covered on live US National television.  While yes, spelling is important, and factual knowledge is important, the competitions are holdovers from a time when the content one knew was king.  Spelling, for spelling sake, is a very isolated skill. More and more it is the application of what one knows that matters.  The thirst for real world relevancy is why students creating experiments that will be tested in space or starting businesses that will face feedback from the community are so enticing.

I wrote several years ago about how my teaching had changed – increasingly it has been about trying to create real world opportunities for students.  It is these type of opportunities that seem to be generating so much excitement with students in our schools.

I hear competition is disappearing from school.  Not true.  It just may not look the same as a generation ago.

We may not rank and sort students as much as we used to – but competition is not disappearing, in some ways it is hopefully becoming more real.


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out thereI am often told that in the type of job I hold, it is better to say nothing. I am told it is a no-win situation, if you communicate, no matter how positive the message there will be some who take issue to what you say, how you say it, or twist your words and use them against you. And I have experienced all of that.

I do think it is our job to be out there.  And while the most important messages that parents receive from the system are from their child’s teacher, and the next most important are usually from the school’s principal, it is also important for superintendents to communicate directly to families.

In the digital world, this message can take many forms and often needs to come in multiple forms to reach people.  I know this blog is just one way to connect to our community.

This past week, I sent out the following back-to-school email to all the parents in our school district:

Our schools were open last week, preparing classes, planning activities and taking some time to reflect on the past and the future of education. We enjoyed welcoming all our new and returning families today, and hope that you’ve had an enjoyable summer break.

Over the summer, I heard many remark on how good it will be to get back to a ‘normal’ school year. And while I understand where that’s coming from, in light of the challenges we faced a year ago, this year in West Vancouver Schools, I’m asking our teachers, students and parents to challenge the validity of normal. As I wrote about in my blog, The Culture of Yes, normal is about average, and as many who work, learn and teach in our district already know, West Vancouver Schools is an exceptional place.

On Thursday last week, as we do every year, we launched the new school year by inviting all staff to attend an Opening Day morning event, followed by an afternoon of professional development. We were so privileged this year to hear from one of the world’s foremost experts in education, Dr. Yong Zhao. His ideas are inspiring, especially in light of the move towards the new curriculum.

Dr. Zhao spoke passionately about the evidence that shows all schools need to move away from educating for the average, to educating the individual. Rather than fixing ‘deficits’, we need to help children become great, achieve their autonomy and enhance their potential.

Fortunately, this work has been underway for some time in the district, with our work on project-based learning, inquiry, self-regulation and digital literacy. The curriculum doesn’t teach – teachers do that. A litany of specific education outcomes does not guarantee success, student motivation, passion and talent contribute to that outcome.
We are, I am proud to say, making sure that our students not only understand the facts – which are widely available in the digital age – but also understand how to interpret them and use them creatively to solve the right problems.

We are teaching kids to take on a world that is far different than it is today. It is critical to instill the creativity, confidence, compassion and resilience that young people need to embrace those changes.

Along with the Board of Trustees and my colleagues at West Vancouver Schools, we wish you a successful and pleasant year ahead!

I never know how many people read these emails that I send out, but I know from those who respond that there is definitely some engagement.  I always get some very kind responses, appreciative of the information and always some that take issue with the topic – that is what happens when you put yourself out there.  Whether the concern is about the role of technology in schools and more broadly in society or whether personal experiences in schools are reflective of what I am saying – the engagement is encouraging.

This past time I was struck by two particular responses – one from a mother in Italy who wrote:

My son started just yesterday his school year and is absolutely thrilled about West Vancouver school, new friends and the programs that can be accessed.  I look forward to hearing about you and any news you will forward to me

and from a father from Germany who wrote in part:

I am very proud that my son is taking part in this terms school program to learn, how different countries estimate the importance of educational background in complete different ways. In Germany we have nowadays a huge discussion about inclusion on the one hand and reduction of school years. What we do not have, and it hurts me to say it this clear, is a discussion about elite in the most positive meaning of the word, about investment in the most precious „resource“ we have — our children and their education.

What a great reminder that we are really communicating for a global audience.  I sometimes get stuck in my thinking that my messages are going out to the people within a few mile radius, in my mind who have always been here, and with whom I already have a largely shared experience.  Of course this is not true.

In our schools which have students from around the world, coming from a range of systems and experiences, messaging with them is not only a nice thing, but the right thing.  The revised curriculum conversation in British Columbia may be covered on our local 6:00 news, but we need to reach all of our families and engage them in our conversation.  And whether one lives around the block or on the other side of the world, continually coming back to messages of what we are doing and where we are going are crucial.

Some good first week reminders for me.

I do think with the power of the tools we have, we need to take up the opportunity to communicate more than just when we are thinking about closing schools because of snow.

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Celebrating Normal?

normalAs people are returning from summer and attention is beginning to focus on the upcoming school year there seems to be enthusiasm over the normal year that is ahead. I have been hearing it from staff and parents.  People say, “you must be glad to finally have a normal year” or “finally it will be a normal start-up”.

I know what people mean.  Given the labour dispute that carried on into last fall, and the seeming treadmill of the last five years which has seen us in a cycle of potential job action, job action, post job action – repeat – it is nice this is not sucking up all the oxygen in BC education again this year.  But normal is an interesting word.  The more I hear it, the less I like it.

For me normal feels boring.  Normal is about average.  And our schools are about the exceptional.  More than ever we want to support our students and teachers to be anything but normal.  We want to tap into the passions of our artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers in our classrooms.

I am reminded of this scene from the movie Soul Surfer:

So let’s have a year where we have conversations about curriculum for our modern world and assessment that makes a difference for learning.  Let’s have a year where we focus on excellence and equity. Let’s have a year where we teach and learn about residential schools, gender identity and our natural world.

Let’s embrace all the young people that will enter our classes the Tuesday after Labour Day –  who each have their own story and their own struggles and challenges.  And as they try to fit in, we need to remind them that normal is overrated.

And as the adults that have amazing opportunity to work with students, let’s commit to being better versions of ourselves this year.

But when we look to this year – let’s not let it be normal.

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With a single tweet, the 83 year-old newspaper in my community disappeared. Of course this is nothing new, it is happening in communities across North America as the newspaper business continues to search for its place in the digital world.


Community newspapers don’t get enough credit for the important role they play with our school system.  They are so often our storytellers.  They tell the narratives of our kids, our teams, our musicals, our art shows, our academic success and our commitment to service.  They also keep us honest and tell our stories of controversies like bus service changes or school closures , budget decisions and staff misbehaviours.  Community newspapers connect schools to community.  In the district I work, we lost one of our two local newspapers last year with the closing of the North Shore Outlook and now this past week, the community I live in has suffered the same fate with the closing of the Richmond Review.

I have tagged more posts “Change” than anything else on my blog.   I champion change.  And we are seeing this change play out in almost every industry.  It is why, I believe, sometimes change in education is so hard.  With so much change in our world, people often hold onto the traditions of school hoping that at least they will stay the same – romanticizing the world we used to have.  And I kind of get it – we are all in favour of change, expect for the things we don’t want to change.  Some of the change feels more like loss.

The Richmond Review felt like more than a community newspaper.  I remember the excitement growing up seeing my name in the paper for something to do with school or sports.  It was great moments of pride for kids and families if their name was in the newspaper.    While I will read the Vancouver Province, Vancouver Sun and Globe & Mail on an almost daily basis, I would read the community newspapers where I lived and worked cover to cover – I would love seeing stories of people I knew or better understanding the views of those I lived and worked with.

Over the years I developed wonderful relationships with several people who worked at the Richmond Review.  In particular Sports Editor Don Fennell became a friend.  I first spoke to him as a high school student, and then probably hundreds of times over the twenty-six years he spent at the paper.  Whether we hadn’t spoken since last week or last year, he had that great ability of picking up a conversation and making one feel so comfortable.  I love his quote in the final edition of the paper, “I don’t like good-byes; I love Richmond.”  Don and the others at the paper made the community better.

Of course earlier this year when a deal was announced that saw the other local paper the Richmond News and the Richmond Review come under one owner – it was clear something was going to change.  This story has been repeated across North America.  And while I might be a little jaded thinking how unfair it was to kill-off an 83 year-old community paper with two days notice in the middle of summer, it doesn’t change the fact that despite the greatest efforts newspapers have been unable to transition into a viable economic model in the new digital world.  Surviving, not thriving describes most of the local newspaper that continue.

But this blog is largely about education and what does this change have to do with education?  Actually a lot!

If teachers, coaches, principals, schools and school districts need yet another reason why they need to be storytellers in the digital age this is it.  Local newspapers have long been our storytellers and these stories are important.  We need to tell them.  It is not enough for our websites to be information rich, they need to be rich in stories of the people.  If the North Shore Outlook and Richmond Review are not around to tell stories of our great young soccer players, or the high school performance of Grease, or the students going to Africa to build a school we need to tell these stories.

So, you want another reason to start a blog or change your website?  We can no longer rely on the traditional community media to tell our stories.  And people still want to hear these stories.  We need to tell them.

We need to write, photograph and video what is happening in our schools and then bring it to people’s attention.  Kids still want to see their names in the newspaper – we just need to figure out what that looks like in our world.

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You won’t find a lot of people suggesting we need fewer opportunities for creativity in our schools. That said, often people are slow to make the link that efforts around entrepreneurship are really creativity initiatives.  Discussions around improving student learning often focus on core academic areas, and yes, these are important, but we need more than that.

I have been very taken by discussions about entrepreneurship.  I know I held a traditional view of entrepreneurship, that the area of study was really about creating people for the world of business.  And yes, this is important, our schools are about so much more around the skills and qualities we want and the citizenship we want to foster.  My views around entrepreneurship have shifted.  I am persuaded by Yong Zhao, for example, who argues, “Bold entrepreneurs, bright new ideas and world-class colleges and universities . . . are what every country needs and more importantly, what the whole world needs to succeed.”  Zhao and others link closely the notion of creativity with entrepreneurship.  And it makes good sense.

Over the last couple of years, we have introduced three specific new opportunities that link young people to entrepreneurial opportunities:

Early Entrepreneurs:   In this program, participating classrooms each get a $100 micro-loan as startup capital, and asked them to raise funds for charity. Rather than running typical fundraisers such as asking for pledges, these classes used the money to start their own small businesses such as building bird houses to sell at a local market, selling green smoothies on Fridays, and creating family friendly events. These students were using their own creativity and imagination to turn our initial $100 loan into thousands of dollars for charity link to other established programs.  There is a great story of this at work at Lions Bay and their loan that turned into almost $1800 raised for building a school in Kenya through Free the Children.

Entrepreneurship – Ignite Your Passion:  We offer a number of programs for grade 6 and 7 students after school hours taught by secondary school teachers that allow these young learners to explore their passions in areas often not covered in-depth at the elementary grades.  One of the very successful offerings has been entrepreneurship.  As the course outline describes, “This course will empower the next generation to explore their interests in business, leadership and innovation. Students will have the opportunity to engage in topics such as leadership, communication, marketing, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship; culminating with developing their own business. Entrepreneurship students will gain real-world, leadership, and public speaking skills plus a confidence to take risks while exploring their interests and passions.”  One day I was there, I learned about Free Kicks – a soccer camp that was being run by a grade 7 student at Gleneagles Elementary School for younger learners at the school.  It was an amazing example of real world leadership at work.

YELL (Young Entrepreneurship Leadership Launchpad):   I have said in a number of venues, that the future of schooling looks like YELL.  It is real world experience for our high school students that does not just simulate real-life but is real-life. The program is “a hands-on, experiential accelerator for high school students interested in gaining knowledge and developing experience in all areas of business and entrepreneurship. In addition, YELL helps students interact with others across the school system with like-minded individuals, helps to build a community based framework to enhance innovation and provides a learning and development structure to foster innovation and advancement for future generations.”  The program is offered for students in grades 11 and 12.  It started in West Vancouver two years ago, spread to Coquitlam and Richmond this year, and is looking to grow to other school districts in BC and beyond over the next few years.

From Early Entrepreneurs with students as young as kindergarten, to Ignite offerings at the end of elementary school to YELL with our passionate senior students we are being far more explicit around entrepreneurial skills.  These on top of already established programs in these areas that continue to thrive.

It is not just about building business leaders but about the crucial skills we are seeing in these programs – we see our students gain confidence, collaborate and solve problem together and grow as leaders.   The types of skills we need to be highlighting for our students as they enter a world that is changing so quickly.

To come back to Yong Zhao, as we move forward, “We will need a lot more entrepreneurs and creative talents to develop new industries, new products and services and new solutions to the many challenges facing humanity.”

Finally, here is the slidedeck for my latest presentation, “Why we need entrepreneurial kids”:

(If you receive this by email you may need to open the website to view the slides)

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number one (image can be used for printing or web)

I promised I wouldn’t do it.  But here it is.

It is a bit like Groundhog Day – if it is May school rankings are out and the education community is screaming foul.  And yet we do this dance over and over.  At a different time in my life I was a weekly columnist at the Richmond News, and here is one of many posts I wrote on school rankings – this one in 2003.

I actually thought we had broken the cycle.  School rankings have received far less attention in recent years, but this year, they seem to have had a resurgence.  In so many ways, we have moved to a post-standardized world in British Columbia, further differentiating ourselves from many U.S. jurisdictions. We live in a world of increasing personalized learning and one less reliant on ranking and sorting.

I couldn’t let the recent stories go without sharing my view.  So, I penned some thoughts on the value of ranking schools.  Here is a piece I shared with staff and parents in West Vancouver last week:

School success much more than a number

Some readers may have seen a recent front page article in the North Shore News about the annual Fraser Institute Elementary Report Card School Rankings, released in early May. Ecole Cedardale, one of our two French Immersion schools, was the only public school in the province to score top marks. While we are pleased with the result, the rankings provide only a small sliver of information about what our community values in schools.

The Fraser Institute has been compiling data from Grade 4 and Grade 7 Foundation Skills Assessment to produce reports on student achievement, in an effort to help parents decide which schools perform best academically. They produce a similar report for high schools, based on the previous year’s average examination results in Grade 10, 11 and 12 courses that include a mandatory provincial exam.

These reports reflect an old view of education: that we should compare schools and compete with one another. Our philosophy and success is based on a new model – that our schools are all connected, and should work together to improve. Collaboration — within districts, among districts and around the globe —  is the key to building a stronger education system.  Student learning is not about labeling winners and losers.

We appreciate the dilemma that a parent new to education — or new to a region — may be facing when they choose a school for their child, and know that it’s tempting to rely on a number in a complex world with so many choices. But educators know that using test scores to measure school performance is deeply flawed. It may provide some interesting insight at the student level, but beyond that, the measures tell us very little.  It is just silly, for example, to look at one year’s scores and make broad generalizations about a school’s achievement.  Cohorts of students are different each year – what is interesting to me is individual students’ progress over time.

If there was one piece of valuable information I might glean from the data, it is the small gap between our highest and lowest performing schools. While individual school performance in the West Vancouver School District goes up and down year over year, the range in results in our district is the narrowest in Metro Vancouver. This year, for example, there is only a 2.4 point gap between the highest and lowest test scores.  Given the consistency in data between our schools, and over time, the message that emerges is that all West Vancouver School District schools are consistently strong achieving schools on tests in core skill areas.

So how does this link to selecting a school?  The best choice for most families is the neighbourhood school.  That is the choice my wife and I have made for our four kids.  We know that the community connections and friends in the neighbourhood are good reasons to make a local school choice.   That said, I know there is increasing choice for families.  As you look at schools – whether for elementary or high school, please don’t decide based on a test score.

Instead, we ask parents to visit our schools, meet with teachers, administrators and students, learn about the school’s unique programs and opportunities, and make a decision based on the right fit for their child. In West Vancouver, we offer a broad range of programs, and with strong academic performance well in hand from one end of the district to the other, we successfully focus on providing a broad range of educational and programming options that provide a richly woven learning experience for every child.

It has been interesting to see some of the responses that I have got.  People seem surprised that I would say anything, given the high standing of West Vancouver schools.  It seems that I should take the approach that I am opposed to awards except for the ones we are winning.

Let there be no mistake in what I am saying – we do have outstanding public schools in our district.  And being a top performer in British Columbia in reading, writing, and numeracy is reassuring.   I would be thrilled to have my own children in any of our schools.   And core academics are very important – as important as ever.

But schools are more complicated that simple rankings.

I am heartened that other high achieving schools and systems, like Vancouver’s Crofton House, share our view.  Their head of schools Patricia Dawson was quoted in the Globe & Mail last week, “We struggle with the rankings. We greatly appreciate that the public at large, and certainly a broader parent community, looks at those rankings and puts a lot of stock in them. We do not.”

I do recognize the irony that by writing posts like this I am actually giving more attention to the rankings that I am encouraging people to give less attention.

So, I won’t blog about them again.  I promise.

And my offer stands  – visit our schools.  You will see students doing amazing work with reading, writing, and numeracy. You will also see students learning skills to be prepared for our world – a world rich in technology, where those who can work together, solve problems, and be lifelong learners will be the ones bound for success.

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