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Photo Credit - Tara Zielinski
Photo Credit – Tara Zielinski

Really?  Twitter with Kindergarten students?  That was my first reaction.  While I think Twitter is a great way to connect and share ideas, I didn’t really see it as a tool for our youngest learners.

So, I have learned something.

I first learned about the project via Twitter (of course) last Friday. From the Hollyburn Elementary School Twitter account came:

First Tweet

This tweet is a great example of why all superintendents need to be on Twitter.  It is such a great way to see a sampling of the work going on in the district.  It is such a wonderful way to ‘drop in’ on the learning in various classrooms and schools across the district.  It was this tweet that led me to be in the class three days later — a great way to take advantage of our connected world.

So, back to my reservations.  When I first heard a kindergarten class was tweeting, my mind jumped to all that could go wrong instead of all that could go right. In a controlled environment, guided by the teacher, these young students are learning about digital literacy. Their parents, many who are also new to social media, engage with them in the class and the students can connect to the world!

When I visited the class earlier this week, I learned of parents that were now following the class, and a great home  / school connection.  It was wonderful to learn with the K students about their Happiness Project and how they were sharing it through Twitter with the world.  On day two of the project, the lessons were already very impressive.

why what

So, what do K students tweet about? They are tweeting because they are happy; to spread happiness around the world and to communicate and connect with people outside their classroom.  And, they have adopted a simple rule when deciding to tweet, one everyone can learn from: “if it is helpful, tweet it; if it is hurtful, don’t tweet it.”

The students were completely engaged in their Happiness Project, and the use of Twitter was part of the hook and a great introduction to social media.  If we want students to engage ethically with social tools, we need to teach and model and that is just what I saw happening in the classroom.

Makes Happy

 

I look forward to virtually following the Hollyburn Happiness Project and the many other classes and schools sharing their learning beyond the classroom walls through Twitter with a range of other social tools.

The Hollyburn story is another fine example of a teacher taking a risk and being a learner herself!

It is always great to see what is happening in our classrooms.

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West Van Image

Checking in on what our leaders are writing about gives a great sense of the current topics and issues percolating in our schools.  In the age of encouraging our students to be public digital writers, we are so  fortunate to have a number of our leaders modeling the way.  What is so interesting is that the ideas from our schools are influencing each other and one feels the diffusion of new ideas and practices.

Bowen Island Community School is one of many schools in our district looking at the shift to learning commons.  School parent, Tess McDonald, recently wrote a guest post on the shift that is taking place.  The parents are clear partners in the shift.

Libraries are turning into Learning Commons; places with flexible furniture that can be moved around to accommodate small or large groups. They have books on movable shelving that doesn’t block the natural light, areas for creating multimedia presentations, listening to guest speakers, using technology that may not be in every home, and yes, reading. There is a librarian but he or she isn’t wearing tweed, but an imaginary super suit! This person is an expert about books and writing, and finding information, and connecting people to the right source, and helping them see bias, and questioning ideas. This person is ready to help you create and question and connect too. (Here is where I admit that, after reading Seth Godin’s blog post on the future of the library, I wanted to become a librarian. It is here, if you are interested).

Another district-wide effort has been in the area of self regulation.  In classrooms and schools across the district the work on Stuart Shanker and others is coming to life.  Cypress Park Vice-Principal, Kimberley Grimwood, has been a leader with this work and recently described what it looks like in the classroom:

We have embraced a number of programs and practices to help teach our students about emotions, mindfulness, and social thinking. In addition, the IB program integrates many self-regulated learning components each and every day.  Specifically it helps to develop the cognitive domain and reinforces reflective practices to allow students to continue to develop their ability to be metacognitive (to think about their thinking). You may see students taking a moment to breathe along with our MindUp chime, or express which zone they are in according to the Zones of Regulation. Or, they may tell you how their engine is running thanks to the Alert Program.  While self-regulation is not a program or a lesson plan, it is a lens through which we are viewing students’ behavior and through which we are teaching them to view their own behavior.  No longer is a behaviour good or bad, but rather we want to understand why, and provide students with tools and strategies to make good choices and to be successful learners each and every day.​

Lions Bay Principal, Scott Wallace, used the blog of the primary school to describe the seemless transition that takes place for young learners between all the different offerings in the school.  It is a true community hub:

Lions Bay Community school is a shining example of quality early childhood education.  Nestled in the woods along Howe Sound, the outdoors provides a perfect backdrop for a child’s self-exploration.  In fact, all three facets of this learning environment; the Before/After School Program, facilitated by the North Shore Neighbourhood House (NSNH); the Preschool for 3 and 4 year olds, supported by a parent run Board; and the Primary school, part of the West Vancouver School District, are all interconnected.  Each unique program draws on the same philosophy that a child should learn to explore their natural environment and ignite their curiosity.  The adults that assist the children at each level are committed to fostering the child’s sense of wonder and provide opportunities and resources to investigate their questions.  For children and parents this seamless organization provides for optimal learning.

There is a lot of interesting work taking place with assessment and reporting in our district and around the province.  While student-led conferences are not new, they have definitely moved more mainstream over the last couple years.  Ridgeview Principal Val Brady makes the case for why they can be so valuable:

Students should be included and actively involved in the process of evaluating their own learning and sharing their perceptions of their progress with their teachers and parents. When students are meaningfully involved in this way, they deepen their understanding of the learning and evaluation process and they grow in their ability to take ownership of this process.  Student ownership of learning results in student empowerment…a powerful motivating factor in the learning!

West Bay Elementary has been looking at assessment and reporting.  Principal, Judy Duncan, described the work of her staff in a recent post, outlining the different factors that they have considered as they have looked at drafting a new report card:

When the West Vancouver School District invited school learning teams to apply for innovation grants, a group of teachers jumped at the opportunity to explore a more comprehensive way of communicating student learning.

What did our team consider while drafting a new report card?

·     The shifts in the province and how other districts are responding

·      The IBO (International Baccalaureate Organization) requirements to report on the five essential elements (knowledge, concepts, transdisciplinary skills, Learner Profile traits/attitudes, and action)

·      Recently released B.C. Draft Curriculum documents

·      What was missing in the current report card

·      How to report on the breadth and depth of the learning in a clear, comprehensive manner

The full post explores the comprehensive and inclusive approach the school has taken to looking at the reporting issue.

West Van Secondary Principal Steve Rauh recently described how students are using technology in powerful ways to stay connected, even as they travel the globe.  We can all be a “digital fly on the wall” as students are engaged in learning around the world.  Rauh, in citing several examples of students on trips using blogs and other digital tools to stay connected compares it to his experiences as a high school student:

I also remember being fortunate enough in my grade 12 year to participate on a school athletic trip to Europe. A privileged experience for many youth both then and now, and quite often one of the most memorable experiences of their high school journey. I also remember on that same trip diligently selecting and purchasing several postcards along the way to mail home to my family to show my appreciation for their support, as well as to update them on our travels. The final memory I have of this tale is of leaving that stack of postcards, duly filled out, addressed, and stamped, on the overhead luggage rack of a train somewhere between Munich and Berlin; they were never seen again, and their existence questioned when I returned home.

It is not just school leaders that are using their blogs to share what they are seeing and learning.  West Vancouver School District Secretary Treasurer Julia Leiterman focused on aboriginal education recently with her blog and the power she has seen with First Nations learning in our district and how it has had an impact on her:

I can’t fix the old wrongs, and I don’t know whether our work in the schools will inspire our First Nations students, or whether they need inspiration in the first place.  I hope I’ve been using the right words, but I don’t even know enough to be sure I’ve been politically correct here. What I do know though is that I’m grateful that our First Nations neighbours have agreed to partner with us, because thanks to their willingness to share, what I finally, truly feel in my heart is respect.  And that’s a good start.

Huy chewx aa.

So the quick scan of the district – some themes emerge – ones reflected in these blog posts, but ones I see alive in so many of our classrooms and schools.  This sampling nicely summarizes the new work that is taking place.  I am seeing a shift to learning commons, self-regulation, strong early learning connections, powerful efforts around assessment and reporting, new ways of using technology to stay connected and a commitment to aboriginal education and our partnership with the Squamish Nation.

It is an exciting place to work!

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Google

Thomas Friedman recently wrote a piece in the New York Times on “How to Get a Job at Google.”  As I read the comments of Laszlo Bock, the Senior Vice President of People Operations for Google, the more I found that Google is looking for many of the same attributes in its employees that we are looking for in West Vancouver, when we hire principals and vice-principals.

One of the more common questions I am asked is just what does someone need to do to secure a school principal or vice-principal job?  The truth is there is no one thing or an exact path.  In West Vancouver we do receive dozens of applications for any job opening, and many of these candidates have all the required boxes checked for what is needed in these leadership positions.  Many who apply believe there is a certain ‘formula’ in getting a job as a principal or vice-principal, but I haven’t seen it yet. I have heard,  “you need to be on district committees,” or “you need to have experience in multiple schools; to have experience in different subjects and at different grades.” And the list goes on.  In the end, our view is similar to that of Bock, “Talent can come in so many different forms and be built in so many non-traditional ways today.”

Bock identifies five key attributes in hiring:

  • learning ability — the ability to pull together disparate bits of information and process on the fly
  • leadership — when faced with a problem at the appropriate time you step in and lead
  • ownership — the feeling of responsibility
  • humility — the ability to step back and embrace the better ideas of others
  • expertise — it is important, but less important than the other four

The list really speaks to the skills we are looking for with our school administrators and the kind of attributes we are seeking in our leaders. We want them to be able to be smart and make decisions on the fly; to lead — not only from the front, but to feel like their school is theirs; to step back and allow others to share in the success and, finally, to have the expertise in many of the learning and management areas that are regular parts of the job.  Friedman is right, “In an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavour, it also cares about a lot of soft skills – leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn.”  This is why we almost always ask candidates about who is in their network and how they learn with their colleagues. We want our buildings to be about learning, and that includes our leaders being model learners themselves.

And, really, this entire list and conversation extends to the qualities we are looking for in our teachers. We want our teachers to be innovators, leaders, and owners of their classroom. We do want them to be humble and, yes, we want expertise — but I will take someone with the other four qualities and lacking in expertise rather than the reverse, any day. Good grades don’t hurt, but we are looking for more than that with our teachers and educational leaders.  I agree with the notion Friedman shares, “Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job.  The world only cares about – and pays off on – what you can do with what you know.”

Of course, the teaching, principal and vice-principal jobs in West Vancouver involves different perks than Google (sorry about that) but it looks like we are looking for many of the same qualities.

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Fencing 1

Whether by phone, email, or in person, I get a lot pitches about just what it is we need in our schools. Actually, it can be quite overwhelming at times. So, when our District Principal of our Sports Academies said “I had to meet the fencing guys,” well, you can understand my skepticism.

Then, I met Igor Gantsevich, National Fencing Champion, World Cup & Pam American medalist. Now, several months later, there is something amazing happening in our district.  We have had well over 2,000 students exposed to fencing through their PE classes, and in six of our schools out-of-school fencing clubs have started up, with more clubs possible and a district-wide showcase envisioned. And, this may just be the beginning, as Diane Nelson, District Principal of Academy Programs said in a recent North Shore News story, “Our vision is an international academy on the North Shore where students from all over the world would come to train. We hope that students from West Vancouver would funnel into this academy and receive scholarships for Ivy League schools.”

I have never tried fencing.  My total exposure to it, until a few months ago, was watching some of it in Olympic coverage every four years, usually waiting for some other sports coverage, because despite it being part of the Olympic games since 1896, it is not a sport with a rich history in Canada. But Igor, the BC Fencing Association, and former World Champion Vitaly Logvin, and the current President of the international charity For Future of Fencing, are planning to change this.

sidebar-fencingInitially, we envisioned exposing students to fencing through PE classes this year, then looking at club programs next year and maybe an academy in the future.  The timeline is speeding up — with club teams this year and interest from families for academy programming in the near future.  As someone who grew up on hockey and ball sports, it is all quite amazing to see.   When we featured a story on fencing for our district e-news publication Learning Curve, the ‘click rate’ dwarfed everything else in the edition.  So what is going on?  I have some thoughts on this:

  • The fencing instructors are first class. Igor has a wonderful way with students and he has brought in former Olympic medalists to support him with the teaching. Teachers and instructors for these types of programs make the difference.
  • There is a fair bit of equipment involved and the providers have taken care of all of the first class modern equipment for students to use.
  • Although most students had previously never tried fencing, they had seen it at the Olympics or elsewhere, and there is a ‘cool factor’ to try it out.
  • Fencing is a multi-age sport that can be done together with girls and boys; so, it is very inclusive.
  • Since nobody has really practised fencing before, the skill levels are quite similar; when we divide up for soccer or basketball, even at the elementary school level, there can be a massive difference in skill levels which can be discouraging for some students.
  • Fencing attracts a different type of student than would be playing ball sports. As École Cedardale Principal, Michelle LaBounty, pointed out in the North Shore News article – fencing sparks student imagination.  “For students who do a lot of reading, fencing attaches an element of reality to their books,” she said. “It takes them to another time.”
  • The number of young people participating is relatively small in Canada, so the opportunity to compete provincially, nationally or internationally, is a real possibility.
  • While the sport does not have a rich history in Canada, it does in many other places around the world, and our community is very diverse. Many of our families grew up in countries where fencing is part of the culture,

It will be exciting to see what happens next. We want students to be more active and it is exciting how passionate so many of our students have become in such a short time about fencing. When I speak with Igor, he talks about the future Olympians he envisions from our partnership. It is quite incredible.

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homework1

If you read other edu-bloggers, you will have likely seen these posts that are spreading. I had shied away from doing one myself, but it was only a couple of posts ago I committed myself to becoming more involved in the education blogging community. How it works is colleagues in your network “tag you” with a homework assignment to share 11 random facts about yourself, and then answer the 11 questions provided, and then invite 11 others to answer 11 questions asked of them.

I am somewhat skeptical — it sounds like a pyramid scheme.  I know when I was seven I was supposed to send five postcards to people I knew and within three weeks I was going to get 400 postcards from people around the world — my mom said I wasn’t allowed to do it.

I have been “tagged” twice, so below my facts are answers to both sets of questions.

11 Facts About Me:

1)  I love routines.  I know that is not considered to be a good thing by many, but even on vacation I love a schedule with a sense of tasks being accomplished.

2)  I have a geographic tongue – this feels like over sharing, but only about 1% of the population have one.

3)  I would prefer to speak in front of 500 people than make small talk in a room of 10.

4)  I was 39 years old before I travelled outside of North America.

5)  My wife and I went to the same high school but didn’t know each other (she was one year older); she may have been a little bit “cooler”. We started dating  when we on the staff together at that same high school and I was assigned to be her “mentor”.  After we were married we taught on the same staff for one year before I took a job in Coquitlam.  I also spent one year – my first year – teaching on the same staff as my mom.

6)  Last spring break our family filmed an episode of the Property Brothers – Buying and Selling.  It starting airing on HGTV in the United States on January 1st and starts airing in Canada on January 7th on the W Network.  We learned a lot about how “real” or “not real” reality TV really is.

7)  I am in my 26th year of being involved with coaching basketball / basketball administration — my first coaching assignment was in 1988, coaching the Grade 7 boys at Woodward Elementary School in Richmond.

8)  I loved playing the saxophone in high school, but now I regret that I never really learned to play the piano.

9)  I feel a connection to West Vancouver because my grandfather taught at West Van Secondary in the late 1930′s and early 1940′s.

10)  My peak weight was 248 pounds but I have spent the last 20 years weighing about 195 pounds.

11)  I know that this trait is really not that popular these days in schools, but I am very competitive and I really like to win.

Questions from Johnny Bevacqua

1.  What keeps you up at night?  My four-year-old daughter — she is still not keen on sleeping through the night in her own bed

2.  What would you consider comfort food?  All-you-can-eat sushi

3.  What is one thing you would change about your job?  My house and my job are too far apart – I would make them closer together

4.  What is one thing you would change about schools today?  Stop valuing some courses (e.g. sciences) more than others (e.g. arts and  trades)

5.  What is one piece of advice you would give to someone?  Go for it — there is always another job

6.  The biggest inspiration in my life is___________________?  My wife — she is awesome!

7.  What was the first music concert you attended?  Probably Fred Penner.  Without my parents, I think it was Harry Connick Jr.  

8.  What is the first movie you attended?  Swiss Family Robinson

9.  Other than work, I have a passion for_____________________? My family

10.  If you wrote a book, what would the title be?  Either “Go Where the Kids Are” or “Just Win Baby!”

11.  When I grow up I ______________________  will just be a big kid.

Questions from Tia Henriksen

1. What are your favourite and least favourite colours?  Favourite — blue; least favourite — brown

2. What was your favourite subject / least favourite subject in school?  I loved History 12 and never liked (or was very good at) Art

3. Where were you born? In a hospital

4. What was your lowest grade in your post-secondary classes? In what class?  C in Urban Geography of Thailand (poor course choice)

5. What is the best characteristic you received from your mom? Appreciation for traditions

6. What is your favourite childhood memory?  Spending time in Naramata, and later in Penticton, with my grandmother every summer

7. How old were you when you learned to swim?  Probably about five – we did lessons every summer at South Arm Pool in Richmond

8. Is Disneyland really the Happiest Place on Earth?  YES — I love theme parks and I like to have the entire day planned out

9. What’s your favourite video you’ve watched recently on social media?  Dean Shareski’s TEDx Talk from last spring

10. If you could plan it, what would your last meal consist of?  Sushi and lemonade

11. What makes you happiest?  Watching my kids play sports

11 Random Questions for You:

1.  If you could only watch one television station what would it be?
2.  Looking back at your schooling, what was the silliest rule your school had?
3.  Who is the greatest ever Canuck?
4.  What is the greatest rock group of the 1980s?
5.  What is something education related you have changed your opinion on over your career?
6.  What is the warmest place you have ever been — and how warm was it?
7.  Poorest fashion trend you have seen in schools in the last 10 years?
8.  What was more frustrating to deal with in your school — Pokemon cards or silly bands?
9.  Describe your favourite high school teacher in four words
10.  What is the best reason to go on Facebook at least once a day?
11.  If blogging was outlawed tomorrow — what would be your reaction?

I Challenge the Following People to do their Homework:

I know it is a bit of a cop-out, but I will challenge all of those bloggers in the West Vancouver School District community to consider giving this activity a try.  I will  not call you out by name, but hopefully some of our Trustees, Principals, Vice-Principals and Teacher bloggers will take this on — and then, maybe challenge some of our student bloggers to do the same.

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comment

Just two years ago, I was able to make a list of all the BC educators who were blogging.  Since then, the numbers have grown exponentially with numbers well into the hundreds of teachers, administrators and others who blog on a semi-regular basis.  It is wonderful to see how many people are sharing their thoughts publicly and modeling for our students the ethical and responsible use of technology, whether it is to build relationships or on how to share their thoughts.

While I have continued to attract more readers to my blog over the year, one trend I have seen is the number of comments on the posts are decreasing.  In past years, posts like this one on school sports and this one on learning in depth generated dozens of comments.  Now, I only receive one or two comments on a post.

This, of course, has made me wonder why?

Here are some of my theories:

My posts aren’t as interesting — Admittedly, I don’t write for the purpose of getting feedback.  I write about topics for a variety of reasons — mostly, I really enjoy the process of trying to work an idea out and put my thinking down and share it.  It is very possible that my posts aren’t as interesting or as engagement-worthy as they once were.  It is easy to default to writing safe posts.  Having had some of my words taken out of context and republished elsewhere, I am more conscious now of what I say and how I say it, and it may be limiting the quality of what I write.

My position limits discussion — It is a real challenge to write about education from inside the system and then invite discussion.  While I know my posts are well-read inside the school district, almost all of the comments come from outside the school district.  I also get it is a no-win situation to comment on a blog written by the Superintendent whether they might be challenging my ideas or supporting them.

The novelty has worn off – Blogging was new and fresh three years ago, but this novelty may have worn off by now.  We are an ever-changing social media society. Perhaps I need to crank up my Instagram presence to increase engagement?

I am not doing my part to participate — My commitment when I started blogging was that for every post I wrote I would comment on three others.  I think it is part of “the deal” about being a member of the community.  Over the last several months I have not lived up to this.  I do feel bad about this.  I read so many interesting posts, so many that help shape my thinking, but I don’t often take the time to write a quick response.

Twitter love is the new blog comment — We seem to be shortening our thinking to 140 characters.  Perhaps a quick comment on a RT (Retweet) is all that can be expected now.

So much to read, so little time to write — With the huge growth in the number of people blogging about education, it is exhausting trying to keep up.

Some People Aren’t Nice — It only takes one time to be personally attacked for a comment on a blog, and that person may never come back.  While education is a pretty safe landscape, there are some who move quickly from challenging ideas to insulting people.  Perhaps this is the reason why I see so many comments on my blogs I share on Facebook — it is a “safer” community with the authentication of IDs.

We Aren’t Good at Commenting – Commenting is difficult to do.  It is something that takes a lot of time when working with students and blogging. When we (students or adults) comment we want to be respectful, make a point that contributes to a conversation and say something to continue the conversation.

I do see the trend across many education blogs of fewer comments.  The danger is that without dialogue our blogs become newsletters.  And, it is the conversations around our blogs which keep them and the ideas alive.  It is great if these conversations happen around the water cooler, or the dinner table, but one of the real attractions to blogging for me is to have thoughtful discussions about interesting topics in the public realm.

I will try to do my part to re-engage with other blogs and be a more regular commenter.  The move to transparency with digital writing is something we should continue to support.

Any other theories why the commenting in the educational blog world seems to be drying up?

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lighthouse

Checking in on the blogs across the district is a useful way of getting a sense of the topics that are being highlighted this fall.  I have written several times about the power our schools are finding using the blogs to connect to the community.  At some schools they serve as a news update, at others they tackle issues.  Our metrics indicate they are very well read.

Here is just a sampling of the topics and issues that are being discussed this fall:

Bowen Island Vice-Principal and Program Builder for the outside45 program Scott Slater recently looked a the challenge and opportunities of going deep on a particular topic and the value of extended field experiences – all particularly relevant with the recent release of new draft curriculum in B.C.

Is it worth it?

We assess the value of things constantly.  Is it worth the cost?  Is it worth the time?

For teachers, the latter question, “Is it worth the time?” is an ongoing concern.

Teachers look for a balance between spending enough time on topics so that students can thoughtfully and thoroughly understand concepts, and retain this understanding for the long-term, with obligations to teach many learning outcomes deemed important by the BC Ministry of Education.

Students are also asking the question is it worth it?  Is it worth my attention?  Is it worth my effort?  If a teacher spends too much time on a concept, student interest might decrease; if they do not spend enough time, retention may not occur.

A regular topic on this blog has been the work in our schools with self-regulation. Irwin Park Principal Cathie Ratz recently did an excellent job of outlining the work and the changes, in this area at her school, now in its third year of focusing on self-regulation:

So what is different?

We have been looking at our classrooms and students through a different lens. We have become aware of the need to include regular breaks for our students. We are examining what and when students eat and drink.  Transition times, going from one lesson to the next or moving from one room to another, are used as opportunities to get some sensory work or refocusing done. Staff is also working hard to reframe how they see behaviours. These understandings are then used to help students identify early signs that they need to choose a strategy to help them self-regulate. This comes naturally for some, but for others it is a skill that needs to be taught and practiced. It has been great to learn as a team and use the new information to make a difference in how we teach and how students learn. Staff is explicitly talking about and teaching to everyday opportunities and challenges. Self regulation is embedded into our daily work. Our teachers are having rich conversations and asking thought-provoking questions. What can we do to help students flourish? What stressors and triggers are within our classrooms that impact student learning? What strategies might be effective in dealing with these stressors? What tools and resources are available?

In her post, Zombies in Front of Screens?  Not Even Close!, West Bay Vice-Principal Brooke Moore tackled another theme that permeates the district – the thoughtful inclusion of digital tools in our classrooms:

Authentic audiences spark a sense of meaningful work and pride in their learning that simply isn’t there if students are asked to present their learning on a poster that gets hung in the school hallway. (Of course, for younger students, the hallway audience can be just as exciting as they are eager to share their work with parents and friends.) Teaching students how to engage safely in conversations beyond our walls is of absolute importance and allows for authentic “teachable moments” about cyber safety as an extension of their learning work through technology.

This shift towards students bringing a laptop to school as part of their school supplies is provoking some thoughtful conversations and it all comes down to both parents and teachers wanting the best for students. That’s a pretty great conversation to be having.

For Pauline Johnson Vice-Principal this fall has been a bit of deja vu – as a former French Immersion student now back teaching in a French Immersion school.   He is finding himself reflecting on his previous student experiences as he returns to teaching Immersion:

I also remember how as students we were constantly encouraged to speak French beyond regular classroom interactions; in the hallway, the gym and on the playground.  As a teacher, I find myself in that same position, pretending not to understand when a student asks me a question in English until they ask me in French.  If only my former teachers could see me now?  Strangely enough some of my past teachers have been able to see me now, former PJ teacher M. Yin and the mother of Mlle. Macdonald were both teachers while I was at Cleveland Elementary and Handsworth Secondary.

Director of Instruction Gary Kern’s work has been highlighted in the blog a lot recently – he deserves much of the credit for the leadership behind digital devices for teachers and creating flexible ways for classes to experiment with Bring-Your-Own-Device Programs.   His latest post looks at the power of active engaged learning:

As we want students to experience learning that is more actively engaged and applied, we need to design learning experiences differently. Students need to be curious and inquisitive (inquiry) and they need the tools to explore divergent ideas and to dig deeper into areas that will be unique and personal (digital access). Inquiry and digital access can help us move our students learning become more active and applied.

Our other Director of Instruction, Lynne Tomlinson has been leading our district’s work with the Squamish Nation.  She recently reflected on Reconciliation Week:

West Vancouver School District sits on the Squamish Nation traditional territory.  It is our responsibility to teach our students about the history of this place and its people, including the Residential Schools and their impact on many of our Squamish community members.  With the help of our Squamish colleagues, including Rick Harry (Xwalcktun), Bob Baker (Sa7plek Lanakila), Faye Halls (Yeltsilewet), Wes Nahanee (Chiaxen), as well as Deborah Jacobs (Snítelwet), Head of Education for the Squamish Nation, we are working to improve our curriculum and program implementation with an authentic focus on the indigenous principles of learning.

With a large population of non-aboriginal students in West Vancouver, it is important to improve their knowledge of local culture and history. Aboriginal Education needs to become a part of the regular curriculum so that it is more embedded in daily work.  This year, we will continue with our goal to increase our students’ understanding of First Nations’ issues seen through the Aboriginal lens.

Namwayut.

These are just a sampling of the stories that our staff are telling for their school communities and the world.  And while they offer insight into their individual schools – they speak to so many of the larger themes of the district:  self-regulation, inquiry, digital access.  They also cover other emerging areas of growth including our relationships with the Squamish Nation and the power of outdoor learning.

It continues to be an honour to be part of a community that takes the risk to share and reflect in the public space.  Blogging is not an easy task, but the stories help grow our community.

The entire West Vancouver social media community can be tracked here – all in one place.

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BYOD Blog Photo

In some ways, this is a follow-up or companion piece to my post last week when teachers have mobile devices in the classroom, on our findings and efforts to ensure digital access for all of our teachers.

While this has proven to be very powerful for teachers, our next step is around finding access for all students.  In a previous post, I shared some thoughts around BYOD and Equity (an issue I think is crucial when looking at getting devices into students’ hands).

In West Vancouver, student access is growing; in some elementary schools students have regular access mainly from devices they bring from home.  In other schools it is less consistent with pockets of classrooms having students on devices.  One key piece of learning we have realized over the last three years is if students don’t have purposeful reasons to use their device in class they will often stop bringing it.

So, before one announces that “everyone will bring a laptop on Monday” there are ways to work toward changing and improving that experience.  The challenges around the recent iPad rollout in Los Angeles schools are a good reminder of the complexity of these kinds of initiatives.

So, what we did rather than focusing on embracing devices and changing practice for the entire year, was to focus on trying it with support for a two- to three-week period.  We tried this last spring and have plans to do it again this fall.

Here is a brief overview of the project:

There is increasing support that access to digital resources and tools combined with inquiry teaching and learning practices improves student engagement, learning relevancy and academic success.  A challenge in today’s classroom is the inconsistent access to digital tools: some students have access some of the time, some have no access and only a few students have access all of the time. Building on the opportunities from the recent Modernization initiative, the Digital Access Action Research project is aimed at understanding the impact of “ubiquitous” or pervasive student access on learning and teaching.

The Digital Access Action Research project is looking for interested Grades 4 to 9 classrooms willing to try “ubiquitous access” for a two- to three-week period.  This would include:

  • Sending home a district letter to all parents asking them to provide a digital device for their students during that period. The device can be an iPad or a laptop. For those who do not have a spare device at home, the district will provide a device the student can use during the project.
  • Attending a morning session (TTOC included for teachers) prior to the start of the project to plan for the action research and to determine how best to utilize the opportunity that every student will have digital access whenever and wherever they need it.
  • Ensuring the students use the device when appropriate during the school day and to have the device taken home at the end of the day
  • Completing a follow-up summary around lessons learned and challenges from the project. This will provide a better understanding of the opportunities available through digital access as well as what challenges we continue to face.

There are many details to consider with this project, including:

  • When the students should and shouldn’t use the devices
  • How to shape the learning activities to benefit most from the digital access and minimize distractions
  • How to secure the devices when not being used
  • How to problem solve technical problems and challenges

If we want to move towards digital access for students, it is not a proclamation of change — even if students bring devices, very little in the classroom may change.  That is why our thinking around this is although some classes and schools are full speed ahead, in other situations we need to scaffold this change and start with  projects like this action research.

So, here is what we found:

1 to 1 action research v2

Director of Instruction, Gary Kern, has also blogged more about these findings here.  There is not a ‘one size fits all’ model around our work. In fact, this particular project has shown that sometimes, before we make big changes, we have to take some smaller steps. Before we say all students need to bring devices for the year, let’s try it for three or four weeks; before we say that teachers need to change their practice to embrace the digital landscape, let’s support them through doing it for a unit.  And, we were also reminded the power of digital access is its interplay with inquiry and innovative pedagogy.

Many of the classes that were part of this trial in the spring have moved to having students bring devices all the time this fall – it is a bit of a continuum.  It is great to say that “all our students have devices” but if nothing else has changed what really is the point?  It will be interesting to see our next group of action researchers take up the challenge this fall.

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blog photo

Last year, we began a program that can best be described as “classroom modernization” across the district.  Our Board of Education recognized the importance and education need for the modernization and made a commitment through its budget to support the purchase of technology to support the professionals in our classrooms.

The first decision we made was to ensure all teaching staff had access to a current, mobile device.  While often the focus is on ensuring all students have access to current devices (a continuing effort in our district) we realized that if we wanted classes to be engaging with digital tools, teachers needed to have access and feel comfortable with them as well.

The next decision was to give teachers a choice in their devices.  Just as learning is personalized for students, we know that teaching is different and personalized for each teacher.  In previous practice, when (if) we gave out the technology, we would have given everyone the same technology and lockdown the device — with device management being the priority.  Instead, we gave teachers choices that included iPads, MacBook Pros, PC Laptops and PC Tablets.

Another key component of this modernization push has been to install wireless projectors in all of our classrooms from Grades 4 to 12 (and deploying existing projectors to primary classrooms) so teachers could then easily display their screens.

Last and most important, we created ongoing training opportunities and support for teachers with their devices through centrally run training, and access to innovation grants –  teacher teams can now work together in an area of focus and often with digital technology.

Of course,  the projects are more complex than one can cover in a single post, but the general premise was simple — we want all teachers to have a common set of tools across schools and grades to effectively work with students.

And after the first year, this is what we heard . . .

Modernization Update

Thanks to Gary Kern for the infographic

83% of teachers said, “it had a positive impact” on their teaching and more than 85% found the impact on student learning to be “somewhat” or “very positive”. They highlighted a variety of positive impacts on their classrooms; their ability to use current content and resources; the opportunity to be innovative and to demonstrate learning in multiple ways and to be able to communicate this to parents. Some comments from teachers about key benefits included:

“It has allowed me to connect with colleagues and parents more efficiently.  It has allowed me to show videos and images to the classes I teach and has given me a great tool to plan lessons.”

“It’s great having my own laptop that I can use at a moment’s notice.  I also really appreciate being given the choice of platforms.”

“I compose lesson plans, assessment and correspondence on the device.  It is the hub of my teaching practice.”

“I move around the school a lot – so having a device that can come with me has made my job significantly more fluid.”

“My courses have gone completely paperless and I am able to incorporate virtual learning on  many levels.”

“I’ve been able to make using technology seamless.”

Of course, there have also been good lessons for areas of improvement and for better support throughout the process.  The exponential growth in technology has strained some of our wireless networks and choked our bandwidth — both areas we are currently working on to address.  We also realize each teacher has a different learning requirement, comfort level and expertise with technology, and for personalizing their teaching.

A modernization project is never quite complete. But, in giving our teachers the tools they need to teach, it has made a huge difference for our students in their quest for relevant, current and connected learning opportunities.

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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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