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Archive for the ‘SD45’ Category

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.

RichmondReview

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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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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Simple Job Market Advice

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Whenever I find myself speaking to students working their way towards a degree in education, someone will turn the conversation to the state of the job market.  And the truth is, in recent years, it has not been very good.  In British Columbia there are a number of factors that have led to a limited number of jobs for new teachers.  From district budget reductions, to declining enrollment, to fewer than expected teacher retirements, to huge numbers of candidates going through teacher education programs.  With this, I feel the angst of those graduating, looking for the little advantages that might help them secure a job.

I was recently speaking with elementary and middle school student teachers at the University of British Columbia, and gave some off-the-cuff advice, that I think is worth sharing more widely.

So, just what should a student teacher do?

1) Be Damn Good!

The explosion of teachers looking for work means that we get dozens (or sometimes far more) applicants on every position.  Our schools never have to settle for average candidates.  I am blown away by the quality of teachers being hired.  So, first and foremost, if you want a job, you better be good.

2)  Get Involved!

This can look really different from person to person, but it is really about playing up and sharing your passions.  Maybe it is coaching the volleyball team, or helping with the school musical, or sponsoring the chess club or being a lead on the school professional development committee – or a combination of them.  The parts around the classroom are some of the best experiences for students and teachers.  It is about seeing teaching as more than a job.

3) Connect!

It has never been easier to connect.  I feel like a broken record but all new teachers should get on Twitter, find at least five blogs to regularly follow, and consider starting a blog themselves.  And the power of the network is not just digital, student teachers transitioning into new teachers should connect into school district and multi school district teacher networks.  I know in West Vancouver, and I am sure it is true elsewhere, our professional opportunities are open to all – and that all includes student teachers and new teachers who might not have classroom teaching positions yet.

One more piece I shared when I met with the student teachers at UBC was an updated digital story (below) that I shared as a welcome to our amazing profession:

 

There are definitely things that can be discouraging in our profession, but whenever I have a chance to speak with those just coming into our profession I am left with so much hope – it is an exciting time for teaching and learning.

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The West Vancouver School District has become synonymous  with excellence and innovative programming.  In recent years this reputation has been bolstered by our commitment to a range of sports academy programs.

I am thrilled today to announce the latest in the long list of innovative programs – our Rock, Paper, Scissors Premier Sports Academy.  It is tremendously exciting that we are going to engage our students with this sport that has worldwide popularity.  There is great pride in being an international community and our Rock, Paper, Scissors Academy will support this.

The world is changing and we need to embrace traditional sports like fencing, soccer, hockey, baseball and basketball and also look at new emerging sports.  That is where Rock, Paper, Scissors fits in.  We know that there will be tremendous excitement over this announcement, and student-athletes will come from many surrounding communities to be part of our Academy Program.

Rock, Paper, Scissors is a sport that anyone can participate in from 5 to 85.  It will help foster lifelong fitness.  While many have raised concerns about the lack of physical activity with our youth – Rock, Paper, Scissors, gets our children away from the video games and engaged in physical competition.

Our curriculum will be based on resources available through the World RPS Society.  Students will learn about the history of the sport that is traced back to the Chinese Han Dynasty.   And the training will both be in the classroom and in the gym.  Competitors at the top-level need to be both physically and mentally sharp.  As any of our instructors will tell you, Rock, Paper, Scissors is far from random, and over time through deep study, athletes in the academy will become familiar with the various algorithms of their opponents selections.

As student progress through the grades, the academy will allow them to explore higher levels alternatives including rock-paper-scissors-Spock-lizard and other East Asian Hand Games.

This academy is completely aligned with the new curriculum – focusing on a series of competencies and embracing cross-curricular connections.  Students in the program will receive credit for English, Math and Physical Education.

Our Academy Programs have always been about supporting students through being academic athletes and taking their talents to the next level.  It is exciting to think the next World Champion might be sitting in our classrooms now and all they need is this type of program to catapult them to the world stage.  Here is a video of the 2014 United Kingdom finals:

We know that our Rock, Paper, Scissors Academy we are launching today has the potential to be as succesful as our many other academy programs.  Anticipating its success we are already considering adding other emerging sports including cheese rolling and toe wrestling.  It is all about getting our young people active and excited about activity!

Finally, to quote our Academies Principal Diane Nelson, “Today marks a special day in the West Vancouver School District as we announce the very first Rock, Paper, Scissors Premier Sports Academy in the world.  We are honoured to welcome some of the region’s most talented athletes.  I am equally proud of this truly special sport as it continues to delight people of all ages with it’s quantum indeterminacy.”

This is the latest in what has become an annual tradition at this time of year to launch innovative initiatives.

In 2012 I launched my FLOG.

In 2013 I made the announcement of Quadrennial Round Schooling.

In 2014 we formalized our System of Student Power Rankings.

Today we add our Rock, Paper, Scissors Premier Sports Academy to this list.

Hopefully your first day of April is as fun and exciting as mine!

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As regular readers know, I blog in West Vancouver as part of a rich community of teachers and administrators who are regularly sharing insights into their school, their profession and their work.  The blogs, from teachers and administrators, give a wonderful window into school life.  They are as diverse and varied as the topics which we spend our time on each day in schools.  Here is a recent sampling of what those around me have been writing.

Steve Rauh, the Principal of West Van Secondary blogged about our district-wide keynote presentation from Paralympic Champion Josh Dueck:

From his opening slide with the formula Passion + Perseverance = Possibility, Josh shared with us his personal pendulum story of hope, loss, love, despair, love, and hope again. I cannot remember hearing or seeing a more inspirational story or person who brought themes of recklessness, intuition, passion, ego, regret, humiliation, persistence, determination, and possibility.

For West Bay Principal, Judy Duncan, her latest post is all about looking ahead to the remainder of the school year and key topics at her school including their new learning commons, fresh ideas around communicating student learning,  IB self-study, self-regulation and a focus on the communication competency:

Teachers work passionately to facilitate rich learning opportunities for students and we work together with determination and enthusiasm to affect positive change within the school.  I am optimistic 2015 is going to be another wonderful year, full of noisy learning, quiet contemplation, continued collaboration and an abundance of creative thinking. High five for our Top 5, but let’s keep moving!

At Irwin Park Elementary, the students have also been setting goals for the remainder of the year – that are posted around the school.  Principal Cathie Ratz reflects on what she sees:

  They tell a story of Irwin Park students wanting to be better listeners, better self regulators, better readers, writers, eaters, swimmers, skiers, brothers…  The goals are realistic.  In most cases students identified a plan to meet their goals and in some cases personal supports to help them stick to their plans.  I wonder about self esteem and self control as predictors of success. Need there be an esteem vs control debate?  Does feeling good lead to a complacency that may interfere with the discipline needed to achieve success? Worthy debate?

It is always a hard decision for parents to decide what to do when their child isn’t feeling 100%  Two of West Vancouver’s most experienced Kindergarten teachers Christy Campbell and Andrea Daudlin, the writers of The Self-Regulated Teacher share their words of experience:

Sometimes a sick child may still wish to come to school. But in the classroom we are very close to each other in proximity. The children are playing at Centre Time quite close together. They sit close together while eating at the tables. They still hold each others’ hands. Because our supplies are shared, including crayons, scissors, gluesticks and pencils, a sick child at school increases the risk of spreading infection to the rest of the children in the class.

Your child will enjoy their school experiences much more when they return to school rested and healthy!

At Hollyburn Elementary, Principal Tara Zielinski has tackled a topic that is always on the front burner with teachers and parents – testing!  Her latest post looks at the use of data in schools.  For her, the key is how the information will be used:

Should we test?  Absolutely.  However, we must be focused and intentional in what and why we are testing.  More importantly, we must be prepared to use the outcomes to enhance our students’ skills and be flexible and reflective as we navigate the strategies employed to respond to our students’ specific and individual needs.

Bowen Island Community School Head Teacher Laura Magrath used her blog to share her reflections on the challenge of learning to reflect.  Reflection is a key piece of the new curriculum proposed in BC, and Laura points out it should be included in all classes:

Reflection needs to happen multiple times throughout the learning process. Reflection while we are actively learning provides us with feedback that can alter our learning journey. For example, when shooting a basketball, I get immediate feedback that can be utilized. Not enough arc, I hit the rim. Next shot I think of the arc and overcompensate. I get immediate feedback again as I hit too high on the backboard. I try again and get the feedback of: Swish! Nothing but net. This kind of reflection-feedback loop should occur in our all of our classes.

Laura’s Bowen Island colleague, Scott Slater, who in his first month as Principal of the school, sees his school as a moving school, differentiating from the school as potentially a wandering school:

It is best, however, for schools not to wander.  Implementing change in a school requires a significant amount of time, energy and inertia, and if not done well or without follow-through, innovation too often feels like adding to practice rather than evolving practice, of increasing workload without increasing student achievement.  A wandering school means that broad changes may be made, but likely not deep ones.

Ridgeview Principal, Val Brady, tackles the issue of evaluation, assessment and reporting with her latest post.  There are shifts taking place with how teachers and schools communicate with parents on student learning at the same time we there is a shift happening with curriculum.  So, in some ways report cards are still the report cards we all remember from school ourselves, but increasingly there is a a focus on areas of competency:

Report Cards are intended to provide clear, meaningful comments from your child’s teacher and highlight strengths and areas for improvement.  Beyond commenting on basic skills, progress reports will highlight student progress and development in key competencies areas, Inquiry Learning and student self-awareness as represented in the Ridgeview Learner Profiles

Cypress Park Vice-Principal, Kim Grimwood, has taken on a more personal topic with her latest post – a topic many parents spend a lot of time considering – video games.  For her video games are not simply either good or bad:

I think we need to take a more balanced approach.  One day, when I think my children are ready, I will probably purchase some sort of video game system for our family.  I will do this for many reasons. Firstly, I’m sure my children will have fun and enjoy passing time by playing video games. Secondly, I believe that many games can build important cognitive skills and develop my children’s understanding of technology.  Thirdly, I’m not above wanting my children to not feel ostracized for not having what their peers have (within reason of course).

Of course, this is just a small sample. You can check out all of our bloggers  by visiting our school sites here.

There are so many wonderful ideas being shared.  Hopefully this sampling will give you one or more “must reads” to add to your regular list of those you follow and learn with.

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