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Inside Stories

story-4

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.

birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Less But Better

LessButBetter

I was first exposed to Greg McKeown’s notion of “The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” in reading his article for the Harvard Business Review a couple of years ago.  McKeown argued that too much success can be a catalyst for failure.  He outlined the clarity paradox in four phases:

Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success.
Phase 2: When we have success, it leads to more options and opportunities.
Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts.
Phase 4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.

It is an interesting observation that we need to continue to ask what is essential and to eliminate the rest.  It is a principle, albeit often with limited success, that I have tried to apply to my professional life and to the work of our school district.

Over the holidays, I read McKeown’s expanded argument in his book Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. The book resonated differently with me now than it did then, as I thought about his notion (borrowed from Dieter Rams) of “less but better” in the context of the curricular shifts currently being proposed in British Columbia.

The general discussion around the redesign in British Columbia’s K-12 education is that over time we have created curriculum that has become bloated with outcomes. References are often made to the dozens (in some cases more than 100) discrete outcomes students need to learn in a particular discipline, in a particular grade.  The Draft Curriculum (currently posted for K-9) aligns with the notion of Essentialism that McKeown forwards in his book, “it is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy.”  I hear the worry, if we reduce curricular outcomes for students, are we not asking less of them?  Instead, as McKeown argues with Essentialism, it is about asking what is essential and allowing students to go deeper and flourish rather than simply cover topics.

I like the idea of reframing McKeown’s questions around schools and learning, looking at what is already covered in schools to ask tough questions about whether we should continue:

By applying tougher criteria we can tap into our brain’s sophisticated search engine. If we search for “a good opportunity,” then we will find scores of pages for us to think about and work through. Instead, we can conduct an advanced search and ask three questions: “What am I deeply passionate about?” and “What taps my talent?” and “What meets a significant need in the world?” Naturally there won’t be as many pages to view, but that is the point of the exercise. We aren’t looking for a plethora of good things to do. We are looking for our absolute highest point of contribution.

In some ways, school systems and curriculum may be the victims of their own success — the kind of success that can lead to failure.  Over the last several decades we have crammed more and more “stuff” into schools. As schools have become more successful with this, they have taken more on which has led to diffused efforts.  Perhaps stepping back and looking at what is essential is a very good exercise.

Regardless of whether one finds McKeown’s thesis as one that links to schools and curriculum redesign, his article and book offer a good challenge for us as we look at how we live our lives as successful and/or very succesful people in our world.

Personally, I think our schools and our lives could often use a good dose of less but better.

top3

Welcome to my final blog post of 2014, and what has become an annual tradition — My “Top 3″ lists for the year. Previous Top 3 lists for 2013 (here) 2012 (here), 2011 (here) and 2010 (here). Hopefully, you will find a link or video or some other information you may not have seen over the past 12 months. The “Top 3″ is more about starting discussions and sharing than ranking and sorting.

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts which have generated the most traffic this year:

1.  Teacher

2.  Trying to Understand the Fencing Phenomenon

3.  Taking Back Halloween

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts I have started and really want to finish:

1.  How and Why High School Sports are Dying

2.  What Schools Can Learn from the Transformation in Public Libraries

3.  Early Academic Specialization

Top 3 regularly used Edu words that show you are from BC:

1.  “networks” like the Network of Inquiry and Innovation

2.  “competencies” like the Core Competencies that are part of the draft curriculum

3.  “principles” like the First Peoples Principles of Learning

Top 3 TEDx Videos from WestVancouverED (that you may not have seen):

1.  Getting Beyond “No” – Judy Halbert

2.  The Creative Destruction of Education – Punit Dhillon

3.  The Power of ummmm . . .  – Kath Murdoch

Top 3 Education Stories people will be talking about in BC in 2015:

1.  Communicating Student Learning, – or what most people call report cards, will continue to be a growing topic with more BC districts looking for alternatives, particularly at the pre-Grade 8 level

2.  The Graduation Program DRAFT curriculum was posted for K-9 and despite being very different from past models, was met with general support. There will likely be far more debate on this as the focus shifts to Grades 10 to 12, and the traditional schooling model of senior grades is challenged.

3.  Aboriginal Education — What separates the changes in education in BC from most other jurisdictions in the world is that BC is embracing Aboriginal principles in its changes. The First Peoples Principles of Learning (PDF) are reflected in so much of the current BC work.

Top 3 BC Superintendent Bloggers I didn’t tell you about last year:

1.  Monica Pamer - Superintendent of Schools, Richmond

2.  Kevin Kaardal – Superintendent of Schools, Burnaby

3.  Mark Thiessen - Superintendent of Schools, Cariboo Chilcotin

Top 3 Thinkers from outside British Columbia who are currently influencing work in BC:

1.  Yong Zhao (you will likely hear much more about him in 2015)

2.  Dean Shareski (you won’t see him as a keynote at a big conference, but he is connected to the powerful digital network in BC)

3.  Stuart Shanker (Mr. Self-Reg himself)

Top 3 Videos that have a link between school, sports and overcoming adversity:

1.E360 – Catching Kayla, is one of the most powerful stories I have ever seen

2.  High School Basketball Player Passes Ball  (okay, so it is from 2013, but I didn’t see it until this year)

3.  One handed player gets a shot at college basketball

Top 3 Things I am going to stop doing because they seem hypocritical:

1.  Sitting in on a session of 500 people for professional development, and listening to someone speak about the need for personalization

2.  Accepting comments that suggest there is some debate whether technology is part of the future for modern learners

3.   Giving my kids ‘high-fives’ when they get a happy-face sticker on their worksheets (okay, that doesn’t really happen now)

Top 3 Non-education people I started following on Twitter:

1.  Stephen Colbert

2.  Chris Rock

3.  Tweet of God

Top 3 BCers I started following on Twitter:

1.  Paul Bae /You Suck Sir  — if you follow him on Twitter, do yourself a favour and subscribe to his blog!

2.  Keith Baldrey —  he gets Twitter and the mix of professional / personal and serious / funny

3.  Roberto Luongo — I know he is not really from BC anymore, but he is one of the few athletes I follow

Top 3 Things I learned from my blog this year:

1.  The digital community is an incredibly caring community that will rally around people they barely know

2.  Commenting is down but reading is up

3.  I’m getting more comfortable and more at ease with being more personal

Thanks to everyone who continue with me on this journey and the many new people who have engaged with me this year. I continue to love the opportunity blogging gives me to work out ideas, challenge ideas and serve as a living portfolio. I look forward to another great year together in 2015.

Chris Kennedy

The Smart Story

smart

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

 

 

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

 Personal Development Consultant Erica Nasby

Librarian Shannon Ozirny

Actor Josh Blacker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Dad.

supportThis is a follow-up post to my recent post regarding Board Governance – Some Small Things That Can Make a Big Difference. This post picks up on a couple of other areas that recently retired Board Chair, Cindy Dekker, and myself shared with trustees and senior staff colleagues at the BCSTA’s Fall Academy. We looked at little things superintendents can do to support Boards and small things Boards can do to support superintendents and district senior staff. In support of the Boards I spoke about:

How Superintendent Supports the Board

Regular Briefings on District Issues and Topics – These are briefing meetings or trustee workshops (different Boards have different names for the meetings). We regularly schedule time for the superintendent and members of the District Leadership Team to in-service trustees on issues and topics. These are not decision-making sessions; rather, these meetings are an occasion to ensure trustees have a like understanding on any particular topic. While the meetings can occur anytime during the year, we do reserve time prior to public Board meetings for these important sessions.

Clear Processes – Nothing can be less helpful than a muddy process. For trustees to make a thoughtful, informed decision there must be a clear process and inclusive of the community. This is an area where the superintendent can provide important guidance. As an example, say a teacher, parent, trustee or community member wants to start a new program in the district. We have a very clear Choice Consultative Committee process to guide us through and to ensure the good ideas are thought through, planned and come to fruition.

Orientation – Trustee orientation is built into policy in our school district. Elections are held in November, and the period up to spring break is taken to focus on orientation for all trustees. Again, it is important for all trustees to have a like understanding of all information. So, we have built a “101” series, like a set of first-year university introductory courses. Each week, trustees will work with staff on learning an understanding a different aspect of the organization. Areas include: working with the superintendent, budget and finance, human resources and bargaining, curriculum and provincial learning directions, Aboriginal education, Student Support Services, International Programs and Facilities.

Share Information with All Trustees – When a trustee asks the superintendent a general question via email, I respond to all trustees. It is symbolic about how we work together. If it is a question for one trustee, it is likely a question for all.

Media and Emergencies – We are clear about who will be the spokesperson for different issues and also ensure we have consistency and clarity in our messaging to staff and the community. In our context, the superintendent is most often the spokesperson and will loop in the Board Chair on any emerging and media topics.

Ensure Profile for the Trustees – West Vancouver is a community with an outstanding public education system and with strong independent schools. It is crucial the public education story stays front and centre in our community. The superintendent can work to ensure that the important work and leadership of trustees are highlighted at community events and in local newspapers.

 

In the area of Board support for superintendents, Cindy spoke about:

Board Supports Superintendent

 

Respectful of Staff Time and Work/Family Balance – Our Board has been very respectful to the fact that most staff in district leadership positions have young families. If the superintendent needs to attend an event with trustees, there are no expectations that senior staff must attend as well. Trustees and staff look at the calendar of community events and share responsibilities — not, all trying to attend all events. Also, the Board has moved to a mix of daytime/evening committee and Board meetings to allow for a better balance regarding work commitments.

Referring operations issues to the Superintendent – Often, when a trustee receives an email that is individually addressed to them, all trustees will have received the same email, as has the superintendent and others. When an issue comes in that is clearly operational, by policy, trustees immediately include the superintendent and a plan is made as to who is the most appropriate person to respond.

Saying “Thank You” to Staff –  From Board highlights of staff accomplishments, to a staff Christmas party (more than 200 staff members attended a district party in early December), to an annual retirement gathering, the Board continually works to acknowledge all staff — teachers, administrators and support staff, because this makes a huge difference in fostering the family type climate and culture in our schools and district. Our Board Chair will regularly write dozens of notes and send regular emails recognizing the work of staff.

Sharing concerns immediately with a Look to Problem-solving Together – When there is a problem or concern, one can either look to someone to blame, or work together to find a solution. In my eight years in West Vancouver, the latter has been the focus. Whether it is a tricky issue like budget reductions, or the process of specialty programs, or facility initiatives that have multiple stakeholders, trustees have worked with staff to find problem-solving solutions.

Being the eyes and ears in the community – We are always checking for tone and themes because trustees have a unique position in the community and district. They can be in a supermarket, on a soccer field, walking on the seawall, but they often receive ongoing and often unsolicited feedback about how we are doing in our schools. And, it is tricky to know what to do with this information. Again, in my eight years with the district, the trustees have not looked  to draw immediate conclusions from what they hear, but do share the information with the superintendent, not necessarily out of a need for action, but to assist the superintendent in their job — clear information is always a good thing.

Again, it is important to give a similar caveat that I gave in my earlier post on Board governance. This is hardly an exhaustive list of the Board’s work, but is intended to highlight some small things that can make a big difference. It is also important to reaffirm there are many ‘right ways’ to go about Board governance and the model we have built is one.

Finally, our model is an ongoing work in progress as we continually look to be better.

 

governancepictureAt this fall’s BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA) Fall Academy, recently retired Board Chair for West Vancouver Schools, Cindy Dekker, and I did a presentation on Authentic Leadership Through Ethical Governance.  The presentation for trustees and district staff broke out into three main areas: small things Boards can do that can make a big difference, key ways a superintendent can support the Board, and key ways the Board can support the superintendent.

As always, the West Vancouver School District’s story is the product of the history of community and district, and speaks to the many people who are involved. It is also important to note, Boards do have many more responsibilities, but this presentation was intended to give insights into strategies and approaches we have found successful over our last eight years working together in Board/District Leadership positions.

All presentation slides are included at the end of this post, but I would like to expand on Some Small Things That Can Make a Big Difference. Cindy and I spoke to six specific areas:

Some Little Things that Matter

Board Work Plan/Calendar – Our Board Work Plan serves as a check sheet for the work that needs to be accomplished. While it is far from an exhaustive list of the work done by the Board, as people move out of and into new roles, it helps to provide continuity. The Board Chair and I review (at least, twice per month) the Board Work Plan to ensure all items that need to come to the Board in any given month have been covered and that we are on track with our ‘regular’ work. By March, we are finalizing the calendar for the following year. From briefing meetings to committee schedules and community liaison meetings, the earlier we can have an established calendar the more respectful we can be to staff and Board members to allow them to plan their professional and personal schedules.

Regular Chair/Superintendent Meetings – While there are always texts and emails, we block out time to meet regularly, usually weekly.  The Board Chair would have her “Superintendent” list, and I would have my “Board Chair” list of items to review. While we attend many events together, regularly committing time to meet has been a very effective process.

Clear Delineation of Policies (Board) and Procedures (Superintendent) – In 2006, the Board worked with Leroy Sloan to update the Policies and Administrative Procedures in the district. The Board has 18 policies and by-laws that speak to their role in governance. The Administrative Procedures Manual, which is the responsibility of the superintendent, has more than 100-plus procedures that speak to the district’s daily operations. Of course, there are linkages between the two books and crossover between the work of the Board and the work of the superintendent, but this model does help to reaffirm roles in the organization.

Clear Superintendent Evaluation Process – Our Board uses the framework from the BCSTA for the Superintendent Performance Planning Review.  As a superintendent, having a clear view of the process is very important. With our model of policies and procedures, I have been given a high level of responsibility and, thus, should be held by the Board to a high level of accountability. In our district, all of our education staff participate in a growth plan model; our principals and vice-principals work with district staff on their growth plans and all teachers have growth plans they share with principals and colleagues. I meet with our Board three times each year to review my growth plan. I have three areas of focus — the first is from the role description that is in policy, another is based on the district’s strategic plan, and the third area of focus is personal-professional growth. I have previously blogged about my growth plan and shared it publicly here.

Strategic Planning – The Strategic Planning Process is written into policy in West Vancouver. Following a period of orientation, our Board engages in a strategic planning process. Looking ahead, this will likely be from March to June of 2015 with the goal of having a final document ready to share in the fall of 2015. There are many different models for strategic planning; the Board in West Vancouver has worked with Malcolm Weinstein, the last three terms, to support their work of building a high level of direction for the district.  Recent examples are available for 2009-11 and 2012-15 (PDF documents).

A Culture of Growth and Support – We are in the learning business and the more we can model that, the better. No matter how strong results might be, there are always opportunities to be better. The Board dedicates time at each of their meetings for school highlights. Each school has an opportunity to make a presentation during the course of the school year. Very often, this includes the sharing of new ideas and innovative approaches that are having an impact at schools. Recent highlights have included reports on outdoor learning spaces, libraries being converted to learning commons and approaches to communicating student learning that move beyond traditional report cards. Where people go, and what people talk about, speak to what organizations value — while the Board in West Vancouver places a focus on student learning, there is always a quest to find new ways to meet the needs of modern learners.

Likely, the reaction of many Board members and superintendents to this list is “nothing new there” and these, and many other little things, help Boards ensure they are high functioning. It is often these ‘little things’ that can make a huge difference. As Cindy and I both said in the presentation, “If you show us a district that is going strong, we are pretty sure you will find a Board and superintendent who are in sync and committed to doing what it takes to work together for students.”

Our full slide show is available here (if you are receiving this post via email you may need to view by going to the website):

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