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Sentinel

It is always nice to connect in with the many other bloggers in West Vancouver Schools. Over the last five years I have continually found the themes that emerge from what others are writing to be very instructive about where we are going as a school district.

Here is a collection of some of what my colleagues have been writing about recently.

Like many in our district, our Bowen Island Community School Vice-Principal Laura Magrath has been thinking and writing about the changes in curriculum.  A recent post of hers focused on the increased emphasis on competencies:

The Core Competencies in the new BC curriculum provide a framework to use – adults and children alike – to build our confidence in key areas that apply to each and every task we face in life: Communication Skills, Thinking Skills, and Personal and Social Skills. If we use this framework, we can make any opportunity – and the choices within this opportunity – more meaningful and relevant. We can focus on “what are the best skills for this task?” rather than an unknown and ever elusive “being our best selves.”

A focus on competencies can ground us and help us determine the importance of and value in our decisions. But we can’t focus on all aspects of the competencies all of the time. Choosing a competency and clearly articulating the area we are focusing on ahead of the task can provide a sense of confidence prior to beginning, and a specific area to reflect upon and to document our progress.

Cypress Park’s Vice-Principal Kim Grimwood recently wrote about the subject area that gets discussed and debated more than any other – math.  Of course it is not a black and white issue as she pointed out in her Balancing Act post:

A recent blog about math educator Dan Meyer states that “so much of teaching math through a computational lens asks students to find the right equation and plug-in numbers. It doesn’t ask them to be big thinkers; but it’s precisely the experience of grappling with a problem that sparks curiosity, motivates students and develops the patient problem-solving that is so lacking in much of the population.”

Along with our students’ ability to think big, we also need to make sure that we are providing them with strong procedural skills. In education, we often see large pendulum swings between what seem like opposing ideas and theories.  However, in the case of mathematics what research is telling us is that we need a balanced approach between conceptual big ideas and procedural knowledge. Students are most successful when procedural and conceptual approaches are combined.

We want our students to be creative, big thinkers, and this means giving them the foundational skills to approach these problems.

All teachers and administrators have growth plans in our school district.  Craig Cantlie, principal at Caulfeild recently shared his question and thinking on his blog:

How can we redesign schools to better meet students where they are as learners across all disciplines? 

I don’t have the answer; but I’m curious to find out. I know that some schools around the world report out curricular outcomes on a formalized K-12 continuum. That’s interesting to me. At our school we have a host of clubs that are driven by student interest – what if these were during class time? We are investigating how to connect literacy and numeracy more with the maker movement. We possess the digital experience to now leverage the use of technology in student learning to a greater degree and our teachers have begun moving away from textbooks and more to Khan Academy and Discovery Education in math and inquiry to allow greater personalization. We are connecting our HOPE (Me to We) Committee members with the local high school students and outside agencies such as Startup Skool and Women Leading Change to provide relevant and meaningful learning opportunities. We are exploring opportunities to change our learning environments to be less designated classrooms, and more flexible and purposeful learning spaces. In this space the teacher role could change from “sage on the stage” or “guide on the side” to be more an “activator” of learning. A role of asking more questions that provoke debate, exploration and further drive curiosity and learning. This is interesting to me.

Ridgeview Principal Valerie Brady recently wrote about the importance of preparing students for all parts of life and giving students more than just academic tools:

Our job as educators is to prepare students for success in school and in the real world beyond school.  Teaching students to read and write is only the beginning.  A focus on success in life means that,  beyond teaching the three Rs we must also teach character, emotional intelligence, responsibility and an appreciation of the complexity of human diversity.  We must also teach the virtues of grit – tenacity, perseverance, and the ability to never give up.

While grit is a hot topic in education as of late, Ridgeview staff look to the research to expand our understanding of how grit is defined in the research and how to nurture grittiness in our young students.

While it is very important that students enjoy learning and want to come to school, the teaching of grit means that students will experience, and perhaps embrace some frustration and discomfort.  To prepare students for the real world, we must teach them how to respond to frustration and failure.  This is often a sticking point in education…while it is necessary for students to experience frustration and even failure as they move through their schooling years…. finding a balance between allowing children to experience frustration and rescuing them from this experience is necessary to developing grit.

Westcot Principal Cathie Ratz shared her thinking on kids playing with Pokemon cards . . . and it probably surprises some that a Principal would encourage and embrace these kind of passions:

Our students don’t just getting excited about anything.   Tapping the interest and passion of our students,   creative teachers leverage the interests.  Over the years I have seen Egyptian God trading cards, Flat Stanley travel around the world and the creation of new worlds to ‘teach’ mapping and government studies. I recently read about a teacher Joel Levin on twitter @MinecraftTeachr  who has embarked on a Minecraft journey  that is truly inspiring.

So, unless Minecraft, Transformers, Battle Bots, Littlest Pet Shop and whatever else begins to trend among our students seriously begins to interfere with  their healthy functioning  I want to take a little time to obsess along with them, just a little, and share in the interest and maybe leverage it all a little.

Happy playing!

West Bay Elementary School has been a leader in our district’s self-regulation work.  A recent post from Principal Judy Duncan reflected on her current thinking in comparison to her own school experience:

Three words come to mind when I think of my own experiences in school — conformity, uniformity and rules.  We sat in rows, were quiet for the most part, worked independently at our desks, memorized material, and weren’t allowed to wear jeans or hats. We were all treated much the same, all followed a long list of well-intentioned rules, and were given little choice as to how to demonstrate our understanding.
Today at West Bay and all the schools in our district, individuality, self-expression and different learning styles are embraced and celebrated. Educators are viewing student behaviour through a self-regulation lens and students are the beneficiaries. They feel empowered to make decisions for themselves as to what tools and strategies they need to ensure they experience success in school and in life. Students have greater choice, feel their needs are understood and respected, and are confident to be themselves — and they are appreciative. We are not finding gum stuck under desks and there is no argument from students when asked to remove hats on certain occasions. As my colleague Kim Grimwood, Vice-Principal of Cypress Park notes, “Students are learning how to be responsible with the choices they are afforded.”
 It is also the secondary school Principals blogging, including Rockridge Principal Jeannette Laursoo who recently used her blog to pass along the advice from a recent PAC Meeting speaker – Brett Stroh – who spoke on gaming:
One of the things that Brett said was just because one’s child is spending a lot of time playing games, doesn’t necessarily mean that one needs to be overly concerned.  “Just because they are playing a game on a Saturday for 5-6 hours doesn’t mean that there is necessarily an issue, and it’s time to hit the panic button.  One needs to also consider how the child is doing with school, family, friends and sports.  In other words, how is the rest of the world going for them (apart from the regular ‘drama’)?  Is gaming having a negative impact on or causing conflict in these areas of the child’s life?  Is the child spending a significant amount of time obtaining or thinking about the game, or recovering from its effects?
There are many ways we are trying to tell our stories in West Vancouver.  One of the ways our school principals and vice-principals often use is through their blogs.  It is an incredibly exciting time in education, and many of the ideas and practices are quite different from even a generation ago in our classrooms.  Whether it is face-to-face or digitally, we will continue to reach out and connect – starting conversations in our schools and communities.
It is great to be a member of the West Vancouver Schools digital community – our collective thinking and sharing makes all of us better.

All About the Sleep

sleep

There has been no shortage of coverage in the media around the lack of sleep that young people get.  And while it is not a new issue, it does seem to be an increasingly worrisome trend.  An image shared on the  Facebook page from Wilson Elementary School in Kenosha, Wisconsin this past fall went viral and was shared thousands of times:

sleep-for-kids-CHART

While the information aligns with widely recommended guidelines for sleep it does surface some of the challenges of actually meeting these guidelines, from parents often working into the evening, out-of-school activities and homework sticking to these numbers is really challenging.

I was reminded of the sleep dilemma this past week listening to North Shore Medical Health Officer Mark Lysyshyn.   In his presentation What You Need to Know About the Health of Students, so much of it kept coming back to sleep.  Issues like physical activity, mental health and safety are all important, but the lack of sleep was pronounced.  Two particular slides from the 2013 BC Adolescent Health Survey emphasized the challenge.

In the survey of  local 13-18 year olds almost 20% of them were getting 6 hours of sleep or less:

Getting enough sleep

 

And to answer the question of so what?  There was a direct link between those reporting low hours of sleep and mental health challenges:

Mental Health and Sleep

It was interesting the discussion that followed with parents.  The community data also indicated the need for students to be getting exercise and participating in sports and many discussed how it was this participation in organized sports that often cut into sleep time – really a no-win situation.  We want our kids to be active and to get 8 or 9 hours of sleep – but soccer practices can go to 9:00 at night and school often starts by just after 8:00 in the morning.  Of course there is also persuasive data that indicates later start-times for school would be helpful but very few jurisdictions have built this into the systems.  Clearly we have structures in our lives that make it hard to adhere to the recommendations.

Media have been regular reporters of this – including this comprehensive story from Global News this fall.

There are many lists circulating the internet on tips for young people and sleep like this one from Canadian Pediatricians:

Have a relaxing bedtime routine. Have a light snack (such as a glass of milk) before bed. Try to go to bed at about the same time every night. Keep your room cool, dark and quiet but open the curtains or turn on the lights as soon as you get up in the morning.

Always fall asleep in your bed. Use your bed for sleeping only. Avoid doing homework, using a computer or watching TV  while in your bed. Try to be in your bed with the lights out for at least 8 hours every night.

Napping during the day can make it difficult to fall asleep. If you want to nap, keep it short (less than 30 min). Definitely don’t nap after dinner.

Get exercise every day, but avoid very hard exercise in the evening.

Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea and sodas) after mid-afternoon. Don’t use any products to help you sleep such as alcohol, herbal products or over-the-counter sleep aids.

Limit screen time before bed. Using electronic media and being exposed to the screen’s light before trying to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep.

On weekends, no matter how late you go to bed, try to get up within 2 hours to 4 hours of your usual wake time. This is especially important if you have trouble falling asleep on Sunday nights.

Make sure you are not trying to do too much. Do you still have some time for fun and to get enough sleep? If you are having trouble sleeping because you have too much on your mind, try keeping a diary or to-do lists. If you write things down before sleep, you may feel less worried or stressed.

There seems to be more and more research around the power of sleep.  From athletic performance to academic performance and letter grades in school.  It is one of those issues that seems so simple, but just isn’t.  I know in looking through the list of tips for helping young people get a good sleep – I am often missing the mark as a parent.

It is important to be continually reminded that poor sleep for young people leads to more than just being tired the next day.  Overall physical and mental health are very much connected to sleep.  Good reminders for parents and educators.  I am reminded by a quote I have often heard from my friend and former Surrey Schools Superintendent Mike McKay:  “When will what we know change what we do?”

Coding and Robotics

code
It is always interesting to visit schools and pick up on the trends. One can often see ideas that are spreading from one class or one school and quickly to all schools. One of the challenges in a district position is trying to capture the growing areas, and help support them to grow even further – looking at questions around how do we expand these great opportunities to not just some students in some schools but more students in more schools.

Much of the discussion in British Columbia is currently dominated by the refreshed curriculum.  While there are conversations that start about the content – what is the stuff being covered in each subject and each grade, these conversations are often moving to the pedagogy and assessment needed as part of this process.  And when we look deeper at the differences, I see the greatest shift over the  last two years is likely in the work around Aboriginal education.  As I have written here different times in different ways, we see Aboriginal understandings across grades and subjects.

I am always curious to see the words and ideas that are growing.  It was from individual classrooms and schools that ideas around self-regulation, inquiry and digital access have exploded.  I have also written before about the growth of outdoor learning among other trends that are taking hold.  It is sometimes hard to track their growth – it comes from students, teachers, parents and the community and when they stick – they become the new normal.

The two ideas this fall that I would add to the list and I think are just beginning to blossom are coding and robotics.  When I look at the growth plans of staff, or the inquiry questions of our Innovation teams, or listen to the interests of parents, these ideas are coming up more and more.

Coding is not new, and it is part of the ICT 9-12 curriculum.  In part driven by the global Hour of Code initiative, there are efforts to expose all students to the possibilities around coding not just those who select it as a secondary school elective.  More and more we are hearing from students, teachers and parents that we want to engage younger learners with these skills.  Cari Wilson has done a wonderful job leading the Hour of Code initiative in our district – getting into elementary and secondary classrooms.  Given the Star Wars theme this year I am sure students in classrooms and at kitchen tables across our community will be engaging with coding.

Hour-of-Code-Star-Wars

It was interesting to read recently that there may be a “significant decline” in IT literacy in our tablet / smartphone era. Given the seemingly continued importance of these skills, projects like Hour of Code may be even more important.  And we are trying to figure out how to move beyond this initial exposure and build in regular opportunities for young people with a passion for this type of learning in their elementary years to engage with activities as part of their school program.

Robotics has a somewhat similar story.

I had the chance to visit several schools in Delhi, India two years ago. And in one particular school, in a community of immense poverty, where the power went out three times while we visited, and nobody reacted as that was typical, where there were sparse resources, there were students building robots.  It was stunning what I saw . . . .

Robotics2

Students were working together building robots.  As the Principal reported, this is the future.

Fast forward ahead to this fall, and I am seeing the same curiosity and excitement around robotics in our schools.  We have had a number of staff working with robotics over the last several years.  It really has been a natural progression from makerspaces, digital access and trying to connect students in relevant ways to our world. This fall Todd Ablett, a past winner of the Prime Minister’s Award  for Teaching Excellence joined our district and he has begun to infect (in a good way) our district with his passion for mechatronics and robotics.  For now he is running a club at West Vancouver Secondary and doing guest lessons with every grade 6 and 7 classroom in the district.  The plan is to continue to grow the program – hopefully into a secondary school Academy Program next fall, and also a grade 6/7 program.  As I watched student-built robots shoot balls across the Board Room at last week’s Board Meeting as everyone in the Gallery took out their phones to record the moment – one could feel the excitement.

Abblett

The structures are a work in progress but we have an unwavering commitment to ensuring our schools are relevant and connected to the world our kids are participating in – the world that I heard Todd describe where self-driving cars are just the beginning of what the future may hold.  I often wince when asked “what’s new” in our school district.  The truth is most of what we are doing is about going deeper and getting better at what we already do.  We are also trying to keep our eyes open and look around the corner at what is coming next.   If you want to look for two things I think you will hear about and see far more in 2018 than you do in 2015 – I think coding and robotics are good bets.

when-stuart-leaves-selfregulation-keynote-10-638

I recently gave a talk entitled, “What Stuart Leaves” which focused on how districts can maintain the momentum after Stuart Shanker has ignited interest and curiosity in self-regulation.

Over the last five years I have regularly written about Stuart, and his influence on our work with self-regulation.  This post from 2010, is my most read post ever.   It has been wonderful to see the growth of self-regulation in our district – like the stories told from our schools in this post from 2013.

We have an amazing group of teachers and administrators taking the lead with our work in self-regulation.  Over the last five years, it has become key to how we think about learning.  Self-regulation, along with inquiry and digital access have been ongoing themes and over-arching pillars in our work across the district.

My recent keynote presentation shared some of our experiences in West Vancouver at the Canadian Self-Regulation Initiative Roundtable (if you are reading this via email you may need to open in a browser to view slides):

So what are the key learnings we have had over the last five years in West Vancouver:

  • Self-regulation is about the culture we want and the way we want to think about kids and learning
  • Self-regulation has entry points for students and teachers at any grade across subject areas
  • Being inspired is a good first step and there are some very powerful outside voices who can provoke a community
  • There is great power in the research and the science that supports the work that is happening in schools
  • Building a strong district team is important – it needs to be part of some people’s portfolio
  • Self-Regulation is a “big tent” and there are numerous initiatives, programs and practices that connect to our work from MindUP to Zones of Regulation to secondary mental health literacy
  • It is important to continually tell our stories over and over – to staff, parents and beyond our district
  • Self-regulation should be a focus across the organization from assessment and reporting to facilities planning
  • Self-regulation connects many of our staff with the reasons they got into the profession and their passion for making a difference for every child

The greatest shift in our schools over the last five years hasn’t been the increase in the use of technology, or the move to inquiry based learning.  While both have been important, it is through the self-regulation lens that we have had and continue to have the conversations about creating the optimal learning conditions for every child.  We have learned and continue to learn from the science, and our classes look and feel different.

To stay connected to Stuart Shanker’s current work, check out the MEHRIT Centre website and follow Stuart and his team on a variety of social media channels (all links are on the website).  Stuart’s recent blog post here about the myths of self-regulation is a great read.

Stuart was very clear when he spoke with all staff in our district 4 years ago, “There is no such thing as bad, stupid or lazy kids.”  So simple, so clear and something that guides our work.

What Comes First?

shift

Clearly you can’t change one part of the education system in isolation.  This is one of the great challenges we face in British Columbia – we have new curriculum, but does the assessment still match?  We have been given greater permission from the provincial government to think differently, but have we fully engaged our community in what the “different” would look like?

While it is true one cannot do everything at once, we all need entry points for transformation. First with school and district leaders in our district, and then with Superintendents from across Canada I have recently worked through trying to rank and prioritize these six system drivers:  Shifting Curriculum, Shifting Pedagogies, Shifting Learning Environments, Shifting Assessment, Shifting Governance, Shifting Citizen and Stakeholder Engagement. (click on the graphic below to enlarge)

www.c21canada.org wp content uploads 2015 05 C21 ShiftingMinds 3.pdf

The six items come from Shifting Minds 3.0 – Redefining the Learning Landscape in Canada. I have previously written (Here) about the power and importance of having a national conversation around transformation in education.

I realize it is a bit of a false discussion – you can’t do any of these separate from each other.  In part from being influenced by my local and national colleagues, if we started with one – I would start with pedagogies.

At its core, learning is about the relationship between the teacher and students.  We can have the best curriculum, policies or assessment, but first we need the practices.  As our pedagogies change, our assessment will follow.  And new pedagogies and new assessment will beg for new curriculum and these changes force both shifts in policy and engagement.  And finally our learning environments should reflect our practice so as the practices change the learning environments will follow.

What do you think – if you could start with only one – which one would you select?

Our group of Superintendents from across the country is committed to our own learning starting with shifting pedagogies – it will be interesting to see what we can learn from each others successes and challenges from across the country.

measure-sales-results

West Vancouver is hosting a screening of the new movie Beyond Measure.   Along with the new book of the same name by Vicki Abeles, they make the case of the collective power of communities to work together for a better school system.  The trailer for the movie nicely sets the tone:

As I was with the previous effort by this film’s director, Race to Nowhere – I am left with mixed feelings.  I am reassured that our work in Canada, and particularly British Columbia is on the right track.  From our shifts in teaching and learning in part fueled by the rethinking of our curriculum, to our move, albeit slower than some would like, to a post-standardized world of assessment where letter grades and system-wide tests are less important and ongoing feedback is more important – there is a lot happening around me that would be success stories in Beyond Measure.  And while I see elements of familiarity between the common Canadian student experience and the common American student experience – while broadly over-generalizing, there are tremendous differences, and we seem to be moving further apart – with the Canadian system, far more in-tune with the themes of Race to Nowhere and Beyond Measure.

Of course there is always more to do.  Beyond Measure reminds us that as we make up ground in one place,  to truly move forward there are many pieces that have to move together.  We are moving on testing, and images of a “zombie apocalypse” that Abeles shares in her book are not our reality, but we are not there yet – a work in progress.  Other topics that Abeles raises from the volume of homework to college admissions are ones we continue to wrestle with.  I was speaking with new teachers last week and was asked about homework “policy” in our district.  We don’t have a central policy, but schools have guidelines, and I can say with certainty there is less homework now being given than a decade ago, the work is far more purposeful – but external pressure, often from parents remembering their school experience fights efforts to move beyond homework.  The guidelines shared in Beyond Measure are strong aspirational goals – homework should advance a spirit of learning, homework should be student directed, homework should honour a balanced schedule.

Particularly heartening is that rather than just list problems, the book is really a call to action – what parents, educators and communities can do together.  I feel some of this “action” right now in BC as we work together to move our system forward.  If others are interested, the book is available here.

The screening of the film is Tuesday, October 27, 2015.  Here is ticket information.  If you can’t attend, encourage your community to bring the film to your local school or theatre and let’s keep this conversation going!

timetravel1

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

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

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

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

First Peoples Principles of Learning

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

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

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