Get Outside!


I am typically not a fan of organizations using the “Report Card” device as a way to draw attention to their reports. Usually, I see organizations produce a report lamenting the work in a specific areas, looking to generate headlines like, “Organization X Gives Y Failing Grade.”

The recent ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth  does do some of that, but is far more nuanced.  While yes, it does give a D- to overall physical activity, there are good grades for a number of areas including youth participation in sports, support of parents, government and non-government investment and the role of schools.  The report lauds the physical education curriculum in each province, with special mention of Manitoba.

The most powerful part of the report was the focus on getting kids outside and letting them play.  Quoting the report:

We may be so focused on trying to intervene in our children’s lifestyles to make sure they’re healthy, safe and happy, that we are having the opposite effect . . .  We overprotect kids to keep them safe, but keeping them close and keeping them indoors may set them up to be less resilient and more likely to develop chronic diseases in the long run.

The report relies on a variety of studies that have a number of conclusions that, while not surprising, run counter to many current practices including:

  • pre-schoolers spend twice as much time being active when play is outdoors
  • students take 35% more steps when physical education class is held outdoors
  • Canadian kids who play outside after school get 20 more minutes of heart-pumping activity per day than those who don’t

One conclusion that I found particularly striking is that children and youth are less likely to engage in higher levels of physical activity if a parent or supervising adult is present.

With my Superintendent view, some of the takeaways for me include:

  • We are on the right track in our district (and others in BC) with outdoor learning programs – and we need to continue to encourage their growth
  • The growth of urban agriculture courses and school gardens is an important trend – outdoor learning does not just have to be about physical activity
  • We need to be careful that safety and liability concerns don’t unnecessarily block wonderful outdoor learning opportunities
  • We need to be sure that recess and other outdoor learning opportunities are valued and we need to remind parents that kids should get outside even when it is cold or rainy
  • There is going to be increased emphasis on natural elements in playgrounds moving forward
  • The urgency around physical literacy is inclusive of doing a better job with structured opportunities and also ensuring kids have unstructured free play opportunities

The report takes the bold position, “Access to active play in nature and outdoors – with its risks – is essential for healthy child development.  We recommend increasing children’s opportunities for self-directed play outdoors in all settings – at home, at school, in child care, the community and nature.”

My hesitation in reading the report is that some will suggest that we just have to go back to the “way it used to be when we were young”.  I am always concerned with this view.  The world today is different for kids than the one their parents grew up in – it is not as simple as turning back the clock; we also often have a habit of romanticizing our youth.  The answer around getting kids active is not telling people we just need to go back to how things used to be it is about building something new rooted in our current reality.

The entire report is worth reading, and there are some great resources to share with teachers, parents and others in the community (e.g. this Infographic and this tip sheet) .  Reading the report, and reviewing the data there is a strong case for broadening our current thinking about how we encourage  young people to be active.

And as we embark on summer it is a good reminder that we need to model the way with our kids and get outside!


It seems I can’t go a week without hearing someone say that “sitting is the new smoking.”  And I have one of those rather terrible city commutes – often over an hour each way – that is a lot of time sitting.  So, I have been intrigued watching the furniture revolution happening in offices and in schools.  I took the plunge last August and got a Varidesk.  It is an adjustable desk that will rise so you can stand and work and lower so you can sit and work.

And . . .. I wouldn’t go back.

What I have learned:

  • I never lower the desk.  I did a little bit when I first got the desk but it was done more as a novelty.  I leave it so I can stand and work.  If I want to sit, I unplug my laptop and sit in a chair.  I don’t stand all-day but I am definitely standing for the majority of time I am in my office.
  • The standing desk has increased my productivity.  I find I am far more focused and engaged when I am standing at my desk.  I have always been someone who likes to move when I work, so I will work intently for several minutes and then stretch / walk and then get back to work.
  • I have less back pain.  In the post-40 year-old world of mine, like many I have developed a series of regular aches and pains. Standing has lessened my back pain and overall I have far less pain than from sitting for long periods of time.  It did take a little getting used to the first couple weeks, standing all day, but it is now just my routine.  Having a gel mat to stand on also really helped.
  • I get more “steps”.  This may mean very little to many of you but I am very conscious about my daily step count that is linked to my FitBit.  Just by working standing-up I will get a couple hundred steps an hour – rather than the zero I get sitting.
  • I still have to do a better job of being conscious about my posture.  Especially in the afternoon I will lean on the desk when I work, and probably just replacing the problems of sitting with a different set of problems.

I find the efforts around learning spaces in our schools to be fascinating.  I love the variety of options we are giving students from bouncy chairs, to standing desks to quiet spots in the corner.  I have visited a number of classrooms at both elementary and secondary that are creating a variety of desk options and also looking seriously at how they use space for learning.  It is not just our schools that are looking at standing desks.  Here is a recent story on the use of standing desks at New Westminster Secondary School and a CTV story on their use across North America.

The changes in our classroom are clearly much more than just technology.

And admittedly as a sample size of one, I am finding the standing desk has really changed how I work – helping my health and making me more productive.


I had the chance to speak with education students at the University of British Columbia earlier this week about the power of networks.  I wrote earlier this year about my argument that being a networked teachers is one of the three key “must-do’s” for all new teachers.   Being a networked teachers is about connecting face-to-face and digitally.

As part of the conversation on networking I spent some time talking about their educational digital footprint.   For some very good reasons we have spent time in recent years telling teacher candidates about all the things they should not have as part of their digital footprint.  We remind them to lock-down their privacy on Facebook, to remove the photos on Instagram holding a glass of wine,  to take down the blog post they wrote about their wild trip to Europe and otherwise try to cleanse their digital presence.  And we remind the soon-to-be teachers that everything they put on the web is part of who they are as a teacher.  We also have serious conversations around boundaries with colleagues and students in the digital world.  All of this is important.

We spend a lot of time with teacher candidates and new teachers talking about what not to do.

We also need to spend time talking about what those new to our profession should be doing to build up their educational digital footprint.  I was in a session last week on young people and finances.  The keynote speaker implored all young people to get a credit card to build up their good credit.  I feel the same about all young teachers and their digital footprint – it is something they need to start building from the beginning.  You don’t just “turn on” your educational digital presence, we are finding it takes years to build and refine.

And what were some of the concrete things I suggested they do?

1) Get on Twitter.  I know this is simplistic, but it is a first step to get in the game.

2)  Start a blog. Get your own URL and start writing about teaching and learning.  Over time it will likely morph as you grow in the profession.

3)  Post your PowerPoint presentations to SlideShare.  This is about participating in the community.  When you create a presentation for an education class or your class at school with young students, post it and share it with the world.

And of course, there are many more.

One of the beautiful things about the digital world, is many of our traditional hierarchies are blurred.  We all can contribute and good ideas get traction.

When I listen to a speaker, attend a presentation, or am introduced to someone who I “just have to meet” I almost always Google them afterwards.  It usually confirms my thinking but sometimes it gives me some different perspectives.

I know we don’t talk much about all the possibilities around your educational digital footprint, but we should.

Then when I Google you, and I probably will, I will not only be struck by all the bad stuff I don’t see, but all the powerful professional learning and sharing I do see.



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)

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

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

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

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

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

School success much more than a number

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But schools are more complicated that simple rankings.

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

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

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

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


I was pleased to contribute to the recently published paper – Shifting Minds 3.0 – Redefining the Learning Landscape in Canada.  The paper is authored by Penny Milton, the former long serving  head of the Canadian Education Association, and had contributions from more than twenty superintendents across the country, among others.

I have written before about the value of a national conversation in education.  Despite falling under the mandate of provincial governments there is huge value in building a learning network across the country.  As we embrace a post-standardized world, learning from jurisdictions across the country is essential, as we want all students in our country to be well prepared for the rapidly changing world.

There have been a number of papers written in recent years on the shifts in learning that we are seeing, and that we need to see, and I have given a lot of blog space to the great work I see on a regular basis in West Vancouver.  What is particularly valuable about the Shifting Minds 3.0 document is that the same conversations, the same areas of attention, and the same urgency, are being seen and felt across the country.   The work is both exciting and daunting:

The challenge for school district leaders is to extend the transformation to all classrooms and schools. Whole-system reform requires conditions that support educators in examining and reshaping the foundations on which their practice is built (leadership and management, as well as teaching) . . . Because education is complex and the stakes for students are high, a dual strategy of both improvement and innovation can offer a reliable way to maintain stability while enabling forward momentum.

The dual strategy notion of innovation and improvement is one we often talk about in West Vancouver.  Yes, the world has changed and the skills our learners need are changing.  But this change is within a context of having one of the highest performing systems in the world.  We are moving from a place of strength so stability must be alongside momentum.

It is interesting to see the work in British Columbia in the context of the country.  In reading this document, I get the sense that we are ahead with much of what we are doing.  The document describes three governance models and management approaches and we see all three in BC:

Central direction involves stakeholders in an iterative relationship of policy design and local implementation. This approach has raised academic achievement across the majority of schools. Success depends on feedback loops, with leaders and practitioners learning from and adjusting strategies as needed. Central direction can promote improvement in schools, but it limits innovation.

Non-intervention approaches allow school districts to respond to local contexts without the pressure of specific school improvement policies. In these cases, the central authority encourages rather than mandates the change. Some districts have been able to innovate under these conditions; others less so.

Enabling or permissive approaches encourage or support experimentation and innovation at the district and school levels. Some may enable innovation by the simple absence of a prescribed regulatory framework; others may develop specific innovations—for example, in curriculum or assessment. The advantage of this approach is that it allows the province to learn and try out alternative policy designs before attempting to replace one significant policy with another.

We also see all three of these approaches at work locally in West Vancouver.  We have spent a lot of energy  trying to foster enabling and permissive approaches, but it is important to use all three depending on the initiative and the circumstances.

Finally, the shifting system drivers described in the document are very useful.  It is not that the shifts are new, but it is an important reminder of their interconnectedness.  We are definitely shifting learning environments and pedagogies and working hard on shifting governance.  We are getting strong leadership from the province on shifting curriculum.  I see shifting assessment and citizen and stakeholder engagement, of the six, as the two we have the most work to do.  Very important to see they all must work together (double-click to open graphic in a full-page):

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

I encourage you to read the full document.  There are many documents on the topic of the shifts in education, from many organizations with many intended audiences.  This one nicely describes the challenge needed by those of us at a systems level.  It is an important challenge for us to continue to take on.

As the paper concludes, “change is inevitable; transformation is possible. System leaders create the conditions for transformation by encouraging leadership at all levels, imbued with the very attributes we are aiming to develop in young people—creativity, inquiry, collaboration, calculated risk taking, reasoned problem solving, and the capacity to learn from experience and face the next challenge.”


You can call it a passion project, a portfolio, a capstone, a demonstration of learning – heck call it anything you want. More and more, as I see these type of expressions of student work at the end of school years or the end of school careers, I am becoming convinced they should be regularly part of our system.  And, in fairness, more and more they are the new normal in our schools.

Just over a decade ago there was a major push to move in this direction with the short-lived Graduation Portfolio.  There are numerous reasons why it was abandoned.  Two lessons I took from the experience, were 1)  at the time the technology was not good enough to do what we wanted in terms of documenting learning and it became a paper-heavy process and 2) a cumulative portfolio or project should not be simply the checking off of boxes as tasks are completed, it needs to be more meaningful.

There are numerous different examples of these demonstrations of learning in West Vancouver schools.  Some of these presentations are built into programs.  We currently have four International Baccalaureate (IB) Programs  in West Vancouver – two at the Primary Years level (PYP), and one at both the Middle Years (MYP) and Diploma levels (DP).  In each of these programs students have a structure to bring their learning together.  In the MYP Program, our Rockridge grade 10 students present an exhibition of their personal projects.

At Westcot Elementary, the Passion Projects represent seven months of exploration,  discovery and learning. Students are given one afternoon each week to pursue any area of interest. Nearly 100 grade 6 and 7 students follow their passions, blog about their progress and ultimately present to the school community in a culminating exhibition. Whether the finished product is a graphic novel, a fundraiser for school supplies for underprivileged children or an animated short film, students are encouraged to reflect upon the process each step of the way.  In this photo ( Credit – Cindy Goodman), Grade 7 student Rory Scott demonstrates the quarter pipe ramp for skateboarding he built for his project.

Westcot elementary passion projects

The most recent version of this type of learning I have seen in action in the Advanced Placement (AP) Diploma.  These grade 11 and 12 students take two courses – AP Seminar and AP Research. These courses see students doing team projects, research based essays, and public presentations – all in a context of student choice.  Students that take and score 3 or higher on 4 AP courses and complete the Seminar and Research course receive the AP Capstone Diploma.  The Capstone Diploma is being piloted in a limited number of Canadian schools, including Sentinel Secondary in West Vancouver.

As we look out over the next five years, it would be wonderful if all of our students get a chance to pull together their learning – ideally at least once in the elementary grades and again during their high school career.  As we work in the system to break down thinking of learning in content based compartments, there needs to be an opportunity for all our students to share their learning across curriculum and from inside and outside of school.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,172 other followers