Posts Tagged ‘Eagle Harbour’

Students at West Bay Elementary School

Students at West Bay Elementary School

I walk into almost all of our schools in West Vancouver and very often the first thing people want to show me or talk to me about is the changes happening around the library.  Or more specifically, schools are taking great pride in their learning commons spaces that are developing.  While the physical spaces are exciting, the changes to our mindsets are far more powerful.  We are not destined for new schools in West Vancouver anytime soon but the rethink of the library has been both a symbolic and concrete shift in how we think about space and how we think about learning.  The school library – a centre piece in schools – is now the modern hub for learning.

I like the library metaphor from Joan Frye Williams (shared in this blog from Joyce Valenza):

Our libraries should transition to places to do stuff, not simply places to get stuff. The library will become a laboratory in which community members tinker, build, learn, and communicate. We need to stop being the grocery store or candy store and become the kitchen.  We should emphasize hospitality, comfort, convenience and create work environments that invite exploration and creativity both virtually and physically.

The library as a kitchen – I love it.

And just what does this look like?

A couple weeks ago I was at West Bay Elementary for the opening of their new space.  Recently, I have been to other formal and less formal tours at unveilings at a variety of schools including Eagle Harbour Montessori, Bowen Island Community School, Cypress Primary, Irwin Park Elementary and West Vancouver Secondary.  There are many elements all of these spaces have in common.  One immediately gets the sense that the primary goal was to draw more students in to do individual and collective work. There are spaces for silent study, but also other areas that often look more like a coffee shop than a traditional library.  In listening to West Bay Principal Judy Duncan, describe their vision for their space, she said, “We believe the library is a hub of our school, a space where learners of all ages gather to learn through conversation, collaboration, independent study and purposeful play.”

Our work in West Vancouver, both with spaces and mindsets is not happening in isolation.  We have been influenced by the work at universities, like this work at the University of British Columbia, the work at other schools in BC, like this work at John Oliver Secondary in Vancouver and the work at public libraries, including the efforts of our own local library – the West Vancouver Memorial Library.  For my thinking, a particularly useful document is Facing the Future – A Vision Document for British Columbia’s Public Libraries.  It’s author, Ken Roberts, the former Chief Librarian of the Hamilton Public Library, argues that “there is a growing realization that physical libraries are becoming  even more important community spaces, places where people gather, share and learn from each other.”  In short, the shift that public libraries are facing is the same ones that schools are facing and we have a lot to learn from and with each other.  The BC Teacher Librarians’ Association, an amazingly thoughtful and forward-looking organization have also produced a document to help schools in the midst of the transition.

The photos below give a sense of some of the uses of the new space at West Bay, and what we are seeing across our district as we make these shifts.

Individual and group work.  Technology is present but not the focus.

Individual and group work. Technology is present but not the focus.


Students working before school


Students working at lunchtime.



Activity during instructional time

For more on the specifics of this particular transformation, Principal Judy Duncan has blogged about Transforming Learning Spaces to Meet Today’s Learners.

At the recently held Ontario Library Conference, I made the argument that we can get hung-up on the money when it comes to learning commons spaces. But it is first about mindsets – we need to embrace new ways of learning and find ways for our space to reflect these changes and be the gathering places for our all our learners.  The thinking around the learning commons is symbolizing the shifts we are seeing with learning throughout our schools.


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While conversations are ongoing in BC and around the world focused on  innovation that are linked to larger system goals including a  greater focus on personalized learning and giving kids greater ownership of their learning, these are not new objectives. Some practices worth highlighting are not only 21st century, or 20th century learning, in fact, some date back to the 19th century, and are an excellent fit for our current educational directions. At least, this is true of Montessori.

Maria Montessori, who lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, developed teaching methods which are often described as part of the “21st century learning” phenomena.  When I spend time in our Montessori School, Eagle Harbour Montessori (currently expanding from a K-3 to a K-5 school), I am always in awe of the self-regulation and keen focus these students have.  When I walk into the room, students continue to work and there is a sense of calm and alert focus. Students are owning their learning, the conversations with primary students are very articulate; they talk about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what they need to learn next.

What I have seen at Eagle Harbour is also supported in the recent book from Shannon Helfrich, Montessori Learning in the 21st Century:  A Guide for Parents and Teachers which links Montessori teachings with the latest neuroscientific findings.

So just what does Montessori look like in our setting:

Principles Include (from the Eagle Harbour Montessori Program 2012):

  • Fosters competent, adaptive, independent and responsible citizens who are lifelong learners
  • Emphasizes respect, grace and courtesy for self, others and the environment
  • Allows students to experiment with their learning in a safe and prepared setting
  • Gives students responsibility for their own learning; allowing for freedom of choice and personal interests within a structure. Students are given the opportunity for movement in the classroom
  • Encourages teachers to observe and “guide” students in their learning
  • Allows for multi-age groupings; students teach and learn from each other
  • Encourages students toward intrinsic motivation minimizing reward and punishment
  • Emphasizes community and builds learning communities
  • Implements the three-period lesson (instruction, practice, presentation)
  • Encourages the use of self-correcting materials and practices
  • Opportunities for leadership are encouraged, as well as participation in organization of events and practical life at the school
  • Educates and connects students through an integrated approach to teaching and learning
  • Promotes order and ritual as part of the structure in the prepared environment
  • Promotes inquisitive learners in a cooperative environment
  • Practices concrete, real-world problem solving leading to abstract reasoning
  • Encourages “the inner language of silence” providing time for reflection
  • Emphasizes communication and story-telling
  • Gives students ownership of the facilities and responsibility for their care
  • Emphasizes humanities connection to the land and larger environment
  • Demonstrates an optimistic, proactive world view, and instills in students a belief in the importance of contributing to humanity

This list could easily be taken from any current document on system transformation, whether it be the BC Education Plan, or a similar document that is being produced in so many jurisdictions right now.

There is much to think about, and many options to consider in this current, evolving education system — 21st century learning, personalized learning, or call it something else — and it also includes greater recognition of education systems not necessarily new, but ones that meet the needs of increased personalization.

As I am about to publish this post, I see Val Stevenson, our vice-principal at Eagle Harbour Montessori School, has written an excellent post on a very similar theme about her school.  Her look at Montessori as an example of the new culture of learning is well worth the read (here).

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This past week the Honourable George Abbott, B.C.’s Minister of Education, spent a day in our district. It was another great opportunity to share a slice of West Vancouver’s public education story, and while I do cover many of our schools’  initiatives and learning directions through my blog posts, this time, I would like to share it through photos of the day spent with the Minister connecting with students, teachers, administrators, parents and others in our schools. I would also like to share what Dean Shareski described as “narrative champions”, telling our exciting, ongoing and ever emerging story.

At Eagle Harbour Montessori School, although there was a room full of adult visitors, students remained focussed and intent on their work:

All groups working together at Caulfeild — administrators, teachers and parents discussed with the Minister the work the school has undertaken with its iDEC Program:

Also at Caulfeild, students demonstrated some of their work with self-regulation and how they are more easily able to answer the question, “how fast is their engine running — too slow, too fast, or just right”:

An opportunity for students to share how inquiry and digital technology are coming together using their student dashboards:

At West Bay, we heard firsthand from students about choice and ownership of their learning:

As part of the school’s work in inquiry, outstanding interaction and questions between teachers and students as part of this work:

At the Premier Sports Academies (with Rockridge and Sentinel students) we watched as students pursued their passions:

Albeit a small slice, it was a very representative slice of learning in West Vancouver. Different examples, often fulfilling the same narrative, could be found in all of the schools. The West Vancouver District has had a long tradition of choice  — in programs, and in learning opportunities within the programs.  What has become increasingly important are inquiry, digital technology and self-regulation, and elements of all three can be found in all schools.

We also know that a large part of our great story can be attributed to our outstanding teachers, supportive and engaged parents, and passionate students. But the most gratifying element of the visit was the outside voice reassuring us we are on the right track.  Call it “21st century learning”, or “personalized learning” or “the West Van way” it can be seen in all of our schools.

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A year ago we started to talking in detail about 21st century learning and personalized learning (the 3 C’s and the 7 C’s and sometimes the 8 C’s) and, in the process, the focus in our district has been on delving deeper in order to fully understand and embrace the concept of inquiry. While most jurisdictions around the world largely agree with the skills and attributes espoused by those questioning the current educational system, the challenge has been to formulate what this new model tangibly looks like for students in schools. For us, this “inquiry” is helping us define what “it” really is.

For a couple of our schools this rubric created by the Galileo Educational Network is proving to be a very helpful starting point.

Inquiry is another term that can have very different meanings to different people. The Galileo Educational Network sees it as:

. . .  a dynamic process of being open to wonder and puzzlement and coming to know and understand the world. As such, it is a stance that pervades all aspects of life and is essential to the way in which knowledge is created. Inquiry is based on the belief that understanding is constructed in the process of people working and conversing together as they pose and solve the problems, make discoveries and rigorously testing the discoveries that arise in the course of shared activity.

Inquiry is a study into a worthy question, issue, problem or idea. It is the authentic, real work that someone in the community might tackle. It is the type of work that those working in the disciplines actually undertake to create or build knowledge. Therefore, inquiry involves serious engagement and investigation and the active creation and testing of new knowledge.

In West Vancouver, this process of inquiry is taking several forms. In some places it is well-defined and in others it is more organic. In listening to principals and vice-principals discuss areas of focus for their schools for next year, almost all of the schools have some focus on inquiry.

At Eagle Harbour, the approach is linked to Montessori, while at Cypress Park and West Bay it is connected to the Primary Years Program International Baccalaureate Program (IB). At Rockridge Secondary, they also link their inquiry work to IB, using the Middle Years Program as their foundation. Caulfeild Elementary is launching its IDEC (Inquiry based Digitally Enhanced Community) as a foundation for its school structure. While not as tightly defined, similar thoughtful work is taking place in other schools — many being guided by Understanding by Design (UbD) assessment work. UbD, particularly in the elementary schools, has had a dramatic impact on lesson and unit construction, instruction and assessment. As I have often said, it is some of the most difficult, least glamorous professional learning we can undertake, but it can really improve our practice.

A common theme with inquiry is one that is also true with the conversations around personalized learning — it really redefines the role of the student and teacher and what each of them does in the course of their day. Combined with emerging technologies, this approach to themes and topics is changing what engagement can look like in our schools.

For all who lament the slow speed of change in education, it is fascinating to see how quickly our district is coalescing around inquiry as part of what we do in West Vancouver.

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