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Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

They Will Grow Up

Grow_Up

I share this as a reminder that all kids grow-up, even those who have driven us a little crazy in their teenage years.

We don’t often receive a lot of feedback from students, particularly those who were not overly successful in school.  So, that makes notes like this one (received last week) all the better.  This is from a former student at a school at which I was the principal about 10 years ago.  I share this with his permission:

Mr Kennedy,

I want to start off by thanking you for never putting up with my garbage in high school, and putting me in my place when I needed it. In spring of 2003, I came back to Vancouver for a visit and to re-enrol at Riverside in anticipation my family would be moving back to BC from Alberta. I was being a loud mouth as usual, and you came by and said “if it was up to me I wouldn’t have you back at my school.” Those words caught me off guard, until that point in my life I never thought the things I did affected anyone, and that was when a change began in my life. I was still a pain in the ass throughout high school, and I am positive that no one thought I would make much out of my life.

After graduation, I had a daughter at the age of 20, I was following the plan people assumed I would. In 2007, those words you spoke, along with a few from [another teacher], motivated me to prove everyone wrong. Although my idea of success was extremely skewed, I attained my goal that year of making $100,000, and was driven to exceed that goal the next year. By mid 2008, I had a talk with a mom who questioned my motives, and after a deep conversation, she helped focus my goals, and told me the best way to prove to someone was to change the world, and leave a legacy.

In 2009 I changed my focus, I switched industries and got into finance, quickly becoming one of the youngest Managers at TD Canada Trust. I began travelling the world every year for 2 months organizing charity events, and building orphanages and even starting a volunteer agency in Kenya. Kenya was my first trip, and before I left I received news confirming that my daughter was not biologically mine. Not of our anger, but out of determination to prove that I was not affected by the genes of my daughter, I built Madison House orphanage in Kenya. Since then I have travelled to over 40 countries, and helped raise nearly $200,000 for orphans in over 20 of those countries.

I am writing you because I want to thank you. Those words still ring in my head when I feel like I need to accomplish a task and have little or no motivation. Last June I made the decision to attend post-secondary school to get a degree, and eventually into law school. I was granted acceptance into BCIT’s full-time program and currently sit in the top 3% of the business department. I have a 90% average across all 7 full-time classes, and on Friday i was contacted by the University of Geneva in Switzerland in regards to my application.

I want you to know none of this would have been possible without you. I was a young punk, who cared about no one else but himself, but as time went on, I learned that I was never actually an extrovert as people assumed. I have always been an introvert with tendency of an extrovert to deal with my self-consciousness.

Regardless of our past disagreements, I want you to know, that you helped shape my future, my decision-making process, my outlook, and my ability to step back and make choices in my life. So one more time thank you Mr. Kennedy, and I can only pray you continue to move, shape, and teach kids like you have done with me.

Warmest Regards,

There is a lot in there and good reminders for me as a parent and educator.  Sometimes, even in a ‘culture of yes’, a strong “No” is an important message.

And, as Stuart Shanker regularly reminds us — there is no such thing as bad kids.

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TEDx

Being a part of a TEDx event feels like being invited to an exclusive party, in a room full of smart people and the kind of place I look around and feel ridiculously inadequate.  I did have the opportunity in the fall of 2010 to be part of TEDxUBC and speak about my experiences working with students during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.   This past month I had a second opportunity to speak at a TEDx event, this time TEDxWestVancouverED,  an event organized by four of my colleagues from West Vancouver, Craig Cantlie, Cari Wilson, Brooke Moore and Garth Thomson.  It was a particularly great experience to hear from some of the interesting and passionate people I work with in a format that lends itself to telling a story — stories we don’t often get to tell in our busy day-to-day routines.  When  I first spoke at a TEDx event I highlighted some of what makes these events unique and special:

- the format forces presenters to be concise

- the discussions between presentations are valued

- there is a great mix of people attending from a variety of professions

- the presentations live on through the web

- it is all about ideas

My presentation was based on a blog post I wrote last fall, Some of My Parenting Wishes for My Kids where I shared some personal stories of my own hopes for my kids’ learning.  Here is the video of my TEDx Talk:

And you can also see all the slides I used here:

Thanks again to all of the organizers and volunteers (including our West Van students who helped edit and publish the videos) and, in particular, Craig Cantlie who took the lead.  In the coming weeks other videos will be posted, and I will blog more about this event — there are several must-see presentations.  I will also share the ideas from TEDxKids@Ambleside – another great TED event that will have its videos posted shortly.

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penguin

In nearly all of the conversations around educational transformation, we all agree we need do a better job connecting to parents and involving them in the process.  And without a doubt, “we” probably are doing a much better job now than even a few years ago, partially because of the boom in digital sharing with teachers, administrators, parents and others, as well as becoming increasingly transparent with their experiences and learning.

While I like to think most posts I write have some interest for parents, I have focused several posts specifically toward parents.  One post I wrote in September 2010 covered Ten Things Every Parent Can Do, including:

Being a kid shouldn’t be about beating the competition. And being a parent shouldn’t be about producing a winner by enrolling them in a busy regiment of “enhancement” activities. Let your children play, stumble and find their own way, at least some of the time.

Another post, An Insider’s Guide to Parenting, focussed on advice from our then Board,Vice-Chair (and now Chair) Cindy Dekker, including her thoughts on school work:

- let your kids fail, and let them do it at a young age so they learn what they need to do to improve

- sometimes, when they forget their lunch, they need to solve the problem on their own

- help facilitate studying, but don’t do their homework for them

- don’t close any doors — encourage your kids to take a range of courses

- don’t be so worried about the “right” school, all schools are great

This past fall, I wrote a more personal post, Some of My Parenting Wishes for this Year, where I wrote about a number of topics, including what really matters when it comes to their teachers:

Just take good care of them, help them adjust socially. And, be memorable like all of my elementary teachers were. I can point to at least one way each of my elementary teachers made a difference in my life — from my love of Bruce Springsteen to my interest in storytelling.  All of our kids mention when their teachers ask about their lives outside of school, whether it is about family, sports or other interests. These little things are really the big things for our kids about school.

This summary is also a preface to a new resource I would like to highlight from Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon — Raising Modern Learners.   I have recently subscribed to this blog and newsletter, and I encourage parents to do same.   As a parent of four, the oldest three already in the public education system, I have often stressed my selfish interests to see schooling change.  This new effort from Richardson and Dixon moves the conversation forward with fellow parents.

What I particularly like about this blog is that it is not about cheerleading — it tackles real issues.  The first story I read was about parents deciding to opt out of standardized tests.  While state testing was described as part of the American model of teacher evaluation, something that is not seen in BC,  it was a good read about a challenging issue.  For a variety of reasons, some political, some for simplicity, we take on serious topics in education in a very black and white fashion; at least, from what I have seen so far, Richardson and Dixon are approaching issues with more questions than definitive answers.

There are wonderful resources available in support of parents as their children grow through a changing, learning landscape.  I know so many parent leaders I have connected with online who are passionate about learning and sharing their learning about education, hopefully resources like Richardson and Dixon will assist in that conversation and in doing a better job of connecting with parents, education transformation and sustained and ongoing engagement.

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Now how is that for a title?

As a political junkie, it was just a matter of time before I found a way to weave a blog post together linking US Presidential politics to our work (or more specifically, my work).  Recently, a particular column about President Obama spoke to me; it was Michael Takiff’s “Why Doesn’t Obama Like to Schmooze?

This piece, contrasts the current president’s nights at home with his family, and former President Clinton’s, which were often spent meeting with lawmakers and engaging in the “work” of being president, connecting continuously and relentlessly.  In fairness to Clinton, the article also points to his efforts in living a balanced life at home with his daughter.  But, Takiff says about Obama:

While he is America’s only president, he is also his daughters’ only father; his duty to them demands that he take time out from his duty to his country. And so he makes sure that at 6:30 each evening he’s seated at the family dinner table. After the meal, he helps his daughters with their homework.

So, why I am I writing about this?  It struck a chord, because I am questioning if parenting is generation-oriented; has parenthood become different from previous generations, and I am also wonder about the role technology is playing, well actually, more how it can play in changing the “rules” of our work.

Now, on becoming a parent, over a decade ago, when the opportunity of a new job came up, before salary, before potential prospects, before anything, in fact, the first question I asked (and still ask) is, “What do the evening commitments look like?”  For, like Obama, I am not interested in being an absentee parent. I’m not suggesting anyone does,or that previous generations did — I do think the game has changed. For me, I am happy doing “the work” online late into the night, and picking it up early the next day. BUT, I want to make a window of time, on a semi-regular basis — somewhere between six and nine at night, when I engage with my kids.

There is no longer a prize for being the first car in the parking lot in the morning, or the last car to leave at night.  For many, that was (for some, it still is) the sign of ‘hard’ work.  However, where work happens is changing.  No question, there are parts of my job that require being “present” and having face time.  There are other parts that simply need to get done, and they can be done in the office, at home, at 6:00 p.m. or the next morning.

On being superintendent — having been appointed to this position three years ago, and now just completing my second full year in the role, I do find the position is a bit what one makes of it, and there are so many ways to “do it right”. I have seen others in the role who are masters of the community, attending events at arts clubs, chambers of commerce, community centres and many other community events. And, this is important work, because it raises the profile and interests of a school district. One still needs to pick and choose how they will spend their time.

My focus is really getting the learning right in classrooms, so classrooms over community has sometimes been the priority. And, to be honest, I have had no problem with working hard, I do want to be sure that my own family sees me some evenings. Yes, I nod my head knowingly at  presentations to parents where we discuss the importance of family dinners and other similar connections, knowing full well, that at that moment, I’m doing the very opposite this.  I have had to make choices to forgo evening opportunities, and redefining the role of superintendent, aligned with those values.  I also do realize what I attend speaks to what I say is important – so these decisions are always taken carefully.

Now, if the President of the United States has figured out a way to be home most nights by 6:30 for dinner, surely I (and those who work with me, and have jobs like mine) can find new ways to be home for dinner a couple of  nights a week (I am reminded of a previous story blogged about in YOUR CHOICE).  That said, to the credit of those I am working with in West Vancouver, from staff to Trustees, we are experimenting with more online meetings, and looking at doing more of the face-to-face meetings during daytime hours. Our  District Leadership Team of six, all have children in the K-12 system right now, so this issue is very relevent for all of us.

So, if  the President of the United States can have dinner with his family “most nights”,  that’s certainly good enough for me to aspire to!

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I am not sure what it means to take off my ‘teaching hat’ and put on my ‘parenting hat'; it’s kind of all the same to me. I also think we bring all of our hats to help us in different situations. That said, this is a post with my ‘parent hat’ in mind.  As classes are settling in and school is in full swing, I have some hopes for my own kids’ experiences (and my engagement with these experiences) for the coming school year.

Communication

I am so pleased so many teachers have websites.  I love how the teachers display their kids’ work, giving weekly previews and sharing ideas on how we, as parents, can support their current learning at home.  My day job severely limits my ability to see school in action for my kids and the website is a wonderful way for me to stay connected.  I also appreciate the ability to subscribe to the websites and receive emails with new content.  While I know we should be checking back regularly, the updates are a great prod for me to take a look. I know it may seem like “one more thing to do” but the sites have been an amazing tool of engagement and connecting me with my kids’ learning.

Homework

I really would prefer you didn’t.  I won’t use this space to get into the big debate about the value of homework (that said here is an article from Alfie Kohn that will get you thinking), but I know our kids, like so many other kids, are very engaged in learning outside of school. So, particularly at their age (young elementary), homework is really unnecessary.  I do love home reading, particularly when it is focused on reading and sharing and not about simply reading a certain number of books.  My oldest son has the ability to turn reading into a contest, to find the easiest books to read as possible, so he can ‘win’.

Create Some Space

The most enjoyable times my older daughter has had in school have been when she has had some free space and choice of what she can learn, and how she can display that learning.  Please give them some work that pushes their boundaries, pushes their thinking, and that does not necessarily have an “answer”.  They love this type of work, it is what they talk about at the dinner table.

Be Careful with Busy Work

When there is a Hollywood movie being shown, one of my kids wants to stay home.  She also doesn’t understand why, when she understands a math concept, she should use the rest of the time to colour.  To be clear, these type of things have happened exceptionally rarely, but they discourage my kids from school.

Grading

Again, prefer you didn’t, even with our oldest child in Grade 5.  I have been in education my entire life, but if she comes home and tells me she got a “B” on something, I have no idea what that means and then the conversation ends there.  Please give feedback, and  feedback that my kids can use to improve their work next time, feedback that my wife and I can use to support what is going on in their learning and in the classroom.

What Really Matters

Just take good care of them, help them adjust socially. And, be memorable like all of my elementary teachers were. I can point to at least one way each of my elementary teachers made a difference in my life — from my love of Bruce Springsteen to my interest in storytelling.  All of our kids mention when their teachers ask about their lives outside of school, whether it is about family, sports or other interests. These little things are really the big things for our kids about school.

To be very clear, our kids go to an outstanding neighbourhood school and they have a great sense of place and belonging. And, to date, we have had 10 teacher experiences — all very positive. Here’s to counting on another great year ahead.

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