Posts Tagged ‘parents’


“Teachers are required to use some of the worst software I have ever seen.”

This quote from Lane Merrifield, co-founder of Fresh Grade, in his recent talk at TEDxWestVancouverED, sure resonated with many teachers and administrators in the room.  Given the user experience in our province around some of the required software systems over the last twenty years, I know why people think this.

When I first heard people talking about FreshGrade – it was through my cynical experience of other recent technology software that I entered the conversation.  Really – we need another e-portfolio system?  Don’t we already use several in the district.  But this is different, I was told – it just works.

Over the last year we have had a growing number of teachers use FreshGrade in their classes.  Unlike previous initiatives where we provided the tool to everyone, it has been very organic.  And it has that word of mouth excitement one rarely gets in the world of education technology.   All of us who have seen the power of digital access in a classroom have got our hopes up only to have a far too often OPUD (over promise, under deliver) from our digital tools.

This feels different.

I have seen the power of FreshGrade with my younger son, who attends school in another local school district.  This is my ninth year as a parent in the school system, with four kids from grades 1 – 8.  I have seen more of my younger son’s thinking, learning and engagement in a month through the FreshGrade app than collectively with all the other teachers over all the years.  And this is not an indictment of the other classes – there were photo sites, blogs, emails, newsletters and a host of other tools, but the way  this experience truly engages me in the communication of student learning is different.

zack fg

It is not just me noticing what is going on.  Michelle Hiebert from Abbotsford blogged about what she was seeing with FreshGrade last spring, Ian Landy (the Cal Ripken of BC edu-bloggers for his daily posts) has regularly written about his experiences as a Principal with it in Sorrento, and Tracy Sherlock even covered it in the Vancouver Sun.

I would say this is the only time I have seen a piece of software grow like this in its use with teachers, but that would not be fair.  Right now we are seeing similar growth in the use of a variety of Google Classroom tools.  And again the comments I continue to hear are that the tools do what we want them to and they make sense for teachers and schools.  Maybe we are getting to a new place with software in education – as we become less reliant on trying to make tools created for something else work for education, and embracing tools designed for learning.

I look back about a dozen years to when the portfolio came and went in British Columbia as part of the grad program – and it was too bad.  Part of the vision of the 2004 Graduation Program was having every graduating student present a portfolio to school and community members.  There are many reasons why it failed, from poor resourcing to a design that made it really just a collection of boxes to check off.  More than anything, I think it failed because the technology was not ready for the vision.

I regularly challenge people who suggest that many teachers are anti-technology and just don’t want to enter the modern world.  The teachers I know and work with want to use technology that allows them to do things not possible without the technology and make learning more relevant and engaging.

Looking at the growth of FreshGrade in our district is showing that to be true.

Thanks to grade 4 teacher Ms. Bourne for using FreshGrade with her class – I am sure I am not the only parent who really appreciates your efforts.  I see FreshGrade has also noticed and profiled her this week.  

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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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In the spirit of Malcolm Gladwell’s popular books Blink and Outliers, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman have written a book about children that challenges many of society’s (and my own) assumptions.

Based on new research about the brain, they make a compelling case that what we think we know about topics — from praise, to teaching about race, to siblings and relationships — may not be correct.  Their book NurtureShock is a great read for parents/educators, and a challenge to reexamine what we think we already know.

I can highlight many ideas from the book, but here are a few of the “new” insights I gained:

  • We should be praising kids for their effort and not their intelligence — when we praise for intelligence, kids are far less likely to take risks out of a fear of being wrong.  We need to praise the process.
  • Kids are getting an hour less sleep than they did 30 years ago, and it is having a dramatic effect on academics and emotional stability.  There is a likely link between the lack of sleep and the obesity crisis among young people.
  • We should consider talking with children about race like we talk to children about gender. We can be more explicit at a younger age rather than just create environments where kids are exposed to many races and cultures.
  • We need to give kids some immunity for telling the truth and offer them a route back to good standing when they lie.  According to the research, lying is a sign of intelligence, and often those kids who lie do better on academic achievement tests.
  • We shouldn’t be testing students for being gifted until Grade 3, and those that do the tests for Kindergarten are wrong more than they are right (okay, this wasn’t really new but it confirms what is largely the norm in Canada).
  • Books and videos that end with a problem being resolved often have a negative effect on kids; if much of the book or show is spent on arguing, threatening, excluding or teasing, kids remember this and not the resolution.
  • Teenagers arguing with adults is a sign of respect, not disrespect, so much as the arguing is constructive to the relationship.
  • There are many programs that, on the surface, appear like they should be great, but have little effect on kids behaviour (DARE was cited as a primary example of this).  The thinking is, since human behaviour is incredibly stubborn, it is extremely difficult for interventions to be successful with kids.
  • When parents have a conflict, they are better to resolve it in front of their kids rather than continue it outside of their presence — this allows kids to see the resolution, and not only the conflict.
This is a cursory list of some of the key messages I was left with after reading the book, and there is a lot more material that could be highlighted — some of which a real challenge to my natural instincts as a parent and a teacher.
There are a number of ways to connect with the ideas of the book, including a Facebook site, Twitter account, and a website with a number of other articles along the same lines as the book (given Stuart Shanker’s recent visit, I was interested in this one, which questioned the validity of the marshmallow test).
I always love a book that challenges my assumptions, and is open for discussion or debate with other parents and teachers.
Here is an interview with author, Po Bronson and others, outlining the Myth of Praise (Chapter 1 from the book):
Have you read this book?

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One of my new (school) year’s resolutions is to reallocate some of my time from television to books.  And, while there are many books about education, from time to time I will blog about the education/leadership books I have read and made connections to our work in West Vancouver, and the broader education community.

One such book is the well-researched Childhood Under Siege by Joel Bakan. Bakan is a professor of law at UBC, and the author of the widely cited book and film The Corporation.  His latest book examines how big business targets children.  And while its viewpoint is largely focussed on the United States, and interspersed with some Canadian examples, it is a cautionary tale beyond these borders.

Bakan focuses on five areas in which corporations are targeting and harming children: media, pharmaceuticals, toxic chemicals, child labour, and education. While all five have links to the school system, I found the section on media particularly compelling.

Addicting Games is one of the sites he mentions. The site is owned by Nickelodeon and is one of the largest sources of online games.

Says Bakan:

Many of the site’s games deliver emotional content interactively – players can act out and control virtual acts of brutality and murder rather than just passively watching actors or animated figures do so, as they would on TV.

Bakan also questions the spin-offs from the Grand Theft Auto, Halo and Call of Duty series.  Games I am more familiar with, like Neopets and Webkinz, also come under the microscope. Bakan says of these sites aimed at pre-schoolers and elementary students, “pet sites succeed by manipulating, using casino-style tactics, the intense feeling kids have for their virtual pets.”   What is common at the heart of all of these games — is addiction — it has “become the gold standard in gaming, the true mark of a game worth playing.”   This chapter is an interesting read in the wake of Stuart Shanker’s visit to our district at the beginning of this school year. When asked about the one piece of advice he would give parents, Shanker said he would “encourage them to get rid of their televisions.”

Bakan’s book does work into the subject of education more deeply, examining the string of US policies that have relied heavily on standardized tests.  I found this to be sad, but also reassuring, knowing how we are forging a different path in BC, and in Canada.

As parent groups look for study books for the fall, Bakan offers one with links to both parenting and schooling.

Here is a video of Bakan explaining some of the book’s key points:

Bakan’s book is a call for community and regulatory solutions to the areas he identifies.  I am interested in your thoughts, and the views of those who have had a chance to engage with the book and/or its themes.

For West Vancouver blog readers, the book is available through the West Vancouver Memorial Library.

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When students are invited to our Community Forum, the students inevitably become the stars of the event. Take for instance last week’s final community forum of the current school year. Also attending was Education Consultant Bruce Wellman, and it was wonderful to work with him on this project.  The question we asked students, parents, teachers and administrators was, “What does the class of 2022 need to succeed?”  The conversation focussed around the necessary changes, and roles each person would have to help move our system to the system we want for 2022.  To encourage open discussion, we set up mixed tables of students, teachers, parents, trustees and others in the community and the interaction, the observations and the insights that emerged from that mix were telling.  The input from the students was particularly powerful.

A sample of some of the “takeaways” that participants left with included:

  • The importance of trust in the process of collaboration between teacher, student, and parent and the need to value everyone’s input
  • “Personalized” does not mean customized all the time — it is about the “human” in there
  • Be prepared to take risks and try something new
  • We need to build urgency into the system. We (our kids) can’t wait
  • We have to figure out how to communicate in ways students, parents and educators are on the same page
  • Parents need to be “involved” in some very different ways
  • We are talking about how things will be different some time from now, but what about changing something now? (Grade 5 student)

Here is one particularly thoughtful extended reflection from Jane, one of the local students who participated in the forum:

Tonight was the night of the Community Forum “What Does the Class of 2022 Need to Succeed?” hosted at Rockridge Secondary School where teachers, parents and students were invited to discuss the aforementioned topic and explore ideas such as how students will own their learning, how parents can support this learning and what teachers will do to guide this learning.

This opportunity was first presented to me by my challenge teacher, Lynn Chartres, in an email explaining the purpose of the forum and how students were being invited to participate and that I was one of those chosen students. Eager to attend a meeting of such sorts, I happily complied.

I happen to be particularly enthusiastic about events such as these where students are allowed to take part in these collaborations because I really feel that we have a lot of valuable ideas about topics such as this. I mean we are the third link in the chain, and I personally think that we as students have both a lot of experience and a lot of opinions about our education system, but most importantly, we take pride in our education and have a lot of ideas about what we can do to strengthen our system.  We are the ones that are being taught after all!

This brings me to my next point: how students will own their learning. And it is so vitally important that we do, for we do not all learn the same way and our strengths as individuals all lie in different places. I believe that it is the shared responsibility of the teacher, the student and the parent to help students explore that place and learn how to use the talents stored there to become a successful student and a successful individual.  However, we cannot be expected to fully embrace ourselves as passionate, knowledgeable learners if we are not given the tools and the inspiration to go the lengths it takes to get there.  Yet I am proud that I can say that we are taking action and that we are part of a healthy and dedicated educational system.

Furthermore, another key aspect is how parents can support this learning process. One of the important points that came up in conversation was that parents, especially in our society, need to give their children “breathing space” and recognize where to draw the line when supporting their children with school.  To learn, you need to makes mistakes and we need to be able to make our own mistakes. By over-protecting a child, you’re only really going to end up causing them harm in the end. If every step we take is monitored and calculated so that we can’t possibly end up treading off the path leading us to what is seen as “ultimate success,” then we ourselves will be unsuccessful as we will have no experience with the difficulties and conflicts that will arise in our adult life. What I believe parents can do to be as constructive in their child’s life as possible, is simply ask intuitive and stimulating questions about what their child has been learning and discuss what they too have been learning as an adult, then finding links between themselves, their child and the world around them.  This adds to the idea of holding on to the “dinner table ritual” and engaging the family in routine conversations – whether or not they be at the dinner table – that provide everyone with a chance to reflect upon what they learned that day and share newly formulated thoughts and ideas together. It’s a process that everyone gains something from.

My final point is – what will teachers do to guide this learning? With changing times come advances in modern technology, different forms of communication and a shift in the values that we honour as a society. And with such rapid, extraordinary change and overload of constantly expanding information at our fingertips, it is difficult to stay grounded.  As we change and move forward, our school system must evolve and adapt to the changes that are taking place. We must discover new ways of teaching a complex and technologically centred generation of young minds, while remaining true to the educational values that have been passed down to us by our predecessors. And, although I agree that it has come time to let go of our old traditions and teaching methods so that we can embrace the new generation of modern education, we mustn’t entirely disregard the ways of the past. Our old traditions gave us structure and form; something to hold onto that was unchanging and, although the time for those ways has ended, they should be always be remembered, honoured and respected.

Additionally, I feel that this “new era of education” encourages collaborative teaching methods that allow the teachers to share some of the power with their students and inspire creative and individual thinking. It is not reasonable in this day and age to simply tell students what they need to learn, what to do, how to do it and leave it at that. With that “one-size-fits-all” method of teaching, how would a group of entirely different learners and thinkers be expected to function? It is imperative that students have a chance to take in information, process it and then demonstrate their knowledge in their own, distinctive way. When given knowledge, one is given power and when the creativity and unique minds of a student come into the equation brilliant things occur. It is just a matter of providing an inspiring and passionate learning environment.

Overall, the questions that challenged how students will own their learning, how parents will support this learning and how teachers will guide this learning sparked a multitude of intuitive and innovative ideas that allowed the topic “What Does the Class of 2022 Need to Succeed?” to be analyzed and from a variety of viewpoints that lead everyone to better understand the original topic.

We are continuing to have great conversations as we help our system evolve, trying to follow the advice of Daniel Pink, “Talk less, listen more.”

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In an earlier post, Parents as Participants, the initial impetus came from A Vision for 21st Century Education, a document released last December that made the argument — the roles of students, teachers and parents need to change as our education system evolves. Over the past two months, each of our schools has considered what “parents as participants” to improve student learning would look like in their schools, and meetings have been held with students, staff and parents.

Here are some of the common themes and suggestions that have emerged:

  • Share expertise with class / school (guest speaker)
  • Volunteer (in class or with extra-curricular)
  • Engage with newsletters / websites / blogs / planners, etc.
  • Show interest in your child’s work and answer their questions (help but don’t do the work)
  • Give your child descriptive feedback
  • Build relationships with teachers and other adults at school
  • Educate yourself on the changing classroom (and rethink what you know about school)
  • Encourage healthy behaviours at home (eating, sleeping, time management, boundary setting)
  • Jump in with technology alongside your child
  • Extend the learning outside of class hours (family trips, extension activities, etc.)
  • Model that you are a learner, for your child
  • Communicate regularly with school
  • Value the administrators’, teachers’ and staffs’ professional roles in your child’s school
  • Help set learning goals for your child (co-planners)
  • Foster independence

Here is one particularly clever and thoughtful summary from Bowen Island Community School. Thanks to Jennifer Pardee (Principal) and Scott Slater (Vice-Principal) for sharing it:

In thinking about “Parent as Participant” we were thinking of a performance which had:

1.   Parent on Stage, Modelling

  • Model an interest in school by reading Newsletters, Website, Twitterfeeds, etc.
  • Model Lifelong Learning by sharing with students what they are learning themselves and perhaps
    doing their own readings about topics in school
    Model Citizenship by joining PAC or volunteering in other ways
  • Share expertise with classes

2.   Rehearsal, Coach

  • Answer questions about homework and discuss ‘big ideas’ of learning
  • Show interest in both the process of creating and the creation itself
  • Remember that it is the student’s performance and that while the parent can help, it is they who have to be able to perform alone

3.   Parent in Audience, Child on Stage (stage = assignment/authentic transfer task) Audience

  • Stay in your seat and give them some space
  • Read what your child writes, clap for it, make the writing/reading experience a performance with the accountability a performance entails

4.   Backstage / Connector

  • After the performance, give more descriptive feedback than simple applause: what did they do well, what do they think they need to work on to get better, what will they do differently next time.
  • What connections can be made between the show/learning, and other aspects of experience?
  • Ask child, what can you do now? Where can you go next?

5.   Next Show: Facilitator

  • If the child knows where they want to go next, help them — family field trips, etc.

Idea: for parents to take time in their busy lives to be deliberate as coaches and models for their children; to explain to them not just how they support learning and the school in general, but why, and in doing so impress the point of the importance of education and the need for numerous influences on learning.

This is an important conversation we look forward to continuing, and we would like you to help continue the conversation.

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At the last District Parent Advisory Council meeting in West Vancouver, our Trustee Liaison, Cindy Dekker, shared her reflections as a parent whose youngest of two daughters graduates this year, having been in our school system for the last 15 years.  The straight talk was great and while some of the passion is lost without the presentation, the ideas are worth sharing with a larger audience.

She opened by acknowledging the key role that other parents played in her role as a parent raising her girls — a network of mentors.   She also emphasized the influence of Barbara Coloroso as a parenting expert worth following.

Cindy’s talk focussed on three key ideas:  school work, phones and communication, and finances.

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

On Phones and Communicating:

– I bought a phone for my daughter, so it was mine, and if I called them they had to pick up — it was the rule

– the home is command central

– when your kids go to a party, call the parents and talk to them about the event and the supervision

– you meet some great parents when you connect with them over the parties they are hosting for kids

– always get the information you need from your kids before they leave the house

On Finances:

– financial literacy does not only need to be taught at school, but in the home as well

– giving allowance is great — it teaches kids about responsibility and about purchasing errors, buyers remorse and the value of charity giving

– encourage your kids to get a job and understand the value of money before they are on their own

We spend lots of time working with, and listening to, experts in the field, but parenting is one area where we usually also have a lot of real-life, lived experience and expertise in the room.

Cindy closed with a couple poems that she has had on her fridge for many years:

By Cleo V. Swarat

I dreamed I stood in a studio
And watched two sculptors there,
The clay they used was a young child’s mind
And they fashioned it with care.

One was a teacher:
the tools she used were books and music and art;
One was a parent
With a guiding hand and gentle loving heart.

And when at last their work was done,
They were proud of what they had wrought.
For the things they had worked into the child
Could never be sold or bought!

And each agreed she would have failed
if she had worked alone.
For behind the parent stood the school,
and behind the teacher stood the home!

A Touch of Love

You were six months old and full of fun.
With a blink of my eye, you were suddenly one.

There were so many things we were going to do,
But I turned my head and you turned two.

At two you were very dependent on me,
But independence took over when you turned three.

Your third birthday, another year I tried to ignore,
But when I lit the candles, there weren’t three, but four.

Four was the year that you really strived.
Why, look at you now, you’re already five.

Now you are ready for books and for rules.
This is the year that you go to school.

The big day came, you were anxious to go.
We walked to the bus; going oh, so slow.

As you climbed aboard and waved goodbye,
I felt a lump in my throat and tears stung my eyes.

Time goes by so fast, it’s hard to believe
That just yesterday you were here home with me.

And tomorrow when the bus brings you home and when you jump to the ground,
You’ll be wearing your cap and graduation gown.

So I’m holding on to these moments as hard as I can,
Because the next time I look, I’ll be seeing a man.


Parenting is messy and it is nice to be reassured that others share their stories and their lessons.

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