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Posts Tagged ‘West Vancouver’

The_real_world_title_card

It is a real honour to speak at many spring graduation celebrations and, while I realize usually nobody is really there to listen to the superintendent, it is a chance for me to share some of my thinking on education, life and the real world.

So, in addition to congratulating our graduates, acknowledging our passionate and giving teachers and thanking our parents for supporting public education in every way in our community, I also tackled the issue of the ‘real world’ this year.  Here is an excerpt from the comments I shared at our graduation ceremonies:

Starting with my own high school graduation in 1991, this is the twenty-fourth consecutive year I have got to attend at least one graduation ceremony.  And, as much as our world has changed over the last 24 years, from MC Hammer and Sony Walkmans to Pharrell Williams and selfies, graduation is still quite similar – still relevant, still an important mark in life.  It is part congratulations, part acknowledging a transition, and a time to pause and take stock – to be thankful for what has come before and look forward to what is ahead.

I think people who say our job in schools is to prepare you for the real world are wrong.  If we have done it right this year and over the last 13 years, your school experiences have been very much the real world.

There is a notion that school is all about preparation. It really starts early – kindergarten is to prepare you for Grade 1 and it just continues from there.  We start giving you tests in primary grades because you will get tested in older grades and you need to be ready.  Some see school as continuing to prepare you for what’s next and, ultimately, the job of school is to prepare you for life after school.

Actually, when you are in kindergarten you need to be in kindergarten – it is its own thing and not just a preparation for something else. And Grade 12 is also its own thing.  And so, as Grade 12s, I know particularly, in recent months, you have kept one eye on what is next – acceptance letters for university, travel opportunities and job offers that have come forward – sure our job is to prepare you for the real world, but hopefully school has been the real world.

The real world is about community.  The real world is about working with colleagues, making mistakes, learning, trying again – hopefully, that has been your year and your school career.  The real world is the collaboration that leads to the amazing arts performances at your school, the tremendous results in athletic competitions and the determination that leads to outstanding marks in the classroom.

The real world is about learning from wise mentors – and, we are so blessed with amazing, passionate, giving and talented teachers.

So, tonight is less about stepping out into the world, but more about celebrating your place in our world – a wonderful school career and the optimism of what is to come.

It is great to work in the West Vancouver system  — an education system that is not only committed to preparing students for the real world, but is the real world.

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Google

Thomas Friedman recently wrote a piece in the New York Times on “How to Get a Job at Google.”  As I read the comments of Laszlo Bock, the Senior Vice President of People Operations for Google, the more I found that Google is looking for many of the same attributes in its employees that we are looking for in West Vancouver, when we hire principals and vice-principals.

One of the more common questions I am asked is just what does someone need to do to secure a school principal or vice-principal job?  The truth is there is no one thing or an exact path.  In West Vancouver we do receive dozens of applications for any job opening, and many of these candidates have all the required boxes checked for what is needed in these leadership positions.  Many who apply believe there is a certain ‘formula’ in getting a job as a principal or vice-principal, but I haven’t seen it yet. I have heard,  “you need to be on district committees,” or “you need to have experience in multiple schools; to have experience in different subjects and at different grades.” And the list goes on.  In the end, our view is similar to that of Bock, “Talent can come in so many different forms and be built in so many non-traditional ways today.”

Bock identifies five key attributes in hiring:

  • learning ability — the ability to pull together disparate bits of information and process on the fly
  • leadership — when faced with a problem at the appropriate time you step in and lead
  • ownership — the feeling of responsibility
  • humility — the ability to step back and embrace the better ideas of others
  • expertise — it is important, but less important than the other four

The list really speaks to the skills we are looking for with our school administrators and the kind of attributes we are seeking in our leaders. We want them to be able to be smart and make decisions on the fly; to lead — not only from the front, but to feel like their school is theirs; to step back and allow others to share in the success and, finally, to have the expertise in many of the learning and management areas that are regular parts of the job.  Friedman is right, “In an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavour, it also cares about a lot of soft skills – leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn.”  This is why we almost always ask candidates about who is in their network and how they learn with their colleagues. We want our buildings to be about learning, and that includes our leaders being model learners themselves.

And, really, this entire list and conversation extends to the qualities we are looking for in our teachers. We want our teachers to be innovators, leaders, and owners of their classroom. We do want them to be humble and, yes, we want expertise — but I will take someone with the other four qualities and lacking in expertise rather than the reverse, any day. Good grades don’t hurt, but we are looking for more than that with our teachers and educational leaders.  I agree with the notion Friedman shares, “Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job.  The world only cares about – and pays off on – what you can do with what you know.”

Of course, the teaching, principal and vice-principal jobs in West Vancouver involves different perks than Google (sorry about that) but it looks like we are looking for many of the same qualities.

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bandwidth

The number one challenge facing technology in education is not pedagogy or access to devices – the number one challenge facing  technology use in British Columbia’s schools is bandwidth.

I was looking back at a presentation I gave in 2002, when I said, “We should think of Internet access like curbside garbage pick-up.  It should be regular and something we can depend on.”  A decade plus later not much has really changed for me.  I simply expect when I load a website, open my email or launch a video, for that to simply work.  In the past decade, my home access and my mobile phone access have improved to a point where I almost never worry about access or speed.  The access in our schools is not so perfect.

British Columbia does lead the country in Internet connectivity. Students increasingly have their own devices at school, and very often more than one. And, how they use these devices is quickly changing — no longer are they just consuming content, they are content creators.  Even five years ago we lamented the spikes in bandwidth use at lunch and after school as students saw Internet use at school largely as a social tool. Current data tells a different story.  Spikes in Internet use are now during class hours and less use before/at lunch and after school.  Our teachers and students are trying to do exciting things with their digital access.  We are seeing a boom in one-to-one initiatives, more etextbooks, inquiry initiatives in a digital space, video streaming and collaboration online between schools, districts and countries.  My colleague from the Surrey district, Jordan Tinney, recently wrote a wonderful post on this very topic – Change is Just a Mouse Click Away . . . Or is It?

The story often told is that we don’t have enough technology, or that teachers are not ready to make the pedagogical shift. Yes, those are factors, but not the ‘number one’ issue.  Over the last two years we have ensured all staff in West Vancouver have access to a digital device of their choice, a topic I recently wrote about When Teachers Have Devices.  Surveying these teachers at the end of last year, we learned that about one-third of teachers are looking for more support with the changing pedagogy of the digital classroom; about the same number referenced the need for more technical support, and close to 90% indicated improving Internet speed “needs to be a priority.”  While it is tremendously exciting what is happening our classrooms, the spinning wheel in the middle of the screen can be a real downer.

The West Vancouver School District is actually in far better shape than most school districts.  We have invested in fiber connectivity, upgraded devices, modernized the ‘behind the walls’ with our technology and are looking at traffic shaping (giving priority to certain types of activities on the Internet like the student information system) and still we are challenged. Looking at the next five, or even two years, there is going to be more outbound traffic.  Classes are increasingly using data rich websites; video use is taking off; teacher collaboration in a digital environment is growing rapidly, and a new student information system for BC promises to provide amazing data at the touch of a key. In fact, in the very near future, I predict we will have more devices connecting to our network on a daily basis than we have students and teachers in our district.

It is easy to identify challenges, but this is one with some solutions. The Provincial Learning Network (PLNet) provides “reliable, robust and safe network infrastructure enabling communications and the delivery of educational content to schools and post-secondary institutions in British Columbia” according to its website.   It has served us very well.  It has helped us give assurances to families around content filtering (such as students surfing the web). However, as school bandwidth demands are expected to increase 30% year-over-year, we need to either upgrade this system or move on to a new model. So, do we do it together as a province or 60 different ways as districts?  And, as it often comes down to in education, who pays?

As we scale the use of technology in our schools we will need to reduce and eventually eliminate the bandwidth barrier.  Recently, I heard a speaker suggest that the global leaders in digital learning will be those with the greatest bandwidth.  We are making a promise to create engaging learning environments for our students through personalized learning powered by digital access. We will continue accessing the Internet and we need it to be as reliable as heat, light, and telephone service in our schools. We also need to get on with this challenge — if we wait on it longer, there will only be larger barriers in the years ahead.

I recently spoke on a ministry panel on this topic with the IT and Communications Working Group; a group that has concluded that moving forward requires a robust and upgraded provincial data network. AGREED!

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Credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/ryancastro/7173268957/sizes/o/in/photolist-bVSSWZ-fJqRfi-a1sSda-9KdtBC-fy1AoN-fxMLSe-fxMLKn-fy38no-bDSM2G-8hNLpS-eKLJtb-djtEZU-8SJard-7EZiaB-9GFFe3-9fF3g3-9sWooL-adTFgG-8i9k54-8hj2rQ-7Q9yvp-f9vGuT-9K1mD5-dMnjmT-9ftzZn-faSLEA-a18XQ3-f6aURR-ahHjzp-b6e6yn-fCkUhd-fJcBoT-7S17Jy-c8JYSh-92jyb1-akePs1-7EUbry-9urCyQ-9eTkEV-ftBX9a-9akv5F-e8VuCk-fBogyL-agC1ae-eK7XV3-9PGFUF-7AsWvc-a6ZFyp-aM3UTz-dcNmiR/

Credit:  Troy Ancas

It is early days yet and we are still in the honeymoon phase of the school year. Rested and inspired over the summer break, students, staff and parents return with new goals and big ambitions.  It is a great time of year to be in our schools, and over the past few weeks I have spent from a few minutes to a few hours in each of them. And, what I have noticed, while there is not a lot strikingly new, there are practices which have evolved over the last few years that have become ingrained and with an increasing depth to the work.

I have written often about the interplay between inquiry, self-regulation and digital access.  And, when I visit a school now I see elements of all three in action.  They are reflected in school plans, but more importantly, they are seen in the classrooms — and not just a couple of classrooms.

I have talked with several elementary teachers about their planning on units of inquiry.  Last year, while they may have done one each term, teachers are refining these units and adding a second unit to each term this year.  The language they use around inquiry is also more precise — a common language across grades and schools.

Not five years ago, self-regulation was a foreign concept to me. Now, I walk into schools and see teachers working on breathing exercises with students; libraries equipped with a variety of spaces to meet the needs of different learners, and classroom work focussing on students to assist them in feeling calm and alert for learning.  I wrote about our district’s work this past February toward a district-coordinated effort with two of our lead schools connecting to a national network of schools and districts.

However, it is digital access that has seen the most profound change. Thanks to a Board of Education-initiated budget plan, our Grades four-to-12 classrooms have been modernized with projectors, and each teacher has been given a mobile device of their choice (iPad, PC Laptop, PC Tablet or MacBook).  In addition to this, many classrooms have adopted bring-your-own-device programs with some school-wide.

But, I barely notice this because it has become less of an activity — when I walk into a classroom I don’t see 25 students staring at laptop screens; some are working on their device, others with pen-and-paper, and still others working with a combination of tools — it is absolutely true that the technology is becoming more invisible.  We are getting better and more comfortable with it.

Of course, saying “there is nothing new” doesn’t make for a good story.  We crave “new” in education. The most frequently asked question of me, starting in the summer through to September is “what is new / different / special / cutting-edge in West Vancouver this year?”  My response comes back to what I said three years ago as I was becoming Superintendent:

 I know in many places gimmicks are quite fashionable — a particular program or approach that will be the be-all and end-all. We hear this a lot from the United States as they talk about No Child Left Behind . . . if only we all just did Smart Reading, or all had laptops, or used EBS, or played first and then ate lunch, or had a particular bell schedule, then our system would move forward and students would graduate in even greater numbers.  These are all worthy and can be powerful initiatives, but there are no magic bullets.  It is the hard work in the classrooms everyday — the mix of science and art; teachers taking what they know about what works, combining this with their skills, and building relationships with their students . . .

Of course, there is “new”. There are new courses, new programs, new facility upgrades, but while it doesn’t make for a good story my survey of our district shows we have sustained a focussed purpose on a small number of key areas. I see a mix of school, district and ministry directions interwoven in our work; for example, schools with an arts focus and an emphasis on inquiry fostering personalized learning for their students.

In a recent post I suggested this might be the Year of the Report Card.  My early year visits indicate this is also the year we probe, explore and go deeper with the work we have started around inquiry, self-regulation and digital access.

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I have read some speculation about educational change regarding education’s future, that it will be less creative and the arts will be marginalized.  The speculative thought goes something like this – with increased personalization of education increased reliance on technology follows, which will lead to increased narrowing of curriculum and that will lead to students spending less time in areas like dance, drama, music and the visual arts.

I don’t see this happening. I see a future with fewer arts classes but much richer engagement in the arts.

While many point to examples like High Tech High, with its rich integration of subjects and different curriculum areas, in many ways we are challenging traditional classroom learning; an example is the work led by Katherine Tong and her team connected with the Vancouver Biennale – a powerful legacy to the exhibition in the Vancouver area.

The BIG IDEAS Program, which is the educational program that has accompanied the Vancouver Biennale Exhibition, has made its way into seven school districts and 63 schools (including West Vancouver) and reaching more than 4200 students.  UBC has now included the program as part of teacher practicums, and the program has been awarded the Arts Champion in Education Award.  The program allows students to engage with the art and local artists and share their interpretations to a broad audience.

Here is a recent presentation Katherine Tong shared with me about the program:

And, a recently posted video describing some of the links of the program to self-regulation:

There are a number of things I really like about this program, including:

  • Teachers have the opportunity to collaborate within and across schools
  • Students interact with practising artists
  • There is an emphasis on production and performance
  • Classes are not only in schools, but in the community where the art is as well
  • Curriculum is organized around ‘big ideas’ and educators have put together thoughtful work which is shared with others
  • There is natural integration of outcomes from a variety of disciplines
  • The school and the community are true partners in education
  • Goals like self-regulation are promoted and activity-based
  • Schools reap the benefit of community expertise

We may have fewer stand-alone art classes in five years time than we do today. Hopefully, we will also have fewer stand-alone English, Social Studies, Math and Science classes as well.  The move to creating meaningful linkages in curriculum fosters opportunities like those of the Vancouver Biennale Program.  While there is no crystal ball to see what the future of teaching and learning looks like, I would like to suggest it looks more like what this program offers, and we need stellar examples like these programs to show and move the way forward.

As the Vancouver Biennale rightfully claims – they are “redefining the experience of art” and in doing so they are contributing to the redefinition of the learning and schooling experience for many of our students.

 

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Story

At last month’s Provincial Educational Leadership Conference, the former Deputy Minister of Education from Ontario, Ben Levin, reminded us all of the good story we have in public education, in our province and Canada.  There are exciting conversations around educational transformation, where to go to next, and that we continue to be one of the world’s top performing jurisdictions. We do have a great story to tell.  The West Vancouver School District Board Chair, Cindy Dekker, picked up on this theme in her latest Taking Action column in the North Shore Outlook:

The many success stories coming out of public education across Canada never cease to inspire those of us serving as trustees on the West Vancouver Board of Education.

Our latest source of inspiration came from Ben Levin, former Deputy Minister of Education in Ontario, who delivered a powerful, positive message at a recent Educational Leadership Conference in Vancouver.

He reminded us that Canada has one of the highest performing public education systems in the world but suggested we haven’t “hit the top of our potential and the drive to improve must be unrelenting”.

Levin challenged us to continue to push for better teaching, better programming and better use of resources – goals our staff strive to achieve every day in West Vancouver, Lions Bay and Bowen Island.

How do we reach them? His ideas align with ours; by continuing to provide relevant curriculum and classrooms, building personal relationships with students and families and forging strong community connections.

I have spent some time over the last couple of weeks collating items around our graduation rates in West Vancouver.  Once again, it is a very impressive story to share.  Our overall graduation rate continues to hover around 97-98%, with about 60% of our students graduating with Honours (B average or better).  This high rate continues at a time when classrooms have become increasingly diverse, and with increases in our English Language Learner (ELL) numbers.  If anything, the trend has been upward over the last several years, and is a tribute to our outstanding teachers who work with amazing students each day.

Finally, at least week’s meeting of the District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC), I heard our schools tell stories of pride, on a range of rich and diverse topics including:  a school transforming a  library into a learning commons; a school with an inquiry /technology focus going deeper with its learning; another school looking at inquiry, but more through the lens of the Arts; several schools adopting self-regulation principles including MindUP; several schools giving back to the community with ventures like the Cinderella Project and the Harvest Project; several schools committing to environmental education initiatives, including school gardens and outdoor learning projects; several schools that have seen aesthetic upgrades outside and inside their buildings, and a number of schools highlighting well-rounded, parent education projects.  At each school there was a sense of great pride, and outstanding schools trying new and better things for their kids.

I have written in my blog before that “we don’t have to be sick to get better” – but we do need to step back, once in a while,  to remind ourselves about the outstanding system we have.

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Blogging continues to evolve in West Vancouver.  At some schools, principal blogs have become school blogs (you can check them out here). The modelling from principals and vice-principals has led to other staff starting their own digital writing space, and they offer a great sample of the conversations currently taking place throughout the West Vancouver School District.  Here is just a sample of what people are talking about:

Lynne Tomlinson, Director of Instruction, recently wrote about moving Conversations to Clarity in her work:

We have seen so many variations of teaching and learning over the past year, some patterns were beginning to emerge.  We came up with a framework that incorporates the core phases of learning that we have seen in our classrooms within an evolution towards “making it real”.  Learning has to be important if we are to engage our students.

Self regulation underlies all learning, as does social emotional learning.  Indigenous principles of learning must always be embedded in our practice.  These are the foundations of learning that have been of much greater focus in our classrooms.  From there, inquiry and access will encourage student engagement.  Tuning protocols for formative assessment and instructional strategies insure rigor.  Finally, student presentations of their work and real world tasks provide the relevance in learning.

Darren Elves, teacher and PYP IB Coordinator at Cypress Park Primary School, investigated The Student Perspective on Questioning, which is also a link to his own current studies:

In attempting to find a viable and relevant topic to look at as a focus for my Master’s work (M.Ed in Educational Leadership at Vancouver Island University), it didn’t take long for me to pinpoint the notion of student questioning.  Having the good fortune of working in a school environment that embraces a very clear stance on inquiry as best practice, we are always looking, as a staff, for ways to improve upon our learning and teaching here at Cypress Park Primary.

Cathie Ratz, Principal at Irwin Park Elementary, profiled their school’s work with MindUP – a program that continues to gain momentum throughout the district as part of the larger self-regulation strategy.  She describes it as:

. . . . a family of social, emotional, and attentional self-regulatory strategies and skills developed to cultivate well-being and emotional balance. Based on the notion that intellect does not exist in isolation from emotions,  connections to others or the rest of their bodies, the MindUP™  program is designed to address these components of learning for all students.

Lions Bay Vice-Principal, Jody Billingsley, also picked up on the social-emotional theme in his most recent post – Social Emotional Learning – Why Do It?:

It seems perfectly clear that we need to emphasize pro-social behaviours, character education and social emotional learning to help create caring successful citizens that will have educated minds and hearts.   This cannot be a sole school issue alone; we need the support of the community and families to help mold our future minds.

. . . If we work as a collaborative team to help foster this at home, in schools, online and in public, perhaps we can avoid people being bullied to the point of no longer having the ability to cope with their situation.  We need to ensure that we are not creating brilliant scientists who are evil, but brilliant citizens who think of others and how their actions impact the world.

Janet Hicks, teacher and PYP IB Coordinator at West Bay, linked the international-mindedness that is part of the IB Profile to the work that comes out of “Me to We”. Janet writes of how the energy from that day will transform into action at the school:

So, now as I go back to my Internationally Minded team I feel proud of what they CAN do for our world.  I know that they are filled with so much passion and will take these messages they have learned from We Day and apply it to their lives.  It is going to be exciting to watch these future world leaders go from “me to we”.

Michelle Labounty, Principal at Ridgeview Elementary, also picked up on the words of Marc and Craig Kielburger (Founders of Me to We) sharing their “Toast to First World Problems“:

None of us can help the situation we’re born into. We shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed because we have spacious homes, microwave dinners and GPS boxes that talk to us and help us get where we need to go. The guilt kicks in when we lose perspective on the little problems that arise amidst the privileges.
That’s the point of memes like the First World Problems Anthem — perspective. They’re not your mom shaking a reproachful finger and scolding, “Eat your broccoli! There are starving children in Africa, you know!” But rather gentle nudges to say, “Your computer blue-screened again? So what. Take a deep breath, it’s no biggie.”
Ridgeview Elementary Vice-Principal, Craig Cantlie, blogged to update us all on his experience of a lifetime –  Connecting with my Climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, a journey that has inspired many across the district:

I am very fortunate to work in a school district that is open to allowing its educators to pursue life experiences and has the foresight to recognize the positive effect it would have on students.

As for my school, overwhelmingly, the Ridgeview family was the greatest supporter of my climb. Staff, students and families enthusiastically contributed to all of the fundraising initiatives from the Flags of Hope to our coin drive. For a Vice-Principal who has only been at the school for one year, I was greatly touched by the generosity of our school community.

It has been a wonderful five months raising donations for BC Children’s Hospital, sharing my story and preparing for the climb of a lifetime. I will never forget the experience or the people who helped me to make it happen.

West Vancouver Secondary Teacher, Keith Rispin, also recently had a  wonderful experience attending the iPad Summit in Boston, and then sharing his learning with the rest of us.  His observations included:

One little but significant piece of the puzzle, without which all is for not. There was surprisingly little if any discussion on the role of student in this little learning revolution. We talked about how teachers have to change, education systems have to change, teaching practice has to change, the physical aspects of school have to change but NOTHING about how the student will have to change. Sure we talked about what kids should be able to do when they walk out the door but we did not discuss how the learner has to change their practice but there is no need to worry…

I think I stumbled upon a little hint as to how learners will have to change as we move ahead. It lies in the single most important thing I took away from this conference. People need to become “free agent learners” It does not matter if you are student or teacher. Those who will excel in the Twenty-First Century Learning environment, will take on the responsibility for their own learning. The days of being a passive recipient of the information that comes your way is over. Those who don’t, will be left in the dust.

Finally, West Vancouver Secondary Principal, Steve Rauh, was one of several to reflect on the power of Remembrance Day:

West Vancouver Secondary School has a tradition of honour and respect. Each year, we attach a poppy on the Graduation Composites that line our hallways to the photos of our young graduates who died in conflict. This is a very solemn visual.

It is incredible to realize that in some years nearly 10 per cent of the graduating class passed away in this manner. By today’s standard that equates to approximately 38-40 students from each and any of the classes from 2002 to 2012.

It is a pretty amazing and diverse collection of ideas being shared across the district, many stories that would not see such wide audiences without the power of the technology; all stories rooted in the power of face-to-face connections.  I am working in a community of storytellers, and it is wonderful to be part of such a thoughtful community.

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Last spring the West Vancouver School District added Administrative Procedure 171 - Sexual Minority / Sexual Orientation / Gender Identity to its Administrative Policies and Procedures.

The administrative procedure seems to have generated more attention outside the school district than inside the district.  It was covered in Xtra, the North Shore News and the Vancouver Sun,  but inside the district, it was generally greeted with an attitude of  “well, that just codified what we do”.

While one wonders how important policies and procedures are to guiding behaviour or giving confidence to staff, it is evident that they do given this letter received from one of our teachers.  With permission, I have taken out specific names and have also added hyperlinks so that others can benefit from the experience this teacher had:

I am writing to you as a new teacher in the West Vancouver district.  Although I have only taught at the school for 10 days, I feel it necessary to let you know what a huge impact working in this district already has had on me.

To fully appreciate the positive impact I’ve experienced, it’s necessary to provide some context.  On my ninth day of teaching, I learned of an embarrassing, disappointing, and hurtful incident.  My principal, invited me into her office after school to discuss the issue.  Specifically, Grade 7 students had been overheard in the playground referring to me by using homophobic language.  As a teacher with 15 years of experience under my belt, the notion of kids referring to me disrespectfully did not come as a surprise.  But what was surprising was my principal’s reaction.  She told me how disappointed she was; however, rather than electing to just pull offenders into her office and reprimand them with the standard, “That is not respectful,” she talked with me about how she wanted to challenge and change the culture of our Grade 7 classes in which that kind of language is okay.  She offered to either lead a lesson or, should I choose to take the lead, lend her support and input. This happened on Friday and I spent the weekend preparing.

This morning, I gave the lesson to 60 Grade 7 students.  I was not alone.  My principal stood beside me, recording kids input on the board and offering sage words throughout the presentation. Both Grade 7 teachers were there and the principal brought in the school counsellor and the learning services teacher to lend their support, as well.  As I began what I knew might be a difficult lesson, the presence of all the other adults in the room made me feel as though both my school and my district were behind me in the delivery of this message.

I adapted a lesson from the BCTF’s “Name Calling” booklet for the Grade 7s. I started out by asking the kids to remember a time they had felt hurt by name calling and we wrote down their feeling words.  Then, I had the kids come up with racist language and homophobic slurs they had heard.  We were able to connect the impact and harm caused by all of this language.  As we discussed the historical meaning of the word “faggot,” its hurtful impact became really clear for kids.  I shared a terrific site out of England that tracks the use of homophobic slurs on Twitter to show them that I know they are surrounded by this language and that it is out there in force.  It’s in real time and you can check it out at:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/interactive/2012/oct/02/no-homophobes-language-count

I went on to let them know that because it is so prevalent, it has a hugely negative influence on kids.  I provided them with statistics on the gay teen suicide rate in our country due to bullying.  I shared what adults are doing to make a difference and showed a video clip of Obama’s “It gets Better” video:

It was then that our discussion got really interesting as we looked at the problem with the campaign:  that it is adults trying to make a difference, when really, it is only kids who can.  With an eye on the suicide rate of teens bullied in Canada, we discussed why no one should have to wait for it to get better.  Finally, we examined what they could do as Grade 7 students about to enter high school:  by standing up for each other and by being more mindful of their own word choice, they could make it better NOW.

All the teachers in the room were involved in a final conversation with the kids about what we see in the world around us and how we might positively impact it.  Despite the difficult content, I realized that the kids were engaged, participating and really cared about our discussion.  I am having them write a reflection piece, which I hope we can share with younger students in the school.  Another teacher in the room even encouraged kids who were comfortable with sharing their thoughts to blog about it.

I cannot express to you how thankful I am to be working in a district that has a policy in place that makes school a safe place for everyone, regardless of their sexuality.  The Administrative Procedure 171 passed by your board this past June has made a real difference in my life and already has had a positive effect on the students I teach.  My administrator, backed by this policy, went above and beyond her call of duty to transform what was a disheartening situation into an engaging, positive and teachable moment for everyone involved.

In my teaching career, I have never had an experience in which I felt so supported, and in which I felt like I was genuinely able to make an impact on kids to have them create an immediate difference in the world that surrounds us.  I guess what I am trying to say is thank you for making this a possibility in our lives.

There is no doubt that our work around homophobia is a work in progress, but stories like these are heartening, and make me exceptionally proud to work in our community of amazing educators.

If you are looking for additional resources on this topic, a previous post here links to some other supports.

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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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For the last 34 years I have been connected to public education in British Columbia.  The first 23 in Richmond included 13 as a student, five in university as a volunteer coach and five as a teacher. After Richmond, I spent six years in Coquitlam as a vice-principal and principal, and the last five years have been in West Vancouver, as assistant superintendent and now superintendent.   Over these years, I have met many amazingly gifted educators.  This past fall, I wrote about Mrs. Caffrey (here), who was one of the many great influences in my life.  And, this week, three of the finest and personally influential people I know in the profession are moving into retirement and new opportunities.

Retirement in teaching is different, I suspect, than many other professions. Schools have such a rhythm – it starts fresh with September, bustles through December, and finishes with an even mix of anxiety and anticipation in June –finishing up work from the year, celebrating accomplishments and then about moving on, often to new grades and different schools.  There is a build-up to the final week of school, and for our district it will culminate today and tomorrow with final events for students and staff.  For my friends and mentors – Don Taylor, Ron Haselhan, and Warren Hicks, this June is also about moving on to new opportunities. While we will look to school next fall, they will look out to new opportunities outside of public education.

Don Taylor was my Grade 7 teacher in 1985-86, at Daniel Woodward Elementary School in Richmond. From Kindergarten, students looked forward to being in Mr. Taylor’s class.  He was a teacher and vice-principal, but he also personified the school.  It was a school full of opportunities.  There were more sports than anywhere else, including school teams for cross-country, soccer, volleyball, basketball and track.  There was also a school newspaper, an annual, a radio show on CISL 650, huge school productions, and so many more opportunities that seemed so much greater than in other schools.  And, while Mr. Taylor did not do it all, he was the driving force behind many of them.  That grade 7 year, we had 38 students in class (maybe the good ol’ days weren’t always that good), and in addition to enrolling the class, and doing his duties as vice-principal, Mr. Taylor was engaging in activities with students before school, at lunch and after school, almost every day.  It is a small wonder that after his 19 years at Daniel Woodward they named the gym after him.  Mr. Taylor was cool. He took an interest in all of us, was always full of energy, and recognized that there is great power in connections inside and outside the classroom.  After my elementary days, I did return to Woodward to coach alongside him. He was also generous as a mentor, assisting me later on with my career path and application to education at UBC and to the Richmond School District, where I began my teaching career.  We have reconnected over the last two years, and he still has the energy and passion that I encountered when I first met him in 1978. Since then, he has made a postive impact on the lives of thousands of young people in my hometown of Richmond.  A very impressive 35 years.

Ron Haselhan was a department head and lead teacher at Riverside Secondary in Port Coquitlam, when I arrived at the school in 2001 and during my time as vice-principal and principal of  that school.  Ron was a quiet leader. He was part of the team that opened Riverside Secondary in 1996, an opening that had its challenges as multiple staffs came together to build the school. Ron, saw the good and possibility in everyone, and was someone who brought people together.  It was Ron who would bring his motor home and park it out in front of the school during a teachers’ strike, turning it into a home base for hot chocolate in the morning and hot dogs at lunch.  It was also Ron who would always look at the teaching profession with a critical eye; could he teach different, or better, and he was a leader on assessment well before it became vogue.  He was also the kind of person who would never miss a school dance, would open the school on weekends for students and sponsor all-night charity fundraisers.  During my time at Riverside, Ron shifted part of his role to teacher-librarian, bringing leadership in digital technology and the ability to work side-by-side with his colleagues. With over a 100 staff, Ron had credibility with all of them.  Ron was that type of leader.  He never wanted the credit, and shied away from attention, but in his more than 30 years in Coquitlam, he influenced students, schools and the profession.

Warren Hicks, and I have worked side-by-side for the last five years in West Vancouver on the District Leadership Team.  Warren is a great example of a serious thinker, who knows not to take himself too seriously.  He is also the most popular Human Resources Director I have ever met.  Everyone in West Vancouver knows and loves Warren.  He grew up on the North Shore and spent his 34 years in education in North Vancouver and West Vancouver, teaching, principaling and leading in the district office. In recent years, Warren has done amazing work with the Squamish Nation, increasing opportunities for our Aboriginal students, and awareness of Aboriginal education for all of our students.  For me, in coming to a new district and taking on new roles, Warren has been a trusted confidante.  He has challenged me, guided me and supported me, and was at his best during the most difficult situations.  In every conversation we have had over the last five years, Warren has been unwavering and undaunted in his view that every decision we make must be done through the lens of what is in the best interest for students.  Warren would cut through the noise, was willing to fight the good fight, and to make sure he left West Vancouver a better place.

My many thanks to Don, Ron and Warren, for all you have done for me and the students of BC.  Your more than 100 years of combined service for young people has been key, and so worth it.  We need to be sure that the next generation of Dons, Rons and Warrens choose public education in BC.  Our profession is not ever about a special program, or secret strategy – our strength is our people.

There has been occasion this year that it hasn’t always seemed like the best time to be in public education in our province, but I am continually reminded about the fine people giving their professional lives to improve life chances and opportunities for our next generation.  All the best to all of our retirees and a safe and restful summer to all.

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