Posts Tagged ‘West Vancouver’

out thereI am often told that in the type of job I hold, it is better to say nothing. I am told it is a no-win situation, if you communicate, no matter how positive the message there will be some who take issue to what you say, how you say it, or twist your words and use them against you. And I have experienced all of that.

I do think it is our job to be out there.  And while the most important messages that parents receive from the system are from their child’s teacher, and the next most important are usually from the school’s principal, it is also important for superintendents to communicate directly to families.

In the digital world, this message can take many forms and often needs to come in multiple forms to reach people.  I know this blog is just one way to connect to our community.

This past week, I sent out the following back-to-school email to all the parents in our school district:

Our schools were open last week, preparing classes, planning activities and taking some time to reflect on the past and the future of education. We enjoyed welcoming all our new and returning families today, and hope that you’ve had an enjoyable summer break.

Over the summer, I heard many remark on how good it will be to get back to a ‘normal’ school year. And while I understand where that’s coming from, in light of the challenges we faced a year ago, this year in West Vancouver Schools, I’m asking our teachers, students and parents to challenge the validity of normal. As I wrote about in my blog, The Culture of Yes, normal is about average, and as many who work, learn and teach in our district already know, West Vancouver Schools is an exceptional place.

On Thursday last week, as we do every year, we launched the new school year by inviting all staff to attend an Opening Day morning event, followed by an afternoon of professional development. We were so privileged this year to hear from one of the world’s foremost experts in education, Dr. Yong Zhao. His ideas are inspiring, especially in light of the move towards the new curriculum.

Dr. Zhao spoke passionately about the evidence that shows all schools need to move away from educating for the average, to educating the individual. Rather than fixing ‘deficits’, we need to help children become great, achieve their autonomy and enhance their potential.

Fortunately, this work has been underway for some time in the district, with our work on project-based learning, inquiry, self-regulation and digital literacy. The curriculum doesn’t teach – teachers do that. A litany of specific education outcomes does not guarantee success, student motivation, passion and talent contribute to that outcome.
We are, I am proud to say, making sure that our students not only understand the facts – which are widely available in the digital age – but also understand how to interpret them and use them creatively to solve the right problems.

We are teaching kids to take on a world that is far different than it is today. It is critical to instill the creativity, confidence, compassion and resilience that young people need to embrace those changes.

Along with the Board of Trustees and my colleagues at West Vancouver Schools, we wish you a successful and pleasant year ahead!

I never know how many people read these emails that I send out, but I know from those who respond that there is definitely some engagement.  I always get some very kind responses, appreciative of the information and always some that take issue with the topic – that is what happens when you put yourself out there.  Whether the concern is about the role of technology in schools and more broadly in society or whether personal experiences in schools are reflective of what I am saying – the engagement is encouraging.

This past time I was struck by two particular responses – one from a mother in Italy who wrote:

My son started just yesterday his school year and is absolutely thrilled about West Vancouver school, new friends and the programs that can be accessed.  I look forward to hearing about you and any news you will forward to me

and from a father from Germany who wrote in part:

I am very proud that my son is taking part in this terms school program to learn, how different countries estimate the importance of educational background in complete different ways. In Germany we have nowadays a huge discussion about inclusion on the one hand and reduction of school years. What we do not have, and it hurts me to say it this clear, is a discussion about elite in the most positive meaning of the word, about investment in the most precious „resource“ we have — our children and their education.

What a great reminder that we are really communicating for a global audience.  I sometimes get stuck in my thinking that my messages are going out to the people within a few mile radius, in my mind who have always been here, and with whom I already have a largely shared experience.  Of course this is not true.

In our schools which have students from around the world, coming from a range of systems and experiences, messaging with them is not only a nice thing, but the right thing.  The revised curriculum conversation in British Columbia may be covered on our local 6:00 news, but we need to reach all of our families and engage them in our conversation.  And whether one lives around the block or on the other side of the world, continually coming back to messages of what we are doing and where we are going are crucial.

Some good first week reminders for me.

I do think with the power of the tools we have, we need to take up the opportunity to communicate more than just when we are thinking about closing schools because of snow.

Read Full Post »


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »


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.

Read Full Post »


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.

Read Full Post »


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!

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,177 other followers