Try is a great word.

It is also a vulnerable word.  And vulnerability can be a scary thing as a teacher.

I have been in three classes over the last couple weeks where teachers talked about something they were trying.  Each time, the word really stood out.

In one class the teacher said she was “trying something new with how I organize students in groups.”  In another the teacher said he was “going to try using Google Docs to have students share their work.”  In a third the teacher said she was “trying to include more Indigenous ideas in her math class.”

Try implies uncertainty.  All three of these teachers were unsure how it would go, it was a bit of an experiment, it was their own inquiry just like their students were doing.  The teachers, in all their vulnerability were modeling lifelong learning.  They were trying things, some would work, others won’t, and they will refine and try again.  You can call it a design cycle or an inquiry model but I think of it as culture.  This is exactly the culture that I want us to continue to have.

I want us to have a culture of trying stuff.  We want our students to be fearless learners, so to for the adults that work with them.


It is such a great word.

For me it was Alan November.

When I look at which speaker I saw who finally got through to me and made me think differently about teaching and learning, it would be Alan November. It was 2004, and the web 2.0 world was coming alive.

I have seen hundreds of speakers who suggested I needed to think differently but for some reason on that fall day at the Terry Fox Theatre in Port Coquitlam, Alan November got me thinking in new ways and I never looked back.

I have written on some similar shifts I have made – like My Aha Moment when I took what I heard from Alan November and brought it into my practice and My Own Watershed Moments when I reflected on influential conferences, people and presentations on my thinking.

The short version of what I remember from the November talk of 14 years ago, is that we need to have students own their own learning (He would ask, “Who owns the learning?”), and some of the new technology tools can help do this in ways we had only dreamed about before.  Of course, he also had some great hooks, I am sure I am not the only one who remembers him showing Dog Island, The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus among other sites around information literacy.

So, why on that particular day, did that talk change my thinking?  I think it is because:

  1.  I was already thinking about things differently but needed someone to help me pull the ideas together
  2. I felt confident in my job, and ready to move beyond “just getting by” to be open to new ideas
  3. There was a culture in the District I worked that was open to new ideas
  4.  I could see how the conversation in education fit into a larger shift in the world beyond school
  5. Some speakers just hook you in.

Several of us looked back on this event and referred to it as the “November Awakening” in Coquitlam.   This was the right event at the right time.   Of course, we never change our thinking based on a 2-hour-talk, but sometimes we can look back on certain sessions that really helped pull our thinking together.

So, who was it for you?  If you had to identify one speaker you heard who changed how you think about your practice who would it be?  What was it about that speaker on that day that led to a change of thinking?


I have been asking students, teachers, administrators, parents and others lately – When you have just a couple of sentences to say something about your school or your district – what do you tell people?

Almost all the younger students I spoke with mentioned their teacher. From being “nice” to “funny” to “caring”, elementary students said that when others ask them about their school they talk about how much they like their teacher.  They also spoke about how fun school was and often referenced field trips, sports or other activities out of the norm.  One young woman shared how she loved when her teacher told stories, like a recent one of the missing “O”.  The story was built around learning about contractions and how “do not” becomes “don’t” – she recited the full story to me.

For older students, many often referenced teachers, but also were more likely to talk about what courses or programs they like.  They also spoke about how their high school program was preparing themselves for university.  I heard from students who said that by taking AP courses, they were more ready for post-secondary.  The high school students also often spoke about culture and climate and how school made them feel.  It was interesting as while some of the comments around care and concern are ones I would think could be heard at almost any school in the country, they felt it was unique in their individual schools.

Adults – whether staff or parents – used words like innovation, leadership and culture (not terms that came up with the students).  Adults also often commented about the size of the district.  West Vancouver, while a large district when one looks provincially, is small by Metro Vancouver standards – and that was a selling point for adults.  Comments like, “we are a small district so we have close relationships” came up.  Another said, “The fact that we are small is a positive.  It’s personal.”  There was also a sense that the smallness allowed for nimbleness.  There were also a number of comments about culture.  I am always interested in these, in trying to pinpoint exactly how culture shows itself.  Culture was often linked to support, innovation, risk-taking and opportunities.

It is the time of year when families are making choices for school for next year.  And I think it is important to always know what our elevator pitch for our schools and our district is.  I love how words like community, opportunity and innovation came through so often.  Of course now I am curious to know if this is what we are about, and these qualities in some way are unique to what we are doing in West Vancouver – exactly what is it we are doing that perhaps others aren’t that is leading to this work.

I often write about the need for student programs to stay relevant. In my last post I was referencing some of the new program offerings for the fall in our schools. There has always been an added layer of urgency around this in West Vancouver with several highly respected Independent Schools in our community. We know many of our local families could afford to send their children to these schools, but they choose public education. And of course they choose public education for a myriad of reasons, but we know that high quality teaching and learning is right at the top of the list.

So, while we often speak about the student recruitment challenges in our schools, this last year we have turned our attention to staff recruitment (in all jobs from educational assistants, to teachers to administrators) in ways we never have before. The change from surplus to shortage of teachers provincially has definitely changed our thinking.  We used to get up to 100 or more applicants on openings and now we just get a handful.  Of course the biggest shift in British Columbia was a Supreme Court ruling that led to the reinstatement of class size and composition language and was the driver behind almost an instant need for thousands of teachers across the province.  Beyond this, are the more local effects and for us housing affordability and commute times are ones that often are mentioned.  And also at the same time a changing workforce, with more staff turning down full-time employment and opting for lifestyle over income.

Just as it is sometimes taken for granted that students will always just keep coming to our schools, so it is for staff.  With attracting students I saw some districts take the approach that they just needed to keep doing more of the same to ensure students attended local schools.  We have taken a different approach, we have more choice programs, we have embraced a digital culture with learning and focused on new ways to organize and assess learning.  Turning to staff, I think it also foolish to try to do just more of the same with recruiting and think we will get different results. I think the modern teacher has some different motivations and life outlook than even new teachers a decade ago.  I am amazed, for example, by how many teachers only want part-time work as they want to have a business on the side or want to flexibility to travel or do other things.

While there is still work to be done around harmonization, most comparable positions offer fairly similar salaries and benefits across the province.  As this can maybe work in some sectors – we can’t just pay people more to recruit them from other districts.  And salaries and benefits are not what I am hearing as the driving decisions around where people work.  It is more about culture and flexibility.  With the challenge of housing affordability and traffic congestion, we need to offer something, that will make people who have longer commutes (they need to drive through other districts) come and work for us.

This is a newer challenge for us, and not one that gets tightly solved in one blog post.

So for now there are some things we are doing:

  • we are helping cover the costs of schooling so existing staff can pursue advanced degrees in areas of need
  • we are exploring employee-specific childcare options – something we hear as a driver behind decisions
  • we are advocating for more local housing options and transportation improvements (truly longer term thinking)
  • we are asking our newer teachers what will keep them here (we too often rely on dated stories about why people choose to work in one place over another)

Many of our most talented staff (in a variety of roles) spend up to an hour commuting to work each day. And when I ask them about it they speak about the culture of schools, the flexibility and support for them professionally and the chance to work in a high performing, talent rich environment.  Ensuring all staff feel this will be an ongoing challenge for us as leaders.

I have spent the last decade here almost daily thinking about the programs and opportunities we needed to ensure our schools were the places that parents would choose for their children.  I now have those same thoughts, when I think about our staff.  In order to continue to be a destination for students, we need to continue to attract and retain amazing administrators, teachers and support staff.

I am always curious about other ideas people have on this or strategies people have seen be successful.

My One Word (2018)


This is the 3rd year of my “One Word” Tradition.  In 2016 I wrote about Hungry and in 2017 my first post of the year was dedicated to Hope.  I feel both words were ones that were good ones for the times they were written.  In looking at 2017, it was a year of hope with shifts in education and a new provincial government.  When it came to the world of teaching and learning, it was hope realized.

So what about 2018?

This year my word is Relevance.  It is interesting to see the social media posts as others post words for the year.  I see words like love, gratitude, empathy and others.  And when I test them out for me – they do not work.   My digital colleague, Dean Shareski suggested my word should be “Lucky” and he actually had a good point.  But, I landed on relevance.

I am desperate to be relevant.  It is part of why I blog.  Blogging forces me to make my thinking public.  It is easy to shy-away from the big conversations, but I want to be in the middle of them.  I want to continue to think about education in ways that helps shape the narrative about our future.  I do not fear disagreement, but I do worry that I get to a point where my thoughts and ideas are just ignored.  That would be way worse.  I want to be part of the dialogue.  And relevance is largely up to me in this regard.  I need to continue to read, question, explore and get out and see what others are doing.  I work in a very high performing school district, which has a great reputation for innovation.  But we always need to be looking beyond where we are.  Our job is to be looking around the corner, to help people see what is next.

It is not just my own need to stay relevant to the educational world, and ensure our district stays relevant.  Relevance speaks to what we need to have happening every day with students in our schools.  From the “what” we teach to the “how” we teach it, we need to ensure we do it in ways to meet the needs of the modern student.  Just before Christmas our Board approved new programs that will create specialty programs for high school students in areas including:  table tennis, environmental sciences, engineering, computer animation and volleyball.  These add to the choice program opportunities that include options from robotics, to rugby to honour choir classes at night and basketball academy classes on the weekend.  Everything we hear about public education being the key to a democratic society is very true.  And it is true that public education is about the ongoing growth of our communities.  And it will stay that way if our system continues to be relevant for our students in this changing world.

So, as someone finishing their 11th year in this district, and 8th year as Superintendent, I know relevance could be a blind spot for me.  It is easy to do this year just like last year.  I know that in the long run, that will not work.  So here is to a 2018 of doing things everyday that add to the conversation, push the work forward and keep me, my thinking, our district, our students’ experiences and public education relevant.

Welcome to my final blog post of 2017 and my annual tradition of my Top 3 Lists for the year.

Previous Top 3 lists for  2016 (here) 2015 (here) 2014 (here) 2013 (here) 2012 (here), 2011 (here) and 2010 (here).

As per usual, I will try to take up topics you probably don’t see covered by other year-end “Best of” lists:

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts which have generated the most traffic this year:

  1.  The Hat Rule
  2.  It’s Not You, It’s Me
  3.  So What About Badges?

Top 3 New Technologies I See in Schools That Are Exciting:

  1. Virtual Reality – We have our first students going on “field trips” around the world through Google Expeditions
  2. 3D Printing (the next wave) – We have moved beyond printing toys and other novelties and using the technology to create and solve problems.
  3.  Robots – I have written about them before, but continue to be more convinced that robotics is a great experience for students to have

Top 3 Modern World Realities That Are Crappy for Schools:

  1. The decline of community newspapers – they not only hold school systems accountable, they tell our stories (I have shared some frustrations HERE before)
  2.  Parents at Christmas Concerts – there are so many people standing at the front with their phones, cameras and often iPads there are few opportunities for those who just want to watch the show to actually see it
  3.   Sports Specialization – School sports are still in an uncertain spot and I can’t figure out exactly what their future will be but the stories of kids not playing a particular school sport because it goes against the wishes of a community sports coach continue to be pervasive

Top 3 Technologies I Use Way Less Now Than 12 Months Ago:

  1. Facebook – I probably scan it about once a week and if I didn’t have an account I probably would not get one
  2. Snapchat – I tried, I am too old
  3.  News Apps – I get most of my news between Twitter and old-fashioned newspapers


Top 3 Ways Technology Still Runs My Life:

  1. Fitbit – 10,000 steps a day.  I have a streak that dates back to 2014 going.  I can’t sleep until I see the green circles.
  2. Instagram – post a photo everyday has been going on for 2 years.  I have become a much better photographer.
  3. Culture of Yes Blog – I wrote a bit more this year than last year (between 2-3 times a month) but I can feel the pressure when it has been 10 days and I am not sure what my next post will be about.

Top 3 TEDx WestVancouverED Talks that I Still Think About From This Year:

1. Cities Belong to People – Paul Fast

2. Making the Jump – Gavin McClurg

3. We Are All Different – and THAT’s AWESEOME – Cole Blakeway

Top 3 Cool Things I Got to Do This Year When I Wasn’t At Work:

  1.  The Dodgers in LA
  2.   Front Row for Paul Simon in Montana
  3.  Doing a TEDx Talk with my daughter










Top 3 Cool Things I Got to Do This Year When I Was at Work:

  1. Attend all the school grads – I love graduation events.  It is such a great moment for students and their families
  2. See a Whole Bunch of New Programs Start – From growing robotics, to new academies in environmental sciences, table tennis, and computer animation I love how we never stand still
  3. Hire, hire and hire some more – For the first year in a long-time we were adding teacher and administrators.  This new energy is so great for our organization and the chance to help people launch their career is very exciting

Top 3 Things I think We Will Be Talking About This Year in Education:

  1. Exams – I think we may see testing rebound in BC in 2018, with some feeling the pendulum as swung too far one way
  2. Reporting – I could probably put this on every year.  Questions of the modern report card are definitely unanswered.  Is the 3 times a year report card dead?  Will we finally go all online?  A lot to be worked out
  3. Changing University Entrance Requirements – University of British Columbia (UBC) has got out there with a more broad-based approach and others are going to follow.  The “system” for getting in to post-secondary in changing, which will have huge ripples in K-12.

As always, I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to read and engage with me through the blog.   I find that this blog continues to be a little less formal each year.  The process still brings me great joy.  All the best for a wonderful 2018!


I wrote something earlier this week for our local school district audience highlighting the some of the community service I was seeing with our students. I will republish it here as although it is about our students in West Vancouver, it is really part of the story about the modern student. The modern student values academics but is really defined by being a passionate citizen.

For this column, I met with two grade 2 boys who planned and executed a book sale to raise money for cancer research. I also spoke with a group of grade 7 students who had found the amazing power of anonymous giving. Of course, these are just two of the dozens of similar stories across our district, and I know being played out across schools everywhere.

While we can get fixated on a particular test result or academic metric, it is great to step back and see the amazing ways are schools are honing the citizenship of our learners. And be reminded our kids are pretty awesome! Here is the full text of my article this week:

Everywhere you turn at this time of year, people are engaged in giving and charitable works. In our schools over the course of the school year, students and staff also engage in projects, small and large, that contribute to local and international charitable efforts. Many of these projects are focussed around the holiday season or other special occasions, but a number of initiatives also take place year-round.

While we often think of these efforts in terms of the benefits that flow to recipients, a growing body of scientific evidence demonstrates that acts of philanthropy strongly benefit the giver as well. To mark the season of giving, I’d like to highlight a few examples of this work around the district in this month’s column, and reflect on a few of the lessons that students have mentioned to me.

Caulfeild Elementary

On December 4th, Caulfeild embarked on a whole school inquiry, beginning with the question Through Empathy, can we better meet the needs of those in society? A representative from the Harvest Project visited the school’s assembly, held that morning, and students were shown a short video to provoke classroom discussions. The purpose of the inquiry is to move beyond “giving” and “awareness” to incorporate a meaningful understanding that not everyone’s basic needs are being met, and develop ways to support those needs.

École Pauline Johnson

In addition to a special effort on behalf of Cops for Cancer earlier this year, the school is very proud of two boys in Grade 2, Daniel and Robert, who collaboratively planned, launched and led a book sale this month to raise money to donate to cancer research. The boys raised $583.15 from the sale, and when I met with them to congratulate them on their success, they told me about how their initiative has sparked others in their class to also engage in community-minded projects. Daniel and Robert said that they were surprised with how helpful everyone was through the process, but also learned just how difficult the planning can be for such a large initiative.


Eagle Harbour Montessori

Each year, the school studies a continent as part of a year-round project. In September, each student in the upper elementary class researches a charity and presents their findings to the class. The class then votes to determine which charity the school will focus on for the year. To support the chosen cause or causes, students hold and organize their own fundraisers. Last year, as the school was studying South America, students raised funds for Free Kicks and the Galapagos Islands Trust. This year, with a focus on Antarctica and Australasia, students chose to support the Global Penguin Conservation and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Irwin Park Elementary

Students at Irwin Park have been filling shoeboxes full of essential items for the Union Gospel Mission, part of its Day of Care in association with Me to We. This initiative also includes a pajama day and buddy activities to support younger students. Parents at the school have organized Santa’s Workshop, where families donate items and then students shop for their families to support the Grade 7 legacy fundraiser. Finally, the school hosted a loonie drive to support the purchase of a tree at the Dundarave Festival of Lights. All funds raised support the Lookout Society’s North Shore shelter.

Ridgeview Elementary

At Ridgeview Elementary school, the Grade 7 We Team, along with teacher sponsors Cari Wilson and Russ Paterson, spearheaded a food drive called the We Scare Hunger Campaign. All items collected were delivered to their sister school, Grandview Elementary, and some of the students even stocked the pantry at Grandview. This year, the group collected so much that they had to enlist the help of the district’s facilities crew to deliver the collected items. In addition a Grade 4 class at the school, together with teacher sponsor Amy Meldrum, launched its second annual sock drive, collecting more than 822 pairs of socks. The initiative benefitted babies and young children through BabyGoRound and all other socks went to the North Shore’s Lookout Shelter.

West Bay Elementary

One Grade 6 class at West Bay Elementary school maintains contact with a group of school children in Africa, sending letters back and forth. A Grade 7 student spearheaded a shoebox clothing drive for women’s shelters in Vancouver; he made announcements and collected clothing and toiletries from each division, packed the items in shoeboxes and individually wrapped them. The Grade 7 students at the school have all been involved in the We Scare Hunger campaign, collecting canned goods to benefit food banks. The four Grade 6 and 7 classes provide dessert for the Oppenheimer Christmas Dinner – between the two classes, they bake about 500 dozen cookies, which are donated to the residents of the Downtown Eastside. Parents get in on the giving action too, by putting together hampers for families in need.

I had the chance to speak with Grade 7 students at West Bay about the “Joy Virus” they spread at Park Royal. The students in Mr. Darling’s class decided to pass on the “Secret Santa” this year and instead bring cheer to complete strangers at Park Royal. It was interesting to hear the reactions of students. They found great joy and fulfillment for doing good for others, without a typical reward attached. A number of them spoke about how they have also done recent random acts of kindness, not because they would get credit, but because they knew it would create joy for others, which in-turn warmed their hearts. It was a wonderful lesson in the power of giving.

The descriptions above are just a few examples of the organized giving efforts in place at West Vancouver Schools. Many other charitable actions are taken by students in our other schools, and secondary students are also very involved, particularly as members of the many clubs that thrive on our high school campuses.

Finally, our own staff gets in on the action every year, by supporting local charities with funds raised during the district-wide Holiday Party celebration. Staff members at our schools and sites donate items to themed baskets, and a draw is held to give away the amazing and beautifully presented donations. This year, funds will be donated to Out in Schools, a program that works with the education and non-profit community organizations to reduce isolation, foster belonging and increase the safety of learning environments for all youth. A second donation from the fundraiser will go to the Street2Peak project, an organization that works with some of our region’s most vulnerable at-risk youth, using physical fitness, outdoor pursuits and marathon training to turn lives around.

I am very proud of the work being done by the West Vancouver Schools community to support those in need, whether locally or around the world. We each have a special gift, and I know that our community is a generous one.

Thanks to West Vancouver Schools Communications Manager Bev Pausche for assistance with this post.