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The Hat Rule

I loved the hat rule.

As a teacher it was a great rule – it was so easy to tell which students were not in compliance – “Hey, take off your hat!” What was also great about it was that if a student continued to be non-compliant, I didn’t really have to deal with it.  I would just forward the issue on to the vice-principal of the school for them to deal with. What a great system!

Of course there were debates at staff meetings about whether hoodies were hats, what about toques in winter, or if students were outside but participating in a course if the hat rule still applied. Really, it seemed like everyone on staff liked the hat rule.

Once I became a vice-principal I started to like the hat rule less.  All of the sudden all these teachers were referring names of students to me they saw wearing hats.  Other staff members were getting in confrontations with students over hats.  And the initial reaction I was having with students was not “Good Morning” but “Take off your hat”.

This is not a post about appropriate dress nor am I trying to elicit responses about how much better it would be if students respected authority like we romanticize they used to do.  It is not really about hats at all.

We love things that are simple to think about.  I was recently giving a talk about technology and about how messy it is.  Giving students the same technology is not the answer, nor is there any real prescription about how much technology they should be using or the kinds of tools they should be using.  It is messy.

And this messiness can create anxiety for all of us.  We like things that are simple to think about.

And technology, like many things in education is not simple.  There are no easy right and wrong answers.  There are multiple approaches that can be effective.  The same can be said for literacy instruction, supporting aboriginal students or building a vibrant arts program.

I loved the hat rule because it was simple.  It was easy to tell which students were in compliance.  If I walked through the halls and no students were wearing hats, I could have a sense of accomplishment that I was making a difference.

It is not as easy to walk through the halls of a school and know if all students are learning or being successful.

In retrospect, we spent a lot of time talking about hats at staff meetings – I wonder what it would have been like if we spent the time dedicated to “no kids will wear hats” instead dedicated to talking about “all kids will be successful”.

We would love simple answers in education and unfortunately we selected an occupation that is full of messy, tricky and nuanced challenges.

As I said, I am not trying to pick on those of you who love a hat-free building.  Having some simple rules of manners and civility can be good for students and staff.   It is important though to think about if we are talking about issues because they are the easy ones rather than the important ones.

I know many of you have been following the process over the last several months as we name our new school opening this fall. We are always told to engage the community, so we did when it came to naming the school at the corner of Lipra Avenue and Loof Lane.  And today we are excited to see that we have come to the conclusion of this process.

Background

We began this process last fall.  While many school districts name schools after local individuals of historical significance or a name that reflects the local geography we wanted to give our new school a current and relevant name – the kind that truly spoke to the community. With all the talk about school relevance we thought we should start with the name.  We were excited to see how San Diego was choosing its name for its new MLS franchise by asking the internet (click on the link – it is a good read) – and we decided to do the same thing.  As we have embraced technology we have learned when you ask the internet a question, it always give you the best answer.  Initially we had over 100 submissions and then moved to the final 4 for the decision.  The Internet is always right.

Finalists

Based on the votes, the final 4 were:

Pamela Anderson Ethical Treatment of Animals Elementary – We assume that the community’s commitment to social initiatives led to this choice. There was also a lot of interest in a young lifeguarding specialty academy which seemed a good fit for this school.  It appeared to be an early favourite with Ms. Anderson’s roots in British Columbia, but concerns were raised around potential risque nicknames and logos attached to this school which did seem to cost it some support.

Mr. Dressup Traditional Values Elementary – This had a lot of sentimental support from parents that grew up with the show.  The vision of the school was that each day the entire school would watch the antics of Casey and Finnegan to start their day and that would set the tone for the rest of the day.  Like how some schools watch a news broadcast, the 4,000 iconic Dressup episodes featuring Ernie Coombes would be shown in sequence, so a ten year cycle of shows.

Justin Bieber Elementary School of Music– A school with a music focus made a lot of sense, so it was not surprising to see this as one of the finalists.  The supporters had already labeled the school’s teams the Bieber Beliebers.  Again the strong Canadian roots to this name were seen as a real positive.

Donald J. Trump Elementary School of Winning – This was the most surprising of the finalists.  The school’s vision was to be focused on winning, so much winning that those attending the school would be tired of winning so much.  While many had thought that a school named for a politician would more logically choose a Canadian like Justin Trudeau or Stephen Harper Elementary, Trump Elementary seemed to be riding the wave of public attention.  Some clearly felt the Trump name would be like having an IB designation – everyone would know what it meant.

Vote Results

Our New School

We are excited to be opening up Donald J. Trump Elementary School of Winning this fall.  In the end Trump Elementary received 46.1% of the vote – which is truly a massive majority of the votes.  If you get 46.1% of the vote, it is hard to say you didn’t get anything but an incredible majority in an election.  Through this process, we also learned a lot about our community.  In reviewing the list of those who voted, we learned that the majority of the Trump Elementary votes came from our Russian community.  We actually didn’t know we had a Russian community before this.

So now the iconic Trump brand, will now be on our elementary school.  With the excellent reputation of Trump University, clearly Trump has already made its name in education.   Beyond its focus on winning, it makes sense to also focus on literacy.  We can envision Mr. Trump’s recent quote about what he was reading to be the kind of quote that would inspire our students:

Well, you know, I love to read. Actually, I’m looking at a book, I’m reading a book, I’m trying to get started. Every time I do about a half a page, I get a phone call that there’s some emergency, this or that. But we’re going to see the home of Andrew Jackson today in Tennessee and I’m reading a book on Andrew Jackson. I love to read. I don’t get to read very much, Tucker, because I’m working very hard on lots of different things, including getting costs down. The costs of our country are out of control. But we have a lot of great things happening, we have a lot of tremendous things happening.Donald Trump to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, March 15, 2017

And we know it will be a bigly popular school, the kind of school that needs a selection process – we anticipate some extreme vetting in how we choose our students.

Going Forward

We are not naive.  We know that a decision like this today, of all days, may surprise some in the community.  We know, the people are always right.  And this does carry-on our annual tradition of using this day to make bold decisions!

In 2012 I launched my FLOG.

In 2013 I made the announcement of Quadrennial Round Schooling.

In 2014 we formalized our System of Student Power Rankings.

In 2015 we created our Rock, Paper, Scissors Academy.

In 2016 we introduced the Drone Homework Delivery System.

And today we announce our plans to open up Donald J. Trump Elementary School of Winning.

Hopefully you are enjoying today as much as me!

Speaking recently in Edmonton, to Superintendents from across Alberta, I shared a slide from Pasi Sahlberg that he used this past December at the Learning Forward Conference in Vancouver:

This slide tells an incredibly powerful and important story – it speaks to our values in education in British Columbia and Canada, and to our aspirations for students.

I have written a number of times in the past about PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results, most recently this past December – It is OK to Be Happy About PISA.   And I always do so with the “it is only one test” caveat, but that said, it is still a widely regarded international benchmark on some key education outcomes.

So, just why is this one slide so important?  It takes the 2015 results and plots jurisdiction based on their achievement in math, reading and science along the Y-axis and based on equity (the weakness of the relationship between family background and achievement) along the X-axis.  So those jurisdictions in the top right of the graph are those with the highest levels of excellence and equity.

The jurisdictions in this sweet-spot that Sahlberg referred to as the “Highway to Heaven”  include a cluster of Canadian provinces – BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec as well as Canada as a whole, along with just a couple other nations.  (Note:  Since education is under provincial not federal jurisdiction in Canada, individual provinces show up separately for PISA).

Strong equity and high quality – this is the story of our schools.  And this speaks directly to our values in our education system. Of course this does not negate the work we need to do – there are a lot of areas to focus, including the success of our Aboriginal learners.  In West Vancouver, we often look at how large the differences are between schools on any given measure – and see the lack of differences as just as much a mark of success as the high achievement.  We want these ideals to run in tandem.

So, if I could just share one slide about “how we are doing” and “who do we want to continue to be” going forward, it would be this one.

And finally, coming back to a notion I have shared before, and shared with our colleagues from Alberta, instead of always looking around the world, we should be looking across the country – the Canadian education story is a good story and one we should tell, and work together to strengthen.

longshot

It was one of those magical nights.

Last Friday night I joined a sold out crowd at the Kay Meek Theatre (one of two sellouts of close to 500 people each that night) to see the premier of Longshot: The Brian Upson Story.  It was like a community reunion – for one night our community was transported back in time to 1982.

The Brian Upson story is hard to believe.  It feels like a script for a Hollywood movie, the kind that people would read and say, this is not believable enough.  With the premier of the movie, it has been told several times recently.  The short version of the story is that the West Vancouver Highlanders won their only provincial basketball championship in their history in 1982.  They won the final game defeating their league rival Argyle by a single-point, after losing to them three times earlier in the season in-front of a capacity crowd at the Agrodome in Vancouver. And it is far more than just a story of winning a basketball title, as the Highlanders were coached by Brian Upson, who, battling colon cancer had not been expected to live long enough to make it to the championships. He coached the team to the title, and passed away two weeks later.  This does not fairly tell the story – it is worth reading the full story.  In 2012, Len Corben described it as the most memorable sports story in the 100 year history of West Vancouver.  Recently, in anticipation of the film Rosalind Duane did a wonderful feature in the North Shore News and Steve Ewen did a feature that ran in both the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province.

This post is not about retelling the Brian Upson Story – others have told it far better than I ever could.

I have seen many student films.  This was different.  I thought I was watching an ESPN 30for30 documentary.  It was a professional film.  I have a vision in my mind what a school project film looks like.  But this blew me away.  Teacher Dave Shannon and his students had taken on an incredibly challenging project and done an amazing job.  And what a great reminder – when students do real work for a real audience they will rise to the occasion.  I realize they didn’t have much choice – they had to do a great job.  They were telling the story of the greatest sporting event in our community’s history.  They had interviewed Upson’s wife and children and the players from the team – they were all going to be in the audience.  And the students delivered.  This is one of those great reminders about school.  We too often don’t do real world work, but when we do it is magical.

And the power of real work was not the only reminder from the movie.  The movie reminded us of the power of high school sports.  All of the players, now 35 years later, spoke to the impact of the team and being part of the experience.  The crowd footage from 1982 was amazing – as 5000 people cheered on the teams in the final – many of them students.  It was something that connected the school.  Schools are more than just taking courses in the same room together, they are communities.

And the film also reminded us of the power of a teacher.  The players spoke about the profound impact Mr. Upson has had on their lives.  He helped make them who they are today.  Teachers and coaches have an enormous impact on young people and the movie serves to remind us of that.  It also reminded us that it is very often those connections outside the class that are most significant – for teachers and students.

Even though everyone in the room knew how the story would end – they cheered along.  When the buzzer sounded and the game ended the crowd in the theatre madly applauded.  We were all transported back thirty-five years.  Thanks to the students of the Rockridge film program.

Friday night was one of those special nights.  It showed the best of community.  And reminded us of the power of teachers, coaches and schools.  Pretty impressive.

Here is the Official Trailer for the movie:

So What About Badges?

school_boyI feel a little late to this conversation.

The idea of using digital badging is not new.  For the last several years I have seen blog posts on the topic, and at online learning conferences seen speakers talk to the possibilities of using badging in education.  It is a conversation that I have not given a lot of attention.  It seemed to be one driven by digitally passionate teachers in select schools, and did not seem to be growing.  It also seemed one more focused at post-secondary than in K-12.  And from a cursory look, I thought we might really be talking about digital ribbons and trophies – and I didn’t think we needed those.

As a background, Erin Fields describes these next generation of Girl Guides or Boy Scout badges in the world of education as:

Badges are a digital representation of a skill, behaviour, knowledge, ability or participation in an experience. What makes this digital symbol unique is the attached metadata. The metadata of a badge is “baked-in”. The “baking-in” process allows issuers to provide information about why the badge was earned that is then attached to the badge image. This information, or metadata, attached to the badge will include the criteria for earning the badge, the issuing organization, and evidence of earning.

I found it interesting that Digital Badging made the front cover of last month’s School Administrator Magazine – a magazine targeted at Superintendents and other district leaders across North America.  The cover story was written by Sheryl Grant, the director of alternative credentials and badge research at HASTAC at Duke University.    She argued:

Kids today build their reputations in a much different world.  They move seamlessly between offline and online networks, some with dozens of virtual peers who share similar interests, often spending hours together as they learn and share new skills.  They create websites, produce movies and play video games where they earn badges and have followers and friends they may never meet face-to-face.

In the same issue of School Administrator, Amanda Rose Fuller from Aurora Public Schools in Colorado wrote about badges as micro-credentialing and as a way to expand access to post-secondary workforce readiness credentials to all students.  She said:

The digital badging program has supported many students throughout their academic journey by providing credentials to open doors.  As students develop 21-century skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, invention, information literacy and self-direction inside and outside the classroom, they have the capacity to earn evidence-based credentials.

It is with some of this recent reading that timing was interesting, as this past Friday I was asked to be a speaker and “Instigator” at the BC Open Badges Forum – which featured a cross section of people ranging from curious to passionate in the use of badges throughout education and outside of education in “the real world.”  The notes from the day (HERE) and the conversation at #BadgeBC on Twitter are both useful to see the thinking of the group.

As I often have written, it is an exciting time in K-12 education in BC, and one of change.  We have revised curriculum from K-12 which focuses on big ideas and is less about minutia that dominated curriculum in the past, there is a commitment to core competencies throughout the system, including having students self-reflect, there are districts looking at new ways of communicating student learning to students and parents, and notions like capstone projects or passion projects are becoming more the norm in both elementary and secondary schools.  There is also a genuine commitment from those inside the K-12 system to find better ways of recognizing the amazing learning that students do outside of school, but is part of the package of their learning.

It is in this context that I wonder about the place of open badging and the opportunities going forward.  I don’t think a collection of badges is going to replace a traditional report card or transcript, but I do think there are possibilities that if our learning partners like the library, community centres, museums, sports clubs and others looked at badging as a way to share what students have done, we could find a way to recognize it inside our system.  I know our very forward thinking public library, the West Vancouver Memorial Library, is already beginning to think about this.  We want students to have portfolios that are rich in information from their school experience but also their larger learning experience, and maybe badges have a role to play.

We have long found ways to give “credit” for students who reach a certain level of Piano, or make a Provincial Soccer Team, or earn a trades credential – but there are so many other areas that are part of learning but marginalized as part of a student’s learning record.

Two months ago, if asked I would have said digital badging in K-12 felt like a bit of a fad, and maybe something for a very small small group of teachers and students.  My thinking is shifting.  If those working with youth can begin to create micro-credentialing in the digital world, and do so in an open-source way that allowed others to do the same, I think we could begin to find meaningful ways of including it in our work.

I am curious to hear the experiences of others in the badging world.

instagagor-badge

joyIn my 2006 interview for Assistant Superintendent of West Vancouver Schools I was asked to select two of the district’s values that stood out for me and talk about why they were important to me and my work. I had scanned the list as part of my preparation – it was a fairly typical list of school values: community, excellence, innovation, accountability. The last value stood out and it was one that I spoke about – it was joy. I thought that was such a funny word to be a value in a school system, but I liked it.  It is a word that speaks to the contentment we want in our work.

I was reminded of this story in reading Dean Shareski’s new book, Embracing a Culture of Joy.  I listed this late 2016 published book as one of my “Top 3” reads for last year.  It envisions a wonderful state:

Joy isn’t about being happy all the time.  It isn’t a fleeting emotion that comes and goes depending on changing circumstances.  It is about contentment and satisfaction and expressing those feelings.  Sometimes the expression is visible, and sometimes it’s not.  But joy requires an awareness that things are right.  While it’s a deeply personal state, it’s also something that, when given the opportunity, will spread.  Creating a culture of joy applies to both the environment and the learning itself.  As it relates to learning, it’s the outward manifestation of success, achievement, and being.  It’s learning for the sake of learning, not because of grade or compliance.

Shareski makes the strong case that community and gratitude are powerful notions in our schools and gives ways that schools can infuse themselves with joy.  He rightly argues that none of us pursued our passion for teaching and education because we were driven by rigor and student achievement.  We all know of those moments in our life when we were in the flow with learning, they are the ones that stick out days, weeks and months later.  A little bit of joy can go a long way to ensuring more of these moments.

Shareski shared one of my joy examples in his book:

Each year during the week before Christmas, our entire Executive Team loads up our sleigh and visits every classroom delivering a cookie to each staff member in the district.  One year we were Santa and his elves, another year we wore our tacky Christmas sweaters and this year we wore our Christmas pajamas.

It is great and people are expecting us now and wondering when we will come and what we will wear – it helps build community.  One teacher said to me “It is the second last day before Christmas break, I was worried you guys weren’t coming this year.”  Another teacher said, “Now I have something to dream about tonight – our leaders in their pajamas”

Here was our photo from this past December:

Cookie Tour 2016

I know some people see this and think, must be nice to have that kind of time.  These are the choices we make every day with how we spend our time.  We all know how to “look busy”.  We walk really fast with our head down, carrying a file folder like we are transporting dangerous cargo.   I always think the best leaders don’t look busy, and have time for joy.  I loved to see photos and stories of former President Barrack Obama joking with kids, or playing basketball.  I figured if he had time for joy, it was hard for the rest of us to have any good excuses.

I often think one of the nicest things anyone ever wrote in a reference letter for me – it was my first principal in a letter she wrote recommending me for a vice-principal position – she wrote, “he is a very serious thinker, who knows not to always take himself too seriously.”  I use this notion as a regular reminder.

Just this week, there is a video making the rounds on the internet of a North Carolina teacher who shares a unique handshake with every student (it is a must watch!):

It is this kind of joy, the kind that Shareski writes about, that this teacher from North Carolina exudes, and we see in classes, and serves as many of the greatest memories of our school experience that must be as much a part of the modern school as so many of the other objectives we often obsess over.

5-reasons-why-blogging-is-so-important-to-your-website

It was about six years ago they started.

And here we are, as we are approaching the mid-point of the 2016-17 school year, and so many of our school leaders continue to share their thinking through their blogs.  While the internet is littered with well-intentioned and abandoned blogs from educators, and education blogging may have lost some of its excitement from just a few years ago, so many in West Vancouver are using their blog to tell stories to their community about their school, tackle big issues in education, and let people know a little bit more about themselves.

Here is just a sampling of what is being shared in West Vancouver:

One of the district’s most regular bloggers, West Bay Elementary Principal Judy Duncan took on the #oneword challenge in her latest post and her focus on voice:

One of our intangible objectives is for students to appreciate and to become accustomed to having and exercising their voice.  As adults that will benefit them individually and, in turn, all of us collectively. This should move us to ensure that whether through sport, music, language, drama or art, every child and every person has a voice in 2017.

In his latest post, Caulfeild Elementary Principal Craig Cantlie shares some of his thinking with parents as they make the often stressful “what school should my child attend” decision at this time of year:

Does the learning at Caulfeild Elementary (iDEC) look like it did when you were growing up? Probably not, but neither does the world. Our students learn the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy, but more importantly the relevant and purposeful use of those foundational skills. Taking those skills and connecting them with the conceptual understandings behind our science and social studies work makes for powerful learning across the grades. Our students are creators, collaborators, communicators and critical thinkers – all of which will serve them well, whatever their future holds.

Scott Slater, Principal at Bowen Island Community School tackled communicating student learning with his recent post, a topic that is one that is being widely discussed among students, staff and parents and Scott asked the important question about whether the changes are just different or if what is being done is actually new.  He looked at a number of areas including core competencies:

The reports continue to include information on a child’s social and emotional development. In the opening comments, in Core Competencies (for intermediate reports), and in other fields, teachers share information on the child’s social and emotional development. Schools share the role with parents of supporting a child’s well-being and development of personal and social skills. In the opening comments, teachers also refer to an aspect of our school goal of students developing their learning character so parents will find comments related to a child’s development of Responsibility, Openness, Ambition and Resilience (ROAR)

Communicating student learning was also on the mind of Chartwell Principal Chantal Trudeau and she focused on the importance of the student reflection:

One of the most important changes this year is the addition of the student reflection piece. Teachers have a few different options to include their students’ reflections into the report card. At the primary level, it can look like a “happy face” worksheet or a few sentences in the student reflection box on the report card itself. At the intermediate level, many students have written a reflection letter which is an insert added to the report card. I have enjoyed reading the students’ self-reflections whilst reviewing all the report cards going home today. I am very impressed by their meta-cognitive ability, thinking about their thinking and learning. Knowing yourself as a learner is a great thing, at any age. It is wonderful to see that our students know how they are doing, and what they need to do to improve and why.

Also looking at communicating student learning is Cedardale Head-Teacher Jessica Hall.  Her post collected feedback from students on the new reports:

The range of experience with new reporting practices amongst my students is broad and in trying to bring about some collective understanding, I sparked up a conversation about the “new” report cards. I wanted to know how students have perceived this change of not having letter grades listed on their report cards. Grade 6 students immediately expressed a sense of relief over not being labeled with a single grade. In a conversation with one Grade 6 student, he explained that the language in the new Communicating Student Learning Document was more descriptive than a letter grade. He stated that in general, the word “developing” has a less negative connotation and that he liked how the Core Competencies provide explicit examples on how to improve learning skills. A Grade 5 student articulated the first moment she understood that ‘communicating ideas’ is a learning skill. She explained that the Core Competencies have helped her identify and value her personal learning style as the “presenter” and that she prefers working in groups, where she has the opportunity to “share her ideas in classroom discussions”.

Hollyburn Principal Kim Grimwood focused her most recent post on executive functioning and ways that parents can support these skills.  She reminded us of the important of the eight executive functioning skills (and then what they had to do with making waffles):

Impulse control: helps us to stop and think before acting.

Flexibility: allows us to adjust to the unexpected.

Emotional Control: helps us to keep our emotions in check.

Initiation: allows us to take action and get started.

Working Memory: the ability to hold information in mind to complete a task.

Planning and prioritizing: helps us decide on a goal and make a plan to reach it.

Self-Monitoring: allows us to evaluate how we are doing.

Organization: helps us to keep track of things both physically and mentally.

Rockridge Principal Jeannette Laursoo used a recent post to update the community on the various ways students have been contributing:

Rockridge’s students have been busy contributing to both the local and global communities. To highlight just a few of the initiatives, the Blush Club collected warm clothes and blankets for those less fortunate,  the Umoyo Club fundraised by selling cookies to benefit Nyaka Orphanage in Uganda, and our community made a difference in the lives of teens by donating backpacks filled with essential items to Convenant House.  We thank everyone for their generosity and support.

And a final sample of the recent posts comes from West Van Secondary Principal Steve Rauh who paid tribute to retiring teacher Bruce Holmes, and included a number of comments from students in his post:

“A student once came in crying; Mr. Holmes took the time to cheer them up and help them.” – Madison Duffy

“I have been in Holmes’ class since grade 8. Not only has he taught me woodwork, but he has also taught me a lot about life.” – Gabriella Langer

“He likes to take you out of your comfort zone.” – Ashley Kempton

“We really like his sense of humour; he loves to gossip and threaten to give wet willies.” – Nicole Torresan & Alexa Harrison

“I appreciate how he never turns down any student ideas no matter how absurd or impossible they sound. He will always stick with you to help you see your ideas come to real life.” – Jesse Diaz

In re-reading these posts, and others from across the district I am reminded there is no one model for blogging.  I find that the range of topics, and approaches is reflective of the various leaders in our schools.  Selfishly for me these blogs are a great way to stay connected to the thinking and work in our schools.  And I know, especially in an era of fewer print publications (an issue I have lamented in the past) these posts are a great window into the work of public education.

Whether you are a current student or parent, or a perspective one, or someone interested, curious or passionate about education, we have so many great leaders publicly sharing their thinking and acting as great models for students in the modern world.

HERE is a link to all the West Vancouver Schools websites that host the school blogs.