Sometimes I have some thoughts that don’t make it as full blog posts but are also worth surfacing so they don’t die in my Draft folder.  Here are 3 quick mini posts:

Status quo is the risky position – We spend a lot of time focused on the challenge of change in education.  As we welcome new parents each year they enter with the paradigm of their school experience which is usually about twenty years dated.  The challenge is that the world is changing.  If we don’t embrace the social changes around us, or the digital shifts that are impacting all parts of our life education risks its relevancy.  So while change feels like risk, not changing is truly the riskier approach.

Values over skills –  If I could hire for values or skills I would pick values every time.  Skills are learnable.  In our leadership interviews over the last decade we have tried to get better at finding out what kind of a leader candidates would be and less concerned over what they currently know.  Of course, this leads to challenging advice for people who want to move into leadership – they ask what skills can they gain to be better candidates – and sure, there are many – but in the end it is not about the “what” of leadership but the “how” and “why” that we are increasingly favouring.  Oh, and by the way – to clear this up – when you apply for a leadership position with us, I don’t care where you did your Masters Degree (and don’t care if you have one yet) and I will never look at your marks.

Consistent consistency –  You hear this a lot in the self-help world, but it is true that a lot of work is just about showing up.  Teachers who are consistent with students so they know what to expect each day, and principals who are consistent with staff and families go a long way to being successful.  If you are different everyday and people don’t know what to expect it is confusing and leads to anxiety.  Consistent consistency should be a daily goal.

Here is to a June with thoughts of risk, values and consistency!

I have written numerous times about the impact of COVID on student learning. In 7 COVID Edu Trends That Will Stick I wrote about shifts from an increased focus on equity, to greater digitization of resources to permanent changes to how we think about time in secondary schools.

I have recently been thinking about the shifts we have seen (or not seen) with professional learning for the adults in our schools.  In preparing to be part of a panel for A Cross Canada Professional Learning Conversation, I reflected on The State of Professional Learning in Canada that was published in 2016.  One of the great challenges in education in often being precise when describing why jurisdictions are having excellent student learning outcomes.  British Columbia, and Canada more generally, is widely seen as a world leader in education.  Again, this is ground I have covered before, and don’t want to open debate on PISA or other measures, but it is safe to say, Canada is viewed well across the world for K-12 education.

Three areas of that 2016 report that I still think are crucial today to our collective success include:  our focus on diverse learners, the balance between individual and system professional learning, and the need for leaders to be fully engaged in the professional learning in a community.  I think if anything these three in particular (the report has a longer list) are more important.  The pandemic emphasized the learning differences within classes, schools and across systems.  The need to focus on the diversity of our classrooms is more urgent than ever.  And when it comes to who drives the professional learning, I think of it as a healthy tension between the individual, their school and the system – one needs a balance – to ensure teachers are more than independent contractors who share a parking lot, but also allow for personalization in their own learning.  And if it ever was acceptable to be a school or district leader and not be a learning leader – that time is now over.

So, what have I seen as COVID impacts on the specifics of adult learning?

Content – COVID and other social issues that took place simultaneously have accelerated shifts we saw pre-Pandemic.  We are seeing increased interest in Indigenous learning – particularly related to our local Squamish Nation. In addition, mental wellness and wellbeing, equity, diversity and inclusivity as well as early learning are all areas of greater emphasis.  

Format – I am not sure where the preferred format question will land.  We are seeing a lot of uptake of in-person learning opportunities.  It is hard to know if this is just still the novelty of not being able to do this for several years, or if it is a return to these events which were the cornerstone of professional learning pre-pandemic.  During COVID we saw a huge growth in digital skills for adults, and many are continuing to find professional learning online now.  There is a new balance that is not yet finalized between these formats.

Drivers – Just like with students, staff are looking for deeper personalization and more control over their own learning.  One of the larger societal shifts in COVID was the move to increased remote work.  Of course, teaching does not lend itself well to this.  It is largely an in-person profession with fairly standard hours.  That said, there are more options for remote or flexible professional learning.  And the use of technology (and the dabbling in AI recently) have staff wanting even more precise experiences.  Why go to a literacy workshop with 100 K-12 teachers when you can be connected digitally to a group of educators from across the province working at your grade with similar resources?

There is a digital expectation – just like there is with our students and it is one that we are still working on to support the adult learning.

When it comes to adult learning it is not a surprise their needs are similar to the student learning needs – they want a system that gives them some universal experiences, but also some deep personalization – that provides options for in-person and digital experiences.  It will be interesting to see where we are in 3 years – and if there is a snapback – will 2026 look like the National report of 2016, or will adult learning in schools have been permanently altered by the pandemic.





Just play the greatest hits!

When you go see a legend in concert, you often just want to see them play the songs that made them famous. I just heard an interview with Roger Daltrey of The Who, where he said there was no point in producing any new music because the fans just want to listen to the classics in concert. He said, “People want to hear the old music. I don’t know why, but that’s the fact.”

So, how does this have anything to do with teaching or education?

I think great teachers are in my many ways like great rock stars – each year they build a setlist that they take out on tour.  The challenge is whether to just play the greatest hits, or mix in some new material.  Teachers have their greatest hits.  Every year in October they might do that awesome lab down by the beach, or in February they give that test that all kids say is the most difficult test they will ever write, or maybe in May there is a field trip that kids remember years after.  

When I think of the musicians I admire, they are the ones that know the fans want the greatest hits, but they are also committed to their craft and always still creating.  I was thinking about this recently as two of my favourites are releasing new albums in the next month – Paul Simon and Cat Stevens.  They both know that if they choose to perform again, people will want to hear Sounds of Silence and Moonshadow, but they are both still creating new ideas.  They are evolving and reinventing.  They are not running away from their greatest hits, but also looking to add new material.  I wrote previously about Paul Simon, on the release of his 2018 album, about how he was also taking previously published material and reworking it.  All of this that Paul Simon and Cat Stevens are doing is just like what happens in the classroom.  As good as you are, or as famous as you have become,  there is great power in those who are continually recreating and mixing in new material.

I think of this in my work as well.  It is so easy to just work through the rolodex in my mind and play the Superintendent Greatest Hits.  And I definitely do some of that.  But I want to be Paul Simon or Cat Stevens, someone who could get away without still creating, but does it anyway, because I am forever curious and continuously striving for reinvention.

Much has been made about the expanded mandate for the school system. In British Columbia, this mandate now includes early learning and our system is continually reinventing itself. K-12 is no longer a stand alone system – we are a human learning system. As many see it, we are really now a system that spans people’s entire lives.

West Vancouver has already been a leader in expanding our reach.  We know we have a great brand and one of the world’s top systems, so we want to continually look to go to new places.  We were first with full day kindergarten, a leader in international programs, a power player in the academies world (you have heard about our robotics haven’t you?) and today I am pleased to announce our next expansion.

Beginning in the fall of 2023 each of our schools will no longer just service the humans in our community but we are launching  Animal Kingdom Academy  programs attached to every one of our schools in the district.  We have been leaders in human education, and we can do the same for your pets.  We have been leaders in digital literacy and physical literacy and we are always looking at what is next.  We know animalia literacy will be crucial to be productive citizens in our world.

Beginning today, you can enroll your pets for school starting in September.  All pets are welcome.  We are building our expertise to support dogs, cats, birds, fish, and small mammals, and each pet will have an individualized program to support their specific needs.  In future years, we plan to expand our offerings to pets in the broader community. 

International Head Frankowski with 2 students  registering.

Of course with the challenges already in funding in the education system, there will be questions on how this new program will be funded.  The core funding for the program will be through the government’s pet tax on all pets in the community.  There are a variety of other ways that we will get supplemental funding for the Animal Kingdom Academy including bake sales (think regular human bake sales with cupcakes but for your pets), onsite petting zoo – we know people will pay top dollar to snuggle your pets, and door-to-door sales of pet goodies (if you think kids selling cookies at your door works well, you should see cute dogs coming to your door to sell pet treats).

We know we have the expertise to do pet education differently.  

And of course it is not just the pets that will benefit.  This will also completely change how we educate our students in K-12.  All of our students will learn about pet care and responsibility.  We see this initiative as key to supporting the mental health of our students and their needs around learning empathy and compassion.  

The courses our students take will also now be different.  At each grade approximately

Principal Finch is all in at Sentinel.

40% of the curriculum will be dedicated to pet learning.  There will be lessons related to pet care, such as learning about different types of pets and their needs, how to train pets, how to groom pets, and how to recognize and respond to pet behaviors. As part of their annual culminating project, students will become bark-itechts – learning to design and build their pet’s dream house.

Students will also get to take better advantage of our natural surroundings, as students and their pet fish will be part of an integration program where they learn to improve their swimming side-by-side in the ocean.  And of course every morning will begin with the “feline flow” – a chance for our pet cats to lead the entire school in morning stretches.  

Principal Evans with a brand new student.

Some of the courses that pets will take during the day include:  athletic agility training, aquatic fitness, behavioural modification training, relaxation and wellness massage, and dance choreography and performance.  Of course different animals will have different starting places in these courses.  Fish will have a head start in the water-based courses, and dogs and cats may have an early advantage with some of the agility training.  This issue of varied starting places is no different in school when some students have a head start over others in certain areas.   We would anticipate our pet test scores to be top tier, just like our human test scores.  All pets will take the P-SAT (Pet Scholastic Aptitude Test) each spring and rankings will be published by school.

Principal Ratz expects waiting lists at Westcot.

This new learning direction will lead to some changes on each of our campuses.  Half of all school grounds will be dedicated for animal use.  Knowing the high number of dogs that will likely be attending, artificial turf areas will be installed in various hallways to accommodate the needed potty areas.  Desks in most classrooms will be replaced with large cushions and been bag chairs so they can be used by human or pet students.  School cafeterias in the high schools will sell wet and dry pet food and water fountains built for

1st registrant on Bowen Island.

pets to hydrate themselves will be installed in all schools.  

While this program will be great for raising the achievement of pets in our community, we know it will also be a way to further attract students to our school district.  Just as programs for other human members of families in schools can help make schools community gathering places, the Animal Kingdom Academy Programs can also do the same.  

It is going to be Pawsome!  

Director Nelson will be exploring a dog soccer academy program.

You will have noticed that there are some limitations to this program.  In our initial

Principal Campbell is excited for the outdoor learning.

offering for 2023, we are limiting enrolment to typical domestic animals (cats, dogs, fish, birds, guinea pigs etc.).  As I write this we have a team of structural engineers inspecting each of our schools for the maximum weight the 2nd storey of our buildings can hold.  We want to be inclusive and not discriminate, so hope to welcome cows, pigs, horses and other larger animals to our program in 2024.  And what will this mean for our students?  Starting in 2024 we will also have the first student rodeo academy program in North America!

Today’s announcement is the latest in the long line of innovative actions from our school district.  Here is the list of those from recent years:

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.

In 2017 we introduced the Donald J. Trump Elementary School of Winning.

In 2018 we announced the construction of Soak City Elementary.

In 2019 we went back to the 80’s with the launch of the Belvedere Learning Academy.

In 2020 we embraced the latest in learning styles with our PBL (Pajama-Based Learning) Program.  

In 2021 we announced we were going out of this world with our Galaxy High Program.

And just last year in 2022, we announced New Nicknames for All of Our Schools

Ripley will be part of  the IB Program at West Bay.

Principal Hayes registers Gryff for the fall term.

We know you have come to count on West Vancouver Schools to

continue to innovate.  And today’s announcement raises the bar again. Hopefully your April 1st is as good as ours!



Welcome to the fastest, busiest and craziest month of the school year – AprilMayJune. Yes, you read that correctly. AprilMayJune is the wildest month of the school year.

We return from spring break this week, and others will be back next week, and when you do it is an all-out sprint to the finish line in June. I have written before about the rhythm of a school year, but there is something about the day after spring break until the end of June that is both continually exhausting and exhilarating.

I am sure almost all professions have a rhythm to them, but school is undeniably cyclical.  Until we abandon the agrarian schooling model almost all of us are on, that is not going to change.

So, just what is it that creates this unique post-spring break feeling?  

I think it starts with weather.  It just feels different.  We are still in winter going into the spring break.  This year, we had a snow day just a couple weeks before spring break, and now we come back to school, and flowers are out, daylight savings time has started, and the morning frost (at least for those of us on the west coast in Canada) is a memory.  

But it is much more than just the weather.  At the beginning of March, we feel like we have so much time left in the year.  And when we return – June looks very close.  In the classroom, the pace picks up.  Teachers realize that they are often a little behind on the content they hope to cover, so it is time to step on the accelerator.  For those of us in the Board Office, it is full on living in two school years – we are thinking about how this year ends, but spending as much or more time looking at calendars, budgets, and staffing for next year.  It is a time of year that takes some significant administrative effort.  

And of course it is the season of field trips for students, and track meets, school musicals and very quickly awards nights and graduations.  It is the event season, and staff and students have school commitments outside the school day on the calendar regularly.

And it just all runs together.  It is a full sprint.  There is a June 30th finish line.  And yes, some will work after this date, but many don’t.  Students and staff will be off for the summer not to return for 8 or 9 weeks.   

The “there is lots of time” feelings of February are replaced by the “uh oh we got to get moving” feelings  of AprilMayJune.  It is a 91 day month where the days feel long but collectively the time feels much shorter than any other month in the school year.

So, colleagues reading this, my apologies for all the calendar invitations you are receiving for events in 2024, it is only my AprilMayJune anxiety kicking in. Let’s get going!

I tell my family Canada Day, July 1st, is my favourite holiday.  Not for the celebrations or parties, but it means stress can come down, and sleep can go up!

For all of you returning this week or next to school – students, staff and parents – embrace AprilMayJune – it is the most enjoyable month of the year. 

Oh, and if you do get stressed, consider my Play the Trap blog post from a few years ago as a good companion piece to this one.

Happy Spring!



Wednesday, March 11, 1998.

It is twenty-five years ago this week, but I remember so many of the details of that day, it could have easily been last week.

Let me set this up a bit.  I was a second-year teacher at McRoberts Secondary School in Richmond, BC.  The school had previously been a junior high school and had its first graduating class in 1997.  I was also the Varsity Boys Basketball Coach.  I was in my 11th year of coaching and my 3rd at the Varsity level.  The 1997-98 season was supposed to be a rebuilding year.  We had one grade 12 in the regular rotation, complimented by an athletic group of grade 11s.  

Even local games had media coverage during the boycott. Here being interviews by John Shorthouse from Sports Page.

And it had been a crazy year for high school basketball.  Allegations of player recruiting filled the pages of the local newspaper sports sections.  It was the year of the boycott, as dozens of teams refused to play teams that were alleged to be fudging the player eligibility rules.  I was 24-years-old and with a blend of confidence, righteousness and naivety, I felt I was a part of a Star Wars like battle trying to blow-up the Death Star.  I remember being told that the “stain of the boycott” would ruin my teaching career – that ended up being a bad take.

And then, all of a sudden, the McRoberts Strikers basketball team was playing well.  Our team’s grade 12 forward Jason Rempel, while often oversized was a strong defender and a solid post player.  And we had an improving group of grade 11s – Graeme Poole, Nick Maitland, Cyrille Bang, David Foreman and Greg Lee that were a formidable group.  We were not ranked in the top 20 once the entire season, but we were definitely getting our wins. In early January, we got a 111-104 win over local rival, the Paul Eberhardt coached McNair Marlins, and a tight 3-point win over Jon Acob’s Burnett Breakers in mid-February got us the #2 Richmond seed for the Lower Mainland Championships.

Of course, qualifying for provincials was still a long shot.  They were nine high schools now in Richmond but only Richmond, McNair and Steveston had ever qualified for the BC version of March Madness.  But things started to fall into place.  Our defense had really picked up.  I was called a “junk dealer” for our style.  One of my coaching mentors, and McRoberts vice-principal of the day, Kent Chappell, had helped put in a series of zone structures he used to win the BCs while coaching the Steveston Packers in 1984, and I had added my mix of box-and-one, triangle-and-two, match-up-zones and other non-typical formations I had picked up by trying to read every book at the local library on basketball coaching.

So, after another tight win over Burnett and a wildcard win over Killarney on Sunday, March 1st, we had done the improbable and qualified for the provincial championships.  In rereading some of my quotes in the newspaper back then, I see I have truly made a life of being a sandbagger.  I told Bob Mackin at the Richmond News following our March 1st win, “We have no superstars on this team just some good players.  We’re not very big, don’t press well and are not real fast.  We get lucky and seem to do everything just a bit better than our opponents to win.”

So, that was the Cinderella story – the McRoberts Strikers, a school only in its second year with a grade 12 graduating class, never having been ranked all season in the top 20 by the basketball pundits, advanced to the BC Championships.

But then there was more.

In the BCs of that time, 12 teams made it to the full-draw and 8 teams played an extra game on the Tuesday to qualify for the main tournament.  So, maybe we could get one more win on this Tuesday draw (For those local basketball fans – you will remember if you didn’t win on Tuesday you played out the tournament at Grizzlies Practice Facility in Richmond.).  We played the Prince George Polars.  It was a squeaker – a one-point game in the 4th quarter.  Four clutch free-throws from Graeme Poole clinched it for us and a 55-43 win.  People don’t pay a lot of attention to who wins the Tuesday games – these are just the teams that will get blown out by the real contenders on the Wednesday.

So, here we are.  We are back to Wednesday, March 11, 1998.

We had a small, but passionate group of fans. Debates still rage whether they misspelled my name by accident, or one of the N’s got cold feet.

We had drawn the Abbotsford Panthers in this round of sixteen game.  Abbotsford was the Fraser Valley Champions and their point-guard Wayne Jones was one of the elite players in the province.  And Abbotsford had a rich basketball history – one of the top programs in the province for decades.  And on this Wednesday morning in March they brought the school with them from Abbotsford to Vancouver and this 10:15 AM match-up at the Agrodome.  Literally, Abbotsford vice-principal Jinder Sarowa organized buses to transport the entire school.  They had hundreds of loud fans with drums and horns.  We had our boys’ families tightly packed together in the seats near our bench.  We also had our school’s new cheer team on the baseline coached by first-year teacher Stephanie Laesecke (25 years later – we now have 23 years of marriage and 4 kids together).

Nobody was giving us a shot.  Steve Ewen’s daily predictions in the Vancouver Province were almost never wrong, and he had picked Abbotsford.  And the game started out as Ewen, the hundreds of Abbotsford students, and most everyone thought it would.  When we called a timeout 3 minutes into the game, the score was 9-0 Abbotsford.  Barking instructions to the boys, I could hear the Abbotsford fans in unison chanting “Start the bus” a reference to the game already being over just as it was really starting.

The moment at the end of the Abbotsford game. You can see the final score still on the clock.

And our next two possessions changed everything.  Poole came down the next two times and hit 3-point shots.  And then we were rolling.  We went on a 22-3 run the rest of the quarter to take an 10-point lead and we never looked back.  Poole finished with 11 points, Greg Lee had 20 and Jason Rempel had 21, and we had won 75-54.  And what do I remember about late in the game?  The now restless Abbotsford fans pegged a couple of us in the back with pennies.  I remember picking one up and putting it in my pocket – I assumed it must be lucky!

Early 2nd quarter action from the semi-final game vs. Richmond.  Tied at 17 at this point.

The next night was another big upset.  We knocked off the Okanagan Champions, Clarence Fulton Maroons, 70-64.   This win set up a semi-final match-up with the Richmond Colts – one of the most dominant high school basketball teams in the history of the tournament.  Our luck ran out that night.  In the prelude to the game, I was quoted in the Vancouver Province, “They’ve got eight or nine players better than our best player. It’s like a pro team playing a college team.  You kind of know  what could happen, but everybody wants to see what happens anyway.  Everybody knows that we should lose by 30 or 40 but this place will be full because of the curiosity of “what if?”  The Agrodome was sold out, and we were close for a half that night.  But we did lose by 30.

Interview with Karin Larsen of CBC.

The Hoosiers-like story was over for McRoberts.  I didn’t realize it then, but that run, and really that win over Abbotsford changed my life.

All the sudden, I was not just some young coach, but people treated me as some sort of coaching wiz-kid.  When you win, you get opportunities.  I had the chance to coach provincial teams, and work with some of the best coaches in the country. Because of our 1998 success, our school got invited to The Reebok Invitational Tournament in Toronto the following year, getting to play on national tv on Sportsnet.   And I got coaching awards – like the next year the Ken Wright Award for Coaching.  And I still think, if we lost to Abbotsford that Wednesday morning, none of this would have happened.   

And accolades can often lead to other accolades, and newspaper and magazines did very flattering stories of my coaching and teaching.  Three years later, I know in part from the media attention, I got hired in Coquitlam as a school vice-principal.  Principalships and a superintendency followed.

And the next year at the BC Championship, Ken Winslade, the quiet behind the scenes leader of the BC High School Boys Basketball Association, came up to me and asked me to consider joining the executive.  I was the first of a new generation to join.  This connection would lead to the last twenty-five years of volunteering and sports administration that allowed me be President of the BC High School Boys Basketball Association for 3 years, negotiate tv contracts and sponsorship deals, and has led to the most impactful volunteer work I still do today supporting the girls and boys high school basketball championships in any ways I can.

And I still think, when we were down 9-0, if Graeme Poole didn’t hit those 2 straight 3-point baskets, my life would likely be different.  It is true that coaches can get too much blame for losses and too much credit for wins.  It is crazy to think how important some 16-year-olds making baskets have been on my life.

It is funny the moments that define us.  I know, we make our own luck.  But there does seem to be a lot of luck in how things work out in life.

For a longtime, I downplayed my involvement in athletics.  I was sensitive to the “dumb jock” wrap many coaches get.   I now fully embrace my love of sports and celebrate the experiences I have had and the many friends I have made.  It is year 36 for me this year coaching basketball.  And I am still chasing that elusive BC Championship or the “blue banner” (a reference to the banner schools get in BC for winning a championship in any sport that is hung in the school gym).  

I owe so much to the young people I have worked with.  My leadership skills I use in all parts of my life, are the ones that I hone through coaching sports.  From soccer, to track, to volleyball and mostly through basketball, I have tested and refined my talents around motivation, building a vision, and leading.

Being interviewed by Province Reporter Steve Ewen at the 1998 Championships.

Rereading the newspaper clippings from a quarter century ago, I am reminded of just how the people I have met through basketball are many of the most important if my life.  Province Sports Reporter Steve Ewen became one of my good friends and we still play slo-pitch softball together.  McNair Coach, Paul Eberhardt now works with me in West Vancouver and runs our sports academy programs.  Burnett Coach, Jon Acob has coached both my sons in high school basketball and we regularly team-up now as co-coaches (and one Jon’s players on that 1998 team Mike Stoneburgh is another great coach today).  Ken Winslade from the Boys Basketball Association is still a mentor, and I now volunteer alongside his son Jason in running the girls and boys championships.  And so many more.

I am sure if we didn’t beat Abbotsford 25-years-ago, my life would still be awesome but I am pretty sure it would be different.  That day was defining.

I found the letter I wrote to the players at the end of the 1998 season.  In part, I said:

Every November begins with optimism as one looks at the season ahead, but  no one, myself included, could have forecast the surprising and exhilarating climax our season would have in March.  In a year in which politics rather than basketball was the hot topic in high school hoops, our team emerged at the end of the year epitomizing all that is good about high school sports:  hard work, class, integrity and sportsmanship.

I am proud to have shared one of the most memorable experiences of my life with you boys this year.  Not any particular win, but the journey we went on is what was special.  The B.C. Championships were a reward for a job well done.  I think you al know that you were better basketball players, and probably better people this year than you were last year.  Next year, we will strive to be better again.  It is not the winning which is important but our journey.

All these years later, I hold to every word in this.

To all those who are playing or coaching in the BC Championships this week – enjoy every minute of it.  And may you too have moments that will change your lives.

At the end of our final game of the 1998 BC High School Provincial Championships.

So, you want to be a high functioning school district?

Don’t we all.

As I look around at districts I admire for their consistent strong leadership I almost always find a district where the team of the Board Chair, Superintendent and Secretary Treasurer have an excellent working relationship.  While I see this in my life every day, it is also backed up by the literature.  In particular, there is a lot of research linking the success of school districts to the superintendent and board relationship. As Elizabeth Zagata references:

Superintendents and school boards play a pivotal role in the success of any school district. Research shows that districts with effective governance and a positive relationship between the school board and the superintendent consistently have better student outcomes. Indeed, the dynamic of that relationship can either hinder or help a district achieve its mission.

While not as often referenced in the literature, and while the superintendent is the sole employee of the Board, I would include the essential nature of the relationship with the secretary-treasurer (the CFO in a school district) to this conversation expanding it from a two-way to a three-way partnership.  It is the Board Chair who leads a Board in setting a strategic plan.  Then, it is a superintendent who leads a staff in bringing this plan to life and a secretary-treasurer who ensures resources are aligned to make it all happen.

My context is very unique.  I was appointed superintendent in the fall of 2009 and our current secretary-treasurer moved into that position in 2011.  And our current Board Chair joined the Board also in 2011, and assumed the Chair position in 2014.  We are in our ninth years together in these roles.  This continuity is very helpful.  Now, I am sure if we didn’t communicate well with each other, have a clear common vision or engaged in ongoing power struggles, the time together would be of little importance, but fortunately we haven’t had these challenges.

So, what are some of the things I think we do well?

We have clearly defined roles.  We don’t shy away from the conversations about responsibility but we are rarely stepping over each other.  For us, it starts with policy.  The Carver Model of board governance we have held for my time in the district keeps us honest in ensuring everyone is clear in their responsibility.

We have a shared vision.  In some districts, the secretary-treasurer is not a part of the education conversations; not in our district.  She is invested in the educational vision.  And it all starts with our Board’s Strategic Plan that we review and set (or update) during the first several months of the term.  The Board sets the high level direction and the superintendent builds strategies and structures to meet these goals.

There are no surprises.  We talk regularly.  In many cases, it is the superintendent with the board chair and the superintendent with the secretary-treasurer, and there is always efforts made so each of us shares all the information we have with each other.  We never walk into a meeting and are surprised with information any of the rest of us have or share.

We support each other.  It is crazy what I have seen in other districts.  In some places, the board chair sees their job to challenge the superintendent and secretary-treasurer, often in public rather than work with them.  And some superintendents withhold information from board chairs, and use it as power in their relationship.  And secretary-treasurers see their work as the “Culture of No” in slowing or stopping the educational goals of the Board and superintendent.  It is not hard, know what each other are tasked with and help each other be successful.

A simple question guides us.  Our Board Chair will often say, “Is this good for students?” and this drives our work.  When the answer is yes, this moves me to operationalize it and our secretary-treasurer to determine the financial implications.

I am lucky.  I have worked with four excellent board chairs and two strong secretary-treasurers.  And for the last 9 years, having the three of us in these same positions has been good for our school district community.  Continuity helps build trust, and trust helps make things happen.

The most important thing a board does is hire the right superintendent, and the most important thing a superintendent does is hire the right secretary-treasurer.  And the most important thing the three of them do is build a powerful team.

I have written previously on board governance and they may be useful prompts for others:

Board Governance – Small Things Can Make a Big Difference

How the Board and Superintendent Support Each Other

Doing Small Things to Improve Board Governance

The Impact of Boards on How Superintendents Spend Their Time



Different Voices

A framework I like to use from time to time is “I used to think X but now I think Y.”  We are all learners in the system, and as the world changes around us, we need to change our thinking as well.

This past week I had the chance to be part of a panel to talk about “Young people as allies in educational transformation.”  and really the broader topics of student leadership, engagement and sense of belonging.

When I came to West Vancouver Schools 16 years ago, I brought my passion for student leadership with me.  We were quick to implement a district student leadership program, a district student council and actively promote the growth of student leadership programs in our elementary and secondary schools.  We brought in high profile keynote speakers like Craig Kielburger to work with our students and we worked to connect our student leaders to others across the region; having students attend provincial and national student leadership conferences. For me this was the essential student voice that was missing in our schools.

And I don’t believe any less in this work now.

But . . .

I used to think student leadership meant we had done our job in engaging students in educational transformation, but now I think ensuring we listen to the voices of all students and giving them voice in their learning needs to be the driver in educational transformation.

I am more interested now in elevating the voices of everyone, particularly our Indigenous learners, racialized students, students with disabilities, students from our LGBTQ+ community, International students, new immigrant learners and others who are often marginalized in our system and ensuring they have voice in their education transformation.  These students are often not part of student council, not selected for leadership conferences, and don’t put their hand up for special leadership programs.

And what we find is that when we listen to students for whom the system has not always worked and look to make changes on their advice, these changes benefit all learners, even the high flyers who are already successful.

At a recent professional day in West Vancouver we had a student panel that was reflective of the range of students in our system.  Students facilitated the discussion and they spoke about what worked in the system for them, and what they needed to feel a sense of belonging. What they said, probably would not surprise many.  Students said they wanted adults who cared about them, and asked them how they were doing and took an interest in their lives.  They said they wanted a greater focus on sexual health, Indigenous learning, mental health and hands-on learning in their school programs. And they said we were on the right path, we just needed to do more, faster.

One of the interesting impacts of COVID is that students expect a greater say in their own learning, and more is on the table.  Now that students have experienced in-person, virtual and hybrid learning, and they have often had timetables that offer 2, 4 or 8 courses at at time, they have opinions about what works for them and they want their voices to influence the structures going forward.  Pre-COVID, it was as-if the structures of schooling were actually fixed now students know different.  The system is far more flexible than we let on to them.

And in British Columbia there are so many other ways right now to ensure all students have voice in their learning.  Whether it is our Indigenous learners through Equity in Action, students involvement in the Framework for Student Learning, or the multiple ways students can be involved in their own learning through the new reporting order that emphasizes the role of student self-assessment, student voice has never been more important.

Of course this is not without its challenges.  At this recent panel presentation, one of my superintendent colleague rightly raised the point that many adults don’t think students should have a voice in their learning – whether they believe that the system should be dictated by adults, students don’t know enough to have informed views or this just upsets current norms – there are many nervous about giving students more control, because it might mean adults have less control.

Circling back to where I started, I have always been a huge supporter of student councils, district leadership programs, and other ways to bring student voices to the table in education.  I now think this is not enough.  Very often these voices are the ones we want to hear, because they are already successful and will tell us we should just keep doing what we are doing.  We are often amplifying the already loud voices.  We need to find ways to ensure all voices, particularly those that have been historically marginalized in our schools are heard.  And yes, we want students to be our allies in educational transformation, but we should also be looking to be their allies.

There has been no more exciting time in education in my career and there are amazing possibilities for our learners ahead of us – let’s make sure they all have a voice in helping us design a system that works for each and every learner.

I think I am sounding like the old guy telling you I have seen this all before.

Last week, I wrote about Chat GPT, which is getting a lot of interest in education.  I ended that post saying, “What a great opportunity to not make the mistakes of the past and see technology as a threat, but rather an opportunity for us to rethink how it could add value to our work.”

To go back a few years, I was there for the great calculator debates.  I had classes that banned the use of calculators, or restricted the use of calculators, or allowed calculators for certain parts of classes or exams but not others.  

And with the growth of technologies this century the immediate impulse to ban technologies has been a common one from school jurisdictions.  Hardware like laptops and cell phones have been banned in some areas.  And while there are examples of a small number of schools banning wi-fi or the internet completely, there are a number of examples  of websites like YouTube being blocked in schools.  As new technologies are introduced, for many, the impulse is to do whatever possible to preserve the status quo.  As if, we only have to wait out this “iPad trend” and they will disappear, and we will not have to rethink how we engage with the new technologies in a thoughtful way.

This isn’t to say there should never be any limitations on technology in the classroom.  There are great reasons why you might want to not have any technology in a particular class or on a particular day, but it is the immediate reaction to ban a tool instead of understanding it, that is troubling.  For a profession built on growth and creating new understandings, as the world changes around us, we should always be seeing how these changes could be leveraged in our schools to ensure our classrooms are relevant, connected, and engaging.

So, here we are with ChatGPT.  

Quickly, for some the discussions shifted from the emerging power of AI to the need to ban it in schools.  One of the first places that came out loudly was New York Public Schools.  As Maya Yang writes in the Guardian

According to the city’s education department, the tool will be forbidden across all devices and networks in New York’s public schools. Jenna Lyle, a department spokesperson, said the decision stems from “concerns about negative impacts on student learning, and concerns regarding the safety and accuracy of contents”.

Now, not to sound cynical, but if we started banning everything where there was a concern over the “accuracy of contents” that might be a bit of an overwhelming proposition.  

Rather than trying make technology a forbidden fruit in our schools, we should teach about it.  If young people don’t learn about technology at school – where will they learn?  Some will learn at home.  Most will learn from their friends or explore on their own.  Schools have and should continue to step into this space of guiding students with technology use that is age and developmentally appropriate.  Just this week, former BC School Superintendent, Geoff Johnson, made an excellent argument (HERE) for increasing media literacy in schools.

I get the natural reaction to ban things we don’t completely understand.  We should be careful and thoughtful with technology.  And if you think ChatGPT is the last time we are going to have this conversation you are very naïve.  There will be another gizmo next year, and one the year after that.  

Let’s continue to model for our students the excellent conversations we can have about technology and look for ways that the exciting shifts around us can improve the quality of the experience for everyone in our schools.

I will need you to read through to the end today . . .

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to transform a wide range of industries and professions, but could it replace school superintendents? While it is possible that AI could be used to assist school superintendents in their work, it is unlikely that AI could fully replace a human school superintendent.

School superintendents are responsible for overseeing the educational operations of a school district, which involves many tasks that require human judgment, decision-making, and interpersonal skills. Superintendents must be able to lead and motivate teams of educators, work with community stakeholders, and make difficult decisions that impact the success of students. These tasks require qualities that are unique to humans, such as empathy, emotional intelligence, and the ability to navigate complex social situations. AI systems do not currently possess these qualities, and it is unlikely that they will be able to replicate them in the near future.

However, that doesn’t mean that AI has no role to play in the work of school superintendents. AI could potentially be used to help superintendents with certain tasks that are time-consuming or routine, such as analyzing data and generating reports. For example, an AI system could be trained to analyze our student achievement data and identify trends or areas of improvement. This could allow superintendents to focus on more high-level tasks, such as developing strategies to improve student achievement or building relationships with community partners.

AI could also be used to improve communication between superintendents and other members of the school district. For example, an AI-powered chatbot could be used to answer frequently asked questions from parents or teachers, freeing up the superintendent’s time to focus on more pressing issues.

So, while AI is not likely to fully replace school superintendents,  it could be a valuable tool to assist superintendents in their work. By automating certain tasks and improving communication, AI could help superintendents to be more effective and efficient in their roles. However, it is important to remember that AI is not a substitute for human judgment and leadership, and it will be up to superintendents to determine how best to use these tools in their work.

So, I didn’t really write this.

Well, maybe I did sort of. 

It is getting murky. 

After working through a series of questions and answers with ChatGPT, this is the response I got to my ask, “Write a blog post of 350 words on whether AI could replace school superintendents and how AI could help school superintendents.”  I then made some edits to make it sound more in my voice.  Oh, it is original.  Put it through any plagiarism checker – it will pass.  And I did a few different versions with asking for a different tone if this is too formal for you.  So, let’s back up.

This is a quickly moving landscape -and I am very much a novice.  Let me do a quick summary.  ChatGPT is all the buzz right now.  As Bernard Marr in Forbes describes it: “ChatGPT enables users to ask questions or tell a story, and the bot will respond with relevant, natural-sounding answers and topics. The interface is designed to simulate a human conversation, creating natural engagement with the bot.”  

I remember when I first used a search engine – it was not Google, probably AOL or AltaVista, or something of that era.  It was clear things were about to really change.  This AI gives that same vibe.  My example is really basic that I shared today.  But what happens when AI reads all my blogs and then I ask it to write one on a topic in my style – that will be coming soon.  And of course the implications for education, like so many professions are huge.  We have seen good articles already on how this could be used for lesson plans and in other ways in education.  And there are debates on whether it is killing or not killing the English essay.  But this is really just the infancy of what will be possible.

I have lamented that in recent years that technology shifts have not given me the same excitement as those earlier this century in the web 2.0 era.  Well, this feels different.

What do you think?  Have you tried it?  What might be possible for its use in education?

As I wrote in a post last year, we might think with kids with laptops and mastering Zoom we are now fully digital – but Technology is Not Done!

What a great opportunity to not make the mistakes of the past and see technology as a threat, but rather an opportunity for us to rethink how it could add value to our work.