Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Video Is Changing Us

I know we are all a little “Zoom”ed out right now.  In all parts of our life the novelty of the video call, and the Brady Bunch style screens has worn out.  And I think the reviews around video in classrooms are mixed.  But beyond teaching and learning, there are some changes that video has made in the last several months in our schools that has actually been long promised, and now will probably never go back.  Video has opened our schools to the community in ways we have often promised and now are finally delivering.

Connecting With Teachers

The parent-teacher conference has gone virtual and that is a good thing.  We have all seen how email can go wrong, and how quickly intentions can be misconstrued and a question from a parent to a teacher or a comment from a teacher to a parent has escalated.  The advice from seasoned colleagues is always to pick up the phone.  Now, the advice is to get on a video call.  I have spoken to several teachers who highlighted how quick video calls with parents have helped resolve situations – it really helps humanize our connections.  And traditional parent meetings at the end of the term, done virtually allow working parents to attend who might not normally be able to take time from work to come to face-to-face sessions at the school.  It is a good example of how little is lost by the change of format.  And for teachers who may be uncomfortable with a particular parent alone in a meeting, the virtual format  creates a safe place for everyone.

Information Sessions

You know how these work.  You rush home from work and then figure out how to get your kids to their evening activities so you can get to the school gym to listen to the principal explain the programs for next year at the school.  And then you come home to try to re-tell the key items to your partner and child.  So, now as these events are created and posted online families can watch and re-watch at their convenience.  And then time that would normally be for hosting the sessions can be dedicated to answering the questions online of parents and students about particular programs.  So many times I hear about the need to host these events on multiple nights because of various conflicts, now they can all take place on demand.

Live Events

The most recent example of this was Remembrance Day.   Our schools shared out links to students and often parents of their Remembrance Day Ceremonies.  These important ceremonies are always welcoming of the community, but again, often hard to attend in-person.  More and more of these events are being streamed for families.  Last month I  was at Eagle Harbour Montessori School to see their Historical Halloween live streamed to families.  And on a call with principals this week, plans are already underway for Holiday concerts.  It really started last spring with our grad ceremonies.  There was great disappointment that these rituals could not be held in-person, but overwhelming positive responses to the virtual alternatives that were created.  And while there is power of having people come together in-person for events, we seem destined post-COVID to stream more from our classrooms, our assemblies, our sporting competitions and arts showcases to our parents and larger community.  

These ideas are not groundbreaking.  And we could have done many of them twelve months ago – but we had no urgency.  And the technology was seen as a great mystery. We just couldn’t possibly figure out the technology.  But emergencies push you forward.  The technology has got better and easier, and we have got more comfortable with the tools.   There will be great discussions around lessons of the COVID era for schools, but I think one of the impacts is that we will forever  be thinking about the use of video and how we can open up events to those who cannot attend in-person. And a side benefit for many is that they can do all of this on a more flexible schedule.  I know these digital shifts  have changed things for me – as a parent and superintendent I am more connected now than I was before to so many important school rituals.

OK, I want to let you in on a little secret. We don’t really love Halloween in schools.

I know, kids love Halloween, and it can be a fun day in school.  But in our high schools, teenagers in not-always-appropriate costumes (I wrote about Halloween costumes before HERE) can be a real pain, and firecrackers are also never fun to police.  And in our elementary schools, if we make it through the excitement of the Halloween events, the day-after can be wild – the combination of children who stayed up too late the night before and had way too much candy and chocolate leads to a day where we often are counting down the hours to 3:00.

Now, I realize that everything is a little different this year with the pandemic, but that is not why I think Halloween is perfect this year.

This year, Halloween is on a Saturday.  Saturday is the perfect day for Halloween.  At schools, we can have Halloween events on the Friday, then parents can go out to their  Halloween parties on Friday night (well, not this year, but in a non-COVID year).  And then on Saturday, everyone can sleep-in and go trick-or-treating at night.  And best of all, there is no school the day after Halloween, so everyone can recover from the sugar rushes for a full-day before returning to school on Monday.

Oh, but it gets better.  Day Light Savings ends at 2:00 AM on Sunday, November 1st this year.  So on Halloween night, a night that everyone stays up late – you get an extra hour of sleep!  It is hard to imagine a better day of the year for an extra hour than Halloween night.

So, how can we do this every-year? The origin of Halloween being on October 31st seem murky.  And does anyone really like to celebrate Halloween on a Tuesday?  How can we get Halloween to be aligned on the Saturday at the end of October or beginning of November on an annual basis that aligns with the end of Day Light Savings (and yes, I know there is some moves to get rid of this annual time change). 

If not for any other reason, think of us in schools.  A Saturday night Halloween would be a great move for all of us.

Now, I am not sure of the Halloween governance structure and how a change like this could actually be made.  But if someone was running for office with this promise, I would be interested.

Oh, and once we change this – I will propose Valentine’s Day moves to the second Saturday of February.

Have a good Halloween!

Using my blog for something different this time.  Last week I had a good conversation with Vancouver Province Sports Reporter Steve Ewen on the possibilities for school sports – even in the middle of a pandemic.  Readers of this blog know how interested I am in youth sports.  In an effort to share the article with a larger audience, I am sharing the text from Steve’s article below.  You can also see the original article on The Province website HERE.

West Vancouver school district Supt. Chris Kennedy thinks it’s time to try to restart high school sports.

He’s very clear. He’s not talking about something leading to a massive provincial championship. Kennedy’s talking about neighbouring high school teams, in cohorts of four, playing against only one another with extensive coronavirus protocols in place.
He’s talking about what community sports was granted in August by the B.C. government and has been doing since then. The government’s return-to-school plan released in July said inter-school events wouldn’t be permitted to take place initially but would be “re-evaluated in mid-fall 2020.”

High school teams have been allowed to practise since classes returned.

The provincial election has taken the focus of the government of late. Kennedy understands too that the rising COVID-19 case numbers may spark concern. He believes that schools can make sports run safely — “we’re living those protocols every day,” he explained — and a return to games between rival schools, albeit in a limited format, would benefit the overall well-being of students and school communities.”

“There’s so much positive will trying to make it happen right now. I’ve spoken to a number of my superintendent colleagues and there’s a common belief that sports can aid in the physical, social and emotional well-being of students,” explained Kennedy, a longtime high school basketball coach himself, highlighted by his time guiding Richmond’s McRoberts Strikers.“We’re worried about the mental health of kids. We’re looking for more things to connect with kids. If school becomes just a place where you go to get credits, then it’s not really school.”

“I don’t want to underestimate the complexities of this, but everything we’ve done so far with schools this year has been complex. Getting the kids to school, getting the cohorts figured out, dealing with different technology issues … every day we’re faced with problems that we never imagined before the pandemic.”

The basic frustration for school sports folks about being on the sideline is the simple fact that community sport is up-and-running. As Kennedy says, there are “kids in our gymnasiums with school teams from 3 to 6 p.m. obeying by certain rules and then they can be back in those same gyms with their club teams from 6 to 8 p.m. playing under a completely different set of rules.”

There’s the price point issue as well. School sports is subsidized. Club sports is often a business. The longer school sports sits on the sideline, the more you wonder about how it might look when they do eventually return, and whether programs will be lost long-term. There are also families who don’t have the money or wherewithal to take part in club sports regularly.

“There’s probably been little change for the affluent families regarding sport through this. They’ve found club situations that work for them,” Kennedy explained. “The kids who need school sports the most are the ones who aren’t getting it.”

Kennedy downplayed the idea that student/athletes were missing out on university scholarship opportunities with school sport in limbo, calling it a “red herring.” He believes that university coaches will find ways to find players.

In fact, he thinks that the return of school sports in this era would have an even greater focus on participation, since teams wouldn’t be gearing up for a run at the provincials.

“You’d probably carry a bigger roster, you’d probably play everyone more equally because you’re not worried about that high-level competition piece,” he explained.

Kennedy contends high school sport could “look different” for it to be allowed to return. He talked about switching to 3-on-3 basketball or 2-on-2 volleyball, for instance, if that help makes things safer.

“You shouldn’t skip out on something just because you think it might be hard,” Kennedy explained. “We’ve found ways to make music and art and drama happen in so many of our schools. There are other kids who have passions for athletics. We need to help them.

“We’ve got schools launched. We’ve got club sports launched. Now we take what we’ve learned from both of them and put it together for school sports.”

Today I keynoted the CUEBC (Computer Educators of British Columbia) Conference with my mouthful of a title, “Isn’t This Kind of What We Wanted – The Good, Not So Good and Hopefully Awesome of Technology in Schools in the Time of COVID.”

At the bottom of the post is the video of the talk. Rather than restating the entire talk, let me highlight some of the big ideas that I wanted to share.

In the spring we were scrambling; it was emergency learning. It was very revealing which schools and districts had invested in technology and had coherence in their work built over the last decade. We learned who was faking it in the new world and who was truly invested. Those who were thoughtfully invested and had strong infrastructure, common platforms and a baseline of use across schools and the district outpaced the others.

What is exciting about the fall is that everyone has upped their game. And I don’t think it really matters if you are a Microsoft, Google or Teams District – what matters is that you have selected a robust set of tools and are using them well. Also in the spring we saw a lot of just trying to get digital content out to students, now we are seeing far better use of technology in ways that does not just replicate traditional school experiences, but creates experiences that would actually not be possible without the technology.  In the spring we were being driven by technology and now we are being driven by learning and using technology.

It does feel like we have a tremendous opportunity.  Students, staff and parents want to use this time as an opportunity to create new structures for learning –  new ways to engage students in relevant and connected learning opportunities.  As I wrote in my last post, we want to do this without losing the collective good of education – we cannot just turn schools into credit factories.  And we need to be conscious of equity.  As exciting as these times are, we need everyone to benefit.  It was interesting in the spring in British Columbia, we found ways to get devices into the hands of almost all students who needed them, and get wi-fi into homes that didn’t have it.  We need to hold this to be a fundamental obligation that all students have access to the tools so that all students benefit from the power of digital learning.  And this is not an impossible goal – we need to keep focused on this.  As I argue in my presentation, if we can ensure all houses have garbage pick-up we surely can ensure all houses have wi-fi access.  

Borrowing ideas from the OECD and others, I think the next 12-24 months create numerous opportunities including:

  • harnessing innovation
  • re-imagining accountability
  • remembering the power of the physical world
  • supporting the most vulnerable
  • reinforcing capacity
  • building system self reliance
  • preparing digital resources

More than ever, leaders need to celebrate risk-taking.  There are fewer rules in the pandemic, and we don’t need just one model, we need multiple models as we move forward.  

I think this is a once in a career opportunity for us in education.  Of course we wouldn’t have planned for the opportunity to come in a pandemic that can be absolutely exhausting – but here we are – and we can’t let this chance go to waste.

If you have some time, please take a look at the video and join the conversation. Or view the slides HERE.  Discussion and debate is good – it will move us forward.  

There have always been various goals for education and a conversation about the very purpose of schooling is never simple. There has always been tension between the public and private good of education. We often hear arguments that education is about preparing students as citizens and also preparing students as the workforce of the future. While these two are often in conflict with each other they are both in the larger “public good” tent. In addition, there is the belief that education is more of a private goal – to help individuals compete with other individuals and improve their status. It is this third goal that I see, and worry, gets attention in our COVID high school experiences potentially at the expense of the other two.

Some try to turn education into a commodity.  Individuals collect credits for their own advancement.  It is this thinking that often leads to the growth in private schools or charter schools as the public good of education is set aside and education becomes about the individual.  For all its warts, public education has long been able to maintain a collective nature.  Whether one sees education through a  workforce preparation or citizen engagement lens they both lend themselves to a bettering of our world. The worry I have during COVID is that we could lose focus on these goals and education becomes far more individualistic – an every person for themselves feeling – that shifts us away from the public good to more of a private good for education.

The danger I see is that high schools become about the credential and not the experience.  And COVID can potentially accentuate this.  One effect of COVID on schooling is that school is being reorganized.  In British Columbia almost all high school students are completing two courses at a time, and then repeating this process four times over the year in a quarter-system.  Many more students than ever are also taking courses online through various providers around the province to supplement what they might be doing in their local school.  So, while this could be viewed as true personalization as students build their own programs it also leads one to think of schooling as just a collection of credits.  In this world, you collect courses and credits to earn credentials to compete with other students to earn spots in post-secondary.  And yes, there has always been a key element of the individual in the system, when we have to change how we teach and limit the extra curricular offerings it narrows the system. 

In the COVID world, there are limits on school sports, clubs and other events that promote collective power.  Yes, schools are doing Terry Fox Runs – but it is hard to argue that they have the same impact as in previous years. As we look ahead to Remembrance Day, that will again be a challenge.  And in the classroom, rather than robust group discussions and debates, we know more individual work is encouraged to limit contact between students.  It is the reality of the virus, but it promotes goals that are good for the individual, but not necessarily for the community.

I talked to one student who said, “This year is just about getting the credits done and moving on.”  Another high schooler described it to me as “like having an office job – I go in get it done and get out.”  Our collective challenge is to make it more than that for these student and all students.  And it is a challenge.  Not only are teachers instructing in new ways, using new tools in a new system we need to find new ways to ensure the community aspects of school are not lost.

And I also get the anxiety of students – they want to be sure they collect credits to graduate, maintain their options for post-secondary and just not generally face long-term education challenges because of COVID.  

But we don’t want this to be the new mindset – where schools become simply about credit and credential collection.   

It is so great to have our students back in schools.  We see many jurisdictions around the world who have not been able to do it.  It is crucial that we don’t get lulled into sacrificing the public good as we rethink teaching and learning in our system.  

10 Years and Still Going

The Culture of Yes turns 10 this month. 364 posts later, and here we are.

Starting this blog seemed like a natural fit.   In an earlier time I had been a newspaper columnist so was pretty familiar with organizing thoughts into 550 words at a time.   And in 2010 I was just officially starting as Superintendent so I was looking to differentiate myself and find a way to have a voice in a way that was authentic and made sense for me.  At the time I had a blogroll that was inspiring.  I would read Dean Shareski, or Will Richardson, or David Warlick and be excited.  The world of web 2.0 was booming and each post I read was opening me up to new ideas and a new world I was trying to understand.

The world of education blogs has really felt like it has had a boom and bust era.  My 2010 entry was just before the boom.  We had a community in BC of edu-bloggers including Chris Wejr, Elisa Carlson, Cale Birks, Dave Truss, Brian Kuhn and others.  It was just as the way we get education news was shifting.  Blogs were opening up classrooms, schools and districts to the community.  It was interesting to see what was being written in local blogs driving conversations in school and in the media.  What I saw in a blog post Monday, I would read in a Janet Steffenhagen story on Thursday in the Vancouver Sun.  The modern network was truly coming alive.  I also loved how blogging came alive in our schools.  We still have a number of staff blogging – including Cari Wilson who is still so great at posting every week!

And yet within 4 or 5 years the internet was littered with well intentioned but discarded educational blogs.   It is not as bad as it sounds.  Like with any trend or fad you get this huge growth, and then some people decided it wasn’t for them, and moved on.  We began to consume more through social media – twitter posts were far easier than 500 word blog posts. And as I wrote, the comments really slowed down (ironically that post about the lack of commenting has 86 comments). And the comments that came were not on the post but on Facebook or Twitter.  The conversation actually happened in multiple places which was not really a good thing – I would often think of a conversation of a post on Twitter, that these people should meet the people talking about it on Facebook, they would really learn from each other.  That said, my thanks to the close to 4,000 comments that have been shared directly on the site – they have challenged me, taught me and encouraged me.  I looked back at my first post – thanks to Brian Kuhn for being the first person to leave a comment.

In my first post I wrote:

It is an exciting time in education.  I feel like we are in the middle of a dramatic shift in what “school” looks like.  We will look back on this time as a pivotal point of change.  I look forward to sharing ideas, and connecting with those inside and outside our system as we work our way through it. 

And it was an exciting time, and is an exciting time in education.  This blog has really been career defining for me.  I love to look back at what I used to think and write about, how I believe some things more strongly now than when I wrote them and on other topics my views have changed – that is what is great about learning in public – I can share this.  And if nobody else even reads it, the act of writing down ideas and taking a position has been exceptionally powerful for me.

When I was asked to describe my blog goal, I have said, I know I am not the New York Times or Wall Street Journal of education blogs.  I am more USA Today.  And while we need the more formal writers, we also need those who are trying to be accessible to those not in education.   I have tried to be a serious thinker who doesn’t take himself too seriously.

Today, I love following other superintendent bloggers.  In BC I read everything that Dave Eberwein, Kevin Godden and Jordan Tinney write.  I just wish more of my colleagues would blog.  As my regular readers know, my doctoral research is around the role of the superintendency and I am fascinated by the role and the work.   I also really appreciate how supportive Jay Goldman and the AASA (School Superintendent’s Association) has been to regularly highlight superintendent blogs in their magazine and to take several of my pieces and work with me to convert them into magazine columns and articles. 

As to my posts – if I want to chase clicks, I find if I write about parenting and sports those fuel interest.  I really enjoy writing about both topics so it is fun to stir debate around them.  They are actually the easier posts to write.    My most-read post to date comes from November of 2010 on Stuart Shanker and Self-Regulation.  I have written about Stuart’s work a number of times, and it is an example of thinking that has really changed my view of education in the last decade.  More personally, my post Teacher during the 2014 teacher’s strike about my dad really sticks with me.  

And yes, every-time I still hit publish I feel anxiety.  I think my high school English teacher is out they’re noticing grammar errors (that was intentional).  And I worry (it has only happened a handful of times) someone will splice a  part of my text and re-post it social media to try to embarrass me or make a political point.  But my blog has changed me.   It has opened doors for me for work, it has introduced me to many new people and given me a platform to share.  Most importantly, it has given me voice and confidence.   I am still a proponent of having everyone write for the world, as we all have stories to tell and we want our children to feel this comfort from a young age.

So, to all who have read and engaged with me over the last 10 years – thank you.   Hopefully I have helped assure you that superintendents are actually human being and not just “those guys” in the board office.  I love our community and my head is full of ideas I want to write and think through with you in this space in the months and years ahead.

I look forward to the next 10!

We have an Opening Day tradition in West Vancouver.  The first day back with staff we come together for a series of annual rituals and a keynote address from a speaker who helps set the tone for the year ahead.  Over my time we have had speakers from Sir Ken Robinson, to Natalie Panek, to Yong Zhao to Jennifer James.  This year we were fortunate to have speaker and actor Anthony McLean join us. And while typically we gather at the Kay Meek Theatre, this year, it was a virtual event – as all staff connected with Anthony and he set the tone for our year ahead.

With the international efforts around Black Lives Matter and calls for increased anti-racism education in schools, Anthony’s message resonated even more strongly than it might have when he was initially booked almost a year ago.  With all of the speakers we have had, it is easy to just be captured by their eloquence and joy, but I try to find a few key messages to take away as well.  Here are three keys that I took away from Anthony’s talk:

  1.  The Authors We Read – Anthony recalled how in school he read zero books from Indigenous, Asian or Black authors.  He made the argument that adding to the diversity of our libraries and learning resources was an easy entry point for us.  Rather than thinking we need to be an expert voice on a topic we might be nervous to lead because we are still learning ourselves we can amplify other voices.  I think back to my own school experience, and even through an English degree in university there was very little diversity in the authors that I read.  It is an easy opportunity to change-up some of the stories we share in classes and books we make available in our libraries.
  2. Separate the person from the behaviour – Anthony told a story about Mr. Rutherford (you can see a short version of the story HERE).  Anthony shared that he was not always the best behaved student.  What stood out for him was how in grade 10 his principal Mr. Rutherford separated his actions from who he was as a person.  This is a great lesson reminder for all of us.  We can be disappointed in behaviours or disagree with someone without them being a bad person.  Like Stuart Shanker told us several years ago in a different Opening Day talk, there is no such thing as bad kids.
  3. Community, Community, Community – When asked what he would focus on this fall with students heading back to school, including some who may not have been to school in up to six months – he said his focus would be on three things – community, community, community.  It is easy to get caught up in the notion that students have missed school and are behind so we need to double-down on the academics.  What our students say is that they have missed  the connections of schools.  And you can’t really get to Math and English if you have not first built trust and community.  Anthony was clear we should lead with curiosity and default to compassion. For us in West Vancouver, all staff have spent time learning about trauma informed practices before students returned to classes.

There was a fourth one that stood out for me, although perhaps not as global and lofty as the others.  Anthony did say, “sometimes pretending you are interested in what your spouse is saying, might save your marriage.” Probably some good advice there!

How we get better at anti-racism education is not simple.  What is useful about Anthony’s message is that he just encourages us all to enter the conversation.   Saying nothing is the wrong thing because when you say nothing you are actually saying something.  Locally I know there are a number of other helpful educators.  I appreciated the blog post by Abbotsford Superintendent Dr. Kevin Godden this past June (HERE) on the topic.  We spent one of our professional days focused on the topic of anti-racism, and we definitely have work to do.  Like with other issues of social justice, including the climate crisis, our students are clear they want us to do more.

Thanks to Anthony for helping us all enter the conversation and provoking us.  Like with many Opening Day speakers of the past I assume his messages will give energy to much of our work this year and beyond.

As a follow-up, over the last couple days Anthony posted an exceptionally powerful video on Instagram (HERE)  where he says, “I was wrong” about  some of his views on race.  The five minute video is powerful in the message around race but also so useful for all of us to be reminded that we can read more, learn more and think differently.  And there is real power when we can say we used to think X, but we were wrong and now we think Y.

Happy September!

There is a lot going on this fall in schools and I have no shortage of ideas to explore related to COVID and schooling, but as we head back to school I wanted to use my post this week to share my own learning plan as I also head back to school via Zoom at the University of Kansas. Hopefully later this fall I will complete my comprehensive exam and move to doctoral candidacy (regular visitors to my blog will see I have updated various tabs on my homepage with current content in preparation for my portfolio presentation).

The question that I am pursuing for my dissertation is really a simple one, just what occupies the time of British Columbia public school superintendents? It is a question that has interested me for a long time. I am entering my second decade as superintendent. And while I have a growth plan, receive regular feedback from the Board of Education, and have a job description that is covered by Board policy, the job does seem to be a bit what one makes of it. I followed two very successful longtime superintendents in West Vancouver, and all three of us have done the job very differently. In speaking with colleagues around British Columbia, it appears there are multiple ways to do the job well. I often hear stories of others describing the job, and while some parts sound familiar, others are inconsistent with how I spend my time. There must be some commonality and I am interested in just what is consistent among the 60 of us who hold this position in our province.  From spending time with our Board, to time in schools, to work in the community – just what is common?

And I think there is a wider interest in understanding what BC School Superintendents do. As my research has confirmed, we have one of the highest performing jurisdictions in the world and district leadership plays an important role in school success. And in our context, superintendents are hired by individuals boards who do so with complete autonomy. Understanding the similarities and differences in the work, helps to add to the story of learning success in British Columbia.  

And I like to think many others will be interested in this study. I am sure that I am not the only one of us in BC who wonders how their work compares to the work of their colleagues. Unpacking the impact of the superintendent’s gender, experience, and district size on the way he or she spends time will also be interesting. And it is a position with a high level of turnover (although not as much as many US areas), so for Boards who are responsible for hiring and educators who may aspire to the position better being able to articulate the daily activities of the superintendent will be useful.

I am basing my study on a 2011 study that asked a similar question in Virginia.  I will be surveying my 59 BC colleagues and following up with interviews.  Hopefully they will see the value and be able to carve out the time to assist.  I do think the information will be valuable for all of us.

I often get asked my I would go back to school.  There is no requirement for superintendents in BC to have a doctorate.  Hopefully you don’t think less of me if I tell you one of the reasons is so that I can be part of a re-creation of this iconic movie scene.  Have a great year everyone!

This has definitely been a different kind of year.  Here is a video of my message to the grads of 2020 with the script below.  Congratulations again to all our graduates!

It is my pleasure to bring congratulatory greetings to our graduating class of 2020. 

If I were giving this speech in February, I would have expected great cheers for being the Superintendent who gave you 2 snow days in your grade 12 year!  Of course, there can be too much of a good thing, and I am sorry that the final three months of this thirteen-year journey were not in school with your friends and your teachers.

I know Mr. Rauh, Mr. Anderson, Ms. Tanfara, and the staff at West Vancouver wish the same.  I am glad we are all virtually here together to share this occasion.

Like everyone else in our province, under the guidance of Dr. Henry, you have totally nailed this social distancing thing and here we are to celebrate the full 13 years of experiences.

You are graduating at an anxious time in our world, but also at a very exciting time.  You can feel the social change that is sweeping British Columbia, Canada, and the World, and it is being led by the young.

I have seen this in the last few years as you led the changes around sexual orientation and gender identity – you told us it was ridiculous that adults were debating about bathrooms, you told us you wanted to learn more about Indigenous history particularly the Squamish Nation, and then this past fall you joined millions of students across the world to make the case for prioritizing the health of our planet, and just in the last few weeks, many of you have reached out to me directly and told me that Black Lives Matter and we all need to do a better job of anti-racism education.  I hear you.  We all hear you.  And I am excited to be part of a world which you, the graduates of 2020 will help shape and lead.  You will be the ones to protect our planet and change our world. 

In this grad class we have graduates about to embark on post-secondary careers across Canada, North America, and the world. 

No pressure – but West Vancouver graduates are difference makers.  Whether it is in government, the social sector or with our highest performing companies, one rarely has to look far to find West Vancouver grads.  And me, your teachers, and really all of all us are counting on you – to be unwaveringly committed to a strong public education system – the system that has served us all well and is the answer to the question about how we build a better world.

I know students that you and your parents have options – so thank you for your faith, trust and commitment to public education in West Vancouver.

While many often talk about how slowly education shifts, and how your schooling largely resembles that of your parents – you are leaving a very different system than you entered.  You leave a school and a school system that is digitally rich, that is focused on allowing you to follow your passions, a school system that embraces problem solving and student ownership. 

At its core, our schools, your experiences, have been rooted in the connections you have made with fellow students and teachers.  We are blessed to have an amazing teaching force.  Of course, they have outstanding training and always looking to improve their teaching – I am sure very few had ever had a Google Hangout before April.  Our teachers see teaching as a way of life – far more than a job.  You know that from the teams they coach, to the productions they plan to the extra help they give you with homework or helping you navigate life.

And it is their relationships with you and your relationships with each other than are defining of the high school experience.  It is these that will endure and be the stories you tell years from now – about people and events.  The content of courses will fade but how you felt will stay with you.

While personalization and specialization have their place, we have tried to offer a well-rounded education – so do not let this go.  Yes English, socials, science and math matter.  But just as much do drama, music, art, and athletics.  Aristotle was right when he said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

I know we have graduates who will forever talk about their food class with Ms. Seo, their IB discussions with Mr. Capier, or playing volleyball for Mrs. Finch.  Hold these memories tightly.

It is a unique bond you have.  The grads of the COVID year. 

Decades from now, you will tell stories unlike those of any graduates before or likely after.  Embrace this.  Graduating is a big achievement under any circumstances but that is particularly true this year.

It is an amazing honour I have to be Superintendent of this school district – a jurisdiction like no other in our country. My thanks to your parents for their support, to your teachers for their dedication and to you for enriching our school and community.

All the best for a wonderful graduation.

Go and chart our path forward.

Stay safe.

Thank You. 

I have used this space a number of times over the last decade to think out loud about youth sports.  And I can reaffirm my bias upfront that sports in our schools and our community and the values they largely promote are important, and perhaps more significant than ever.

And now I see the opportunity, that the shutdown of the last three months could be the catalyst of something different to emerge.  Especially as the pandemic has reshaped the economy, ideas around travel and issues of safety – there are barriers and opportunities for sports in all of these.

There is a definite hope for sports to re-emerge soon.  In British Columbia Via Sport released it Return to Sport guidelines this past week.   In our rush to return to normal, there is an opportunity to consider if normal is really what we want.  Of course this is a conversation happening across society as items that have been closed begin to re-open.

So how might school and community youth sports come back different (and yes many of these are related)?

Cheaper

Youth sports have too often become games for the rich in recent years.  The professionalization of childhood sports has left many behind. So many families will emerge from the pandemic with less money to spend on activities for their kids.  There is an opportunity for cheaper options to emerge and be successful.  Linked to other changes like less travel and more volunteerism, and a refocus on play, growth and development and a lessening of competition, sports could be cheaper.  And likely sports requiring less equipment costs, and without heavy facility rentals (which may be more expensive because of additional cleaning costs) will be more popular.   I think sports like ultimate, track and field, soccer and baseball all might fall into this category.

More Local

We are all getting used to traveling less.  And until there is a COVID vaccine, it definitely seems like some travel restrictions will be in place.  In recent years we have become obsessed with traveling long distances for competition.  It does not seem like 4 or 5 kids from different families will be sharing hotel room anytime soon.   Rather than the top players being siphoned off to play on teams in other communities, structures could be built for intra-club and other localized competitions and these would have value and be important.  Leagues would be refocused on individual communities and playing through this would be culminating events rather than larger events with travel.

New Role for Parents

One of the first things I hear from coaches about the pandemic is that if parents are not allowed to watch – that might be a good thing.  Too often youth sports have not been about young people competing with other young people, but about parents competing with other parents through their kids.  If in the short-term youth sports become drop-off activities, parents could either 1) commit to be volunteers and assist with the program or 2) treat this as found time – workout, read a book, enjoy their own pursuits.  The lack of parents in attendance could really refocus youth sports.  We just might have more teenagers willing to be officials knowing there wouldn’t be anyone there to yell at them.

Less Game Focused

Even though we know better, far too many teams have more games than practices.  This will change as we have smaller, more localized leagues.  As we start back up with sports the focus will be on practices and no competition.  This will likely be a reset for many sports.  The practice to game ratio will be adjusted so there are far more practices to competition dates.   It will still be competitive but it will be done within an individual club set-up.

Volunteer Driven

When sports become local, we will hopefully see the return of the volunteer coach.  The volunteer coach has gone missing in recent years.  The professionalization of youth sports has happened alongside the reduction of volunteer coaches.  It is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario.  As youth coaches became paid coaches, the volunteer coaches began to disappear.  Of course, it could be argued that the volunteer coach disappeared so we moved to a paid coach model.  In cheaper, more local models hopefully the volunteer coach returns – the parent or other community member who is supported by local sports organizations to improve his / her skills and gives back through coaching.

Different Sports and Modified Sports

Some messages we keep hearing are more outdoor activities, smaller groups and less physical contact.  As Dr. Bonnie Henry has said “fewer faces, big spaces.” I am not sure what the complete list of sports are that will thrive but it is definitely different from many of the ones we have grown up with.  Might we see more beach volleyball and 3×3 basketball (which are both outdoor sports) than their more well known traditional indoor counterparts?  We may see sports with different rules that reduce physical contact.  It seems as though some of the more high profile sports will be slow to return as they are based on contact and often happen inside.

Sports meeting the interest of all youth

The time off has hopefully allowed us to reflect on purpose.  How can we make sports more inclusive of all youth?  It is a small example, but out of necessity we held a virtual track and field meet last week in West Vancouver Schools.  Every student could do all five events and be part of it – dozens of them (and their parents) shared these stories on social media.  Nobody got cut or not selected, everyone participated, there was something to celebrate for each student and it promoted health and fitness.  We need more of this.  We have an opportunity to look at school and community sports and ask questions about purpose and ensure that we really are serving our communities.

Conclusions

It would be a missed opportunity if we just raced to return youth sports to as they were before the pandemic.  And anywhere I wrote youth sports – you could really replace it with school sports.  Many of the same issues and opportunities exist.  We know sports are powerful for young people and so important at developing life skills but we also know our system we had was fine but not great.

There is a chance now to do better.