I Used to Blame Parents But Now I Have Kids is the title of the recent Ignite talk I gave as part of the Ignite Your Passions event held in conjunction with a Canadian Education Association conference. Unlike previous talks, we were restricted by format this time – all using the “I used to ____________ But Now I __________ ” format. At the bottom of this post I have included the slides I used.

Here is some of my thinking.  It is best to read with a bit of the tongue-in-cheek tone intended with the understanding it was a talk I gave in a bar (always one of the interesting parts of doing an Ignite talk):

I would often hear early in my career from my more seasoned colleagues, “if you don’t have kids you don’t understand.”  I would always think that I was different.  I was closer in age to my students than their parents, I was connected to the students and I figured I probably understood them better than their parents.  I had no idea what I didn’t know and I lived largely in a black and white world.

Then, I had kids, and it really changed my thinking.  I remember thinking pre-kids, “Really, you can’t find 15 minutes a night to read with your children?”  I would wonder who these parents were, were they really that bad or did they just not care.  Well I learned that it sounds easy, but sometimes finding 15 minutes at home is impossible and if you do find 15 minutes to spend as a family, maybe reading should not always be the first priority.

I was also one of those teachers who was outraged when parents took their kids out of school for a day to go on a family trip.  Did they not respect what we did in school?  Did they not understand what we did was important?  Well, I have now been one of those parents.  My vacation-time does not always align with the vacation time where my kids go to school.  And yes, I have taken my kids, while not frequently, out of school so we could do something as a family.  It was not an indictment of what the school was doing, I just know that sometimes there are experiences you want to have as a family that are almost impossible to limit to times when all the holiday stars align for all members of the family.

Having kids also made me better recognize the hope, pride, joy and dreams that parents have in their kids.  All parents I know hope their kids will be a little smarter, kinder, more athletic and all-around slightly better person than they are.  I know that is something I want for my kids.  As the quote goes, parents are sending us the best kids they have.  Parents are not adversaries (at times I thought that early in my career), they are allies.  They are looking for insight advice and dialogue.

I get the amazing balancing act that is family – with home, school and everything else in life.  And if having children has solidified my views on any one topic in education it is my negative views on homework, particularly in the early grades.  There are few things worse than being a parent trying to help coordinate a group project with your son or daughter that will soak up the entire weekend.  And don’t get me started on homework over holiday breaks.

All of my black and white views from my early 20’s are really now very grey.

This is not a rant that if you don’t have kids you can’t be a good teacher.  Some of the most spectacular teachers I know don’t have children.  What is true is that for me, many people, events and experiences have transformed my practice, none more than having kids.

world-teacherSo, just how many of your teachers from grade school can you name?

I was struck by a story shared by Dean Shareski on Opening Day about The Amazing Miss A and Why We Should Care About Her.  The study comes from McGill Faculty of Education, Professor Eigil Pedersen.  The study initially looked at how students who had Miss A for grade 1 showed an increase in IQ scores between grades 3 and 6 while those in other classes were stable.  There was nothing unique about Miss A’s class but something was going on.  Students were again studied years later and given an “adult status” score  including factors such as the highest grade of high school completed, the type of housing they occupied, their personal appearance and their occupational status.  And again it was those in Miss A’s class that stood out.

And what else was true, every single pupil of Miss A’s could remember her as their grade 1 teacher.  So what was it about the magical Miss A?

lt was reported that she never lost her temper or resorted to physical restraint, and showed obvious affection for the children. She generated many lessons on the importance of schooling and why students should stick to it. She gave extra hours to pupils who were slow learners. She believed every pupil could learn. That surely explains the one characteristic that emerged as a steady pattern, illustrated best by the comment of one respondent, “it did not matter what background or abilities the beginning pupil had there was no way that the pupil was not going to read by the end of grade one.”

The entire story is worth reading and a good reminder that we need to be careful to buy into simple explanations of socio-economic conditions as being the sole determiner of students’ success.  It also is an excellent reminder of what are truly the characteristics of a great teacher.

The story got me thinking, when I look at my K-12 school years – how many of my teachers could I name?  I actually did pretty well and have really nice things to say about virtually all of them.  So, on this World Teachers’ Day I would like to thank those who I remember:

K – Mrs. Groening

Grade 1 – Can’t remember name and don’t have good memories

Grade 2 – Mrs. Caffrey  (Read all about her)

Grade 3 – Mrs. Caffery

Grade 4 – Mrs. Caffrey

Grade 5 – Mr. Nakanishi

Grade 6 – Mr. Whitehead

Grade 7 – Mr. Taylor

Grade 8 – Mrs. MacDonalnd (Science), Ms. Bourne (English), Mrs. White (Social Studies), Mr. Inglis (Math), Mr. Paquet (PE and French), Mr. Hobson (Band), Mrs. Hicks (Food and Clothing) 8 out of 8

Grade 9 – Mr. Carroll (Science) Ms. Ball (English), Mr. Bryan (Social Studies), Mr. Loader (Math and Computer Science), Mr Milholm (PE), Mr. Hobson (Band) 7 out of 8

Grade 10 – Mr. Carroll (Science),Ms. Bourne (English), Mr. Bryan (Social Studies), Ms. Blaschuk (Math), Mr. Hirayama (PE), Mr. Hobson (Band and Consumer Ed) 7 out of 8

Grade 11 – Ms. Carey (English), Mr. Brown (Social Studies), Mr. Turnbull (Math), Mr. Gresko (Biology), Ms. Hurley (Computer Science), Mr. Spearman (Law) 6 out of 8

Grade 12 – Ms. Carey (English), Mr. Brown (Western Civ and Literature), Mr. Commons (History), Mr. Topping (Geogrpahy), Mr. McCallum (French) 6 out of 7

It is an interesting exercise.  I have strong memories of almost all the teachers I remember and they are almost exclusively not about what I learned, but how their class made me feel.

To all my teachers, and those in the profession past and present – Happy World Teachers’ Day.

Doing Good Locally


The world of charity giving and service learning is ever-changing in schools. In the schools and districts I have worked in, the pendulum has swung back and forth between localized, very school-centric initiatives and global initiatives as part of a massive network of young people around the world.

My first memories of giving in schools is tied to UNICEF boxes at Halloween. The program, which was discontinued in Canada a decade ago, had children collect coins along with candy when they went out for Halloween.  In today’s schools it is hard to find young people not familiar with WE Day, We Charity (formerly Free the Children) and their related entities.  It has been an incredible model to watch grow.  It has combined star power, amazing energy and a huge infrastructure and organization, to help engage young people in service learning and charity.

While my first memories are of the orange UNICEF boxes, and the WE opportunities are dominant in many schools, there have forever been and continue to be amazing smaller organizations doing thoughtful work, that are worth celebrating.  I want to tell you about one of them – Freekicks.

It is a professional development day in West Vancouver and the local soccer fields are humming.  When I get there the rain is coming down pretty good, but nobody really notices.  The fields are full of elementary aged boys and girls playing soccer.  The players have been assigned to represent a variety of nations for the day – from Canada to Cameroon.

spirit-of-togetherness-tournament playing

The teams are made up from a cross-section of students from schools – the tournament features students from across West Vancouver, as well as from a number of inner-city schools in Vancouver.  Of course, you would never know as all the students are wearing the same new uniforms.  In talking with founder Adam Aziz and other organizers, I learn some of the students who came today had never been over the Lions Gate Bridge.  Soccer is a vehicle to connect students – it is the “Spirit of Togetherness” that is being celebrated.  There is no class system here, everyone has the same uniforms, the same pancake breakfast, the same lunches and the group is united around sport.  Local businesses have come together to support the event, high school students were volunteering as coaches and officials, and already plans are in the works to make it bigger next year.  What a great way to use the common language of soccer to bring young people together as teammates who may not normally ever connect – and realize just how much they have in common.

This wasn’t my first experience with Freekicks.  I  learned of them a couple years ago when our then-principal, Scott Wallace, invited me to visit Gleneagles Elementary School.  And what I saw was pretty amazing:

Two inspired soccer players Lucas & Trevor Robertson started their own Freekicks Academy in their local community. They were inspired by what Freekicks had achieved and wanted to be a part of the team. Their vision is to help other kids play soccer.  The boys started in the backyard of their home, they set-up drills, exercises and created activities and sessions for the local players in their neighborhood. They have raised over $850 to date through raffles and donations to support children around the world. (Source)

We need organizations like UNICEF, the United Way, WE, and others who tackle changes on a large scale across our communities and around the world.  And we also need to celebrate all of the organizations like Freekicks and the power that one person, or a group of people with a big idea can make a positive dent in our world.

We need to foster these opportunities – built often around individual passions and a commitment to make change.  As Freekicks shows, and as we see all the time, Margaret Mead is continually proven correct, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”



This post is a copy of a column that is published in the most recent edition (available here) of Education Discovered Magazine.

A short decade ago, schools were banning YouTube videos and forbidding students from bringing cellphones to class. Teachers were primarily viewed as content providers. Students were tested on how well they knew their facts.

Today there are movements under way to remove standardized testing. Schools are embracing bring-your-own-device policies. The Internet is a standard classroom tool and teachers are focused more on teaching kids how to learn, not what.

Change is happening right under our noses. We’re in the midst of it every day as we move to modernize the Canadian education system, improve our classrooms, and nurture the next generation of learners. But are we actually transforming education? Will we witness a disruptive moment similar to Uber in the taxi industry or Netflix in the movie rental business?

I’m not so sure. I’m not even sure we should be chasing it.

There’s something comforting about the notion of schools as community gathering places where we meet face-to-face and make strong personal connections that have always been deeply rooted in education. Schools, by their very nature, will always need to balance tradition and new ways of thinking. Our transformation has to be slower because we have to be sure we’re bringing everybody along with us: administrators, teachers, students and parents alike.

One way to facilitate change is to model the system we are trying to create. I blog because I know it’s hard to do. It’s difficult to find time and you need to be brave enough to leave your innermost thoughts out there for scrutiny.

Students face the same challenges when we ask them to create digital portfolios; teachers when we expect them to develop class websites or start sending tweets. It’s easier to say we need to change things in the classroom if we’re also making changes ourselves.

Ask yourself if your school board is modelling the same modern experience you wish to see portrayed in your schools. Is the business office side collaborating with the education side? Have you introduced technology like Skype to conduct meetings? Are you still working in silos?

At West Vancouver Schools, we make a point of integrating business and education. When we hold a learning showcase, our Human Resources Director, Facilities Director and Secretary Treasurer are just as engaged as our Directors of Instruction, and they believe they should be. Our office spaces have shifted to an open concept model with furniture that facilitates sharing.

Sometimes there’s this belief out there that educators are not onside with change. I would argue it’s the exact opposite: teachers get into teaching to excite kids about learning and help them connect that learning to life outside the school building. What better time to be doing that than right here, right now?

Our culture of learning in Canada is constantly shifting. Continue to support teachers, encourage them to follow their passions and step outside of their comfort zones. Most importantly, foster change by being willing to change yourself.




Dean Shareski posed an interesting challenge last week. Through his blog post on his own watershed moments of learning, he asked those in his network to do the same.

At first, this seemed like a really simple task – like naming your favourite movie (Shawshank Redemption) or the best concert you have seen (Simon and Garfunkel) or your go-to beverage at Booster Juice (Ripped Berry). I read his post a couple times, and tried to quickly come up with a response, but it was not so easy.  Watershed is such an interesting and challenging idea.  While Dean gave us the permission to alter the categories, I will try to use the same ones he used:  PD Event or Conference, speaker or presentation, book, tool, and person.

PD / Conference

I am fortunate, especially in my current role, I get to attend many pretty interesting events.  In recent years I have moved away from attending the large conferences, particularly those built around keynote speakers presenting to hundreds of conference delegates.  More recently various formats from TEDx, to EdCamp to Ignite have more held my interest.  I have also tried to participate in more experiences that are about doing things than being told things.  That said, it was a large conference that stands out as a watershed moment for me. For me it was the November Learning Conference in the summer of 2005.  The event helped me understand the digital work was not about giving people computers, it was about ownership of learning.  I heard from speakers who I would later regularly read and reference like Alan November and Will Richardson.  And as is often the case, it was the conversations with those I attended the event with, that helped make it particularly powerful.  I was there with Coquitlam Assistant Superintendents Maureen Dockendorf and Julie Pearce, along with Director of Technology Brian Kuhn and Coquitlam Teachers Association President Kathleen Thomson.  I left the event inspired about what was happening in the larger education community and excited that we were and could continue to be doing it in our own community.


I know the typical answer would be a presentation that I saw live.  For me it is Karl Fisch’s presentation, Did You Know?  I have written about this before describing it as My Aha Moment.  The presentation was powerful, but it really changed how I thought about presentations in a networked world.  As I previously wrote:

That experience was my “Aha” moment.  I learned about the power of a network and also learned that it is not only the smart people you know, but the smart people they know that can help you.  I also learned about the new power we all have to influence conversation.  Previous to this experience in networking, there would have been no way I would have ever seen a PowerPoint created for an opening day presentation in a high school in Colorado.  Now, just days after it was presented, I was remixing it and sharing it with my staff, and hundreds of others were sharing it around the world.  I was also reminded of the generosity of our profession — we are all sharing and learning together with a common purpose around student learning.

It is interesting to look back on this, now 10 years later, and see how far we have come (or not).


The World is Flat from Thomas Friedman gave me the larger context I was looking for concerning the changes we were and are talking about in education.  The history teacher in me really loved the book and it was one we used as a study group book with staff.  There was an urgency that the books created, doing nothing different was simply not an option.  The runner-up would be Dennis Littky’s  The Big Picture which was a great read on rethinking high school (and showing it can be done).


I waffled on this one a bit.  It definitely could be the blog.  My blog has given me a global network to share ideas.  It also could have been Twitter.  I was in the community during the early “let me tell you what I had for lunch” stage, continued through the deep engagement era, and am now still participating in the “can’t it be like it used to be” times.  And it could have been Delicious – my first step into the social web through sharing bookmarks.   In the end I am landing on a gizmo and that gizmo is my iPhone.  It has truly changed how I can work.  With some credit to some earlier smartphones I had, it was the iPhone that really unchained me from my desk.  There is very little I need to do that I can’t do during a day from my phone, making it possible for me to define work differently.  Work is no longer about a place.  And yes, simply a computer a computer does some of this, but the convenience of all of this in your pocket really changes things, at least it has for me.


What a challenging question.  When I use the term watershed moments, it is not really the same as other terms I use for people like mentors, trusted colleagues or inspirations.  I have written at various points about family members, former teachers, and colleagues that have been profoundly influential on me.  When I think of people and watershed moments of learning, I think of people who take me from “I used to think X” and “Now I think Y”. So for me it is my former Coquitlam and West Vancouver colleague Gary Kern.  Gary has always pushed me in my thinking to a place of discomfort.  And that is a good thing.  In Coquitlam, he helped me solidify my views around the work we were trying to do at Riverside Secondary and in West Vancouver he was the architect of many of the structures we continue to benefit from today, ones that were well ahead of the pack – from giving students their own digital spaces, to providing staff with a choice of devices to systematizing bring your own device structures in our schools.  He was always the one sharing the article about “where to next” as soon as we thought “we are good”.

In looking at my answers it is interesting that many of the events that quickly surfaced as watershed moments for me, came fairly close together for me.  They were largely during my school administration time in Coquitlam – in the window between 2001-2007. I wonder if there was something unique about that time with the explosion of digital changes, or maybe I was at a point in my career I was ready to move beyond doubling-down on what used to be and ready to look to what could be.  Perhaps I just need distance to best identify these moments and my list ten years from now would include events and people from my time in West Vancouver.

I look forward to others keeping this conversation going in the comments or in their own blog posts and sharing their watershed moments of learning.

Some Hip Advice


It was a uniquely Canadian event.  More than one-third of our country gathered in front of screens across Canada on Saturday, August 20th to watch The Tragically Hip perform their final concert in Kingston, Ontario.  In mid-July I joined a hockey arena full of fans for an event, as they began their tour across Canada, that was far more than just a band playing a concert.  For my non-Canadian readers, it is hard to fully give context to the tour and the culminating concert, here is one of many tweets from the final night that attempted to share some perspective:

Hip tweet


Of course dozens of newspaper columnists, bloggers and others have tried to give some context to what has happened this summer.  Whether it is drawing connections to Terry Fox, or the power of our uniquely Canadian identity, much has been said.

I tend to see events like this differently, through my education window.  So, in the afterglow of the summer the Tragically Hip engaged the country, just what are my takeaways, lessons and reminders for our schools and learning.  Some good ones, I think, as we start a new year.

We love to gather as a community.  While the final concert was broadcast on television, radio and across the internet, people tended to gather together to watch it rather than on their own.  Whether it was at community centres, parks, or neighbourhood parties, people wanted to have the shared experience of watching the concert together.  Just as while learning can more and more be something done online and alone, the great power of school is that they are gathering places in our community.

Canadian History is Cool and Worth Learning.  As a Social Studies teacher, of course I am a little biased.  I have always thought this.  I often find that students struggle to see Canadian history with the same “cool” factor as US or European history.  And those of us who have taught Canadian history may be somewhat to blame.  The Tragically Hip regularly sing about Canada and its history with songs like Nautical Disaster (war) to Wheat Kings (crime and punishment) to Fireworks (hockey and the Cold War).  Fans probably did not realize they were getting regular history lessons.  You can find the stories behind all the Hip songs on  A Museum After Dark:  The Myth and Mystery of the Tragically Hip.

We have an obligation to be sure our children learn the history of First Nations people in Canada we didn’t learn in school.  Lead singer Gord Downie spoke directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the final concert saying:

We’re in good hands, folks, real good hands. He cares about the people way up North, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore, trained our entire lives to hear not a word of what’s going on up there. And what’s going on up there ain’t good. It’s maybe worse than it’s ever been, so it’s not on the improve. (But) we’re going to get it fixed and we got the guy to do it, to start, to help.

This work we take exceptionally seriously in our schools.  Even within the last five years there have been massive changes to the way we work with local First Nations and how we teach history in schools.  Many of us are invested in the work that has come from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and continuing to move this forward.  So Downie’s challenge to the Prime Minister is the same challenge that we are taking on in schools.

Music connects people.  There is an amazing power of music to bring people together.  It was interesting to see the concert on right in the middle of the final weekend of the Summer Olympics.  If there are two things that connect people together across geography, culture and language like no other, I think they are music and athletics. This video from the CBC nicely ties together the Olympics and the Tragically Hip.  And again, it is just a nice reminder for us in schools that yes reading, writing, math and a host of other academic pursuits matter, but so does music.  Music brings communities together and we need music in schools to help connect us.

No dress rehearsal.  There are a lot of lyrics one can take from the Tragically Hip to reinforce life lessons.  The final song they played at their Kingston concert was Ahead by a Century.  And to borrow from the song “No dress rehearsal, this is our life”.   Of course given Downie’s medical diagnosis, it was particularly powerful.  And again for schools a reminder that grade 1 is not a preparation for grade 2, and grade 7 is not a preparation for high school, nor is high school a preparation for university.  Grade 1 is grade 1.  We need not live in a continual state of dress rehearsal.

Uniquely Canadian.   In our house the final concert opened up a great conversation about the CBC.  Why do we have it?  Why didn’t they play any commercials?  Who owns it?  Does the United States have something like the CBC?  It was a reminder of some uniquely Canadian institutions that we need to explain, and understand if we want them to be preserved.  And of course that was just one example.  The online response from inside and outside Canada was that the “event” was something that would unlikely happen elsewhere – which opens up a series of good questions about what is unique about Canada and being Canadian.

I am far from an expert on the Tragically Hip.  Including the show in Vancouver, I have now seen them perform live once.  I did love to be part of something bigger than me.  It is something I think we all thirst for – and something we try to do in schools each day, for us and for our students.  The Hip and their tour across Canada helped remind me of some of the core principles of what we are trying to do in school.

ComputerVSPaper-640x229I have an anti-technology bias.

There I said it.  I am working on it.

This is probably a strange statement to see coming from me.  I have hundreds of blog posts that might suggest just the opposite.  I have been a regular cheerleader for the power of digital tools in the classroom.  I have hundreds of emails coming and going each day and get jittery when my iPhone battery falls to 20%.

Maybe it is age, maybe it is complacency, or maybe it is easier to just fit in with the crowd – but too often recently I have taken a jaded, and sometimes cynical view of technology, and that needs to change.

My friend and colleague Dean Shareski made a great presentation early in the summer at a conference hosted by the BC Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association where he argued that sometimes actually it is about the technology.  A regular line in most of my talks over the last few years, and one that gets repeated over and over again by many others is “it is not about the technology”.  And Dean is right, it is kind of about the technology sometimes.  And just like I know I am about to be mightily disrespected when someone starts a sentence with “No disrespect intended” many of the awesome examples shared after someone says, “it is not about the technology” really wouldn’t happen without the technology.

The distinction being made is that the goal is the learning and the technology is there to support the learning.  It is an argument that Michael Fullan has been making for a number of years focused on the right and wrong system drivers.  I think we can let people off the hook when we too casually say “it is not about the technology” – because sometimes it is about the technology.  Whether it is new portfolios, connecting with students across the world or getting feedback from a public audience, to some degree, it is about the technology.

Another interesting point that Dean made was that all the talk about technology disrupting communities – the same could be said for books and newspapers in previous generations.  With books and newspapers, people no longer had to connect face-to-face to receive information.  There are many photos like this one circulating on the internet that we romanticize as the good ol’ days:


While at the same time when we see a family like this, we shake our heads and wonder why they can’t just be “present” with each other:

Family using cell phones at home. Children, parents. Technology.

And if Dean hadn’t done enough to make me come to grips with my growing anti-technology bias Pokémon Go came along and I felt like an old man wanting to yell at the neighbourhood kids to get off his lawn and stop making so much noise.  I went out for a walk at 10 PM and the community was full of mostly young people searching for Pokémon.  I was shaking my head – great –  another example of kids wasting time on their phones.  It took me until the following day to actually realize how awesome this was.  Young people were out walking, exploring, connecting and having fun.  If they had clipped a treasure map out of the local newspaper I would have thought it was awesome.  But there was my bias on display.

I have been reading a lot from Peter Diamandis, Clay Shirky and others lately to challenge my complacency.  Their thinking have helped me get back on course.  I am an unapologetic believer that the future is exciting, and that technology plays an important role in opening up amazing opportunities for our schools and beyond.  And so I will spend a little less time shaking my head at those on their Smart Phones, or playing the latest online game.

It is easy to slip into a “glass is half empty” mindset.

I know, everything in moderation – but sometimes it is about the technology and there is a lot to be excited about.