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Play The Trap

When I get asked about my advice for June, I share a hockey metaphor – “Dump the puck in deep and play the trap.”

June is a great time in schools.  It is full of celebrations.  There are track meets, music concerts, year-end field trips, awards ceremonies, final exams, graduation ceremonies and more.  And the energy, oh the energy!

So what is with the hockey metaphor?

For non-hockey people, it is probably first worth explaining what it means to play the trap.  Playing the trap became synonymous with boring hockey particularly in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.  A team, often to protect a lead (but sometimes for the entire game), would line up their players in-between the blue lines, making it very difficult for the other team to generate any offense.  Rather than playing a free-flowing game, they would dump the puck in the offensive zone and often only send one offensive player in to chase the puck.  It was seen as highly successful, so successful (and boring) that rules have been changed to try to stop teams from using the strategy.

And what does this have to do with schools in June?

June is great in so many ways in schools!  In addition to the list above, it is also incredibly stressful, a time when people are all tired – late night followed by early mornings at school, when high stakes exams are being written, when plans for summer and the fall are being finalized, and when everyone is just a bit on edge.  To be blunt, in June I find students, staff and parents say and do things they wouldn’t do at other times of the year.  Everyone is looking towards the finish line.

I have written before about the good times in the school year to think about changes in school.  My June advice is that this is not the time to be aggressive with new ideas, changes or a time people really want you to help them think differently.  When a situation looks to be heating up, I would encourage everyone to “dump the puck in deep and play the trap.”  Maybe wait at least a day to respond to “that” email, or suggest a meeting in early July.  I find everyone has a completely different disposition even a week after school is out.

June is crazy.  Crazy good.  But crazy.

And sometimes the best offense, is not being more aggressive, but playing a good, disciplined defense.

So take some advice from Lou Lamoriello and his New Jersey Devils of a couple of decades ago, and take a defensive strategy – it just might help you win a championship!

 

 

A friend recently shared this article from Jake Trotter writing about the University of Texas football program.

The story focuses on Head Coach Tom Herman – a highly regarded coach who had great success at the University of Houston but then struggled in his first season at the University of Texas.  After an embarrassing opening loss to Maryland to start the season the coaching staff  “lasered in even more on implementing their culture, while easing their attention on the X’s and O’s. Getting the team to play hard trumped expanding the playbook.”

So what does an article about college football have to do with schools?

Well, actually a lot.  This approach by Herman is just what we are often talking about in our schools.  We want classes to be about getting to know and understand children, not just about delivering curriculum.  We need schools to be human enterprises that have guidelines and expectations and focused not on results in the traditional sense of tests scores, but more broadly on human capital.  And we want school districts that focus on building culture so great things can happen, not just trying to make great things happen immediately – potentially with long-term consequences.

I really liked Herman’s notation that “there’s a big difference between being compliant and committed.”  This is so true in our system.  Whether it is my work with our school principals, our school principals work with our teachers or our teachers work with our students, we want people to buy-in to being part of something bigger, and not just do the minimum to feel they have completed a task. Of these three challenges, the greatest is in the classroom.  I get to hire our principals, and we also get to hire our teachers – so we can select ones with a mindset aligned to our culture.  In our classrooms, we work with all our students – there is no selecting ones who might “fit” better than others.   The challenge of commitment over compliance is one I see teachers take on everyday.

So as we allow students greater choice in what they learn and how they show their learning, as we give teachers the autonomy to make the curriculum come alive in a variety of ways, and as we allow schools to each have their own signature – and not just be school franchises – we look for the culture that allows commitment to flourish.

Like the state of the University of Texas Football Program, this quest is imperfect in our schools.  I look back over the last week at some decisions that I know people are complying with, and not necessarily committed to.  But this is the goal – a culture of commitment at all levels in our school system.

Interest in the education system in British Columbia and Canada generally seems to be at an all time high. Likely, in part driven by high PISA (International testing) results, edu-tourism is flourishing and the world is very curious about what is going on in Canada.  This week I am giving a talk to an audience of largely American Superintendents, which has forced me to try to crystallize exactly what it is in our part of the world that is so interesting.

When we look at structures, our Canadian system has a lot in common with our US counterparts.  We have locally elected Boards of Education throughout most of the country, we have local accountability, a mix of involvement of different levels of government, generally high community engagement in education and strong teacher associations.  We lack the Federal involvement in education present in the United States and seemingly most places in the world, and generally don’t have the ability to raise any funding locally for the school system.   Throughout North America you can find quite a bit in common with how we organize education.

Our system seems to strive for this highly sought after combination of strong equity and high quality.  We seem to have dismissed the idea that one needs to either have one or the other and instead we have committed ourselves to both.  And we also seem to have this unwavering belief that no matter how “good” our system is, we need to continue to change, grow and get better.  There is a sense that we can always improve.   Trying to tightly describe the BC or Canadian uniqueness is a challenge, but I see these as some of the areas that stand out:

We Are Doing What We Always Say We Should Do

The entire BC curriculum has been redesigned.  The prescriptive nature of the curriculum has been reduced with a greater focus on big ideas and the allowance of flexibility and choice in learning for teachers and students.  Interdisciplinary learning has been embraced allowing the teacher a greater opportunity to be creative and innovative in the design of their learning experiences.  Core competencies are the foundation of the curriculum with a focus on communication, thinking and personal and social competency.  Now these areas that we have always said are important, but often in the background have been pushed to the foreground.  And finally, the curriculum has been Indiginized and a focus on the First Peoples Principles of Learning has been emphasized throughout the province.

A former Superintendent colleague of mine, Mike McKay, would often say, “Will What We Know Change What We Do?” – with our system we are trying to make the answer now.

Curriculum

The shift in curriculum is as much about the how as the what.  The move to big ideas, has seen a move to more inquiry based learning.  The curriculum is seen as relevent and ever-changing.  Rather than being static as it has been in the past, it is seen now as nimble, being able to shift as the world shifts.

Assessment

BC does not have high stakes assessment.  Students in British Columbia write Foundation Skills Assessments in grades 4 and 7 in reading, writing and numeracy and then a literacy and numeracy assessment in grades 10-12.  These results are shared with students and families and inform practice but they do not appear on report cards, nor are they part of any school marks.  Teacher judgement is highly valued and they along with schools and districts design a range of assessments (more than just traditional tests) to support students. Increasingly passion projects, portfolios and capstone assignments are a large part of a student’s program

We Have Learned From Others

When I look at our system in BC now, I would describe it as a “mash-up” of what we are seeing around the world.   One can see elements of Finland, Singapore and New Zealand in our system.  International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement have also clearly been influential.  Teachers have looked locally – to schools in their district and our province, to Alberta and Ontario, to High Tech High in San Diego, and many other places and they have all influenced what we do.  BC has always prided itself on being a highly networked province and this extends around the globe, and our system reflects this.  We have taken good ideas and made them ours for our context

No Franchises

BC has this delicate balance of having a lot common with others but not sameness.  Schools and districts share some tenants but are not trying “scale” work to all be the same.  It is this idea of networks.  We are trying to connect and build networks, focusing on diffusion, not replication.

It is hard to pull the BC or Canadian story together.  I don’t think anyone can listen to someone speak about our system or visit our schools and say, we should be like them.  Just as we haven’t done that as we looked to evolve our system.  We are immensely proud of our school system, and it is wonderful to be somewhere that recognizes the world is rapidly changing, so as proud as we are of our past and present, our future needs to change to ensure we continue to have this pride.

Below are the slides I am using for this presentation this week.  It is a work in progress, so any thoughts to help make these ideas more clear are always appreciated (if you are viewing this via email you may need to go to the website to see the slides).

 

 

It is with great excitement we announce our newest school in West Vancouver –  Soak City Elementary School. We are regularly challenged to build schools that are relevant and future focused, and we are doing just that with Soak City.

At its core, it is a simple notion, we will combine an elementary school and waterpark into a single facility.  One would never have thought a hotel and a waterpark would be one complex but that is just what the Great Wolf Lodge has done with its series of resorts.  We are taking the lessons from this with our first integrated school and waterpark facility.  Soak City Elementary is the first of its kind in the world and the latest in choice schools.

The Research

We have seen a number of movements in education in recent years, from learning with computers, to personalized learning, to most recently strong efforts to get students learning beyond their classrooms and learning outside.  The next logical step from learning outside is learning in water.  Water composes more than half of the Earth, and given what we see with Global Warming, it will be even more dominant for our children.  We think students should have experiences learning in water.  The philosophy is built on the Swedish research of Lipra Loof who believes all students should have the chance to learn in H2O and that the water helps to activate unused “dark” parts of the brain.

The Facility

Soak City Elementary School will be a mix of traditional classrooms and water-based classrooms.  There will be traditional hallways connecting many of the school areas and they will be side-by-side with waterslides allowing students choice in how they travel around the school.  Ensuring that all students are challenged there will be a range of difficulty in the slides at the park, from beginner slides for our primary students to a series of more difficult and challenging slides for the intermediate learners.  Working with our partner groups we have determined the names of a number of our slides, so far we have “Brain Wash”, “Pacific Plunge” and the “West Vancouver Wedgie”.

The Curriculum

Soak City embraces the new curriculum in British Columbia.  Students will have choice in what they learn and how they learn it.  Each year students will complete 4 “dry” units and 4 “wet” units”.  All 8 units will employ an inquiry-based learning approach.    In wet units students might be taking measurements of the speed of riders on slides and then graphing these results.

Specialty Programs

West Vancouver has a long history of academy programs.  And once again we will be launching a new program to fit our new facility.  The West Vancouver High Performance Water Slide Academy will attract some of the top watersliders from around the region and beyond.  The Soak City Nerdy Dolphins will compete in the IWL (International Waterslide League) with the top competitive waterslide teams from Western Canada and the Western United States.  We hope to have our sliders competing with the top watersliders in California within 3 years.  With watersliding a potential Olympic event in 2028, we think our new school can produce future medalists.

The Staff

We are partnering with local universities to help train staff to be comfortable with teaching in water.  Just as local universities train teachers for Montessori, French Immersion or a range of other specialty programs, we will begin to graduate teachers with a specialty in teaching and learning in water.  We anticipate many of our staff will also have a Masters Degree in Waterslide Leadership or a related field.

Additional Costs

There will be a fee attached to program to laminate all the students work (things will get very wet) and to purchase waterproof markers for the students.  It will be expected that students attend in clothes that can dry quickly.

“That Question”

We know parents will be concerned around hygiene and we have taken the science used in the movie Grown Ups and any pee in the pool will automatically turn the water a bright blue (see photo) , singling out the student (or teacher) responsible and shaming them into never doing it again.

Conclusions

We are often told to be bold in education and that is just what we are doing with our latest elementary school.  Soak City Elementary School is not for everyone, but for kids who like to get wet, stay wet and combine academics and tube rides.  And this does carry-on our annual tradition of using this day to make bold decisions!

In 2012 I launched my FLOG.

In 2013 I made the announcement of Quadrennial Round Schooling.

In 2014 we formalized our System of Student Power Rankings.

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

In 2016 we introduced the Drone Homework Delivery System.

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

And today we announce our plans to welcome the Soak City Nerdy Dolphins to our community of great schools in West Vancouver.

Hopefully you are enjoying today as much as me!

 

Try

Try is a great word.

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

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

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

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

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

Try.

It is such a great word.

For me it was Alan November.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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